Puppies: How to Choose, Care, and Train

It can be an extremely emotional, life-changing event to select a new dog. The cute wagging tail, the puppy eyes gazing lovingly at you — no matter who you are, it’ll be tough to get past that adorable exterior and consider which dog might be the best for your lifestyle. Though you might be tempted to get a dog based on looks, selecting one based on your lifestyle is the best choice because you’ll probably be living with your new four-legged pal for at least another 10 years, so it’s best to consider this decision carefully. Doing careful research and planning at this stage will ensure that you select the breed that is best for you and your family — and the pup himself. Choosing from a wide number of puppies available is the most important part of the journey, so selecting one that will best complement your future needs is crucial.

Puppies: Black labrador retriever puppy with green ball
Look, how playful he is!

How to Choose the Right Puppy Breed for Your Lifestyle

To select the right puppy breed, start by researching a number of different breeds to figure out their key traits. Certain pure-breeds have traits that are frequently found in all animals in that breed, and figuring out if the pup is going to be energetic, laid back, or a combination of both is very important. For example, if you can’t be the type of owner to walk your dog 3 times a day, you won’t want to get a breed that is especially energetic. There are many puppies who are moderate in temperament, so it’s best to talk to your breeder or shelter to get a feel for how the pup usually behaves.

Puppies: Proud Couple Takes Photos With Their New 'Baby'
Proud Couple Takes Photos With Their New ‘Baby’

By reading breed-specific books and searching the web, you can get a sense of different breed characteristics. For example, Border Collies, sheepdogs, and other herding dogs want to herd livestock, which means they tend to nip, bite, chase, and bark instinctively. Living in a smaller apartment or condo, or having small children, with a dog who loves to chase small objects and bark a lot might not be the best fit for that lifestyle. Instead, pick a breed that is more mellow and adaptable to small children.

Consider Time and Financial Needs

Be certain to realistically gauge the amount of money and time you can spend on your puppy. Certain breeds have greater grooming needs, which means you’ll need to make frequent visits to local grooming services. Other breeds, such as Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Great Danes, need a lot of physical activity and make demands on your time. Certain working breeds and terriers are more assertive and will need to be socialized and trained correctly, so new dog owners might want to keep this in mind.Puppy's just canceled vet appointment

Lifestyle Factors

In terms of practicality, one of the best things you can do is identify puppies based on short or long hair, standing vs. drooping ears, short vs. tall legs, etc. Dog color is dependent on the biological classification of the dog. Some breeds are more sensitive and need protection, while others are more protecting of their owner and family members. Food is another major consideration. Some dogs have food allergies, which you’ll need to find out before adopting your new pet. Puppies will need potty training, socialization, and indoor/outdoor housing considerations, which is another important part of planning the best pup for your lifestyle (read more at Puppy Training: When, How to’s, Tips and Tricks).

Where to Get a Puppy

Finding a new pup is an exciting process, and giving your new dog a home is one of the most thrilling experiences of being a dog owner. It’s critical to ensure that you don’t get animals from puppy mills, which can be hard to recognize. This is why it’s important to do careful research and make a few visits before deciding where to adopt your new pup.

Never buy a puppy if you can’t see the area where the pup was raised

Check the Shelter First

First, consider adoption. A dog who’s in need of a home is one of the best choices to make in terms of getting your first puppy. Animal shelter pets can be some of the most loving, interesting critters around. You can find breed-specific rescues, such as Labradoodle, Puggle, and other interesting hybrid pets. Using online resources to find your nearest shelter or breed rescue organization is a great way to get started finding a puppy.

Responsible Breeders

A second option is to find a breeder. Responsible breeders will give their animals healthy, loving environments and be happy and proud to show off their areas. Never buy a puppy if you can’t see the area where the pup was raised and given shelter, regardless of what papers the breeder might have. AKC registration papers tell you only who gave birth to the puppy, not how the parents were treated.

Stay Away from Pet Stores

Unfortunately, puppy mill puppies do end up at pet stores all too often. If the store sources pets from local shelters, that’s one thing, but many are linked to puppy mills (more about Puppy Mills: Facts, Outlawing, What to Do).

Additionally, puppy mills often pose as breeders on the internet and through news ads and magazine sources, so be careful not to believe promises that the puppies are raised at home or family-raised. Just because these companies use ads that give the appearance that their dogs came from nice environments, it isn’t always true.

Siberian Husky Puppy in Snow
It so much fun to dig snow! I love it!

Things to Consider Before Getting a Puppy

One of the great things about being an adult is that you can get your own puppy whenever you want — no more begging the parents for one! And while it’s wonderful to have your very own furry, snuggly, happy puppy friend, there are a ton of responsibilities that accompany these little three to five pound creatures. As tempting as it is to want to take home every puppy you encounter, there are a number of considerations that should factor into the decision.

  • Living Space

First, consider your living space. Are you a homeowner, dwelling in an apartment, or renting? If it’s the latter, you’ll need to check on your lease to make sure you’re allowed to get a puppy. If the landlord doesn’t let you have one, it’s time to put off getting a puppy or consider moving elsewhere where you can have one. Be sure to obey your landlord’s rules either way. Some folks try to sneak a puppy by the landlord hoping he or she won’t notice, but if the landlord does then you’ll probably get an eviction pretty quickly, which means both you and the new pup will be homeless — not a good scenario (Big Dogs&Huge Paws gives the first-needs checklist).

  • Cost

Secondly, can you afford it? Having a puppy means you’ll have to put down pet deposits on the lease, provide professional training, socialization, dog walking, grooming, vet bills and food, and be ready for accident planning and emergencies. Many pets do injure themselves occasionally, and heading to the vet for a trip is all too common. Be sure you have a financial nest for situations where you might suddenly have to make an emergency vet trip.

  • Time and Energy

Thirdly, do you have the time and energy to devote to a puppy? If you’re planning to do the house training yourself, you need to take your little pup out regularly. If you will be in an office working 8-9 hours per day, what will you do with your pup when you are away? If you can’t be there, you’ll have to hire someone to take her for walks.

An Old Man Lost His Puppy
Should I tell him?
  • Traveling Needs

Another consideration is how often you travel. If you are constantly on the go, you’ll need to ensure that your new pup has someone to take care of her while you are away. If you have family close by who can watch her, or a good boarding facility, you can probably get by, but be sure you can afford it if you choose the latter option, as a kennel can cost up to $100 per day or more in some cases. Sometimes, if you have an especially small pup, you can travel in-cabin with him for a fee, but be sure to choose a breed that stays small if this is the case.

  • Allergies

Allergies are another big problem for pet owners, so be sure to factor this consideration in before you get a puppy. You might hear about hypoallergenic breeds, but there is no truly hypoallergenic dog — only breeds that don’t cause as many allergies. These include Portuguese water dogs, Shih-Tzus, and poodles. Saliva, pollen, and dander in the dogs’ fur can all cause allergies, so simply being hairless or minimal in terms of shedding doesn’t mean you won’t have allergic reactions to your new pup.

To figure out how allergic you are, try borrowing a friend’s puppy for a few hours and see how you react. You can also ask breeders in your area if you can take a trip with one of their dogs for a few hours.

She’ll need health insurance, shots, and the right kind of food and water to stay at a healthy weight

Any dog that you choose to get not only needs to suit your lifestyle, but also your environment. Small apartments aren’t conducive to large dogs’ demeanors, who prefer to run around and be physically active. They need big homes with a lot of outdoor space. Additionally, you’ll want to think about climate factors. Having a full, furry breed isn’t the best in a place where the temperature averages 80 degrees or more; your pup won’t be happy in an environment like that.

Puppy with unsusual markings
This little guys’s markings are so beautiful!
  • Housetraining

Also think about house training. Your puppy will want to chew on things, and this means you’ll need to teach him how to behave properly. If you can’t afford to train a new pup, you can consider adopting an adult dog who is already housebroken.

If you do decide to get a puppy, you’ll need to get lots of chew toys that you can keep on hand for her and keep all expensive clothes, shoes, medicines, and chemicals out of her reach. Puppies want to test out everything; they’re very curious creatures! Be sure to keep anything dangerous away and locked up — and this includes the trash, which should be kept in a cabinet or storage area.

  • Vaccinations

You will need to get your puppy spayed, neutered, and vaccinated as soon as possible. She will also need routine visits to the vet. She’ll need health insurance, shots, and the right kind of food and water to stay at a healthy weight. Additionally, you’ll want to get proper equipment such as a fitting leash and harness — not too large or too small for the pup. A leash that is too small can cause the dog to struggle with breathing and be uncomfortable, while one that is too large will let her wander off.

Getting a Puppy for the Right Reasons

Be sure you are doing this for the right reasons. A spur-of-the-moment adoption because you saw a cute furry face in the pet store is probably not the wisest choice. Have you chosen the companionship of a pet for the rest of your life? Is the entire household on board with your decision? Having a puppy requires time, money, plenty of room to roam around in your house, and proper living accommodations. Before adopting, go through a thorough investigation of your lifestyle to make sure a puppy is the right choice.

How to Prepare for Getting a Puppy

Many households spend several months getting ready for new babies. With puppies, it’s much the same. To truly prepare for getting a puppy, you will need a puppy pen, a crate, baby gates, training pads, chew toys, food, water, and any other items. Having all these things before adopting is critical to avoid accidents and keep housetraining plans on track.

Nice laid brown puppy
It’s feeding time.

Puppy supplies generally include a crate, which is necessary to give your pet a safe place to stay and to keep her from getting into trouble when you’re not around. You will be able to enjoy movies, dinner, and peaceful sleep without worrying about what your pup might be gnawing on. Other supplies include an exercise pen, a collar, leash, harness, and ID tag, treats, a long line, toys, grooming tools, a clicker, and tools to clean your house with.

What to Do When First Bringing Home Your Puppy

When you first bring your puppy home, you’re in for a big treat — and a real change, for both him and you! Unless your puppy has previously been alone and crated, he’ll have to have a bit of adjustment. Getting your puppy used to his new environment should be done gradually, by helping him to slowly adjust.

This way, she gets plenty of time with kids, family members, and, of course, you

First, start by letting your pup bond with whomever brings him home from the shelter. If you want the pup to be attached to your kids, they definitely need to go with you to pick him up. If it will be your dog specifically, you’ll want to be there as well. While it’s not crucial to enact this step, it is a great, easy way to start connecting with your new pup.

Safe Transport on the Way Home

If your new puppy’s riding in the back seat on the way home, make sure he’s on a passengers lap or safe in a crate, but not on his own loose in the car. Crate him if you are by yourself, and don’t put him on your lap (for both his safety and yours). Your puppy will probably bark and cry a bit, but that is natural for puppies. You can cover the crate and give him a chew toy to keep him sated until you get home. Be sure to also bring extra paper towels, plastic bags, newspapers and odor neutralization tools.

If you are traveling a long way, don’t use the highway rest stop; puppies don’t have much protection at this young age from common disease. Your puppy can be spoken to gently to distract him if he feels uncomfortable on the ride home.

Puppies and child watching
One of these is Not like the other one…. One of these is Not the same….

Reducing Home Anxiety

Once you get home, the puppy will probably be a little bit anxious. Planning your schedule so the pup is with you as much as possible on the first 3-4 days gives the puppy time to adjust. This way, she gets plenty of time with kids, family members, and, of course, you. When not with the puppy, she’s asleep, and this will help her housebreak much faster. Your pup also needs to be fed properly during this time. Keep feeding her the same type and brand of pet food for the first few days. Most people will be surprised at how well puppies get through this period, but they develop quickly during the first seven weeks of age.

Feeding Plans

If your puppy is 21 days or older, you can take a bit of dry puppy food, soak it in warm water, and give it to the pup. Having a feeding like this 2-3 times per day is ideal for your new pup’s schedule, and she will grow quickly and have fewer issues as she ages (learn more from Best Puppy Food: How Much, Schedule, Tips and Tricks).

Your First Night with the New Pup

Getting through the first night will be the biggest challenge with your new pup because she feels vulnerable and is separated from her family. Puppies typically cry for a long time when they first go through separation, so this is normal. Instead of placing your puppy far out of reach, such as in the garage or basement, where your puppy is going to feel more isolated, it’s better to keep him close. Try finding a spot near your bedroom or in it that your pup can sleep, such as a designated blanket or dog bed. This gives your pup a sense of security, but not coddling. If you do feel okay with taking your pup into your bed, you can do so — many owners like to have a pet in bed for warmth. But if you are at all uncertain, it’s best not to start by taking the puppy into your bed to comfort him, since he will associate that area with his bedtime routine.

A crate is another useful step in helping your puppy adjust to a new sleeping environment. You can set it up in the bedroom or just near the open door to the bedroom (Big Dogs&Huge Paws share Crate training tips). Then, your puppy will be able to hear you sleeping and you can quickly, verbally comfort him nearby. Another consideration is that puppies don’t typically urinate in their sleeping area, so he will not get up in the middle of the night to use the potty.

Going Potty Before Bed

Instead, have your puppy relieve himself before bed by taking a trip outside before sleep time. Walking before bed is an excellent way to ensure your puppy doesn’t need to go during the middle of the night. She’ll get tired-out and be less likely to disturb you, as she’ll sleep more soundly and feel more comfortable.

is that she is wanted, loved, and cared for, just like a child

However, on the first few nights, your pup won’t feel too happy about being alone in a crate. Anxiety and discomfort are the key emotions on his mind, so he’ll make quite a bit of a stir. Just try to ignore his whining as much as you can, because paying attention to him at this point only demonstrates to the puppy that he gets a reaction from you.Scary puppy

A Gentle Command to Alleviate Anxiety

If your pup whines excessively, simply take him gently by the scruff and, in a low, calm voice, tell him, “Go to sleep.” Repeat this gently as the days go on, and eventually he will understand and obey this command. Then, when morning comes, make sure to take him outdoors so he can go potty first thing. This should become a morning ritual because puppies need to relieve their urges over small periods throughout the day. When your puppy is finished, give him a small treat and praise him with a pat so he knows he’s done well.

The most important thing to tell your puppy in these initial days is that she is wanted, loved, and cared for, just like a child. This helps your puppy adjust, attach, and become confident and healthy. When she grows up, she will become more friendly, loyal, obedient, and affectionate.

How Puppies Develop into Adulthood

Most of us imagine tiny adorable dogs who stumble about the world in exploration when we think of puppies, while others imagine a ferocious whirlwind of puppy energy. So many scents to smell and toys to chase! Your puppy’s development is an important part of the growth cycle, and plays a huge part in how she turns out as an adult dog.

Socialization in Dogs

While humans who are well-socialized typically become well-adjusted adults, the same holds true for puppies. If the pup is socialized properly from a young age, he will be the same as he gets older. The mom’s attitude toward people, whether relaxed or neurotic, is a huge part of the puppy’s development. Since there isn’t much you can do about the mother dog’s behavior, you will need to focus primarily on how you interact with your new pup. By petting, playing, and talking with your puppy, he will get a sense that “people are good, people are fun.” This will give him the necessary skills to become a well-behaved member of your neighborhood and family.

Developmental Factors

Puppies who are taken away from littermates too soon may fail to develop important social skills such as the reception and sending of signals. They also won’t develop proper hierarchical senses, such as who’s in charge, mouthing and teething pressure, how far they can go in wrestling and play, and so on. Puppies need to play — it helps them determine boundaries, social interaction appropriateness, and dexterity.

During the puppy’s first 2-4 weeks, he will still be influenced by the mother dog and his littermates. His smell, hearing, and sight develops, with his teeth coming in. He will walk, stand, wag his tail, and bark.

By 3 to 12 weeks, the puppy needs to continually be introduced to other people and pets. This gives him a sense of his surroundings, companions, and playmates. Interacting with people is critical at this stage, as the puppy now learns inhibited bite, social boundaries, physical coordination, and hierarchy.

As the puppy reaches 5 weeks, she needs to experience positive human interactions to develop a sense of discovery and curiosity. By 9 weeks, she can begin housetraining, as she will have full coordination and may seem somewhat earful of everyday objects. The puppy needs extra support and positive reinforcement at this stage (learn about housetraining from How to House Train a Puppy: the Best Way).

During 3-6 months of age, the puppy is getting used to the pack hierarchy. He will gain a sense of dominance and submission to both human and canine littermates. The puppy’s playgroup becomes a very influential part of his life. During this ranking period, the pup is in “Elementary school,” most influenced by both human and canine playmates. Fear stages are common, especially at about 4 months old, so your puppy will need lots of reassurance. He will also begin chewing and teething, so you need to have plenty of chew toys on hand.

At 6-18 months, the puppy becomes an “adolescent,” possibly starting to challenge people in order to get a sense of dominance and boundaries in the pack. The puppy will start exploring her territory more, which means more chewing.

Puppy with nice eyes
Lovely eyes!

Full Maturity for Your New Dog

Your pup will begin to stop growing by about 12 months, but may gain muscle mass and body weight, as well as a new coat as the adult coat comes in. Male pups may begin to mark with urination as their testosterone level increases. It will even out by the time the pup reaches 18 months. Female dogs may enter estrus, or heat, within 5 to 6 months, so this might cause some erratic behavior. Puppies will have a lot of energy and need plenty of structured exercise and play.

Between 1-2 years, your pup becomes a physically mature dog, gaining social maturity. You’ll need to make sure he continues training and socialization throughout his entire lifetime, as there are always plenty of new things to learn.

Breed Development Factors

As your pup reaches maturity, she will continue to grow depending on her breed. Extra-large dogs may take 2 to 3 years to become fully grown. It depends on whether your pup is a small or large breed, as smaller breeds will settle down in behavior and reach full weight and height. Large/giant breeds, on the other hand, may take a few more months or even years.

Pups Require Patience

Your pup is a creature of habit, and will need to gradually build up an understanding of how things work — not a sudden ‘aha’ moment where he “sees the light.” Instead, your pup needs lots of patience, exercise, chew toys, treats, and discipline.

After the pup is a year old, she will start to slow down a bit — and if your pup is a guardian breed, instincts to protect will start to rise at this point. Some pups may be more combative with other dogs, especially if they are the same sex. If you have other dogs in the same house, problems may arise, so you’ll need to keep this in mind as your pup grows older.

Since your puppy may have no idea how to use her guarding instincts as they first surface, these urges are typically normal. The protective urges will become more normal to your puppy as well, and she’ll know how to react when these occur. Do not encourage your pup to guard or behave aggressively or defensively, though. This will just confuse and scare her. Instead, gently correct your pup if she growls inappropriately.

How to Take Care of Your New Puppy

Puppy love
Catherine Atkins ‘Puppy Love’

Taking care of your new puppy is one of the most joyous activities imaginable. However, it’s not the easiest task on earth. While it might take a bit of effort initially, learning how to establish good habits, find the best vet, find good quality pet food, and ensure your pet has a good bathroom and growing routine is critically important in raising a well-adjusted dog.

The First Vet Visit

The first step is taking your puppy to the vet for her first checkup. This way, your puppy will be able to get a clean bill of health, making sure she has no birth defects, infections, major diseases, and that she is well-vaccinated. Additionally, it will help you learn the first steps you’ll need to take to have a good preventative routine for your pup’s health. Asking friends, who also own pups, for recommendations is the best way to establish a connection with a good vet. If your dog came from a shelter, it may also have a list of specific vets who are excellent healthcare providers.

To make the most of the initial visit with your vet, ask about the best puppy foods and which are best for your dog’s breed. You’ll need to feed your pup based on weight, height, and growth rate, so it’s important to ask for the vet’s recommendation. The vet will set up a vaccination plan with you, talk about parasite control, both internal and external, and show you how to watch for signs of illness in your puppy’s first months. Make it a priority to discuss neutering and spaying options for your dog, with the option of simply getting it done that day. By making the most of your first vet visit, you will ensure your pup stays happy, healthy, and illness-free for the rest of her life.

Choosing Quality Pet Food

Next, you’ll need to find the best quality pet food for your growing puppy. She’ll need food that is formulated specifically for puppies, not adult dogs. The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, puts its seal of approval on packages of food that meet your dog’s specific requirements for nutrients. Medium and small breeds can start eating adult dog food at about nine to twelve months, while larger breeds should continue to eat puppy food until a full 2 years of age. Additionally, be sure your pup always has a clean supply of water at all times, and feed him throughout the day at regular intervals.

The typical regimen for feeding is:

  • For ages 6-12 weeks, 4 small meals per day
  • For ages 3-6 months, 3 meals per day
  • For ages 6-12 months, 2 meals per day

This ensures your pup is fed adequately enough, but not too often, to avoid overfeeding.

Housetraining and Potty Preparation

Puppies aren’t big fans of diapers, so housetraining is of critical importance. You will need plenty of planning, patience, and positive reinforcement to housetrain a new puppy.

You should probably purchase urine pads or have a source of carpet cleaning, because your pup will have accidents; it’s just a fact of life. Additionally, be sure to find a place outside for her to use the puppy that other animals can’t reach. This will reduce the possibility of her catching a disease or virus. When she goes to the potty outside, give her lots of positive feedback and, most importantly, don’t punish her if she has an indoor accident.

Typically, you should take your puppy out to use the potty at regular intervals. These include when you first wake up, before you go to bed, right after your puppy eats or drinks, and when she wakes up from a nap. Also, be sure to let her use the potty during and following physical activity.

Your puppy will be more vulnerable to sudden illnesses, which can prove serious if she isn’t treated early on. If you notice any of the following symptoms in your puppy, call the vet right away.

  • Poor weight gain
  • Painful or swollen abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Breathing trouble
  • Pale gums
  • Inability to pass stool and urine

In general, puppies stay healthy as long as they are watched and taken care of during their earliest months. As long as you keep a close eye on your pup, she should be fine.

Obedience Training

While your puppy is in her early stages, you will want to teach obedience. As she matures, you’ll want to teach her good manners so that she is able to maintain positive social habits throughout the rest of her life. Obedience training also helps to connect you and your puppy more strongly, forging lifelong bonds. Your dog should learn to “stay,” “sit,” “down,” and “come” on command, because these commands keep him safe and under control in case of a hazardous situation. Obedience classes help both dogs and owners, and puppies can enroll as early as just 4 months.

By involving your pup in socialization classes, she will have the chance to get plenty of positive social experiences

Remember: Stay positive. Punishment is typically an ineffective way of training puppies, so using small treats is the best way to get your pup to start obeying commands.

Socialization Training

French Bulldog Puppies playing
“Tickle Fight!!” Classic, French Bulldog Puppies playing

Additionally, you should be teaching your puppy proper socialization during this time. This will help her avoid problems in behavior at later stages. While she is at 2-4 months, she will start to accept people, other animals, places, and experiences as part of life. By involving your pup in socialization classes, she will have the chance to get plenty of positive social experiences. Be sure to ask your vet for recommendations on the best kinds of interaction at her early stages of life.

Final Tips

Be sure that your puppy gets at least 6 to 10 hours of sleep each day. She will typically nap on her own, so you shouldn’t have to worry too much about sleeping patterns, especially since pups are often so active that they wear themselves out.

Provide plenty of love, gentle guidance, and positive attention for your pup.

Wash your pup’s food and water bowls daily with a tiny bit of dish soap and warm water. You can also put them in the dishwasher to prevent bacteria and germs from spreading in your pup’s dish.

Be sure to keep your pup on a leash at all times. If you are going for a walk, your pup will be especially vulnerable, and other animals can attack or hurt your puppy. You will need to be responsible for her staying on the leash at all times.

Finally, be certain to get a microchip for your puppy. This way, if she gets lost, you can find her quickly.

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