12 min read
The Ultimate Guide to Preparing for a Puppy
By Mel Lee-Smith
Published: 05/11/2020, edited: 09/07/2022
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- Preparing your home for a puppy
- Core vaccinations
- Non-core vaccinations
- How to find the right vet
- Your puppy's first vet visit
- Deworming and flea/tick treatment
- Nail trimming
- Dental care
- Ear cleaning
- Puppy training timeline
- Behavior training
- Obedience training
- Socialization training
- Potty training
- Off-leash playtime
- Canine sports
Our fur-babies bring an infinite amount of joy, affection, and cuteness into our lives — but raising a puppy isn’t always a walk in the dog park. We've all read stories of those oh-so-adorable puppies ripping our favorite shoes to shreds, peeing on everything we love, and just misbehaving in general.
The first thing you should do to prepare for a puppy? Your homework! Research everything you can about your puppy’s breed. Our very own dog breed guides are a “grrreat” resource for pet parents, featuring detailed information on everything from common health problems to feeding recommendations.
Let's dig into everything else you need to know about preparing for a puppy. (And yes, we do mean everything — from finances, veterinary care, and grooming to training, feeding, and sleeping, we've covered all the bases!)
The costs of raising a healthy, well-mannered dog add up quickly. You'll need to cover your puppy's adoption fees, vet costs, pet products, dog food, training classes, and miscellaneous costs throughout their life. That's not including grooming, pet insurance, doggy daycare, and on-demand pet services like dog walking, dog boarding, and dog sitting.
To give you an idea of how much cash you can expect to splash on Sparky, check out our breakdown of pet care costs:
Preparing your home for a puppy
Now that you've got the finances worked out, the next step is puppy-proofing your house. Just as you'd child-proof a house to protect toddlers, you want to make sure your living environment is safe for your fur-child. Here are a few tasks you should add to your puppy-proofing checklist:
- Remove plants that are toxic to dogs, or keep them out of reach. The list of plants that are toxic to dogs is a long one, so check your home and yard for any potentially harmful plants. If you have any doubts, talk to your vet, or chat with a vet expert now.
- Unplug chargers and wires when not in use. This one's easier said than done, particularly for appliances that are always plugged in, like the TV. Fortunately, deterrent sprays and cord covers work wonders!
- Keep trash secure. A hands-free trash can or a garbage bin with a sturdy lid will prevent your pupper from digging through the trash.
Gate off rooms if needed. Puppies love to meddle and push boundaries. If you want to keep your fur-baby out of certain rooms or areas of your home, consider installing baby gates or keeping the doors closed.
Store harmful substances out of your pup's reach. This includes batteries, medication, food, and cleaning products.
Puppies receive their first dose of the following core vaccinations between the age of 6 and 8 weeks:
Additional doses of these core vaccines will be administered every 2
to 4 weeks until the age of 16 weeks. The rabies vaccination is
administered at the age of 12 weeks. Puppies may receive their first bordetella vaccination at the age of 3 weeks.
The World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s vaccination guidelines provide more detailed information on core vaccination schedules.
Depending on where you live, your puppy may receive the first dose of the following non-core vaccinations:
- Canine influenza — 6 to 8 weeks
- Lyme disease — 6 to 8 weeks
- Leptospirosis — 8 weeks
- Canine parainfluenza — 10 to 12 weeks
Boosters and vaccination schedules
Puppies receive booster shots of their core vaccines at the age of 6 months or 12 months. After that, your hound will be happy to hear they won't be poked or prodded nearly as often! Follow-up boosters of core vaccines are readministered every three years, depending on the duration of immunity. Some rabies vaccinations have a duration of immunity of just one year. Other non-core vaccines may be readministered annually.
Our guide on dog vaccines and vaccination schedules provides a detailed overview of every stage of your puppy's vaccination needs.
How to find the right vet
When it comes to choosing a veterinarian to care for your pup throughout their life, it’s worth shopping around. Do your research to determine your preferred practice’s location, services, fees, and operating hours. Also, consider any underlying conditions or breed-related health problems. Consult the vet with questions about experience, education, and other qualifications.
Your puppy's first vet visit
In addition to their core vaccinations, your puppy's first vet visit will involve a thorough physical exam. The vet will check your pupper's weight, heartbeat, and temperature. They may also administer treatment for worms and fleas.
Deworming and flea/tick treatment
Puppies develop roundworms from their mother's milk and tapeworms from infected fleas. Deworming your puppy of all those pesky parasites is a non-invasive process. How often should you deworm your puppy? That depends on the situation and the medication you use. Puppies are typically dewormed every 3 weeks, then monthly with routine heartworm prevention.
Annual fecal examinations are recommended to ensure there aren’t any resistant parasites. For dogs not on heartworm prevention medication, which also treats other parasites, deworming every 3 months is a good idea. Dogs with clinical signs such as diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite may need deworming more often.
An assortment of flea preventatives and treatments are available at major pet retailers, including collars, oral medications, and topical treatments. Remember to treat your home as well as your puppy. Wash all linens in hot water, vacuum thoroughly, and consult an exterminator to treat the yard.
Lend a helping paw in the fight against pet overpopulation by spaying or neutering your puppy. Not only does spay/neuter help prevent diseases like uterine cancer and prostatic cysts, but it also promotes good behavior! Spaying or neutering your dog helps prevent aggression toward other dogs of the same sex. Read more on the benefits of spaying or neutering your dog.
When should you spay or neuter your dog? Although it's safe to spay or neuter a dog as young as 8 weeks old, most dogs are spayed or neutered between 6 and 9 months old. Complications are more likely in adult dogs as well as those who are overweight or have pre-existing conditions.
No one likes to think about tragedies like their dog running away or getting lost, but it's good to be protected and prepared for the worst-case scenario. Inserting the microchip is safe, painless, and non-invasive. Be sure to register your contact information and the microchip ID number with a pet recovery database. Always keep your contact information up to date.
Grooming and hygiene
Every breed has different grooming needs, so do your research and determine how often your dog should be bathed and brushed. Whether you choose to do it yourself or pamper your pup with a spa day at the groomer's, here's everything you need to know about keeping Sparky looking sharp!
If you're planning to scrub that coat squeaky clean in your own tub, keep a couple of towels handy. Fill up the tub so the water touches your puppy's belly. If your fur-baby is anxious about bathtime, a squeaky toy might help distract them. Our guide on how to give your dog a bath in the tub contains a bunch more methods for keeping your pooch calm and collected.
Excitable puppies might not react to being brushed the way you'd expect. Introduce the brush and let them sniff it out. Speak softly while brushing, and keep sessions short. If you run into a mat or tangle, be very gentle to avoid creating a negative association. Need more advice on how to brush your puppy’s hair? We've got a guide for that!
Trimming your canine's claws can be a little tricky, so start early to get them used to it. To gauge where the quick of the nail is, place the nail inside the clipper and apply light pressure. If your puppy yelps, bring the clipper closer to the tip of the nail and repeat until your puppy doesn't react. Treats and playtime will come in handy for keeping Tucker calm while learning how to trim your puppy’s nails. How often should you cut your puppy's nails? "Ruffly" once a month. If their nails are clicking on the floor, it's time for a trim!
The earlier you introduce the toothbrush and paste to your puppy, the easier it will be to keep their chompers pearly white. Get a toothbrush and toothpaste formulated for dogs (preferably one with a yummy flavor, like peanut butter or chicken). Dab a little toothpaste on your fingertip so your pooch can get a taste. Let them investigate the toothbrush. Once they're comfortable, lift their lips gently and brush their teeth in circular motions. Reward them with a dental treat and plenty of praise afterwards! Got an antsy pup who won't sit still? Check out our guide on how to brush a puppy’s teeth.
When should you start cleaning your puppy's ears? As soon as "pawssible!" A piece of gauze and some warm water should do the trick for cleaning out dirt and debris. Never use cotton swabs, rubbing alcohol, or ear drops made for human use. Check and clean your dog's ears once a month. Dogs with drooping ears usually need more frequent cleanings than dogs with prick ears. Our in-depth guide on how to clean a puppy’s ears covers everything you need to know about caring for your puppy's ears.
Now comes the real tricky part of pet parenting — training your puppy to behave! Teaching your new fur-baby the rules of the roost will take a lot of time, patience, positive reinforcement, and tasty treats. Need a helping hand with training your stubborn pup? Dog trainers with Wag! have got you covered!
Puppy training timeline
Keep reading to learn when you should start working on behavior and obedience training. Remember, training your puppy isn’t a linear process. You’ll need to continue reinforcing commands throughout your dog’s life to refresh their memory!
TIP: Keep your sessions short, 5 minutes max, to avoid overwhelming your fur-baby’s brain. Aim for 15 minutes of training per day. Treats will come in handy, but as your pup gets the hang of it, phase out treats gradually and replace them with praise.
7 – 8 weeks:
- Potty training. Creating a schedule for bathroom breaks will go a long way in training your puppy to go potty. Puppies need to go more often than adult dogs, roughly every 2 hours. Use a verbal cue or clicker to mark the behavior. Puppy mats and crate training will come in handy.
- Crate training. Training your dog to use a crate will help them feel safe and secure in your home (while also protecting your furniture from your teething pup's wrath). Make their space as comfy and appealing as possible with plush bedding and their favorite toys.
- Socialization training. The socialization period lasts from the age of 8 to 15 weeks and is crucial to instilling calm behavior in busy environments. Expose your puppy to a wide variety of social situations to prevent undesirable behaviors, like aggression. Plan pup playdates, take walks in public parks, and visit as many dog-friendly places as you can.
- Basic commands, like sit, stay, down, and leave it. Focus on one command at a time, keep your sessions short, and use positive reinforcement methods like treats and praise to reward good behavior. Our blog post on simple tips for training your puppy is chock full of helpful info.
- Good behavior, like not jumping and sitting still for grooming. When training your dog to sit still while you brush their coat and teeth, maintain a calm yet firm demeanor to establish yourself as pack leader. Be gentle to avoid reinforcing a negative association.
- Wait: Training your dog to wait calmly by the door instills patience (and ensures you don’t get bowled over by an excited puppy). This command builds on the “sit” and “down” commands.
- Come when called. Flawless recall skills are essential to protect you, your dog, and other animals during your off-leash adventures. Instead of calling your dog’s name, set a verbal cue, like “come”. Start practicing in a safe (preferably fenced) environment free of distractions.
- Be quiet/stop barking. The key to training your dog to stop barking is to establish yourself as pack leader. Ignore excessive barking entirely and remove any stimuli. For example, if they bark at passersby through the window, close the curtain.
- Walk calmly on a leash. You should get your dog used to wearing a collar or harness as soon as you bring them home. Address leash pulling first. When your pup pulls, come to a full stop until they calm down. Keep practicing and work your way up to the “heel” command.
- Long stay. Once your dog has got the basic idea of “stay,” it’s time to kick it up a notch. Increase the distance and duration of the command incrementally until your puppy can stay for a full minute without releasing. Keep working at it until your pup knows to release their stay on your command.
- Go to their bed. You might want to command your puppy to go to bed when you’re busy cleaning or if you’re hosting a party. This command is related to the long stay — the ultimate goal is having your dog stay in bed until you say it’s okay to get up.
- Structured walk. Now that your dog knows how to walk calmly on their leash, it’s time to introduce the structured walk. The goal is to have your dog stay close to you and keep their on you to minimize distractions. For a successful structured walk, teach the “watch me” command.
- Polite greetings. Through the socialization period, you want to teach your dog how to greet other humans and animals politely. At first, you’ll want to keep your distance from other dogs on your walks until you’re sure your dog won’t react aggressively. Decrease the distance over time, and keep practicing.
The first step in training your puppy to behave is earning their trust. To do this, you need to respect their space, let them come to you, and maintain a firm, calm demeanor to establish yourself as pack leader. Not only will this lay the foundation for a loving bond, but it'll also make your pup more likely to obey your commands. Training your dog to use a crate will help them feel safe and secure in your home (while also protecting your furniture from your teething pup's wrath). Make their space as comfy and appealing as possible with plush bedding and their favorite toys.
Start training your dog to be obedient as soon as possible. Some of the basic commands you should teach your puppy include sit, stay, come, lie down, and leave it. Focus on one command at a time, keep your sessions short, and use positive reinforcement methods like treats and praise to reward good behavior. Our blog post on simple tips for training your puppy is chock full of helpful info.
The socialization period lasts from the age of 8 to 15 weeks and is crucial to instilling good manners and calm behavior in busy environments. When training your puppy to socialize with other dogs and people, expose them to a wide variety of social situations to prevent undesirable behaviors, like aggression. Plan pup playdates, take walks in public parks, and visit as many dog-friendly places as you can. Keep a calm yet firm demeanor, stay alert at all times, and maintain control over your pup.
First things first: creating a schedule for feeding and bathroom breaks will go a long way in training your puppy to go potty. Puppies need to go more often than adult dogs, roughly every two hours. You may want to use a verbal cue or clicker to mark the behavior. Be sure to follow up with plenty of treats and praise when they do the right thing!
Hounds are notorious for their endless appetites. Many pet parents struggle to stop their dogs from begging at the dinner table or perking up every time they hear the crinkling of food packaging.
Different breeds have different dietary needs, but most puppies should be fed small amounts of kibble specially formulated for puppies 3 to 4 times per day. Feed according to the directions on the packaging. As your puppy grows into an adult, gradually introduce adult food before making the switch. Check out our wellness guide on feeding your puppy for more information.
Tasty treats are a key part of your puppy's training routine that also brings joy to their little lives. How many treats can you feed your puppy? Treats should comprise no more than 10% of your dog's daily caloric allowance. The easiest way to calculate this is to consult your vet. If using food as a reward during training, consider treating with individual pieces of kibble instead of calorie-rich treats. Especially tasty treats, like bones and chews, should be given sparingly.
Even low-energy mutts need a walk around the block every day. Puppies are particularly rambunctious, but it's important not to overexercise their developing bodies. Providing the right amount of exercise goes a long way in preventing joint problems later in life. That's why it's important to research your dog's breed and consult your veterinarian for advice when in doubt about how much exercise your dog needs.
A handy trick for determining the duration of daily exercise is multiplying your puppy's age in months by 5 minutes, then doubling it. For example, if your dog is 3 months old, they'll need 15 minutes of exercise twice a day.
Not only do daily walks keep your puppy as fit as a fiddle, but the change of scenery also stimulates their minds and allows them to put their senses to good use. Mindfully walking your puppy and making the effort to be present will help solidify the bond between you. Most puppies won't need more than 30 minutes of walking per day (ideally split into 2 walks). Avoid walking long distances or along strenuous routes.
Swamped with work, or stuck in traffic and can't make it home to walk your puppy? There's an app for that — the Wag! Walking app, to be exact! Book a walk with a pet caregiver near you to ensure your puppy gets the exercise they need when life gets hectic.
Most off-leash dog parks prohibit dogs under 4 months old. Before your pup's first trip to the dog park, you'll need to ensure their manners, socialization, and recall skills are on point. Make sure to read the dog park rules and city ordinances regarding licenses, permits, and required vaccinations. Always supervise your pup while they play and stay alert in case you need to intervene.
Itching to try your paw at exhilarating canine sports like agility, rally, or dock diving? Hold the leash! Dogs shouldn't participate in this kind of rigorous exercise until they're fully grown. Even then, such activities are best suited for certain breeds.
You might be surprised to find that your puppy is a couch puptato! Did you know puppies sleep for up to 20 hours per day? Expect your fur-baby to take frequent naps lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Learn more about how much puppies should sleep and how you can encourage healthy snoozing habits.
And that just about covers everything you need to know about preparing for a puppy! As you can see, welcoming a puppy into your home is a serious, long-term commitment. We don't need to tell you how many puppies end up in adoption shelters after the honeymoon period ends. That's why we created this comprehensive guide on preparing for a puppy so you know what you're getting yourself into!
Insuring your puppy as soon as “pawssible” is essential for preventing high vet care costs. Start comparing insurance plans from leading insurers like Healthy Paws and Embrace and save over $270 a year.