Bringing Home a New Puppy
There’s no question that puppies are cute, but all that awesomeness can distract from the fact that getting a puppy is also a serious matter. Among the precautions and preparations to consider are vaccinations, a leash, a collar, puppy pen, and a and a constantly filled water bowl. With the help of Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a Virginia-based veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council, and Dr. E’Lise Christensen, a New York City-based veterinary behaviorist, we’ve put together a checklist of commonly overlooked recommendations.
1. Know Your Breeds
Whether you’re buying a dog from a pet store or adopting from a shelter, you should research the breed you’re
considering and make sure it’s a good match for your lifestyle. “Many people do not carefully consider what breed they are getting; they just see a dog they think is cute and get it without a thought as to whether or not their personality and lifestyle is appropriate for this type of dog,” says Nelson.
The fundamental question when deciding to welcome a canine companion into your home is whether to adopt a “mutt” or a purebred dog. Mixed-breed dogs often populate animal shelters and need good homes. Purebreds can be purchased from a breeder and are sometimes available for a small fee through dog rescue organizations.
“This is a very important decision, especially for first-time dog owners,” says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club (AKC). “Regardless of what you decide, you first need to look at your own lifestyle when deciding to get a dog.”
Before you select a dog, Peterson suggests asking the following questions:
- Do you have time to walk the dog for about 30 minutes, twice a day?
- Do you have financial resources for unexpected veterinary bills?
- Do you have the time to train and socialize your dog?
- How much time can you spend grooming your dog?
- Do you have space in your home or yard for a large dog?
Now that you have a better sense of what size dog you want, what activity level you can live with and what type of temperament you seek, you can take a better look at the attributes of purebred dogs and mixed breeds.
What Is the Difference Between a Purebred Dog and Mixed Breed Dogs?
The great thing about rescuing a mutt from a shelter is that you’re giving a home to a dog that otherwise may never be adopted. Second, you don’t have to pay the $500 to $1,500 that many purebred dogs will cost. Adopting a mixed breed from an animal shelter can run at $50 or less, usually to cover the cost of vaccinations or spaying or neutering. Third, mixed breeds have more genetic diversity, which can help them avoid some of the hereditary defects that plague purebreds.
The great thing about purebreds is that they are very predictable in terms of what you can expect when a puppy grows up. These canines were developed as a result of selective breeding, meaning that dogs with certain traits or genes were bred, and other dogs with less desirable traits were not. As a result, the 161 different breeds recognized by the AKC have specific genes for physical traits, such as color, coat and size, as well as temperament. Also, you are more likely to be able to see the parents of your purebred dog and make visual assessments.
Here’s how mixed breeds and purebreds stack up on key attributes:
Most purebreds have standard size ranges, which you can review on our breeds page. So if you only have space in your apartment for a small dog, you can select a breed that just grows to 20 or 30 pounds. With mixed breeds, you’re often more likely to be rolling the dice. “A mixed breed that you thought would be 20 pounds might end up at 200 pounds,” Peterson says.
Purebreds are also predictable in terms of what type of coat to expect in your adult dog. If you have lots of time to brush and groom your dog, you may do well with a Collie. But if you don’t want to be bothered by finding clumps of dog hair around your home, you may be better off with a short-haired dog, such as a Weimaraner. Unless you know for certain what your mixed breed’s parents were, it is hard to predict what type of coat a puppy will have as an adult.
Behavior and Activity Level
“Purebred dogs were developed usually for a specific purpose. There are hunting dogs, pulling dogs, cattle dogs, guarding dogs and so on,” says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association. The Labrador Retriever, for example, was bred to retrieve game for hunters, and as a result, is a very “mouthy” dog, prone to chewing in a domestic setting, Dr. Beaver says. You may not know the parentage of your mixed-breed pup and therefore you may have little idea about its likely behavior and activity level.
Because of inbreeding, certain purebreds have become subject to hereditary health defects, some of which can be crippling and potentially fatal. These defects include bone and joint disorders, eye diseases, heart disease, cancer and more. Mixed breeds have greater genetic diversity, so the chances are better that both parents did not have the same defective genes.
There may be ways of getting around the unpredictability of a mixed breed. “In terms of mutts, we see so many cute ones,” says Sophia Yin, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist in San Francisco. “If you’re adopting them when they’re 6 or 8 months old, you will have a good idea of what they’re going to look like, including their size, and you can observe them a little to evaluate their temperament.
Whatever your choice is, the most important factor is making sure your lifestyle includes giving lots of love.
2. Puppy-Proof the House
“Think of puppy-proofing like baby-proofing, you must protect them from themselves,” says Nelson. In fact, she says the baby-proofing items found in home improvement or baby stores are just what you’ll want. It’s also very important to make sure all medications are locked away. The No. 1 call to the Animal Poison Control Center each year is for human medication ingestion. Another tip: “Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around to see the world from their level,” says Nelson, and you’ll find plenty to puppy-proof.
3. Teach Children How to Interact With Your Puppy
Kids and puppies gravitate to each other, but kids are understandably the least informed and certainly the least restrained when it comes to puppies. Christensen says it’s very important that puppies have only positive experiences with children. Kids therefore need to be taught restraint, and all puppy time should be supervised. “They should only touch the puppy gently, and only at times the puppy is interested in interacting,” she says. “They should play remote games, such as fetch or chase the kibble, rather than hugging, lifting or grabbing a puppy.”
4. Learn Dog Body Language
Misinterpreting body language is an area where adults can be as uninformed as children. It’s easy to assume a dog’s body language is self-evident, such as a wagging tail, but that’s far from the truth. “A wagging tail doesn’t (always) mean that a dog wants to be petted. Some dogs that are wagging their tail may be very upset and may even bite,” says Christensen.
5. Choose a Food For Your Puppy
Most breeders, pet stores or shelters will send you home with a short supply of the puppy food your dog was eating before going home with you, and you should use it at first. You’ll then want to transition them to the food you’ve chosen, based on research and a consultation with your (future) veterinarian. Christensen also suggests deciding on a single location for feeding and sticking to it. The regularity and routine will help with training.
When New York City resident Diana Lambert was readying her home for her soon-to-arrive Dachshund puppy, food was often on her mind. “She was just being weaned, and I wondered how I was ever going to give her as much in terms of nutrition as her mother had,” remembers Lambert. “I was going to be responsible for this little living creature, and I wanted to make sure she was getting everything she needed to grow up healthy.”
According to Dr. James Cook, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, Lambert needn’t have been too concerned. A quick trip to her local pet store to pick up a puppy-specific formula could have saved the day. Says Dr. Cook: “The pet food companies do a remarkable job with products that address overall nutrition. The science that goes into commercial pet foods these days is remarkable. It’s great as a veterinarian because it makes advising our clients what to feed that much easier.”
What Should You Feed a Puppy?
A puppy needs up to twice as many calories per pound as an adult dog. That’s why feeding a food especially formulated for pup needs is key. “Puppy diets support growth,” says Dr. Trisha Joyce, DVM, of New York City Veterinary Specialists. Too much growth, though, isn’t necessarily a good thing. “We don’t care how rapidly small-breed dogs grow, but we do want to slow down the growth of large-breed dogs because rapid growth puts them at risk for orthopedic problems [difficulty with the skeletal system or associated muscles, joints and ligaments] down the line.”
Choosing the right formula, then, becomes not only about age but also about size. Look for small-, large- and giant-breed puppy foods on pet store shelves. And go in armed with the following knowledge: A small-breed pup is one that will reach up to 20 pounds at maturity, while large- and giant-breed puppies are those that will ultimately reach 50 and 90 (or more) pounds respectively. Ask your veterinarian or breeder if you are unsure about your dog’s future goal weight.
Puppies need a high-quality source of protein. The first ingredient listed on the product’s label should be a straightforward protein source, such as chicken. Try to avoid foods with artificial preservatives, as they may be harmful to dogs over time.
Growing dogs also require a whole host of essential vitamins and nutrients, but that doesn’t mean you should start stocking up on canine vitamin supplements. According to Dr. Sally Perea, veterinary nutritionist and professor at the University of California, Davis, a commercial food with an AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) seal of approval will keep your furry friend vitamin-rich. “Complete and balanced commercial dog foods provide the needed vitamins and minerals, so additional supplementation is not needed,” she says.
Another important ingredient for your new love? The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in fish and vegetable oils. “[Omega-3] is especially essential for puppies, because these fatty acids are important for normal brain and retinal development. [Omega-6] is important for skin and coat health,” notes Dr. Perea.
How Much Food Do I Feed My Puppy?
Of course, once you’ve chosen a formula for your puppy, the next thing you have to do is feed it. Your little one should be fed between three and four meals a day until it is at least 8 months old. Consistency of both time and location are important. Your pup should be fed in a cool, dry area that is ideally free of foot traffic, especially of the young child variety. Choose a ceramic dish over a plastic one, as plastic can breed bacteria. The dish should ideally be cleaned daily or even after each meal. And freshwater should be available 24-7. See our article ‘Our Top Tips For Feeding Your Dog’ for further advice.
One last thing to remember: While puppies need a lot of food, they don’t need too much food. According to Dr. Joyce, obesity is a growing problem in dogs, and it’s easier to prevent than to fix. Follow the portion recommendations on the label of your dog’s food, and whatever you do, don’t get in the habit of feeding table scraps. “I’m pretty strict about not feeding people food to dogs,” says Dr. Joyce. “It contributes to obesity as well as other health problems.”
As for Diana Lambert’s Dachshund, Frida, she appears to be thriving on her small-breed puppy kibble. “She gobbles up each meal in, like, two minutes,” says Lambert. “I think she must like it as much as what her mom used to make!”
6. Open a Savings Account for Your Dog
Among her list of supplies for responsible ownership, the first thing Christensen notes is money for veterinary bills and care. Estimates can range from several hundred to a couple of thousand per year, so set up an account and contribute to it on a regular basis, little by little. You’ll be happy that you have it when the time comes to use it.
Lastly, both experts urge you to do more of your own research on these and any other puppy preparations you make. “Educate yourself on what your dog needs to live a long and healthy life,” says Nelson.