Who can resist a puppy’s wide-eyed curiosity? Behind those big puppy peepers is a developing mind that needs your careful guidance, understanding, and patience to become a happy, healthy, and confident companion. Start off the relationship with your new furry pal on the right paw by following our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team’s five puppy-raising tips.

#1: Visit the veterinarian

Schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as possible after you bring home your puppy. Although your puppy may have received veterinary care during their time with the breeder or rescue group, this initial appointment is a great opportunity to establish your puppy’s care with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team. We will begin or continue your puppy’s vaccinations, introduce them to the veterinary environment, discuss microchipping, review parasite prevention, and assess your puppy for any congenital issues that may affect their health, or growth and development.

Your Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond veterinarian can also answer your questions, providing personalized advice about your puppy’s proper nutrition, behavior and training, basic care (e.g., nail trimming, toothbrushing, grooming), and the right time to spay or neuter your four-legged friend.

#2: Create a safe environment for your puppy

Puppies are curious creatures with short attention spans, so you will need to stay on your toes—and one step ahead—to ensure your new furry friend stays out of trouble. Keep in mind that puppies explore the world through their mouths. Although chewing is a normal and expected puppy behavior, if your new furry pal swallows something toxic, they can experience a life-threatening illness. If your puppy swallows a foreign object, they can choke or experience an intestinal obstruction, which may require surgery. In addition, your puppy’s chewing can ruin your clothing and household items such as furniture, drapes, and carpeting.

During their initial training and acclimation, confine your puppy to a small space. By doing this, you help your puppy avoid dangerous mishaps, accelerate their training, and help them feel safe. You can use an exercise pen or baby gate to define your puppy’s space, and place their crate and belongings within the confines. Keep your puppy’s area free from hazards such as furniture, valuables, toxins (e.g., household cleaners, plants), rugs, electrical cords, and breakables. Click here for a complete puppy-proofing guide. 

Crate training is an important canine life skill. When you help develop your puppy’s positive association with their crate at an early age, your dog will be comfortable and stress-free later in life when confinement is necessary in the following situations:

  • Veterinary care and hospitalization
  • Boarding and grooming
  • Car travel
  • Emergency evacuations and sheltering

#3: Establish a routine for your puppy

In addition to creating your puppy’s safe physical space, you must consider their emotions, building their confidence and encouraging calm, neutral behavioral responses to people, other pets, and situations. Puppies thrive on predictability and routine. So, to help your puppy feel safe and secure, immediately establish a care routine, beginning with their feeding, play, and elimination opportunities. Minimize disruptions and potentially stressful or frightening experiences (e.g., long periods alone, delayed or inconsistent feeding and elimination opportunities, loud angry voices), which can create long-lasting anxiety and fear.

#4: Train your puppy

Successful dog training is not a one-and-done experience but a lifelong journey. Training helps your puppy learn expected behaviors, and fosters a strong bond with you, enhancing trust, instilling confidence, and improving communication. Because aversive training techniques (e.g., physical corrections, dominance theory) are linked to increased stress and anxiety, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior endorses positive reinforcement (i.e., reward-based) training.

After your young furry friend receives their first vaccinations, register for puppy classes. These classes are a great way for your puppy to learn invaluable life skills such as commands that include come and stay, and loose-leash walking. Reputable puppy trainers can also help you navigate common puppy behavioral issues such as housebreaking, nipping, jumping, and chewing. To ensure you are comfortable with a trainer’s methods and techniques, observe a class without your puppy before registering.

#5: Socialize your puppy

Socialization helps your puppy learn about the world through safe controlled exposures. Strive to create positive learning opportunities for your puppy when encountering new and unfamiliar people, pets, places, experiences, sounds, smells, and textures. Each positive encounter will help your puppy develop positive emotional associations and responses to their surroundings, helping them grow into a well-adjusted and calm dog. Focus on these important puppy socialization opportunities:

  • Handling and restraint — Help your puppy become accustomed to handling and restraint by regularly and gently touching their mouth, ears, feet, belly, and tail. 
  • Basic grooming — Introduce toothbrushing, nail trimming, and ear cleaning.
  • Unfamiliar sounds — Introduce your puppy to an unfamiliar sound at a low volume and gradually increase the level. Running household appliances is an easy and controlled way to introduce your puppy to noises.
  • Walking on uneven surfaces — Walking on tarps, mulch, tile, gravel, sand, and inflatable mattresses can build your puppy’s balance, coordination, and confidence.
  • Travel — Acclimate your puppy to car travel by placing them in their crate or securing them with a seat belt.

As you socialize your puppy, be mindful of fear periods—days or weeks in which your puppy will be extra sensitive to their environment, including things they once enjoyed. Fear periods generally occur when your puppy is between 8 and 12 weeks of age and again between 6 and 14 months of age. If you notice a change in your puppy’s behavior or attitude toward certain people, places, or objects, do not push them. Until the fear period ends, build your puppy’s confidence by teaching them fun tricks or playing training games. Avoid situations that cause them anxiety.

Puppyhood is a busy but fleeting time in your dog’s life, so remember to enjoy a lot of wiggly snuggles before they grow up. To ensure your puppy has a healthy start—and kisses—schedule a puppy visit with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Richmond team.