Now that you have a little bundle of joy (with sharp teeth, and a curious appetite for trouble!), you’re most likely going to ask yourself, what now? What do first time puppy parents do with their brand new dog? Is it hungry? Should I train her/him now to jump, fetch or sit? Does it need a walk? Is it too early for socialising?
If you are a first-time dog owner and have these and many more puppy related questions, you’ve come to the right place.
The first thing to do once you realise just how much a new dog can turn life upside down is to take a deep breath. As fun and exciting as it might be, bringing home a puppy can be overwhelming considering all your new pet owner responsibilities. However, this shouldn’t deter you. All you need is a little know-how, some planning and boom! it’s time to start your puppy parent honeymoon phase (which, if we do everything right, never really ends!).
Here’s a step-by-step guide of what you need to do during your puppy’s entire first year. But before we get right to the major milestones over the next twelve months, let’s take a quick look at:
Read: lose a little sleep now to get a lot snuggles in bed later! Right off the bat, the first thing you’ll need is a well established puppy schedule. Puppies, in general, thrive in an organised environment. Therefore, it is important to have a schedule in place as soon as they arrive. So what does a typical puppy schedule contain? Well, in essence, your puppy schedule details everything to do with pet care. It would include things like meal times, potty breaks as well as bedtime and wake-up time.
Ensuring that there is a routine or a schedule helps your puppy settle into its new environment. It also speeds up your new dog’s housetraining. When creating meal times for your pup, ensure you factor in age and change it accordingly.
Puppy proof your home
Now’s the best time to get rid of all those loose cables that have plagued you for years. Puppy proofing your home is important for any first-time pet owner. This is crucial no matter how big or small your dog is. When young, puppies love chewing just about anything—rugs, coffee table edges, wires, chargers, shoes, books, adapters, lamps—if it’s within reach, it’s good for teething puppies. It’s a rare pup that doesn’t destroy everything below knee-level.
Avoid unexpected shopping trips to revamp your home decor and wardrobe by simply removing anything dangerous or valuable out of your little shark’s way. And if it’s something you can’t remove, then consider deterrent sprays sold at any pet store. Combine this with limiting your dog’s access to areas where you can easily monitor it at all times. Relax your vigilance only once your pup’s stopped exploring the house teeth first.
Puppy survival kit
Every new pup parent mistakes a puppy survival kit to be a quick trip to the pet store for a couple of toys, a ball (not all pups take to balls from day one!), food and water bowls, a bed and food. But any seasoned dog parent will tell you that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The overall strategy behind what goes into a puppy starter kit is – everything your puppy (and you) will need to feel comfortable. This approach introduces more items such as travel crates, pee pads, stain removers, wet food for upset tummy days, chewies and kongs, car seats, seat belts, different types of harnesses and leashes by activity and a whole lot more.
Don’t know where to begin? We’ve got you covered. Here’s our handy puppy starter kit to stock up on everything you’ll need.
Now that you have your puppy essentials, it’s time to understand how your puppy is going to develop. This includes both physical and social development. While having a read of these guidelines, keep in mind that they are generalised. If your puppy’s behaviour doesn’t fit the timeframe of the puppy care stages below don’t get stressed, different puppies tend to develop at a different pace. Be sure to keep your vet in the loop if you have any questions about age-appropriate nutrition and exercise.
Three to five weeks of age: your pup’s early stages
Most pet parents, especially those who adopt from shelters will never have a pup at home, away from its mum and siblings, at this stage. However, if you do somehow find yourself in charge of an orphaned pup or one that needs to be separated from other dogs in a shelter due to health or any other reasons, then here’s what lies ahead.
This is a very important stage for any puppy. It is during this time that your puppies will start to open their eyes for the first time (usually between the second and fourth week). It’s also during this time that they are likely to break out their baby teeth and develop a sharp sense of smell and hearing. If you are tasked with taking care of a pup when it’s on its early stages like two weeks, it is advised you limit human contact and interaction (via: College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences).
This is a time when puppies are influenced most by their mom and surrounding littermates. If you would really like to see your pup at this stage, it is advised to view it from a distance as much as possible. Once it is 3 or 4 weeks old, you can now consider interacting with it from time to time. In fact, this period is known as the exposure period. Get to take your dog on small trips and let it see and learn new things.
Never hesitate to seek help during this stage. It’s a very crucial part of your puppies’ development. If you do it right, you are on the right path to having a healthy, playful happy pup; do it wrong and you’ll end up making the next 12 months a lot harder.
Five to seven weeks of age: your pup is learning how to be a dog
This is a very special moment for any pet dog owner. It’s during this period that your puppy will start learning how to be a dog. Her brain will have a lot going on and her body will experience a number of positive developments. For instance, it’s during this time that she will start gaining physical coordination. You are also likely to hear her producing cute tiny barks while playing around with her littermates. In terms of human interaction, this is a nice time to get to know your little puppy. Despite it still being early, it’s a perfect time as she’s beginning to learn different social and play skills.
You could also start potty training your puppy during this stage. However, keep in mind that your pup is still quite small and can’t hold her bladder for too long. Don’t be harsh or expect quick learning. Expect a lot of accidents. Here’s a quick guide to potty training for new pet folks.
Week seven (near the end) is a perfect time to start thinking about visiting the veterinarian office. Get talking about vaccinations, dietary requirements and a healthcare schedule for the next 12 months. Here is a link to a pup’s basic vaccination schedule. For a complete list of vaccines for your dog, visit akc.org.
Seven to nine weeks of age: your puppy starts to know how to behave
Usually a stage for much frolicking and exploration, this is when your pup becomes curious about her surroundings. This is also a period when your puppy’s brain starts to develop and she starts developing a sense of how to behave around you and is more open to bonding with humans.
This is a good time to decide on when to get your dog desexed. Typically, puppies are usually spayed or neutered between nine to 24 weeks, depending on health, size, environment and any complications—as advised by a vet. Get the right professional advice and stick to it. Remember: your pup will need your undivided attention for at least a couple of weeks right after surgery so plan your work and household routine around your vet’s recommended desexing date.
This is also a period when your pup is open to socialising with other people so feel free to—gently—introduce her to friends and family, taking care to advocate for her by asking everyone not to scare, startle or smother her as she learns to trust and interact with other humans. Avoid over-stimulation or over-handling by strangers or people your dog isn’t very familiar with, as any reactions to such instances can have lasting effects on your puppy’s temparament. Encourage friends and family to respect your dog’s space and educate them on how they can win her trust by not invading her space by constantly picking her up or startling her.
You should also consider introducing her to environments other than your home. Be sensitive to her reactions as you help her navigate her reactions to these new surroundings—especially if she’s had a traumatic experience as a rescue pup. For a complete list of things you can can expose your puppy to, check out the ASPCA’s puppy socialisation checklist.
Nine to 12 weeks of age: your puppy might start pushing boundaries
During this stage, it’s not uncommon to find puppies acting naughty. In most cases, they tend to do this in an attempt to establish their dominance in your home’s hierarchy. This is not something that is unique to your pup alone. In fact, it’s a very common occurrence with puppies during this stage as detailed here by Drs. Foster & Smith. And when your pup isn’t asserting her dominance, she’ll be easing her teething pains by rubbing and grabbing interesting textures into her mouth. Invest in some toys suited for teething pups and try not to substitute these with random toys from the pet store. Teething toys, chewies and stimulants ease your dog’s teething discomfort. Giving her something inappropriate or poor quality will make her more restless and assertive.
You’ll also notice your puppy’s involvement with the environment growing. This is something you should expect to continue over the next couple of years. This is also when puppies begin to learn acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. Keep in mind that this is usually the stage at which your pup leaves her litter-mates to come live with you. She will expect you to give her all your attention, because as far as she’s concerned (and quite literally)—you have no other job.
13 to 16 weeks of age: your pup becomes more independent
For puppies, this is usually a stage of full blown teething discoveries, oral fixations and exploring the world through their mouths. You can tell if your pup is in teething overdrive by simply observing her behaviour. If she’s constantly chewing things in the house, then you have your sign. This is when your initial phase of puppy proofing really comes in handy. Your puppy might also lose some interest in you. You’ll find that she no longer wants your constant attention. This is normal, as your new friend discovers that the world is bigger than her snuggles with you. In fact, most pup parents can expect this aloof stage to pass as suddenly as it starts.
By now, across these five stages of new puppy care, your dog has learned to socialise, has her vaccination and desexing schedule, met neighbourhood dogs and humans, and understood—kinda sorta—what is expected of her for loo breaks and sleeping schedules. Fail to handle this stage correctly and your puppy might end up confused, weary or anxious. For instance, it might have socialization problems that’ll lead to it being aggressive towards unfamiliar people. Your work is especially cut out if you decided to share your home and heart with a rescue shelter pup—who’ll need to go through a deep phase of unlearning before developing good habits. The best thing for you to do here is to be patient, understand that this is just a phase and give her every reason to trust you as her primary caregiver.
As already mentioned in the beginning, your puppy might experience some of these stages differently and at different times. Stay vigilant and only raise an alarm if you observe something terribly out of the ordinary or not at all. Your vet and pet-sitter (and if needed, dog trainer) are going to become your best friends over the next 12 months!
At six months, your puppy might appear all grown up but she still has a long way to go. In fact, dogs are considered adults only when they reach 18 months of age. So you have a fair bit of work ahead of you. But don’t worry, because you’ve already completed the hardest part—you’ve made the commitment! Now it’s time to truly bond with your puppy, and remember—dogs are not dispensable. Your pup is not ‘on trial’. She’s here to stay, so it’s in everyone’s interest to make this phase as regimented and fulfilling as possible. Good luck!