Getting a dog is one of the greatest decisions I have ever made. However, pet ownership does not come without its own challenges. Whether you are adopting or purchasing a dog from a breeder, I want to help make this transition as easy as possible. So without further ado, here are my top 6 tips for new puppy owners!
1. socialize your puppy
Socialization is SO important. As veterinarians, we weigh the pros and cons between socialization (e.g., dog parks) and making sure puppies are fully vaccinated prior to socializing. This decision is up to the owner in the end, but I believe in order to have an adult dog that is comfortable with other people, pets, and children, it is important to get them out and about at a young age. Personally, I would wait at least until they have had their first few vaccines and then start to bring your puppy around to other people’s homes, to restaurants, and to parks. Seek out your friends with well-behaved dogs, cats, and young children to expose them to new situations.
I would not suggest bringing your puppy to a dog park until they are fully vaccinated and on flea/tick/heartworm prevention. I also chose not to bring my personal dog to a dog park until he was neutered. If an animal is intact it can get bullied at dog parks potentially leading to injury. That being said, this is ultimately up to the owner and their comfort level. Dog parks are sess pools for disease transmission and we see many dogs in emergency rooms for dog park-related incidences. I enjoy bringing my dog to them now, but the information I provided above should be considered.
2. Make sure your puppy is on a vaccination schedule
I cannot stress enough how important vaccinations are. The first series of vaccines a puppy receives include distemper and parvovirus. While distemper is much rarer nowadays, parvovirus is not. I know many people who have lost their puppies to parvovirus. Not only is it a horrible, and often fatal disease (think perpetual explosive diarrhea), but the cost to hospitalize and treat your puppy can be astounding. While the vaccine might not totally prevent your puppy from getting parvo, you are giving them the best shot by vaccinating them according to your veterinarian’s prescribed vaccine schedule.
Here is a list of vaccinations your veterinarian may offer:
Required Core Vaccines:
- Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus, Parainfluenza, +/- Leptospirosis
Recommended Non-Core Vaccines:
- Leptospirosis (depending on your veterinarian, this might be considered a “core” vaccine)
- Kennel cough
- Lyme Disease
3. Start your puppy on a good diet
Research demonstrates that common orthopedic diseases in dogs have been linked to nutrition as puppies. Here is a great article about nutrition and developmental orthopedic diseases in large-breed dogs. If you adopt or buy a large/giant breed dog, keeping them on an appropriate diet is essential. Over supplementation of nutrients like calcium or phosphorous can lead these dogs to grow too quickly. Their bones simply cannot keep up, and if you throw in genetic predisposition, this could ultimately result in orthopedic disease. To help prevent this, make sure that you purchase food according to the size of your dog.
Other essential nutrients that should be in every puppy’s diet are omega-3 fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA. When you purchase puppy food from companies like Purina, Hill’s, and Royal Canin, you ensure that your puppy is getting the appropriate quantity of these nutrients. These nutrients are essential for learning and brain development. The American Kennel Club did an excellent job summarizing why these nutrients are so important in this article, Boosting Puppy Brains for Trainability with Omega-3 Fatty Acids.
My favorite brand of dog food is Purina and I highly recommend their Purina Pro Plan Puppy formulas. Many of their prescription diets are also formulated for growth, such as Purina Joint Mobility (my dog’s current diet). If you choose to feed a different brand of puppy food, check out the label for the quantity of DHA (+/- EPA). This is a difficult number to actually calculate as a consumer, which is why veterinarians recommend companies that have conducted AND implemented the research in their formulations. Check out this article for more information on brain development and omega-3s by the Purina Institute.
4. start training right away
Training your puppy is essential. Puppies are incredible learners and training will improve both you and your puppy’s life. Below I listed some skills to focus on while training:
- Crate training: ALL puppies should have crates. This acts as their safe space. Crates are also a great way to avoid a very expensive emergency vet visit (think foreign body removal).
- Basic commands: Sit, stay, come, etc.
- Leash/Harness training: Pretty self-explanatory but teaching them to walk on leash is a great skill!
- Socialization training (see tip #1)
- Touch training: Touch your puppy’s paws, face, belly, teeth, etc. Get them comfortable so you can do basic husbandry with them like nail trims and teeth brushing
There are also some amazing trainers out there who can support you during this process. You can easily find them on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. If you are struggling with training, they are a great resource.
Word of caution: Make sure the trainer you choose incorporates positive reinforcement into their training. I see far too many dogs solely trained with pain and this can lead to unpredictable behaviors.
5. Get pet insurance
If you can’t write a check for $5000, get pet insurance. This is advice that one of my mentors told me back before I even started veterinary school. I wish I would have followed that advice. My dog was diagnosed with hip dysplasia at 10 months old. At the time, I didn’t have insurance for him because I thought “Well, I will be a veterinarian by the time anything bad happens to him.” I cannot tell you how wrong I was. He had a surgery at 11 months old that costed me over $5000. This was an almost inconceivable amount for a first-year veterinary student with no income to pay.
After Apollo’s surgery, I learned my lesson. I immediately purchased pet insurance for him for any future incidences. Exactly one year later, he knocked over a bottle of Advil and ate enough to give him gastric ulcers and acute kidney injury. He was hospitalized for 4 days after which point his ulcers resolved and his kidney values returned to normal. Luckily, I had insurance that helped me pay for almost his entire hospital stay. Insurance is powerful in giving owners the ability to properly care for their pets.
6. remember, you are the best part of your puppy’s day
When you get a puppy, you are making a huge commitment. Every time you come home from work, remember that they may be just part of your day, but you are the BEST part of their day. They are our best friends for a reason. Their love is unconditional. I never knew how much I could love an animal until I adopted Apollo. I also had no idea how much I would sacrifice to make sure he was happy and healthy. Take the commitment seriously and consider if your lifestyle is appropriate for raising a puppy.
Summary – 6 tips for puppy owners:
- Socialize your puppy
- Make sure your puppy is on a vaccination schedule
- Start your puppy on a good diet
- Train your puppy right away
- Get pet insurance
- Remember, you are the best part of your puppy’s day!
I hope you found these tips for puppy owners helpful. Dogs are amazing animals and so worthy of our love. If you have any other questions, don’t hestitate to reach out. I am always here to support your new puppy parent lifestyle!