Puppies! It seems like this time of year gives many of us puppy fever and with many of us working from home during this uncertain time it may seem like an ideal time to raise a puppy for many as well.
However, there are many things to consider when getting ready to purchase or adopt and then properly train and socialize a puppy. It is important to try to focus on the fact that this is a 10-15-year commitment.
If you are purchasing a specific breed doing your homework with the breeder is very important. Responsible breeders screen for health issues such as hip dysplasia or degenerative myelopathy. They don’t overbreed their females and they wait until the female is fully mature before her first breeding.
The puppies are vetted, and are up to date on required vaccines and deworming’s. Many breeders are very proactive in the welfare of the breed and their puppies as well, there is often a health guarantee and good breeders will often take their puppies back if you cannot keep or maintain them- this is often a lifelong offer!
If you are considering adopting a puppy you still want to evaluate how the puppy was kept, was it socialized with other people, animals, situations? Does it appear healthy? Clean, shiny coat, no eye or nasal discharge, normal stools? How does the puppy act when you approach it? Shy? Hiding? Confident? Certain personality types may not mesh with your household.
For instance, a very shy puppy is probably not going to do well in a household with many children.
Breed itself can be quite important as well. If you are a couch potato, a highly active breed is not going to be happy in this lifestyle.
They can become bored and ‘find’ things to entertain themselves which often conflicts with what we’d like to have them doing. The AKC has a section in its website that can help you match your characteristics with an appropriate breed of dog.
It is also important to evaluate yourself. Again, this is a 10-15-year commitment. This is time, money, and patience to train your dog to be a good companion. It takes time to ‘make’ a great dog- it does not happen by itself.
Do you have a safe area for the dog to exercise in every day and time to spend every day on attention and exercise? Are you ok with drooling, shedding or grooming, and veterinary care including the inevitable emergencies? Are you willing and able to continue to accept responsibility for the dog despite inevitable life changes such as new babies, kids going off to school, moving or returning to work?
If you have evaluated yourself and found the right puppy- that’s fantastic! Now the real work can begin.
It is important when you get your new puppy to have their health evaluated by a veterinarian. You will want to bring a stool sample to your appointment. Many breeders do routine deworming’s, but there is no dewormer that treats ‘everything’ so it is important to make sure parasites are not present.
Vaccinations during puppyhood are very important as well. Your puppy has antibodies from their mother (assuming they received appropriate colostrum early on) and these have some protective value while their own immune systems are developing.
However, it is important to begin vaccines between 6-8 weeks as we are going to run into a situation where the maternal immunity is decreasing. The boosters are timed every 3-4 weeks to cover that waning maternal immunity and ‘build up’ the puppy’s own immune system. The final booster should be given near 14-16 weeks to ensure a good antibody level.
There is much work to be done at home as well. Socialization is very important for puppies. The purpose of socialization is to have the puppy interact with other people, animals, and things in order to be comfortable with the environment in which they live.
When socializing, don’t try to reinforce commands or proper behaviors because that takes your pet’s attention away from the new experiences. Learning should be balanced with play.
Put your pet in situations that she may experience as an adult, such as riding in the car, being in a carrier, going to the groomer, meeting other animals and people, and taking trips to the vet. Introduce your puppy to new people, animals, and things in a safe, relaxed manner.
If your pet reacts with fear, you likely need to dial down the interaction to the level the puppy is comfortable.
This could mean letting them watch instead of play, distracting them with treats, or moving them farther away from whatever they are afraid of until they become comfortable. Never punish a fearful puppy if they are anxious during interactions.
This is an important time in their development and creating fearful situations will only lead to more problems in the future.
Socialization is very important, but it also must be done safely. Unvaccinated pets or public dog areas increase risk of contracting disease, so these things are best avoided.
Puppy classes are typically ideal as they require puppies to be healthy and up to date on vaccines to attend.
It is also important to work on ‘gentling’ exercises every day at home as well. It allows your pet to become comfortable with handling that will be part of their long term lives.
You should gently touch the puppy’s face, raise their lips to examine their teeth, handle their ears, and touch and hold their paws.
It is also important to have them acclimated to being held in place gently and calmly so that they do not react in a fearful manner when restraint may be necessary for veterinary visits, toe nail maintenance, or grooming.
Of course, this is all just a small part of raising your new puppy.
The book Puppy Start Right is co-authored by a veterinarian and a technician with certification in behavior techniques, it is recommended by many veterinary behaviorists.
You can also seek out Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right by Dr. Sophia Yin, a renowned veterinary behaviorist.