Whether you are adopting a new puppy or buying one from a breeder, no doubt you’re excited and over the moon to welcome your new bundle of love into your home.
But if only it were as simple as just scooping them up to inhale in that sweet puppy breath!
A new puppy has hundreds of considerations and responsibilities to get in order before the little mite can take up her place as your new best friend. So we put together a new puppy survival guide to help you get through the first few weeks.
From pet insurance to the right kind of dog food, to puppy training classes, supplies, chew toys, and puppy-proofing your home, we put together a helpful guide to make sure your puppy arrives home to the best possible setup.
What Should I Expect From My First Puppy?
If this is your first puppy, it’s essential to understand your dog on three different levels. What kind of animal it is (a dog, duh), what breed it is, and what it might be like as an individual.
As an animal, you can expect your puppy to share the same qualities most puppies have. They use their mouths to explore the world, which means some chewing and mouthiness are normal.
They will also eat foods that seem disgusting or nonsensical to you, so be sure to keep your trash bags out of their reach.
They have no proper control of their bodily functions until they are about six months, so potty-training will need to commence straight away.
Puppies may also be active and need playtime with other dogs as well as with you and any family members. They will also need socialization to become accustomed to their world and everything in it, and they will need exercise.
We can know more about what to expect when we know and understand the breed. If you adopt a mixed breed, it’s a good idea to find out as much as possible about the parents.
Breeds can be broken into seven groups. These are:
- Gundogs like Labradors and German Short-Haired Pointers. These are relatively active dogs who love exercise, training, and adore chasing things, whether it’s a ball or the neighbor’s cat. They are also usually sweet-natured and eager to please.
- Toy dogs like Pomeranians or the Havanese are designed to be little companions. They are usually lively, social, devoted to their owners.
- Herding dogs like the Blue Heeler or Border Collie are usually extremely intelligent, highly trainable, but they often have high exercise requirements and are easily bored.
- Terriers like the Jack Russell or Scottish Terrier are feisty and tenacious. They usually have incorrigible natures and need loads of stimulation and firm boundaries.
- Hounds like the Greyhound are usually even-tempered, sensitive dogs, and they thrive on running and chasing like the gundogs.
- Working dogs like the Belgian Malinois or the Greenland Dog can be challenging for the first-time owner. Their drive to “work” can make them destructive if an experienced owner is not there to channel it properly.
- Utility dogs like the Shar-Pei or the Boston Terrier are the dogs that don’t fall into any of the categories. Some extra research is needed here to identify what makes each breed unique.
The breed is the genetic blueprint of the dog. While we are often told that “it’s all about how we raise them,” this is only partially true.
If it were entirely true, then a real herding puppy would not show herding behavior when you bring it home. It would have to be taught. But anybody who has seen Border Collies try to herd the neighborhood children knows they do it instinctually.
Likewise, a Boerboel might show dominance almost immediately, sometimes by subtle behaviors, like deciding straightaway where it goes to sleep, ignoring the fancy new bed you bought it. This is because dominance is an instinctual part of many Boerboels’ genetic make-up.
For this reason, researching the breed as a first-time owner is as important as researching the breeder.
After the animal and breed, one should prepare for the puppy as an individual.
Some are needier than others and will want to be with you all the time, even when you go to the bathroom. This should be watched so that it doesn’t develop into separation anxiety.
Some may play well with other puppies, while others may be more introverted. Some will never want to stop playing with you, while others only play in short bursts and take long naps.
Individual behaviors should be carefully watched and reported to your puppy trainer so that a professional can help your puppy grow into a well-adjusted adult with appropriate outlets for its energy.
Looking For the Right One: What Questions Should You Ask When Buying a Puppy?
If you are buying a puppy, be sure to ask the following questions:
What can you tell me about this breed?
A good breeder or rescue should be able to tell you everything you could ever possibly want to know about the puppy. Beware of breeders who are vague or who make promises that sound too good to be true.
They should be truthful about whether their breed is truly good with children or other animals or about any health problems that run in the breed.
They should also be able to give you an indication of how much exercise and stimulation your dog will need. So be prepared with your own research to cross-check what they tell you. If a working dog breeder indicates that their dogs are OK without too much exercise, this may be a red flag.
They should never make it sound like their dogs are perfect. The perfect dog; the one that is trainable enough to work in the military and but chilled enough to be a good pet, has no health concerns to watch out for, will babysit your children, protect your family, never bark unless they need to, and bring your slippers in the morning does not exist.
At least, not without a lot of hard work.
A good breeder or rescue will give you an honest appraisal of the puppy to decide if it is a good fit for you.
What questions do you have for me?
Stay away from any breeder or rescue who shows no interest in who you are and makes no attempt to check up on you.
Somebody with the puppy’s interests at heart should grill you thoroughly for information and may request a home check. They may also ask you to sign contracts and put breeding restrictions on the dog.
This is to ensure the dog is sterilized at the appropriate age.
Do not be offended by this. Your money should mean nothing compared to what kind of home you may provide your dog to a good breeder or rescue.
Can I see all the necessary medical histories?
When adopting from a shelter, you should at least be able to see the puppy’s veterinary history, whether its vaccinations are up to date and whether it has been on a regular deworming schedule.
A reputable breeder should also be able to show the health screenings of the parents.
This may include hip and elbow tests for medium and large breeds, CERF or eye tests, or DNA tests for breeds prone to certain genetic disorders.
Can I meet the parents and other puppies?
Stay away from a breeder that does not want to introduce you to the parents, or at least the mother.
It is also helpful to see all the puppies to make sure the rest of the litter is healthy. Remember, one sick pup may have passed something on to your puppy even if no symptoms show yet.
Seeing the parents should also give you an indication of how big your puppy will grow.
If you are adopting from a rescue, be sure to ask the shelter how big they think the puppy might grow and what they know about the parents.
Can I see the puppy’s living conditions?
It should be clean and hygienic, preferably with plenty of access to the home environment. In the case of breeders, too many dogs or more than two or three breeds of dogs is a bad sign.
A good breeder focuses only on one or two breeds that they are an expert in.
Also, take a look at all the adult dogs and pay attention to the details.
- Are their nails clipped, and is their fur brushed?
- Do they look starved for attention or under-nourished?
- Are the coats shiny or dull?
- Do they show any signs of aggression, fearfulness, or nervousness?
Never allow the sight of a puppy to blind you to the little things that can be warning signals for later on.
Is there a waiting list?
A waiting list is usually a good sign that a breeder is breeding responsibly. However, this should be taken into account along with all the other factors.
A good breeder will have introduced the puppy to new situations, people, and other animals from a young age.
What food should I feed my puppy, and how often?
So long as the recommended food is good quality (and bad quality food is another red flag), it’s best to keep your pup on the same diet the breeder recommends. Some small breeds will also need to be fed more often than others to prevent hypoglycemia.
Avoid breeders who don’t seem to care what you feed your dog and don’t show evidence of what they feed theirs.
Has the puppy started potty-training?
A breeder or foster home usually begins the potty-training process. This will help you pick up where the previous caretaker left off.
How Do You Tell if a Puppy is Healthy Before You Buy or Adopt it?
Perhaps you have decided on a breed and found a breeder or rescue. Unfortunately, this is the most dangerous part. Once you have seen a puppy and set your heart on it, it’s hard not to overlook any potential problems.
Even so, try to look out for the following:
- Clear, bright eyes with no discharge
- Happy to eat
- Clean ears
- No diarrhea
- Moist nose with no discharge
- Clean teeth and gums. The gums and tongue should be a healthy pink (unless it is from a breed with dark-pigmented gums or purple tongues like the Chow Chow.)
- Clipped toenails
- Healthy weight.
Besides health, look for puppies that:
- Are confident and happy to approach you. A puppy should not be fearful, shy, or show any signs of aggression.
- Are playful and curious.
- Happy to be picked up and handled by you and others.
- Do not bully their littermates, nor seem scared or cowed by their siblings or other dogs.
What is the First Thing To Do When You Get a Puppy?
- Make sure you and everybody in the household are on the same page. Rules like whether the puppy will be allowed on the furniture, where it will sleep, and who will feed the puppy should all be in place before the arrival.
- Puppy proof an area in your home and make sure your puppy cannot leave this area. See our checklist below for more details.
- Create a schedule, starting from when the puppy will be taken out in the morning to potty to when it is placed in its crate at night. Stick to the routine.
- Begin potty-training straight away.
- Introduce your puppy to any existing pets under supervision.
- Do not overwhelm your puppy when it first comes home by making a big fuss. Introduce him to each family one at a time and then show him his crate. The crate should become their safe space.
- Be ready with chewies and toys to keep the puppy occupied when awake and you can’t interact with it.
Where Should Your Puppy Sleep the First Night?
Now that you have brought your puppy home, the next question is, “what should I do with my puppy on the first night?”
Just like children, puppies can become overstimulated and overwhelmed in a new environment. Too much excitement can also cause you to disrupt the routine and schedule you have created, which will make it harder to implement and stick to.
Instead, keep things calm and relaxed. Give your puppy her last feed of the day before 6 pm and limit water intake after that until the following day.
You can have a final evening playtime or walk to tire them out, but make sure it’s not so exciting that they can’t settle afterward. Have you ever tried to get an excited child to fall asleep immediately after a party at Chuck E Cheese? Exactly.
When they are tired out by structured, calm exercise, place them in a well-padded, covered crate with a chew toy and blanket or item that smells like their littermates.
The crate should be near your bed.
You may want your dog to sleep in your bed or on its own bed eventually, but this can pose problems for a young pup.
Firstly, they may toilet on your bed in the night or fall off and hurt themselves. If they are on a bed outside of the crate, they may wake up and potty inside while you are asleep, which will delay the potty-training process.
A crate that is big enough for them to move around in, but not so big that they decide to potty in one corner and sleep in the other, will help the potty-training process. When your puppy is settled, set your alarm clock for potty runs once or twice a night.
If you are a light sleeper, you should wake up when you hear them rustling beside the bed.
Once the potty-training process is complete, you can move your puppy onto its bed in a few weeks, or even yours, if you choose.
Remember that the first few nights may be the hardest as the puppy adjusts to the crate. If they cry, make sure they have pottied, and all their needs are met. But be careful of crying becoming their way of training you to take them out of the crate.
Can I Carry My 8-Week-Old Puppy Outside?
Preferably always lead your puppy outside, through the same door, to the same spot to potty from eight weeks of age to teach them the routine. Occasionally, you may catch your puppy about to potty inside, and in these cases, you may snatch them up and take them out quickly if you are fast enough.
Remember that your puppy’s immune system is not fully developed at eight weeks since they have not yet had all their vaccinations.
This means it’s best to avoid taking them to public places like dog parks where they may pick up dangerous viruses like parvo.
The New Puppy Checklist
This is where you shop till you drop. Your overall list should fall under the following categories. Underneath each category, we have made a list you can check off as you prepare for your puppy.
- Walking and Traveling Equipment
- Food & Water Bowls
- Comfort and Confinement
- Potty Training
- Toys and Travel
- Grooming & Bathing
- Cleaning Supplies
- Puppy School
- First Aid Kit
Walking and Traveling Equipment
- A leash
- A harness (remember collars can damage your dog’s throat
- A doggy seatbelt, carrier, or crash-tested traveling crate.
- Always take water and a collapsible bowl with you on outdoor trips, especially on warm days.
- Doggy booties for hot pavements or snowy weather.
- Reflective walking gear for walking in bad visibility.
- A dog seat cover to prevent fur on your car seats.
Before bringing your puppy home, make sure your puppy has no access to the following:
- Fruit and vegetables. Some are unsafe for dogs to eat, such as grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, and avocados. Make sure these are outside your puppy’s reach.
- Secure the kitchen: Place childproof locks on cupboards and the fridge. Ensure sharp objects like knives are out of reach.
- Beware of slippery rugs or tiled floors. Place safety gates at the bottom and top of stairs. Watch for safety hazards like glass ornaments, long table cloths your puppy can pull on, and spray curtains with a safe, bitter-tasting product.
- Limit access to the bathroom to prevent any access to the toilet water.
- Electrical equipment like chargers, cables, cords, and remotes should be out of reach.
- Beauty products, medications, supplements, shoes, first aid kits, and household cleaners should be safely locked away.
- Access to any pools or ponds should be limited until you are sure your dog is old enough to know how to swim and get out.
- Garden hazards such as poisonous plants, chemicals, garden tools, or fertilizers should be packed away.
- Other poisons usually found in the garage, such as antifreeze, should be securely locked away on a high shelf.
- Ensure there is a safe area to play in when you aren’t looking, such as a puppy pen or puppy proof area sealed off with baby gates.
Food and Water Bowls
- Your breeder should advise you on a good quality puppy food that fits your puppy’s age, breed, and medical issues such as allergies or joint support for large breeds. Consult a vet on this as well.
- Stainless steel water bowls are best as plastic ones can cause facial rashes. Choose a bowl with a non-slip cover at the bottom.
- A slow feeder bowl can help puppies who eat too fast and thus prevent bloat.
- Look for treats that are low in chemicals like preservatives and flavorings. They should also be monitored to prevent your puppy from becoming overweight and form a balanced diet.
- Chew toys are great for keeping your pup occupied and chewing on something appropriate. Try out different ones to find out which one your puppy likes most.
- Dental chews can help keep your puppy’s teeth clean, which will prevent health complications later in life.
Comfort and Confinement
- Invest in a good quality crate, at least for the first three months while your pup is potty-training and learning the rules of the house.
- Buy blankets, beds, or elevated cots that you can place throughout the house to begin place training.
Potty Training & Cleaning supplies
- If you are training a big dog like the german shepherd, avoid training pads as this can add an extra step to potty-training. However, if it is a small puppy with a smaller bladder, training pads can save you time cleaning up inconvenient accidents.
- Have disposable bags ready to get rid of any poop inside and outside the house.
- A pooper scooper can be helpful.
- Cleaning products should be ammonia-free since ammonia can smell like urine to a dog and encourage them to keep relieving themselves in the same place.
Look for cleaning products that contain enzymes that break down organic waste. Homemade mixtures of baking soda and vinegar have also been recommended.
- Toys should be chosen according to breed but may take some trial and error. For instance, gundogs and herding dogs might love taking after a ball, while a bullmastiff may just stare at it as it roles past them. On the other hand, their strong jaws will require thick rubber toys, or they will be destroyed within the day. Mastiffs may also enjoy a game of tug more than fetch. Gather a range of toys to see which ones last the longest with your dog and can keep them interested. Make sure they are too big for your pup to choke on.
- A KONG is one of the best ways to keep your puppy busy while in the crate. You can put all kinds of fillings in it, but to keep the diet balanced, throw a handful of your puppy’s daily pellet rations into a Kong with water and freeze it for a few hours. This makes feeding a lengthier and more enjoyable experience.
Grooming & Bathing
- Avoid bathing a puppy more than once a month or once every two weeks at most since it strips the coat of natural oils. But make sure you have a puppy shampoo and conditioner ready.
- A soft brush or grooming glove for regular grooming.
- Doggy nail clippers or grinder for nail trimming.
- A doggy toothbrush and safe teeth cleaning product
- Cotton wool and ear cleaning products—have a professional show how to do this about once a month or as needed if there is excessive waxy build-up.
- Antiseptic and antifungal cream
- Medical records
- Veterinary and emergency contact details
- A digital thermometer—have your vet show you how to take your puppy’s temperature. A healthy dog temperature is between 101 and 102.5 for dogs or 38.3°F to 39.2°C.
- Non-latex disposable gloves
- Styptic pencil
- Fresh hydroperoxide in case you need to induce vomiting.
- Charcoal pills if your dog has swallowed poisons (only use after vomiting)
- Needleless syringe
- Cotton balls or absorbent gauze pads
Puppy School, Pet Sitters, or Dog Walkers
Shop around for a good puppy school to make sure your pup begins training and socialization early. To find one:
- Ask for references and qualifications.
- Check for reasonable rates.
- Ensure that the trainer only has puppies of similar ages in your group, and they keep a close eye on all puppies to avoid bullying or puppies becoming over-excited.
- Make sure you visit the school and perhaps watch a class before enrolling your puppy. Their vaccines should also be up-to-date before taking any unnecessary risk.
A new puppy is a thrilling and uplifting experience, but proper preparation can feel overwhelming. Remember, just like with children, there is no such thing as the perfect dog owner, only owners who love their dogs enough to try.
Trying too hard can also lead to an under-reported phenomenon known as the “puppy blues”. So remember, while you prepare, to always take a step back and enjoy the golden moments that come with a young dog. After all, they pass so quickly.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.