Puppy care


How can I help my puppy get settled at home?

Puppies should have the chance to bond with their mother and litter mates before being separated, so you should obtain your puppy at 7–8 weeks of age. For the first 48 hours at home, you should provide your puppy with a quiet and calm environment where it can get to know everyone at its own pace. Introduce it to other animals in the family slowly on neutral ground (for example, if your older pet considers the back yard its 'territory', you shouldn't introduce a new puppy there). If you are anticipating conflict, it may be useful to introduce them through a screen door so that physical contact is not possible. Keeping them on opposite sides of the door may be necessary for a few days to allow them to familiarise themselves with each other before you can introduce them physically.

What should I feed my puppy?

Find out from the breeder what, when and how much your puppy was being fed. A sudden change in diet can cause a gut upset, so you should feed the same thing that the breeder fed – at least initially. Once your puppy gets settled in, you can wean him or her over to a new diet if you wish. The main thing to remember when choosing a food for your puppy is that it must be food specifically made for puppies – not adult dog food. Puppy food is specifically formulated to meet the needs of a growing puppy. We recommend Royal Canin Junior food, which you can buy in the clinic. If you feed this, you do not need to provide any supplements. Wean your puppy onto new food over a period of about a week by first mixing 80% of the old food with 20% of the new food, then gradually increasing the percentage of the new food. Puppies should be fed four times daily until 2 months of age, three times daily until 4 months of age, and twice daily thereafter. Make sure your puppy always has free access to water.

What veterinary treatment does my puppy need?

The following are all part of a comprehensive preventative health care program for a puppy:

  • Microchipping – Microchipping is a legal requirement for council registration. It involves injecting a small chip, about the size of a rice grain, under the skin between the shoulder blades. It is a bit painful, so some people elect to have it done at the time of desexing under anaesthesia. Vet clinics and pet shelters have scanners that identify these chips. A microchip is a permanent form of identification that will help your pet find its way back to you if it ever gets lost.
  • Vaccination – There are two components to a canine vaccination program. The first type of vaccine is triennial (required every 3 years) and protects against canine parvovirus (enteritis), canine adenovirus-2 (infectious hepatitis) and canine distemper (a neurological disease). All of these diseases can potentially be fatal. The second type of vaccine is annual and protects against Bordetella bronchiseptica and parainfluenza virus (components of kennel cough). Vaccination reduces the likelihood of kennel cough and reduces the duration and severity of kennel cough in dogs that do become infected. It does not prevent the disease altogether. Puppies need to be vaccinated at 6–8 weeks and again at 10–12 weeks. Your puppy will not be fully protected until a week after the second vaccine.
  • Worming – Four types of intestinal worm affect dogs: roundworm, hookworm, whipworm and tapeworm. Worms can cause diarrhoea, malnutrition, lethargy, poor appetite, weight loss and occasionally vomiting. Worming is required every 2 weeks until the age of 12 weeks, monthly until the age of 6 months, then 3-monthly for life.
  • Flea treatment – To completely prevent fleas, dogs should receive flea treatment monthly. This is essential for dogs with flea allergy dermatitis (see Flea Allergy Dermatitis Information Sheet). However, dogs that have no evidence of fleas and have minimal contact with other animals may not need flea treatment this regularly.
  • Heartworm treatment – Dewormers do not protect against heartworm. Heartworm is literally an infestation of worms in the heart, and can cause lethargy, weight loss, difficulty breathing, coughing, poor appetite or a range of other signs. Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes, so even if your dog is not in contact with other animals, this does not guarantee that he or she will not become infected. Heartworm is rare in Melbourne, but the disease is very difficult to treat and can be fatal, so we strongly recommend protection. Continuous protection is essential when it comes to heartworm – your dog can become infected even if protection lapses only for a couple of months. We usually start treatment at about 16 weeks of age.

How can I house train my puppy?

It is a rare puppy that cannot be toilet-trained effectively within a few weeks. The following advice will help you to speed up this process:

  • Always use the same door to take your puppy outside to eliminate, and encourage him to urinate in a specific area – the more specific the routine, the quicker the puppy will learn. He may also learn to go to that door when he needs to eliminate – a useful sign for you!
  • Take your puppy outside to the appropriate area within half an hour of sleeping, playing, eating or drinking – most puppies have a strong urge to eliminate after any of these activities.
  • Encourage your puppy to eliminate in the appropriate area with a 'cue' phrase (eg 'Hurry up!') then give him lavish praise and attention – and maybe a treat – when he eliminates. Make sure you do this straight away, so that he associates the elimination with the reward.
  • Be aware that most puppies need to eliminate every 3–6 hours. Make sure that you take your puppy out regularly. As time goes on, he will be able to hold on for longer periods. Initially, you will need to plan to get up in the middle of the night to take him out. If your puppy sleeps near you, he will have a chance to let you know when he needs to go.
  • Try to keep an eye on your puppy at all times when he is indoors. As soon as you see a sign that he might be about to eliminate (circling, squatting, sneaking off, heading to the door), take him outside immediately. Say the 'cue' phrase and praise him when he eliminates.
  • If you catch your puppy eliminating indoors, give a verbal reprimand and take him outside immediately to complete the act – then give praise.
  • Be aware that too strong a reprimand could make your puppy frightened of eliminating in front of you, which will slow training right down. Reprimanding your puppy when he or she is not 'in the act' is pointless – the puppy won't make the association between the inappropriate elimination and the punishment.
  • Confine your puppy whenever you have to leave him unsupervised. Make this area a 'happy place' by giving your puppy treats and toys here. A sectioned off area of the kitchen or bedroom is a good option. Puppies tend to avoid eliminating in areas where they eat or sleep.
  • Always make sure your puppy has had a chance to eliminate before leaving him confined. As soon as you return, immediately take him outside to eliminate.
  • Once your puppy has been error free for a couple of weeks, you can gradually start to decrease your supervision.

All of the same principles apply to teaching your puppy what it can and can't chew – and while your puppy is teething, it is important that he has something to chew.

When and why should I desex my puppy?

See the Information Sheet on Desexing.

Should I groom my puppy?

All dogs benefit from grooming, and the earlier you introduce this to your dog, the better he or she will tolerate it. It is best to use a brush specifically designed for dogs. Grooming is also a good way to pick up on any abnormalities in your dog. In long-haired breeds, hair can start to matt after even a few weeks, which can be uncomfortable and even painful. Your dog may require sedation to be able to remove these matts.

What can I do to keep my dog's teeth healthy?

It is important that there is something in your dog's diet to keep the teeth clean from an early age, because once tartar has built up on the teeth the only way to remove it is using ultrasonic scaling under general anaesthesia (see Dental Health Information Sheet).

The ideal way to prevent tartar formation is to brush your pet's teeth at least every second day. If this is done from an early age, puppies can learn to tolerate this well. We understand that you may not be willing to do this, and there are other options. Royal Canin Dental food and Hill's t/d are complete and balanced, and can be used as part of the diet (at least every second day) from 6 months of age to abrade the teeth and prevent tartar formation. Raw chicken necks or bones are also effective.

How and when should I socialise my puppy?

As puppies mature, they encounter numerous unfamiliar stimuli that have the potential to cause fear and anxiety. By exposing them to these stimuli repeatedly and showing that there is no negative outcome, puppies learn to accept these things in their environment. This process is called habituation, and occurs between 3 and 12–16 weeks. Dogs that receive insufficient exposure to people, other animals and new environments during this time may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression. Many young dogs will regress or become fearful again if they do not receive continued social interaction as they grow and develop.

Make a conscious effort to identify the types of stimuli your puppy is not being exposed to (such as children, elderly people, wheelchairs, other dogs/cats, city/country, car rides, planes, thunder, etc) and try to arrange for him to be exposed to them. Giving treats each time your puppy is exposed to a stimulus can further reinforce that it is not something to be afraid of. If your puppy does begin to show signs of fear when faced with something new, back off and try again later. Don't reassure the puppy, as this is positive reinforcement for the fearful behaviour.

Until 1 week after your puppy's final vaccination, he is not fully protected. Any contact with other dogs poses some risk of infection. However, because socialisation is such an important process, we need to weigh up the risks against the benefits. Having vaccinated dogs come to your home to meet your puppy and enrolling in puppy classes with other vaccinated puppies are two ways of minimising the risk.

What training should my puppy have?

See 'Teaching Commands Information Sheet' and 'Preventing Behaviour Problems' Information Sheet'