Skip to main content

A pawsitive start: 6 tips for new puppy parents

January 9, 2019

Puppies sure are cute but they're a lot of work, too! 

As a general rule, when people think about getting a new puppy, they tend to idealize what it might be like. After all, puppies are often incomparably adorable — and, as a lifelong dog owner, I can attest to the fact that life with a dog really is better. Still, I think it’s important to remember that this change in lifestyle can be complicated. Raising a puppy is typically not for the faint of heart.

Much like small children, young dogs are incredibly demanding of your time and attention, and they are often prone to bouts of sheer willfulness. Your patience will be tested, and you may find yourself occasionally feeling unsure about the added responsibility — but if you put in the time and effort, you will almost certainly be rewarded with an enjoyable companion for many years to come.

Below are six tips to help you and your new puppy get started on the path to a long and happy life together:


1. Practice good nutrition:

Puppies mature rapidly and have twice the daily nutritional requirements of adult dogs. Their muscles, joints, bones, internal organs and immune system are just a few of the major components still developing in their first one to two years of life. A complete and balanced puppy food designed for your dog’s mature size (i.e., small, medium or large) will contain specific nutrients tailored to meet their critical needs. I specifically elaborate on puppy nutrition in this previous article but feel it is also worth noting that you should resist the urge to feed your dog table scraps or “people food” of any kind. Begging is an incredibly difficult habit to break, and human food is typically unhealthy for dogs, as it can lead to digestive issues and increase the potential for obesity.

2. Provide proper veterinary care:

Your pup will need more regular visits to the vet in his or her first year of life in order to complete the necessary vaccinations and check-ups to make sure he or she is progressing normally. Spaying or neutering should also be completed within the first year, unless you intend to use your dog for breeding purposes. Along with preventing unwanted litters, getting your dog “fixed” provides many health and behavioral benefits, including a decreased risk for certain infections and cancers and a reduced breeding instinct, which can make them less inclined to roam. If you’re feeling unsure about spaying or neutering, this article from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is very informative.

3. Establish a routine:

Much like humans, dogs are creatures of habit who tend to thrive on a routine, which helps them feel more secure and comfortable in their environment. Feeding, walking, training and playtime should all be incorporated, and housetraining will go much more smoothly if your puppy knows when to expect potty breaks. Dogs who feel well-established in their day-to-day lives will find it much easier to weather the changes that will inevitably come along from time to time.

4. Start training straightaway:

It really is never too early to start teaching your new dog the basics (e.g., sit, stay, down, come — and, as an aside, I think proper crate training is also very wise), but it is also important to remember not to expect too much from them too fast. As mentioned above, housetraining is aided by routine, but it is important to note that young dogs can typically only hold their bladders for one hour or so per every month of age; don’t expect them to “hold it” for longer and then get upset when they have an accident. In any case, your dog will be unlikely to associate their “mistake” with your frustration. It is also worth noting that positive reinforcement of good behaviors is critical. You should discourage any behaviors that might seem fine now but that will prove problematic down the road when your dog reaches its mature size, such as jumping. It can be rather difficult to curb bad behaviors that are essentially enforced during a dog’s youth.

5. Socialize and supervise:

Proper socialization is critical to a dog’s future behaviors, but you should supervise all interactions — and, for that matter, you should supervise your puppy as much as possible, since a young dog left to his or her own devices will most likely end up finding some sort of mischief. Enrolling in a puppy class is a great way to advance your training, develop your bond and get your dog accustomed to being around other puppies and people (note that reputable training academies will require current vaccinations for all canine participants). Take your dog along with you as often as you can so that you can expose him or her to all sorts of novel things but be careful not to overwhelm them; recall that patience is a virtue, one that new pet parents must have in spades. A young dog who learns to be comfortable in a variety of settings and situations will be far less likely to exhibit fearfulness and unwanted behaviors, such as aloofness and aggression, later in life. This is particularly important if you wish to do any advanced training or participate in activities like therapy dog work.

6. Be realistic:

This might be the most important advice of all. Puppies are young, and they are going through a lot of big changes. Recall that they have just been separated from their mother and siblings and taken to a new home, a new family and a whole host of new expectations. It can be incredibly easy to become frustrated with them but remember: they may not know any better at this stage — and that’s where you come in! You play a huge role in shaping your dog’s behaviors and ensuring that he or she stays healthy. You must also realize that, while puppies can be difficult to deal with, adolescent dogs can be far worse. Much like teenagers (which they essentially are), they will test boundaries, want to explore their environment more, experience selective hearing and crave more independence. Your patience will almost certainly be tested the most during this stage of life (which will last between 6 months to 2 years of age, depending on your dog’s size), but hold firm, stay positive and be consistent — remember: this too shall pass.


I would like to learn more about canine health and nutrition.