By Dr Kate Mornement Ph.D, BSc(Hons)
So, you’ve decided to get a new puppy. Congratulations! It’s such an exciting time! But before you jump head first into becoming a puppy parent there are some important things to consider first.
Thinking about what kind of puppy will suit your home and lifestyle best will help to prepare you to enjoy a lasting and close bond with your new best friend. So what do you need to know about getting a puppy before you bring your new best friend home?
Is now a good time to get a puppy?
Getting a puppy is a big commitment and responsibility and is not a decision to be taken lightly. To ensure that getting a puppy is the right choice for you at this time in your life, consider the following factors…
Initial and ongoing costs
Can you comfortably afford the initial and ongoing costs of purchasing and caring for a puppy and dog for the next 12+ years? The purchase price of a puppy can vary greatly, anywhere between $1,000 up to $10,000 (depending on the breed or breed type).
Ongoing expenses include food, pet insurance, veterinary fees, boarding kennel and doggy day-care fees, grooming costs, supplements, puppy school and obedience training fees and any additional unexpected medical costs. Puppies can also chew and destroy their toys and beds which may need to be replaced several times.
In general, the larger the size of the adult dog the more they cost in terms of feeding, vet care, accessories and grooming costs.
Time and commitment
Do you or your family have the time to devote to raising, training, socialising and caring for a puppy? Puppies need constant guidance and lots of company. They don’t do well left home alone for extended periods of time on their own.
Ensuring you have the time and are committed to your puppy’s ongoing training and socialisation is important to ensure they become a well-adjusted and well-behaved member of the community.
Puppies need us to teach them good behaviour and that the world is a safe place. Those dogs that miss out on early and ongoing socialisation and training are more likely to develop behaviour problems down the track.
Puppies also need daily exercise and their exercise requirements usually increase as they grow and develop. Some dogs, like working types, have higher exercise requirements than others.
Home and lifestyle considerations
Is your home and lifestyle suitable for a puppy? Do you have the space, both inside and outside, for a growing puppy to live, play and explore? Is the backyard safe and secure to prevent your puppy injuring itself or running away?
Puppies can fall down stairs or squeeze through gaps in fences so be sure to prepare and address these hazards before bringing a puppy home. If you have a partner or family, are they also onboard and committed to sharing their home and life with a puppy and adult dog for the next 12+ years?
What kind of puppy?
Once you’ve decided that the time is right to welcome home a new puppy the next big decision is what kind of puppy will suit your lifestyle and living situation best. There are many things to consider when it comes to choosing a puppy such as whether you’ll get a pure breed, crossbreed or mixed breed; the size of the dog once it’s fully grown; the coat type (long, medium or short) and the exercise requirements of your chosen breed or breed type.
It's important you do your own research to ensure you make the right choice. Different types of dogs can be prone to different health issues and this should also be a consideration.
Whether you get a pure breed, cross breed or mixed breed puppy depends on your personal preference. Pure breed puppies tend to be more predictable in their adult size, appearance and general temperament and behaviour although research shows this can still vary widely.
Pure breed puppies are screened for serious health problems however some breeds, like French Bulldogs and Pugs, can still suffer from health issues such as heat exhaustion. Other breeds can be prone to a range of health conditions including hip and elbow dysplasia, cancer and heart issues. The more research you do into inherited health issues the more informed you will be.
Cross breed or mixed breed
Cross breed dogs, such as Spoodles and Cavoodles, are said to be healthier in general due to "crossbreed vigour" however this is not always the case. Again, it's important you do your research to ensure the breeder is ethical, has screened their dogs for health issues and is raising the puppies in a suitable environment.
Mixed breed dogs are mostly commonly available for adoption through animal shelters and rescue groups. Generally, mixed breed dogs are healthier as they are less prone to genetically inherited health problems. However, if you adopt a mixed breed puppy their adult size and temperament may not be as predictable as a pure breed dog.
Where to get your puppy
The most common places to get a puppy include from a registered breeder, backyard breeder or through an animal shelter or rescue organisation. Sometimes you might see puppies or adult dogs advertised in the classifieds section of your local paper or even on websites like Gumtree or Facebook.
There are many benefits of purchasing a puppy from a registered breeder. Registered breeders screen their breeding dogs for congenital health issues and breed for health and temperament. You can often go and meet the dogs who are the parents of the litter you’re interested in and check out the environment where the puppies will be raised. This can help you determine if the breeder has the puppy’s best interests at heart.
Puppies raised in a home environment, rather than in a concrete pen, tend to adjust better when they go to their new homes because they are already used to the sights and sounds of a home. Try and find a breeder who also focusses on providing early socialisation for the puppies before they go to their new homes. Puppies who are well socialised before going to their new home also tend to adjust better to this change.
Animal Shelter or Rescue Organisation
Sometimes puppies are available for adoption through animal shelters or rescue groups. They are usually in high demand and you may not have much choice when it comes to the breed or breed type of the puppy if you choose to adopt one.
An advantage of adopting a puppy is that they have already had thorough vet checks, vaccinations and some may already be desexed. Rescue puppies are usually much less expensive to adopt compared to the purchase price of pure breed puppies. Adopting a new puppy can be a very rewarding experience.
In general, it's not recommended to get a dog via a classified ad. This is because many people have been scammed trying to source a puppy in this way. Puppies sold this way usually don’t have registration papers so you cannot know their pedigree.
Preparing for puppy
It's important to prepare for your new puppy before you bring them home. Puppies need a lot of things that you might not have thought of. Here's a list of the things you'll need for your new family member. Some of these things are must haves while others are optional...
Collar, lead and harness
A collar with ID tag attached is a good idea in case your puppy gets lost. Helping your new puppy get used to wearing a collar is an important step as they will typically need to wear one for the rest of their life. A lead and harness is also important to start teaching your puppy how to walk on the lead beside you.
Begin by taking your puppy for a short walk on their lead and harness inside the home or in the backyard. Repeat this several times each day and encourage your pup with praise and treats to walk on a loose lead. This will help them get used to walking on lead and help to prepare them for walking in the streets and at the park.
A comfy bed
Dogs need a comfortable place to rest and sleep and there's so much choice when it comes to choosing your new puppy's bed. Do some research to help you pick a bed that will suit your pup. Choosing a less expensive dog bed initially is recommended as many puppy's chew their beds in the first year due to teething and in play.
Soft and chew toys
Toys are very important as an outlet for play and your dog's desire to chew. Chewing is a normal behaviour and important during teething to help relieve gum pain. Chewing also helps keep teeth clean and healthy.
Play with toys also helps expend energy in a positive way. Provide your puppy with a variety of soft and chew toys and rotate them every few days to maintain their interest. Supervise your pup's play to ensure they're using the toys safely.
Food and water bowls
Choose a food and water bowl that suits the size of your growing pup. Make sure the water bowl is heavy and isn't easily tipped over. Food puzzle toys can also be used as enrichment toys to help keep your puppy mentally stimulated and active.
Puppies need to feel safe, warm and secure to sleep soundly at night and a crate can certainly help. Placing a cosy warm bed and soft toys inside puppy's crate can encourage them to rest and sleep, especially at night. A crate is also a great tool to help dogs learn to settle and cope with confinement during travel or veterinary procedures. Teach your puppy to enjoy being in their crate gradually.
Puppy's first few weeks at home is a big adjustment and having a puppy pen can make life much easier for you and your pup. Setting up a puppy pen is a great way to help puppy proof your home and keep your dog out of trouble when they're left alone. Having a crate or bed inside the pen as well as some toys and a puppy pad helps keep your puppy safe and contained.
A weatherproof kennel for outside the house is important if your pet dog will be spending time outside during the day. A kennel should provide a comfortable and dry place out of the wind and rain where your dog can rest and and sleep.
Dogs vary in terms of their coat length and type. Medium and long length coats require regular grooming to prevent matting. Dogs with double coats, such as huskies and German Shepherds also require regular grooming to keep the coat healthy. Breeds with a short, single layer coat, like Boxer's, only need the occasional brush.
Once you know what type of dog you're getting, choose the appropriate grooming brush to care for their coat. You'll also need nail clippers or a file to trim your pup's nails.
Bringing home puppy
The day you bring your new puppy home has arrived! You’re bursting with excitement! But before you hop in the car to get your new furry friend make sure you've puppy proofed your house to ensure it's safe. This involves removing any hazards and items around the house you don't want pup chewing.
You also want to ensure that you can transport your puppy safely in the car. For small puppies, a travel crate works well and can be secured with a seat belt. For larger puppies, a car harness may be a better option. Other things you need include plenty of treats and toys and some water if it's a long drive. Having these on hand will help your puppy enjoy the trip home with you.
Try taking some time off work to help your puppy settle into their new home. Take things slowly with them and give them time to settle in and bond with you.
Teaching your puppy where to go to the toilet is one of the first things you’ll work on with them and this training should begin from the moment you bring them home.
Toilet training using positive reinforcement involves taking them to the spot you want them to go (e.g. a puppy pad, in the backyard, on a puppy loo etc) regularly throughout the day and rewarding them with praise and treats as soon as they finish toileting in the right place.
You can even put the behaviour on cue by pairing a word or phrase such as “do wees” with the action of toileting. Repeat your chosen cue as your puppy toilets and reward them with praise and treats when they finish. With time and repetition your puppy will learn where to go to the toilet and will also learn to toilet on command.
Teaching your pup the basics should include training them to sit, drop, wait, go to their bed, accept handling and to walk on a loose lead. It's important to use positive reinforcement techniques in training because animals learn quicker and enjoy training more when they're rewarded for the right behaviour. Train your puppy everywhere you take them, including during walks and at the park, not just when you're home. This helps your young dog learn good behaviour in different environments.
There are some great resources on the internet, including YouTube, where you can find instructional videos and articles about how to train your puppy in basic obedience. Puppy school covers basic training and you can also engage a dog trainer for an in home session to help you get off to a great start.
Socialisation is incredibly important for puppies. Although there are several critical socialisation periods during a dog's first year of life, it is a life-long process. It’s important that you take an active role in the continued socialisation of your new puppy.
This involves gradually exposing your pup to different people, places, animals, things and surfaces in a positive and non-threatening way.
Pairing new things with treats and praise helps your puppy associate them with something positive which helps reduce the chance they’ll fear these things later on.
Puppy classes are offered by a number of veterinary clinics and dog training venues and are designed for young puppies who are 10 to 16 weeks of age.
Attending puppy school is a great way to socialise them to different people, other puppies and a new environment as well as the vet clinic and staff.
However, socialisation is an ongoing process and should continue when puppy classes end.
Your young dog's education and training should continue throughout their life. Enrolling your dog in positive reinforcement obedience training classes is a great way to continue their socialisation and training to ensure they remain well behaved (such as not biting) and social members of the community.
Help! My puppy has a behaviour problem
Behaviour problems are common in puppies and adult dogs and it's best to seek professional advice if you're unsure how to address the issue. Consult with your vet first to rule out a health issue. Then speak to a professional such as a qualified animal behaviourist or dog trainer about your concerns.