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There aren’t many things more exciting than bringing a new puppy home. I’ve done it a few times over the course of my life, and it just never gets old! Every single puppy I’ve ever adopted has been a wonderful little miracle in his or her own right. And the litters I’ve had out of my dogs? Well, I guess those are something along the lines of mega-miracles!
So, over the years, I’ve learned a lot about dogs and puppies. I’m gearing this post primarily to new puppy owners (since I’m sure a lot of readers will take a look at what’s on offer here and maybe roll their eyes and go “No, duh, really?” Some of this stuff is very, very basic, but even so, I did find a couple of things during the course of the research that I didn’t already know. I think it’s worth a read for everyone, even if only as a refresher course, but primarily these puppy facts are for newbies. Enjoy!
1. Puppies are born with their eyes closed, and they don’t open until the puppy is about three weeks old. The first sense a puppy experiences is touch, so pick them up often and handle them gently.
2. Puppies aren’t born knowing how to walk, and in fact, it can take them up to five weeks to figure it out, although some will catch on as early as two weeks. When they’re learning, they’ll stumble a lot and fall down, the same way human babies do.
3. For the first six weeks, puppies will want to stay very close to the mother. Six weeks is usually the point where she starts encouraging them to be a bit more independent and starts teaching them “how to be a dog.” This is why it’s a very bad idea to take puppies away from the mother this early. As a general rule of thumb, puppies should remain with the mother and the rest of the litter until at least eight weeks, and preferably ten.
4. When choosing a puppy, it’s usually best to go “middle of the road.” Unless you have a lot of experience with dogs, the one who’s bullying his litter mates could end up being too much for you to handle, and the one who’s hanging off in a corner by himself could be anxious and difficult to socialize.
5. If you’re choosing a mixed breed puppy, and you’re not sure how big he’s going to be, take a look at his paws – if you’re wondering if he’ll ever grow into his feet, chances are you’ll end up with a dog that is medium to large sized.
Puppy Facts Concerning Feeding
6. Once a puppy is weaned, he should be fed three times a day up until he reaches the age of 8-12 months, at which point he can be fed twice a day. Adult dogs can be fed one meal per day, but it’s better to feed their daily allotment of food evenly divided over two servings.
7. If you run out of puppy chow (and I hope you make it a point not to), it’s okay to substitute adult dog food for a meal or two. Never feed cat food, though – a puppy’s nutritional needs are very different from those of a cat, and feeding cat food can cause all manner of digestive upsets.
8. If you run out of puppy treats, offer some cooked or raw carrots as a reward – most puppies and dogs love carrots, and they’re very healthy treats besides!
9. Never leave trash or kitchen garbage where your puppy can get at it. A lot of what we consume is not good for dogs, and can even be toxic (see Your Dog is Not a Human, So Don’t Feed Him Like One! for more on this topic.)
Puppy Facts to Make Training Easier
10. It’s never too early to begin training your puppy. Even at eight weeks, a puppy is quite capable of learning basic obedience commands like “sit” and “come.” It’s best to squat down when teaching your puppy, as he learns better when you’re on his level.
11. When it comes to house training, use the “month for month” rule. What this means is that a puppy who’s two months old will only be able to control his bladder and bowels for about two hours. A three-month-old puppy will only be able to keep things under control for about three hours. And so on. This rule holds up to about eight months, so even a puppy nearing adulthood may still have accidents. Large breeds might even take a bit longer before you can be reasonably sure that house training is complete.
12. Virtually every puppy will need to be taken outside about 15 minutes after eating.
13. Pick one spot for him to go potty. That way, it will smell like his bathroom. Going to a different spot each time is only going to make him confused. If he goes potty in the house, don’t scold him – just clean it up. If you scold him, he’s just going to feel motivated to hide his “business” where he thinks you won’t find it.
14. If your puppy barks at night, you’ve just brought him in from doing his business, ignore him. If you’re certain that he doesn’t need to go potty, you can probably assume that he’s behaving like any other toddler – trying to get your attention.
15. Socialization is very important. If your puppy is aggressive toward someone or nips him, don’t pick him up – he’ll assume that you’re rewarding the behavior. If he nips you, do what his littermates would do in the same situation – emit a high-pitched yelp. It’s a way of telling him that it hurts, and you want him to stop.
16. Don’t give your puppy a name that sounds like a command. I have a friend who is very much into Norse mythology and religion, and she named her female puppy after the goddess Sif. You can imagine the trouble this caused when teaching the puppy to “sit”! Long names are also not advisable unless you plan to shorten them for daily use. Another friend named her male puppy Sponagle, but on a daily basis he was generally referred to as “Sponny” or “Spon.” Some trainers believe that all a dog is really reacting to is the first syllable of his name – my Janice, for instance, responds equally well simply to “Jan.”
General Facts About Puppy Care
17. When you’re bringing a new puppy home, make sure that you’ve prepared in advance. Determine what you’ll need in terms of things like a crate, bed, dishes, toys, etc. Once you have everything in place, don’t move it around – the first few days at home can be stressful for a puppy, and changing things will only add to the stress.
18. If you must leave your puppy at home alone for a little while, a crate is the safest place for him. Make sure he has some toys so he can stay entertained, and leave the radio or television on.
19. Don’t expect too much in the way of activity from your puppy for the first little while. An 8-week old puppy will often sleep for 20 hours out of any given day. This is perfectly normal, and don’t worry – he’ll get to the ankle-nipping, house-destroying stage soon enough!
20. I’ve always had my puppies sleep with me, but some dogs actually prefer a doggie bed. You can keep it next to your bed, so he doesn’t feel lonely. He might still cry for a few days, though, because everything is new, and he misses his mother and the rest of the litter.
21. Teething can be as rough on puppies as it is for human babies. An ice cube can help – it’s fun to chew, fun to bat around, and also very soothing on sore gums.
22. Most puppies will go through a period when that soft puppy fur falls out and is replaced with adult hair. Most of the time, you won’t even notice this happening, but some breeds can actually go through a slight color change – red, for instance, might turn to apricot.
23. I can’t overemphasize this very important puppy fact – no matter what you’ve read, or what you’ve been told, there is absolutely no reliable way to protect your puppy from deadly illnesses other than vaccination. Make sure that the breeder you buy your puppy from can provide proof that the first needles have been given, and then keep up with the boosters. Your vet can tell you what’s needed, and when it will be needed. And never, ever allow your puppy to be around other dogs until all vaccinations are completed.
24. Dogs need dental care for the same reasons that humans need it – to prevent cavities and gum disease. So get your puppy used to having his teeth brushed early on. Use a small, soft toothbrush, and toothpaste specially formulated for dogs. It’s best if you can brush daily, but even a few times a week is better than not brushing at all. As he grows up, make sure that he gets a dental examination from the vet at least every two years.
25. When picking up your puppy, place one hand under his butt and use the other to support his chest. Puppies usually love being picked up but don’t like being held in ways that are uncomfortable, so this is the best way to do it. Puppies also love being petted, so make sure to give him lots of attention. It’s good for you, too – studies show that petting animals can actually lower your blood pressure!
26. It’s a lot easier to get a puppy used to having a bath than it is to convince an adult dog that it’s a good idea. You can bathe most puppies in the kitchen sink, with just a few inches of water to begin with. Then add more water as he gets used to it.
27. Any breed of puppy can be susceptible to hypoglycemia. This is a sudden drop in the puppy’s blood sugar level. Symptoms include trouble walking, weakness, and fainting. This is a condition that can be very dangerous, can lead to coma, and can even be fatal if not treated. It can be caused by a change in food, not getting enough food, or by stress. If you suspect hypoglycemia in your puppy, rub his gums with Karo syrup until he seems stable, and then take him to the vet immediately.
28. Puppy-proof your house the same way you would for a baby or toddler. Remember that electrical cords can present serious hazards, and keep any low cupboards that contain cleaning compounds and other poisons locked.
29. Puppies and dogs are social animals and want to be with their people. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of outdoor time in a kennel, but don’t overdo it – dogs who are relegated to a life outside the family home often develop aggression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these fun, useful puppy facts. A puppy is a long-term commitment, so if you’re planning on getting your first puppy, these guidelines will get you started along the way to a great relationship with your canine friend. If you’re an old hand, maybe you still learned something new – I know I did!