Bringing home a new puppy is super exciting. But as a first-time puppy owner, you're going to have a seemingly endless stream of questions. And unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation and many unnecessary recommendations out there. Thankfully, there are only a handful of things you really need to know to get started on the right foot.
Puppy Medical Needs
No matter how well you look after your puppy, that adorable ball of fur will need to visit a vet. Seriously, some puppies get into all sorts of mischief - like the goldendoodle who ate her own collar and the puppy that sprained its tail because it was wagging too hard!
So, take some time to choose a vet you and the newest member of your family will love. Look for a vet that's close by in case of emergencies and ask other pet parents for their recommendations to help you choose one you'll like.
In most cases, your puppy will have had their first lot of vaccinations before you brought them home. However, it's still important to take them to their vet just after you bring them home for a general health check and to set up their vaccination schedule. Your puppy should already be microchipped, but get your vet to double check and make sure all their details are correct.
Also, if your puppy isn't settling into their new home or something doesn't quite seem right, don't hesitate to make an additional appointment with your chosen vet.
Everything You Need to Know About Puppy Vaccinations
Speaking of vaccinations, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) recommends a vaccination schedule that's customised to the needs of your puppy, so you'll need to talk to your vet about your puppy's exact vaccination needs. However, all Australian puppies should be immunised against the following three life-threatening diseases:
- Canine distemper virus (CDV)
- Canine adenovirus (CAV)
- Canine parvovirus (CPV)
- Other vaccines that your puppy might need depending on your exact location, environment, and lifestyle include:
- Parainfluenza virus (PI)
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (Bb)
- Leptospira interrogans
The AVA does not recommend puppies be vaccinated against canine coronavirus (which is not the same as the virus that causes COVID-19 in people).
In most cases, your puppy will receive some vaccinations at 6-8 weeks of age, then after you've brought them home, you'll need to take them for more puppy vaccinations at around 10-12 weeks, and generally another set at 14-16 weeks. Once an adult, your puppy will also need yearly booster vaccinations for the rest of their life to ensure they retain their immunity. The costs of all these vet visits add up. So, you might like to consider whether pet insurance could help you manage your puppy medical bills.
And remember, vaccinations are really really important. Ensuring your puppy gets all of their vaccinations, with lots of cuddles afterward, is far better than the terror of waiting to see if your puppy will live if they contract one of these nasty illnesses!
Worms, Fleas and Ticks, Oh My! Puppy Parasite Prevention
Ok, so your puppy is adorable, and you keep them clean. So parasites aren't a problem, right? Sorry, no. You've seen what your puppy gets up to right? Rolling in everything interesting in the garden, rummaging through rubbish etc. Plus, no matter how clean your puppy is, they're still going to be a magnet for all kinds of parasites.
The parasites your puppy can face in Australia are:
These canine parasites are around all year and can make your puppy really sick. Some can make you sick too, and if you've got kids, they'll be particularly susceptible to some of these nasties.
Experienced vet Dr Ben Porter explains that "many parasites are not just a problem for our pets, but potentially for us as well. It's vital that your pet is kept up-to-date with parasite prevention. It's also really important to make sure you pick up all faeces both in your yard daily and in public places, and always practice good hand hygiene after touching your puppy/dog. Doing this will help to decrease the risk to you and your family, but also members of the public."
Fleas and ticks are the most common external parasites that Aussie dogs will encounter. They're more common during spring and summer when the weather is warm and humid. However, in many parts of Australia, they're an issue all year round.
When it comes to dealing with doggy parasites, prevention is always the best approach and you'll definitely want to do what you can to keep those nasties away. Apart from keeping your puppy safe and healthy, parasites are not something you want your furry friend to share with you!
Wondering how often to give your puppy a parasite preventative? Dr Porter says it "will depend on the product. It's important to follow the recommendations on pack, and if you're not sure, always speak to your vet."
There are a wide range of tablets, chews, spot-on liquids, and even injections available to prevent the various canine parasites. Choice has a nice table that sets out commonly available options and which ones are suitable for puppies.
"Regular parasite prevention is a must for all puppies and adult dogs. Speak to your vet as to what parasites are most common in your area and they can advise you as to the best preventative product to use." advises Dr Porter.
Puppy Exercise Guide
Another vital aspect of your puppy's health is exercise. Thankfully, puppy exercise is much more fun than parasite prevention! Walks in the park and games like tickle chasie are so much fun, especially with the boundless curiosity and joy of a puppy.
All puppies need exercise because it's good for their wellbeing, gives you a chance to spend quality time together and helps them be well-behaved, but the amount and type of exercise will vary. For example, dog breeds with flatter faces, like pugs, can overheat more easily and so need less intense exercise, especially in hot weather. You might consider one or more of these types of exercise:
- Gentle walking on a lead. Just make sure your puppy is comfortable in their collar or harness before you start.
- Playing at a dog-off-lead park. Be sure to check with your vet first though, as your puppy will be vulnerable to a variety of illnesses before they've had all their puppy vaccinations.
- Light games of catch. Puppies can play catch but only for short amounts of time and only if you don't throw the ball too high. If you play catch too much, they can get too tired out and if you throw the ball too high they can be injured if they land awkwardly.
The RSPCA says running or jogging with puppies can be dangerous for them as they can easily become over-tired and too much exercise can damage their developing joints, so wait till they're older for that. The same goes for allowing your puppy to run alongside you while you're riding a bike. Also, in some parts of Australia, such as in Queensland, NSW and South Australia, it's illegal to ride a bike while exercising a dog on a lead, so keep that in mind as your puppy grows.
It's also not safe to exercise puppies or dogs immediately before or after they eat as it can cause bloat.
Puppies need exercise every day, and you can figure out how long to exercise your puppy based on their age - aim for up to twice-daily exercise sessions that go for about 5 mins for every month of their age. So at one month old, you might take your puppy for two five-minute walks on their lead. At six months of age, your puppy will probably be ready for about half an hour of exercise.
Senior vet, Dr Ben Porter, adds that "exercise provides both mental and physical stimulation, and is crucial for socalisation. Plus it strengthens the bond between you and your pet. Just remember to keep it slow, steady, and always supervised. As they grow, you can increase the level of exercise depending on their level of fitness. Also, avoid the heat of the day as this can result in health issues, such as heat stress."
Let's Get Social - Puppy Training and Socialisation Guide
Just as important as exercising your puppy's limbs is exercising their mind. Your puppy will need training, so they're well-behaved (no, Bandit, my slipper is not a chew toy), and socialisation, so they're comfortable with new people and animals. (And if you can stop your puppy from eating their own poop, that's a win for everyone!)
What's the Best Way to Train Your New Puppy?
The keys to training your puppy are:
- Start early. The earlier you start training your puppy, the better. When they're young, puppies are more open to new experiences and won't have developed any undesirable behaviours that you have to help them unlearn. (The toilet is not a water bowl.)
- Be consistent. Using the same words, commands and 'rules' will help your puppy more quickly understand what you expect from them.
- Keep sessions brief. Your puppy's attention will probably start to wander if you try to train them for too long. ("Oh look there's a stripy buzzing thing. I wonder what happens if I catch it?")
- Repeat everything. Repetition will help your puppy remember the things they're supposed to and form good habits. (As opposed to remembering where that hole in the fence is so they can pull off your temporary repair and take themselves exploring.)
- Be patient. Your puppy is young and is going to make mistakes. When they do, say 'no' very clearly while they're making the mistake, so they can begin to connect their mistake with your disapproval, then correct the issue and move on.
- Reward good behaviour with healthy treats, praise, attention, or their favourite toy. Rewarding your puppy when they're well-behaved will help them understand what they're meant to do.
You might also consider enrolling your new furry friend in puppy school as it's a great way to get some professional training advice and support, and your puppy will get a chance to socialise with other people and dogs.
Puppy Toilet Training
Training your puppy not to pee in the house can take a lot of patience, especially since many puppies don't achieve full bladder control until around 4-6 months of age. (They're called fur babies for a reason.) The best way to approach toilet training your puppy is the same as training in general. Be consistent and patient, and take them to the same spot each time, so they can begin to recognise their own scent and develop a good habit of toileting in a single spot. (Preferably not your favourite rug!)
You might also like to keep your puppy on their lead when you first start taking them out to toilet, so they can't wander off.
What Is Puppy Socialisation?
Some dog breeds are more social than others. Some, like those that tend to make good guard dogs, can be pretty nervous around people and animals they don't know. And when dogs are anxious, bad things can happen!
Socialising your puppy will get them used to new sights, sounds, smells and behaviours, so they can learn to cope with a variety of situations and become comfortable with people and animals outside their new family. (Hmm, that small human is screaming at the top of their lungs - whatevs.)
One of the best ways to socialise a puppy is to take them to a dog park as there are frequently lots of dogs and people to meet. However, your puppy will be at an increased risk of illness before they've completed their vaccinations, so until then, it's best to limit socialisation activities to dogs you know have had all their vaccinations. (Woohoo, puppy play dates!)
You can also help your fur baby get used to different sensations by slowly introducing them to appliances, like a noisy vacuum and microwave, a variety of scents, like cooking smells and perfumes, and new materials, like carpet and lawn. Getting them used to having all parts of their bodies handled, including their mouth, is also useful, so you can look after their health, and so they're not worried when their vet checks them out. ("What do you mean I have to let her touch my paw? I don't think so!!!")
Dr Porter warns though that you'll need to balance the need to socialise your puppy with keeping them safe from infectious illnesses. "The peak period of socialisation overlaps with the immunity gap, so care must be taken to minimise chances of infectious disease whilst balancing positive exposure during this important life stage. Socialisation is an important lifelong learning process, not just a series of check-boxes. Most importantly, check in with the emotional state of your puppy while exposing them to new items and events to ensure they are not frightened."
When it comes to introducing your puppy to other people and animals, keep the environment calm and quiet and let your puppy approach their new potential friend (most puppies will do this out of curiosity). When introducing your puppy to other dogs, keep them on a long lead, so you're far away not to interfere with the experience, but you can also intervene if anything goes wrong. Try to make the introductions on neutral territory, but if you're visiting another dog's territory, allow the resident dog to lead your puppy into their home.
When you're introducing your puppy to a child, make sure the child knows how to handle dogs safely and that they will be quiet and calm and allow the puppy to approach them first. (Four-year-olds who squeal in excitement whenever Pup licks them can be amusing but are not a good first intro to small humans.)
Remember that all interactions need to be supervised!
Puppy Feeding Guide
The final aspect of puppy care that is absolutely vital to get right is feeding your puppy. By feeding your puppy the right food and in the right amount, you'll help them maintain a healthy weight, provide all the nutrients they need for growth and development, and even help to prevent a range of health challenges.
What Kinds of Food Are Best for Puppies?
Puppies are healthiest when they eat food designed specifically for puppies. This is because puppies grow quickly and are still developing, so they have different nutritional needs to adult dogs. And their digestive systems aren't as well-developed, so they need more easily digestible protein.
Also, puppies and dogs have vastly different nutritional needs to humans, so it's best not to feed any human food; puppy food will give your puppy the complete and balanced diet they need to grow strong and healthy. ("See Gypsy, I told you my dinner is not your best option.")
"Puppies only get one chance to grow," says Dr Porter. "What you choose to feed them now has a direct impact on their life as they get older, so it's vital they get the correct nutrition. Their diet should be complete (contains all the essential nutrients) and balanced (all the essential nutrients are in the right amounts) for puppies. It should be high in protein and energy, have adapted levels of calcium and phosphorus for bone development, and have tailored nutrients to support their delicate digestive and immune systems."
Apart from not offering the right mix of nutrients, it's important you understand some human foods are toxic to dogs. For example, you should never feed your puppy chocolate, macadamia nuts, garlic (or any other food from the allium family), avocado, or grapes (including raisins and sultanas). (Easter is not a fun holiday for pups.)
And on that note, some plants, including the vast majority of plants popularly grown indoors in Australia, are also toxic to dogs. (Whether lucky bamboo will bring you good fortune is open for debate, but it's definitely not lucky for your puppy.) So, if you've got indoor plants, pop them somewhere your puppy can't get to them.
Now, when it comes to wet vs. dry dog food, there's often quite a bit of disagreement among puppy parents. Experts agree, however, that puppies (and adult dogs) are healthiest when they eat a mix of wet and dry foods. Dry food packs in lots of nutrients and will physically help scrub your puppy's teeth, helping to keep them clean. Wet food will help keep your puppy hydrated and expose them to lots of different smells, which will encourage them to eat and help prevent them from becoming a fussy eater.
Mix feeding with wet and dry puppy food will also expose your puppy to different textures, which can prevent them from developing aversions. ("You want me to eat a different food because the normal stuff is out of stock? Nah ah. You've got a car, and there are other pet shops, keep looking buddy.")
"Wet & dry food both offer important benefits such as wet food helping with hydration and appealing to picky eaters, while dry food can slow down fast eaters as well," says Dr Ben Porter. "Check the dietary guidelines on the food packaging and measure each portion carefully to avoid overfeeding your puppy."
Very young puppies, up to 3-4 weeks of age, will need liquid food, just like human babies do initially. This could be their mother's milk (which is one reason puppies aren't separated from their mums too early) or a specially designed puppy formula. If you buy a puppy, they'll already be on solid food when you bring them home. If your dog has puppies, you can start transitioning the puppies to solid food when they're about a month old.
Which Puppy Food Brand Is Best for Puppies?
In Australia, you're pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to brands of puppy food. If you want to reduce your vet bills and keep your puppy as healthy and happy as possible, it's best to choose a high-quality, super-premium dog food brand.
Many loving puppy parents opt for a super-premium, scientifically formulated pet food brand, like Royal Canin, because they never have to worry about whether their puppy is getting the right mix of nutrients. They can also choose a puppy food that's designed for their puppy's breed or size and make sure they're serving up the right amount. Puppy feeding doesn't get easier than that.
The caveat is that sensitive puppy digestive systems can be upset by sudden food changes. So, when you first bring home your new puppy, feed them the brand of food the breeder was feeding them. Then you can slowly transition them onto your preferred dog food brand slowly over seven days.
How Much Food Do Puppies Need?
One of the biggest mistakes new puppy owners make is to overfeed them. To ensure your puppy is as healthy and happy as possible, it's best to give them 2-3 small meals a day rather than one large meal.
"No two diets are alike!" says Dr Porter. "How much to feed your puppy will depend on the specific diet they are fed, their age, size and/or weight. Always refer to the feeding guidelines on the pack, and remember that the amounts stated are usually for an entire day, so you will need to split this into 2 - 3 smaller meals for your puppy.
"Always ensure you measure the food very carefully; use an appropriate weighing scale to ensure the correct amount. A small measuring variation when feeding puppies and small dogs can significantly increase their calorie intake.
"If you're ever unsure about how much to feed, speak to the food manufacturer or to your vet."
When you're training your puppy, food is an effective reward. You might choose to save a portion of your puppy's daily food allowance to use as a reward. Or you might supplement your puppy's food with some healthy treats. But how do you choose a treat that is actually healthy?
"Healthy treats are low in calories, fat and salt. It pays to look at the ingredients of the treats, as what appears to be healthy, may not actually be healthy," says Dr Porter.
There are plenty of brands out there offering dog treats - and the quality varies widely. Royal Canin actually makes treats that are low in calories and taste great.
Dr Porter shares sage treat advice: "With positive reinforcement being a large part of puppy training, you're going to need some treats on hand while your puppy is developing and learning new skills. A treat should always complement your puppy's diet, and only be given at the right time and for the right reason.
Be sure not to overfeed your puppy and adjust their meal proportions accordingly if you're giving them treats. Treats should only be given in moderation and should not make up more than 10% of their daily calorie intake. Remember that human foods should never be fed to your pet as a treat."
Keeping Your Puppy Happy
Happy puppies are a joy to own. If you follow all the above guidelines, your puppy is much more likely to stay happy and healthy. Just avoid leaving your puppy alone for long periods of time, especially on a regular basis. Many dogs dislike being left alone, but it's a bigger problem with puppies as they can rapidly develop destructive behaviours that can be hard to break. ("What? You don't want me to unravel all the toilet paper; you'll have to stay here and stop me!")
If you find your puppy is chewing on things, barking a lot or generally making a nuisance of themselves, they might be teething or bored. Giving them something to entertain themselves with when you're absent is often a good way of keeping them stimulated.
"Puppies are naturally curious, inquisitive and energetic," says Dr Porter, "and there are numerous ways to help stimulate them physically and mentally by:
- Training your puppy to sit, stand, wait, drop, shake, etc..
- Set up an indoor agility course with household items
- Play hide and seek
- Create scent games by hiding treats around the house and let your puppy search the house for where you hid them
- Use snuffle mats and food dispensing toys."
If this doesn't solve the problem, you may need to speak to your vet or an animal behaviourist about how you can change unwanted behaviours.
Caring for Your New Puppy
There's so much to think about when it comes to caring for a new puppy. But if you vaccinate them, take them for regular vet visits, give them exercise, socialise and train them, and feed them high quality, super-premium wet and dry puppy food, you'll have all the basics covered. And if you haven't done all your new puppy shopping, check out this ultimate new Aussie puppy checklist.