Getting a puppy can be a wonderful, life changing experience as they will bring hours of joy and laughter to your life. Like most things worth having though, a puppy is also a lot of hard work and trouble!
When you bring home a puppy you are taking over the role of leader from the mother dog, and it is your responsibility to teach your new puppy about the world. This includes teaching them the house rules, how to behave in public, how to play with others and how to be a respectful member of the family.
The first three months of a puppy’s life are critical to their development and what/how they learn in these early weeks informs the rest of their life. Getting it wrong can have disasterous consequences. That is why I would not recommend a puppy for a first time dog owner, or someone who is not used to handling dogs.
Where to start:
1. Assess your lifestyle.
Take a good look at your life and think about what activities you like to do, what activities you would like to do with your puppy, how much TIME you will have for your new puppy and of course what you are willing to pay to purchase the puppy and how the ongoing expenses will fit with your family budget. Be realistic! There are no right or wrong answers however this assessment will help you to select the right puppy to fit in with your life.
2. Research different breeds.
Even if you have a certain breed in mind, it pays to fully research the breed as well as a number of others using the assessment from point 1. Consider things like the dogs size when fully grown, short or long hair, common behaviour issues or health problems, fitness level, breed history and any specific instinctive activities that the dog may want to do (like herding). You may be surprised to find out that another breed may be a better match to your lifestyle.
3. Research an appropriate breeder.
A respectable and responsible dog breeder will want to make sure that their puppy is going to a suitable home and will be able to provide you with full details of the puppies life to date and information on the parents. You should be able to meet the parent dogs and check out where the puppy is living. The breeder will have full vet records for the puppy so far and should have already started important socialisation activities. Unfortunately there are a number of irresponsible breeders and puppy farmers out there who breed dogs indiscriminately with temperament and/or health issues so chose who you purchase from wisely.
Selecting the right puppy:
When you visit with the breeder and see the puppies before you jump in there to play with the puppies, take a moment to view them first. See how they interact with each other, the mother dog or other people if present. How the puppies interact with each other can tell you a lot about their temperament, socialisation to date and general confidence. Is the puppy timid and staying away from the others? Is the puppy bouncing all over the place and being corrected by the mother dog or other puppies? Neither is right or wrong but it will give you an insight into what the puppy is like and what you may need to work on.
When you enter into the puppy area, again just wait and see which puppies come up to you. Do they approach cautiously? Do they sniff you respectfully or jump up at you? Do they walk away afterwards or hang around? Again none of these things are right or wrong but help you decide what puppy you wish to take home.
Now it’s time to start to properly interact with the puppies. Try to remember not to encourage jumping up or biting behaviour. If either occur, immediately remove your attention until the puppy has calmed down. How does the puppy respond to you? Is the puppy able to calm down when you remove your attention? Is the puppy even interested in playing with you?
Make sure to also physically check the puppy for any signs of deformity or health issues. The breeder should also be able to discuss with you any breed specific inherited disorders or physical ailments.
Welcoming your new puppy:
The first few days with your new puppy can be overwhelming while you work out the toilet routine, where they will sleep and eat etc. Here are some tips to make the first few days easier for your puppy:
- Have patience. Your puppy is learning about his or her new life and he or she will make mistakes.
- Start off as you mean to go on. It’s existing when the puppy arrives but don’t allow jumping up or bad behaviour from the beginning and make sure you show your puppy what behaviour to offer to get what they want.
- Try to keep the excitement level low. It’s a great joy to play with a puppy but be mindful of the level of excitement, take breaks and don’t let your puppy go too far.
- Start socialisation activities immediately! Make sure it is ALWAYS a positive experience for your puppy. This is even more important than obedience training! You can get to that later.
- Give your puppy space and allow him or her to be by themselves for short periods of time without you.
- Create a special, safe area for your puppy, a crate for example, where they can go to sleep or relax.
- Teach your puppy to sit for attention (rather than jump up).
- Practice putting the collar and lead on (puppies will take a few days to get used to it) without excitement.
- Get your puppy used to his or her name.
- Teach your puppy a marker word.
- Practice gentle manual handling (nothing forceful and if your puppy wants to move away they can).
- Teach your puppy where to go toilet, where their bed and water bowl is.
- I also recommend crate training if you can.
This is not an exhaustive list, it is only a starting point. There is a lot to teach a puppy but if you put the time and effort in, it is well worth the effort.