How to Take Care of A Puppy: A Complete Guide for Every Beginner Dog Owner

How to Take Care of A Puppy
John Walton
Written by John Walton

It is always an exciting time for the family, when a puppy is brought into the home. The excitement is even greater for persons who are owning a dog for the first time. Puppies are one of the most adorable creatures as they add a great deal of pleasure and joy to the home.

One thing is clear, however, a puppy in the home is added responsibility. You will find that a puppy is much more than a doghouse and food. From having to ensure its proper nutrition and following up with the vet to maintain good health, your responsibility will expand to training and socializing your dog, exercise, and being the patient, loving and understanding owner.

There is great reward, however in having and caring for a puppy, especially with the love and loyalty that he will return. When you are done with all the socializing and training, your puppy will mature to a well-adjusted adult that you will be proud to have, and that others will adore. At the same time having a dog in the home will cultivate in younger members, the responsibility of caring for their pet. Before you take your puppy home, be sure that you understand how to take care of a puppy.

Your puppy will need to be cared for as the people in the family. There are some essential things that you should know that will help to grow your puppy into the healthy and smart dog that you want.

Preparing for your puppy

Having some background on your puppy will help you to give him the best of care. For example, each breed of dog comes with a different personality or temperament, and should be handled differently. A puppy from a breeder may give you some important information about the puppy’s parents, temperament, state of health, and the ideal living environment for him. A shelter may not have much of a background on the dog and you will therefore need to carry out some research to help you raise him.

Puppy tips -infographic

Consider also all the items that your dog will need and purchase them. Your list should include food and water bowls, chew toys, grooming items, collar and leash, identification tag, crate, gate, bedding, and odor neutralizer. Very important for puppy preparation is a place for his own.

Introducing the puppy to the family

As you take your new dog home, settle him in quietly. Seek to minimize the amount of noise in the environment to make it stress-free. Children may be ready to hold and cuddle the dog, and pass it from hand to hand. Make them understand that the dog needs love and rest at this point and should not be handled too much. This is a time when he will be missing his mother and litter, and may be fretful and whiny.  If the dog shows signs of distress, sit down quietly and comfort it.

Introduce your puppy to a vet

One of the first orders of business is to take a trip to the vet. You may be a first time owner and do not have a vet in mind. Talk to other dog owners who you will meet in your daily walk. They can recommend you to one. If the dog is coming from a shelter, they could be a good source of vet information also.  A vet will help you take care of your puppy. Here are some things you should discuss with him or her:

  • Talk about the types of vaccination your dog will require. He will create a schedule for when the dog should visit for the procedures.
  • Ask about the best nutrition for your puppy taking into consideration its age and breed. Discuss how often he should be fed and the amount. Find out what measures to take to prevent infestation of parasites.
  • Ask about the illnesses to which he is prone at this stage and the signs to look out for.
  • Discuss also the right time for spaying or neutering the dog.

Training your puppy

It is true that a dog is “man’s best friend”. However, we must accept that dogs are of the animal class and different from people. They are not socialized as humans and as such do not know how to exhibit socially accepted behaviors. In their natural state they do come with behaviors that you will find irritating.

If a puppy is going to live with you, it must be trained to ensure good relationship between dog and owner. From their noisy and persistent barking, a penchant to dig and chew at anything, to their youthful exuberance jumping on you in greeting, your puppy will exhibit unpleasant behaviors that will be difficult to live with.

Train your puppy

A puppy will have the run of the house if it is allowed. You will not want him to beg at meal time. He will need to be taught some important skills for him to live harmoniously among his human family. According to Milan (2015), owners need to establish themselves as the pack leader or their dog will believe he is and take control.

House training – From very early, your puppy must get the idea that he cannot pass faeces or urine in the house. Dogs naturally do not eliminate in their dens. A puppy has that instinct in him and will quickly adapt to this concept when trained. It is important however to keep it positive so that the dog is not afraid. First, establish a place where the dog will relieve himself. The area should look and feel familiar to him. Establish a time also when he would relieve himself, preferably in the morning. Some owners allow a toilet break just before bedtime.

Ensure that you take him to the same place each time and be consistent in doing so. He will soon understand what he should do. As soon as the puppy has successfully used the toilet, reward him with a simple treat or by giving gentle approvals. Be mindful that accidents can occur. Remain calm in such circumstance, but be firm in getting him to cooperate. Any punishment may cause the dog to associate his body function with something negative. Continue to take him to his usual place.

House train your puppy

Obedience training – Your puppy needs to learn certain social manners for more positive interaction with humans as he grows. It is important to teach him to see you as the leader of the pack at all times. Training will develop a closer bond also between the owner and the dog. Additionally, friends and strangers will be protected when they visit and will be impressed. Being taught to obey commands to ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘down’, and ‘come’, can save your dog in unsafe situations.

Some owners find it more convenient and effective to enroll their puppy in obedience classes. However, if you are up to it, there are a few tips that will serve you well as indicated by Dogtime.com (Basic Obedience Commands, 2015).

  • Be consistent in the commands that you want the dog to respond to. You will certainly confuse him if in one instance you say “come”, and in another you say “come here”, or “come here boy”.
  • Move from simple to more difficult situations in getting him to obey the commands. Incorporate difficulty by using a mix of time, distance and distracting situations in the challenge.
  • Food treats are the best rewards. Dogs hardly refuse food and this treat can both lure them to where you want them to go, and also to obey the command. If food does not appeal to him, positive verbal approvals, a favorite toy, or a gentle scratch under the tummy or behind the ears will be appreciated.
  • Give the reward immediately after the command is carried out satisfactorily.
  • Phase out rewards gradually as the commands become easier, quicker and better. Once the dog understands and does what you want him to do, you will only give treats for the best responses.
  • Make training sessions short and fun. Like children, puppies have short attention span. Five to ten minute sessions held several times a day is sufficient.
  • Be patient and calm. Your puppy will not respond positively to the training if you are abusive and demanding of him. Yelling, hitting and jerking on his leash will send the message that you are not confident, and are unfair in your interaction with him.
  • Very important, you will need to keep practicing. If the dog is not allowed to use the skills he has learnt, he will forget them soon.

Teach your puppy to be sociable

Your puppy needs to know how to interact and be sociable with others he comes in contact with. He should learn that barking and showing aggression to people and other dogs for example, are not acceptable. Make your puppy more socially aware by taking him to other places where he will meet other dogs and people.

Puppy Socialisation Checklist Full

This way he will get used to smells and sounds that will help him to relax, because he knows them. Teach him how to behave when friends and families visit. Dog socialization classes will help put your dog on the right track.

Puppy’s nutrition

The puppy’s nutrition needs will be different from the adult dog. The young dog will need food to help him to grow, build muscles, bones and teeth, and to give him the energy to support his playful escapades. Your puppy most likely would have been weaned by the time he arrives home. The breeder or the shelter may have told you the type of food the dog received while in their care. Young puppies should start on solid food from as young as 4 weeks. Make his food easier to chew, however, by adding some moisture to dry food.

Your vet, however, will be the expert voice for the right nutrition for your puppy. Vets would have significant amount of experience in dealing with dogs at that age. On your first visit see what she recommends.

Puppy food commercial

When buying puppy food, ensure that it contains the right nutrients. Read the labels carefully. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), for example has certain guidelines that manufacturers should follow in producing dog food for all life stages. Check labels for the statement indicating that the nutrients inside follow the association’s guidelines for complete nutrition. Additionally, the label should indicate the life stage that the food is suitable for.

Observe your puppy to see how well he is doing on the food that you are giving him. After six weeks or one month, the dog should be growing, having a thick and shiny coat, and engaging in energetic play. The color and form of the feaces will also suggest that he is absorbing the nutrients in his food (WebMD, 2015).

Pay attention to how frequently you feed your puppy. It is recommended that puppies 4 – 6 months are fed three times daily. However, they are able to adapt and may eat two times per day.  You should also consider how much the dog should eat. At this stage, dogs need enough nutrition to fuel their growth and energy. Consider also that the fastest growth occurs in the first five months.

Your dog will need up to two times the amount of calories as an adult dog of the same breed. At the same time you will need to look for any sign that obesity may be creeping on him. This is especially critical for puppies of large breeds that are susceptible to hip dysplasia and arthritis. On the other hand, he should be evaluated for thinness. Your vet will be able to help you in this.

Puppy food

According to WebMD, as soon as dogs reach 90% of their adult dog weight, they can be taken off growth food and placed on maintenance diet. Dogs of small breeds peak at 9 — 12 months while large breeds take an average of 12 – 18 months to do so.

Importantly, watch what your puppy eats. Some foods are harmful to dogs even though they are enjoyed by people.  Chocolate, raisins, grape, macadamia nuts and raw bread dough containing yeast should not be fed to your dog. So also are onions, garlic and chives; dairy products in large amounts such as milk and cheese; coffee and products with caffeine; and food sweetened with xylitol  such as candy, gum and baked products. Xylitol is also used in the production of toothpaste and can cause liver failure.

Establish a kennel or crate for your puppy

No matter how exuberant your puppy, he will want a place that he can call his own. A kennel or crate bought for him can be just that. He will come to recognize this place as a safe area where he can get away from the hustle and bustle of life in a home with people. Households with children can be especially demanding and distracting for a dog.

Small crate for puppy

A kennel or a crate is a good way to help to house train your puppy. At puppy stage he will be in the thick of things also — dashing in and out, or all over the house, knocking over furniture and plants. He will chew on valuable items and get into uncontrollable behaviors. A kennel or crate can help you manage and supervise your puppy and control bad habits which he will take into adulthood.

Dogs come with their natural instincts to keep their dens clean and free from body waste. A dog will hold urine and faeces as long as possible in order not to mess his area where he stays. Getting him to use his crate is a way to take advantage of this natural process to teach bladder and bowel control. Your dog will establish when it is time to go to the toilet and will most certainly let you know.

Puppy in big crate

Place the kennel or crate in a strategic spot in the house where the puppy can see what is taking place around him. Gently encourage the puppy into the den. You can use small treats to entice him. Close the door to the kennel. He may whine and cry but ignore his antics. Continue to do your tasks in the vicinity so that he sees you. Talk to him as you move about.

A puppy will not want to be locked up for long, therefore let him out after a few minutes. Continue to encourage him in the crate and for longer stay. Hide treats in the crate so he can explore and see it as a place for good things.

Toys for your puppy

Puppies can easily get bored. Many breeds want to have something to do at all times. One of the best ways to keep your puppy entertained is buying him toys. Fortunately, there is a variety of dog toys available for different purposes.

Having left his litter and mother for a new environment, your dog may feel lonely. Even with the children seeking to distract him and wanting him to come and play, he may not be interested. A snuggle toy can be the distraction he needs and the dog may find comfort relaxing with it.

Puppy with toy

As your puppy grows he will probably have the same discomforts as a baby when he is teething. He may show signs of this if he starts to chew on your shoes or some other item of importance. It could also be a sign of boredom. You can purchase one of those Chew toys designed specially to help dogs with teething problems. Another type of chew toy will help save your valuables as it serves as other entertainment.

The toy also can be a great way to add variety to his exercise. If you have time enough to join him, there are Tug toys and Chase toys that will help you bond with your puppy. You will be hugely entertained as your puppy jumps about vigorously, playfully shaking his ‘trophy’. These will also add fun to exercise time.

Then there are Dental toys that will give your puppy’s teeth a good scrub as he gnaws at them.  At the same time your dog is developing and strengthening his teeth. Lastly, add an IQ toy to the mix to provide mental stimulation to your puppy. Your puppy will find the IQ toy especially interesting as he tries to find the treats that are hidden there (Puppy Toys, 2015).

You can get a variety of toys from many pet stores. Several major dog toy brands come to mind like Nylabone, Kong and Petstages. Take into consideration your puppy’s preferences, size, breed and personality when choosing toys. Both you and puppy will be happy in the end. Buy a variety of toys and alternate them so that the dog will not become bored playing with the same one every day. A tennis ball is a great toy to play fetch games with your puppy.

Kong infogprahic

Purchase toys that are sturdy and large enough that the dog cannot swallow any of the parts. Importantly, throw away toys that are broken. When purchasing teething toys you will need to seek a balance between toys that are not too soft and not too hard. Look for those that are made from firm, but flexible materials.  Chose also toys made with good quality materials that are not easy to disintegrate.  Avoid hard or thin plastic materials and those that are brittle and sharp that could harm your puppy (Koranki, 2015).

Your puppy needs playtime

Play is essential for your puppy’s growth and development. Dogs are natural at running about and engaging in playful activities. Some breeds such as the Labrador retriever, the Border collie, Jack Russell and Boston terrier are originally working dogs that will always be looking for you to engage them. Play provides physical, emotional, and mental stability for your puppy. Dogs have a lot of energy that can only be burnt off through physical exercise.

Your puppy can find life rather boring also if you do not engage him in play. Bad behavior can result as he chews at your shoes, jumps about and barks incessantly, and digs furiously to get your attention. In addition, play is important to build a bond between dog and owner. Here are a few suggestions to engage your puppy in healthy play.

  • Dogs love games in which they can chase after things. Tossing a freebie or tennis ball for him to chase and retrieve can be fun. This should not be too pressuring for you and you may also find it enjoyable. Do not allow him to chase you.
  • Hide and seek is a great game for the mental stimulation of your puppy. Hide behind a door or under a table where he can find you easily. Call him and let him find you. Be sure to have treats ready when he does. Of course, you can bring the game to more difficult levels.
  • Make the activities more interesting by incorporating treats if he does not seem interested.
  • Engage your puppy in exercises and games that test his agility. It is a great way to exercise his body and mind. Be mindful however, that some breeds will be more adept at this than even a Mastiff dog that will be satisfied with just regular play.
  • While it may seem harmless, tugging games can inadvertently cause aggressive behaviors to develop. The dog can get the idea that he is the leader if he comes out the winner, as happens when they play with their litter.
  • Find some way to incorporate obedience training in your puppy’s play. You can use basic commands to control your dog’s play and reinforce good behaviors. Only engage him in behaviors that you wish to encourage (Becker, 2010).
  • Watch out for signs of aggression in your puppy while engaging in play. Growling, nipping, standing still, and fixed gaze are threatening signs, which will need different socialization to correct these behaviors.

The experts will tell you that the average dog needs about one hour of exercise time per day. This may not be enough for your rambunctious puppy that has a lot of energy in him, and that may need more playtimes to keep him entertained and focused. Seek to add variety to meet his exercise needs.

Puppy playtime

You may need to change the route and environment for instance instead of taking the same 15 minute path every day.

In conclusion

Having a puppy is one of the best experiences that one could have. Knowing how to take care of the dog at this stage of life is important as it will set the stage for a more mature and responsible adult dog. Training and socializing your puppy are important aspects of care. However, good nutrition, exercise will all contribute positively to his care and the making of a smart and loving dog.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.