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Pet-savers Guide to Puppy Ownership

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Owning a puppy brings its own special rewards and responsibilities and is not a decision that should be undertaken lightly. The Animal Welfare Acts have introduced a duty of care making it the responsibility of the owner to ensure that their animal’s welfare needs are met. Your dog will be a member of your family for many years so it is worth considering how you will provide for each of these needs.



These include the need:


■ For a suitable environment (place to live)

■ For a suitable diet

■ To exhibit normal behaviour patterns

■ To be housed with or apart from other animals (if applicable)

■ To be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.



The actual requirements will vary depending on your own circumstances and the type of dog that you choose. Factors that you should consider when taking on a dog include: Size of dog: The size of dog you can provide for will depend on the size of house and garden that you have. However the size of the dog will also affect the costs of ownership; some things like food and dog beds will obviously be more expensive for a larger dog but have you also considered that the cost of medication is likely to be significantly greater for a large dog.


Many people underestimate the costs of dog ownership which are likely to be between £1000 and £3000 a year, depending on the size of the dog, to provide food as well as associated costs such as kennelling, grooming and veterinary fees.


Exercise:

All dogs need exercise every day; however, the type and amount of exercise will vary with the type of dog and vary from one to several hours a day. Think about how much exercise you can realistically give your dog every day (even when it is raining).


Companionship:

Dogs are very social animals and need companionship. If left alone for long periods they are likely to become bored and may develop problem behaviours. Think about the time you have available to spend with your dog and how you will provide for those occasions when you are away. While many dogs appreciate the companionship of other dogs; think carefully about the time and money needed to care for more than one dog.


Temperament:

When choosing your dog you will need to think about the role you expect your dog to fulfil. The majority of dogs these days are kept as companions and therefore a suitable temperament, along with appropriate socialisation, are essential if your experience of dog ownership is to be a happy one.


Wilson's veterinary practice is your best ally in keeping your puppy or dog healthy. The team has plenty of knowledge and experience and will be happy to offer you advice.


Choosing a breed

Dogs come in many different shapes and sizes and some breeds are associated with particular character traits. If you choose a pedigree dog you are more likely to be able to predict how your puppy will turn out. If you meet the mother, or even better both parents, you will have a good idea of its likely size and appearance that your puppy will achieve, and may get some idea of his future character. For a mixed breed dog, even one of the so called “designer breeds”, the size and appearance of the puppy can be quite different from that of the parents.


It is also wise to research the health issues that may affect a particular breed or type of dog; there are now several excellent resources online that will provide you with information about the potential problems and the health tests that you should expect. Your veterinary practice will be happy to give advice.



Finding a puppy;

Puppies can be bought from many different sources; however; we would recommend that you don’t rush into this decision. You want your puppy to be a healthy and well-adjusted member of the family for many years to come, so it is worth taking time to research the source of your puppy and to make sure that the breeder has done everything that they can to give your puppy a good start.


Unfortunately there are people who breed and sell dogs with little concern for their health and welfare and purchasing from these people only perpetuates irresponsible breeding, “puppy farming” and even illegal importation. Reputable breeders should encourage you to visit and see the litter of puppies with their mother before making a choice. They will be willing to answer questions but will also want to satisfy themselves that their puppy will be going to a suitable home.


The breeder should provide you with details of any health tests carried out on the parents, as well as the socialisation, feeding and preventive healthcare, such as vaccination and worming, that the puppy has received. You may also receive details of Kennel Club registration and short term insurance.


Many good breeders are now providing you with a written “puppy contract” detailing this information. Rehoming and rescue centres will usually have much larger selections of juvenile and adult dogs, and only small numbers of puppies. If they do have puppies they will not usually be able to provide very much information on the parents; however, they should still provide you with details of the health care and socialisation that the puppy has received with them.


While the internet can provide a convenient way of researching breeds and locating suitable puppies we would advise against purchasing a puppy from a website without visiting to see the puppy in its home environment with its mother and littermates. While the offer to deliver your puppy to you may seem appealing remember that this could be hiding irresponsible breeding practices, puppy farming or even illegal importation.


Choosing a healthy puppy;

Choosing a healthy puppy starts with finding out about the health of the parents. It is worth checking how closely related the parents are as this can affect the chance of genetic health problems in the offspring. The Advisory Council on the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding recommends that bitches should only be mated to a dog where the Coefficient of Inbreeding (COI) of the resulting puppies as measured from a five generation pedigree would be lower than 12.5%. The Kennel Club website has a tool called “Mate Select” which can help you calculate this. Otherwise try to make sure that the pedigree of the mother and father do not share too many ancestors.


Ask whether any DNA tests relevant to the breed have been performed and ask about the results. Certain breeds may also undergo health screening such as X-rays to assess hips and elbows. Where eye tests are carried out they should usually have been carried out within the past year. Scores for hips for both parents should be below the breed average. Elbows and eyes should test clear. If you are not sure how to interpret the test results ask us.


While it is not possible to guarantee the health of an individual puppy there are several things that you can do to maximise the chance that your own puppy will have the best start in life. Wherever possible have the puppy checked by a veterinary surgeon either before or immediately after purchase.


Do not choose a sickly looking puppy because you feel sorry for it, you will only be taking on problems. A healthy puppy should have:


■ Eyes – clear and bright

■ Ears – clean and free from discharges

■ Mouth, gums and teeth – gums should be firm and pink, teeth should be white and undamaged

■ Skin and coat – clean and healthy looking with no evidence of parasites or dandruff.


We will also be able to check that the puppy is developing normally, that there are no obvious abnormalities, such as hernias, and check for abnormalities such as heart murmurs. You will also want to know what healthcare the puppy has received so far in terms of worming and vaccination. Where a microchip has been inserted you will want to make sure that the puppy is correctly registered to you.


Before your puppy arrives you will need to make sure that your house and garden are safe and secure. Remember that puppies chew so make sure that anything toxic, dangerous or valuable is kept out of reach. Your home will seem very strange to your new puppy, so give him time to get to know his new surroundings. Remember that although puppies love to play they need a quiet place to retreat to and to sleep.


Every puppy needs a bed, but as it’s likely to be chewed, don’t invest in an expensive bed until he’s passed this stage of his development. He’ll be just as happy with a cardboard box lined with a pad of newspaper and a cosy old sweater or piece of blanket. The bed should be large enough to allow the dog to lie out flat, so you will need to consider what size your dog is likely to be when fully grown (or be prepared to replace the bed as he grows). If you have children, teach them to respect the puppy’s bed as a place where he can rest undisturbed.


Provide your puppy with a crate in which to sleep and use for short periods when the household is busy can be a useful. Your puppy should be introduced to the crate gradually by providing food and toys in it before closing the door for short periods. Once your puppy is accustomed to the crate it can be used to restrain the puppy for short periods. Providing it can be appropriately secured the crate can also be used to restrain your puppy in the car.


Your puppy needs to know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour. Teach him what he should do rather than simply telling him off when he gets it wrong. Be consistent, the whole family must follow the rules, or the puppy will become confused. Simple rules may include:


■ Not being allowed upstairs

■ No begging at the table or food sharing.

■ No barking at or leaping at people.

■ Only special dog chews are for chewing


Feeding

Your puppy should be fully weaned when he arrives. Always ask the breeder what they have been feeding the puppy; many breeders will supply a diet sheet and a small bag of food for the first few days. Wait until your puppy has settled in before making any changes to his diet in order to reduce the risk of stomach upsets.


After a few days you can introduce a new food, gradually mixing an increasing proportion of it into the puppy’s food over about a week. The aim of feeding a puppy is to provide complete nutrition for healthy development and growth. Puppies should grow at an average rate; feeding to encourage rapid growth can increase the risk of skeletal abnormalities and does not alter final size.


Large and giant breed puppies (>25 kg adult body weight) should be fed a food that contains the correct amount of energy and calcium to decrease the risk of developmental orthopaedic diseases.


Complete puppy foods are formulated to provide for the nutritional needs of your puppy; follow the guidelines on the packaging or ask the staff at your veterinary practice for more information. Initially your puppy will need 3 or 4 small meals per day; this can then be reduced to fewer meals a day as he gets older.


By the time he is about 10–12 months old he should be able to move on to an adult diet, unless he’s a giant breed (these mature more slowly). If you choose to feed a home prepared diet it is important to get advice from a veterinary nutritionist as it can be difficult to meet all the nutritional needs of a growing puppy. Remember that raw food can be a source of bacteria and other infections.


Fresh, clean water must be available at all times to your puppy.


Treats can be very useful in reward based training but in order to maintain a balanced diet and a healthy weight, treats, snacks and human food should be kept to less than 10% of the daily intake.


Chewing

It is normal for puppies and young dogs to chew objects in their environment, but this needs to be controlled in order to avoid damage to the puppy or annoyance to the human members of the household. If you catch your puppy about to chew something he shouldn’t, distract him with a toy or call him away, always praise him when he obeys. Provision of suitable chews and chewable toys will help to avoid chewing of unsuitable items and may improve dental health. Supervise your puppy playing with toys and chews and remove them before they become damaged to prevent small pieces being swallowed and potentially becoming stuck.


Normal behaviour

Dogs need to be able to express normal behaviour but in a way that is acceptable to the family that they live with and the wider society. This requires that the puppy is appropriately socialised and trained. Socialisation The first few months of a puppy’s life are the most important for social development. A well socialised puppy will be able to cope with all of the situations he’s likely to encounter in later life, rather than growing up shy or fearful. The socialisation process should have started with the breeder and you should have been given details of the socialisation program that your puppy has so far experienced. During the early weeks and months introduce your puppy to a variety of sights, sounds, people and experiences, concentrating on introducing your puppy to the experiences he is likely to encounter in later life.


However it is also important to ensure that the puppy has a wide range of experiences. Let him meet adults and children, the postman, the milkman and any visitors, approaching them in his own time. Never force the issue if he’s not confident. If you have friends with dogs which have been vaccinated and are good with puppies, let him meet them to help him to build up his canine social skills. Don’t take your dog out on to pavements, parks or gardens which may have been soiled by other animals until he has completed his initial course of vaccinations. Once he is fully protected you can start to introduce him to a wider range of environments.


Basic training

You should begin your puppy’s training as soon as you bring him home. When training your puppy at home make sure that everyone in the family uses the same commands. Keep training sessions for young puppies short and fun. When he is older, enrol in a puppy training class to learn how to teach him simple commands. Ask your vet for details of local training classes and always ask if you can observe a class before enrolling. Training classes should be well organised and emphasis reward based training. Punishment is a very poor training tool and should be avoided.


House training

House training is one of the most important tasks with your new puppy if you are to have a harmonious relationship. The overall goal of house training is to teach your puppy when and where to toilet. It is important to establish a routine; dogs are creatures of habit. Take him to a particular spot in the garden immediately he wakes up, at frequent intervals during the day and last thing at night. Many puppies need to toilet shortly after eating or drinking. Wait with him until he has done what’s required and then praise him. If accidents occur, don’t shout at him. Clean up at once with water and biological washing powder to remove the smell so that he doesn’t return to the same spot.


If you see signs that your puppy wants to relieve himself (e.g. sniffing the floor in a circle) take him to his ‘outside spot’ immediately. Exercise and play Young puppies generally get all the exercise they need by racing around the garden and playing, but once your puppy is fully vaccinated you can take him for short walks away from home. This will help to familiarise him with different environments.


The age at which ‘real’ exercise should begin varies from breed to breed, as does the amount. We will be able to advise you. Make exercise fun by taking along a ball or a Frisbee, so that you can play games. Avoid small balls which he could swallow, or sticks which could lodge in his throat and injure him.


Your puppy doesn’t need expensive toys but make sure that anything you do give him to play with is safe. If any toys become worn or damaged, replace them. Don’t give him an old slipper to play with or he’ll think that all shoes and slippers are fair game. Puppies’ minds need exercise as well as their bodies, so play games that make him think. He’ll enjoy hide and seek, and “retrieve” games.


Bite inhibition

Many interactions between puppies (or between puppies and their owners) initially involve mouthing and biting. Play-biting is a natural behaviour commonly exhibited by puppies and will continue until it becomes over exuberant at which point the puppies will withdraw. Play biting towards humans should not be encouraged and all humans should withdraw from play as soon as biting occurs. You can also discourage your puppy from play biting by saying “ouch” loudly or using a firm command, such as “enough”.


If your puppy continues to play bite or starts to show any signs of aggression seek professional advice as once aggressive behaviour becomes established it can become both dangerous and difficult to correct.


Puppy classes

Puppy classes provide a fun way for your puppy to start meeting other puppies in a safe environment as well as helping you undertake some basic training. Your veterinary practice may run or be able to direct you to puppy classes. The early classes will concentrate on socialisation and providing you with information on puppy care and will usually accept healthy puppies once they have received their first vaccination. Older puppies can move on to basic training, again in the company of other puppies.


Vaccinations

Vaccination protects your puppy from a number of serious and highly infectious diseases. It works by priming his immune system so that if he comes into contact with the disease later, his body is better able to ‘fight back’. All puppies and dogs should be vaccinated against:


■ Canine Distemper Virus

■ Infectious Canine Hepatitis

■ Canine Parvovirus

■ Leptospirosis.


Your vet may also advise vaccinating your puppy against other diseases such as:

■ Kennel cough – your puppy will need this vaccination 1–2 weeks before going into boarding kennels, to a show, or anywhere else he could mingle with many other dogs

■ Rabies (if he needs to travel abroad).


Vaccinations are generally started at approximately 8 weeks of age with a follow up dose around 2–4 weeks later. Don’t allow your puppy to walk where other dogs (who may not have been vaccinated) have been until after he has completed his initial vaccination programme. Many vaccinations will need a “booster” at one year of age but after that may only need boosters every 3 years. However leptospirosis and kennel cough vaccinations currently require annual vaccination.


Worms and worming

Most puppies become infected with worms at some stage. Puppies can become infected with roundworms in the womb or through their mother’s milk so regular worming is essential. As they start to explore their environment and eat a variety of items they are at risk of further infection. A heavy infestation of worms can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, constipation and a dull coat. Some worms can be passed to humans, especially young children. Hygiene measures, such as the removal of faeces from the environment and hand washing, are important in order to reduce the risk of worm infection.


The main types of worm are:

■ Roundworms – they look like tiny strands of fine spaghetti and are the commonest type of worm. They may be seen in the faeces of infected animals

■ Tapeworms – these are made up of segments which form long chains up to half a metre long. The segments look like grains of rice. Tapeworm segments may be spotted around the dog’s bottom

■ Lungworms – can be picked up if your dog catches and eats small prey such as slugs, snails or amphibians. Some dogs are symptomless; others may have a dry cough and others may have problems with blood clotting.


It is usually recommended that puppies are wormed against roundworm monthly until they are 6 months of age. The frequency that they should be treated for other types of worm will depend on a number of risk factors. Remember that your dog can have worms even if you cannot see any sign of them in his faeces. We will be able to advise you on the safest and most appropriate products and their use.


Fleas and other external parasites

If untreated, external parasites can lead to skin infections, and scabies mites can be passed to humans. So if you see creepy crawlies, or if your puppy is itchy, seek veterinary advice.


■ Fleas – dark brown and able to jump! They can cause irritation which can be intense if the animal becomes allergic to their saliva. They can also transmit tapeworm. Severe infestations in small puppies can even cause anaemia

■ Lice – pale brown and resemble fleas but are much smaller. They cause intense irritation

■ Mites – burrow under the skin and can cause intense irritation but are usually invisible to the naked eye

■ Ticks – have a small head and large round body which can swell to the size of a pea. They cause little irritation but can transmit a number of diseases such as Lyme disease. Most puppies pick up fleas at some time.


We can advise you on the most appropriate products to treat your pet and your home (to kill eggs and larvae in the puppy’s bedding, the carpets, and soft furnishings). While it may not be easy to see the fleas themselves you may be able to see flea droppings. Stand your puppy on a piece of white paper and comb his fur with a fine comb. Dab any dark specks falling on to the paper with a piece of dampened tissue – if any turn a reddish brown colour, they are flea droppings, which contain dried blood. Many people choose to apply regular anti-parasite treatment to their dogs (e.g. once a month), to prevent fleas rather than waiting until there is an unpleasant flea problem in their homes.


Pet insurance

You may want to consider taking out pet insurance so that you won’t need to worry about vet’s bills if your puppy has an accident or becomes ill. Although routine procedures such as vaccination, teeth cleaning and neutering and preventive measures such as worming or flea treatments are not covered by insurance, insurance can provide peace of mind by covering unexpected veterinary fees. Shop around when you buy a policy, as policies vary and different levels of cover are available. More expensive policies generally provide increased cover and some cover a wider variety of treatments such as referral for behavioural problems and complementary therapies such as acupuncture. Check on the exclusion clauses before buying an insurance policy. Remember that conditions that existed before taking out the policy will not be covered. You may also find that some companies will cover a condition for only 12 months, while others continue paying year after year up to a maximum amount in any year. Many insurance policies also include third party insurance in case your dog injures someone or causes an accident.


Dental care

Puppies’ baby teeth (deciduous teeth) appear at around 4–6 weeks of age, and are replaced by the adult teeth by 6–7 months. If any deciduous teeth don’t fall out naturally, we may need to extract them to prevent the adult teeth from coming through crooked. Your puppy needs your help to keep his teeth in good condition. You should brush your puppy’s teeth every day if you can. It is best to start when he is young so that he gets used to you touching his mouth. Always use a special dog toothpaste and a child sized toothbrush, or a special toothbrush which fits over your finger.


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