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New Puppy Guide

Pete Wedderburn
30th January 2020 - 16 min read

Congratulations on welcoming a puppy into your life. You’ve joined the millions of people who have discovered the pleasures of friendship with a dog.

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Basic Care

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What You Need

  • Food
  • Water and Food Bowls
  • A Bed
  • A Puppy Playpen
  • Collar and Lead
  • A Brush and a Comb
  • Toys
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First Few Days

Your pup will probably only have known the place where he was born and reared, so your home will seem very strange to him at first. He may be quiet and nervous for the first few days, and it’s important to make sure he has a quiet place as his own space, to rest and sleep. A puppy playpen (or dog crate) can work well for this purpose. Everyone in your house, especially children, should know to respect the puppy’s bed as a place where he can rest without being interrupted.

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Animals enjoy a regular routine, so get into the habit from the start of feeding him at the same time and in the same place every day.  

You can start to teach the puppy from an early stage about the right way to behave in your home. Teach him what he should do rather than simply telling him off when he gets it wrong. If you tell him off, he won’t understand why. It’s more effective to praise and reward him when he does things right: puppies are fast learners.

  • No begging when humans are eating
  • No barking at or jumping up at people
  • No chewing anything other than designated dog chews 

Everyone in the house must follow these rules, or the puppy won’t learn the right way to behave.

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Socialisation and Habituation

Puppies’ brains are designed to absorb and accept new experiences, and it’s important to get them used to a wide range of situations, people and animals when they are young.

A well socialised puppy grows up to be a relaxed, confident adult rather than an anxious, nervous individual.

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Encourage your new puppy to meet adults and children, men and women, including any visitors to the house. Allow him to come forward to meet people, rather than forcing him into an encounter if he seems nervous or fearful. The aim is to allow him to have as many enjoyable, positive experiences as possible.

Introduce them to different types of people – babies, children, men, women, and people dressed in different ways: hats, glasses, scarves and coats. You might even show him people wearing Halloween masks, so that she learns about everything in life that might spook him when he’s older.

It’s best to make introductions gradually, at his own pace. If he is forced into an encounter, he’s likely to feel stressed and frightened. The key is to do it gently so that he grows in confidence. 

If you know any puppies or adult dogs that have been vaccinated and are good natured animals, it’s helpful for your pup to mingle with them, learning important canine social skills.


Don’t leave him alone with larger animals until you are sure they get along well together: as a young pup, he is vulnerable, and accidents can happen suddenly and dramatically.

When Can You Walk them?

Your pup should be kept away from pavements, parks or gardens until he has completed his initial course of vaccinations so that he does not pick up any viral infections. You can carry him in your arms in public areas (this will help him get used to a wide range of situations) but don’t let him go on the ground at this stage.

black and white puppy being held in mans arms
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Puppy Classes

Puppy classes, aimed at socialising young puppies, can be a useful way of introducing puppies to other animals and people: ask your local vet about where they take place in your area.

Other pets

When your puppy has settled in for a few days and has grown in confidence, introduce him to any other pets in your home.  Keep him on a leash and never leave any animals on their own together until you’re sure that they’re getting on well. Don’t leave your puppy alone with small pets like rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, gerbils or hamsters, as he may treat them like toys or prey. You need to teach him that they are “friends”.  


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Puppies grow rapidly in the first months of life, and they have specific nutritional requirements that need to be met. The easiest way to keep them healthy is to buy a good quality complete diet.

Puppy Diet

It’s best to ask the person who gave you the puppy to give you a small bag of the food he’s used to, and continue to feed this for the first few days. This helps to reduce his stress while he gets used to his new home, and will reduce the risk of digestive upsets. Then gradually introduce the diet you plan to give him for the longer term.

Offer him 3 or 4  small meals per day of a good quality complete puppy food. In general, you can offer him as much food as he wants at each meal time, within obvious limits. Follow the guidelines on the packaging or ask your vet for advice if you’re not sure. 

In most cases, if he chases the bowl around the floor when it’s empty, looking for more, then you should offer him more. The idea is that he should feel full when he’s finished his dinner.

Adult Diet

By the time he is about 10 – 12  months old, most pups should be able to move onto an adult type of diet.

Dog foods come in two forms– dry and moist. Get a Petfix Personalised Pet Planner to see what food we recommend for you.

It’s a good routine to wash your pup’s food and water bowls every day.

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Chew Toys and Bones

Puppies love chewing, but you need to encourage him to chew objects that are good for him. Raw or cooked bones can cause problems such as cut mouths, broken teeth and obstructions in the digestive tract if fragments are swallowed. There are plenty of chew toys and nutritious dental cleaning chew snacks that you can offer him instead. 

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Puppies and dogs need to have a bowl of fresh water available at all times, especially if they are eating dry food. Place the water bowl a short distance away from the food bowl: the two bowls don’t need to be side by side. 

A dog fountain is a way of making drinking more fun and appealing to puppies. 


Puppy treats can be a useful way of rewarding a pup, helping to boost the bond between you, but simple attention, including playing, petting and cuddling is even more effective and it’s calorie-free, which becomes more important as a pup grows into an adult.


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Basic Training

You should start to train your puppy as soon as you bring him home. When training your puppy at home make sure that everyone in the family uses the same commands, and keep training sessions for young puppies short, frequent and fun. You can easily teach him yourself to sit, stay, and come when called.

When he is older and fully vaccinated, enrol in a puppy training class to learn how to teach him more commands and more advanced training.  Ask your vet for details of local training classes and always ask if you can observe a class before enrolling to make sure that you like the way its done.

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House Training

A regular routine is the best way to teach him about toiletting.  Take him to a chosen area in the garden as soon as he wakes up, after playing, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. As well as that, if you ever see him getting restless or agitated, or stopping what he was doing and looking bemused, take him outside to the toiletting area. Whenever you go to this area, wait with him until he has done his business and then praise him and give him a tasty treat.

If accidents do occur indoors, don’t get angry with him. Clean it up at once with a solution of warm water and biological washing powder to remove the smell so that he doesn’t go back to the same area to do it again.  


If you catch the puppy about to chew something he shouldn’t, distract him with a toy, or call him. Always praise him when he obeys.  Make sure that you offer him a variety of toys that are designed for him to chew: chewing is a natural behaviour and he needs to be able to do this in a way that doesn’t cause any harm to himself or his surroundings.

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Young puppies get all the exercise they need by normal activities around the home and garden, just playing and interacting with you. As soon as he is fully vaccinated you can start to give him more exercise, taking him for short walks. This is a time when it’s important to get him used to different sights, sounds and places.

Make exercise more enjoyable for him by using a ball, a throw-toy or a Frisbee. Avoid small balls that he could swallow, or wooden sticks that could injure him.

Large and giant breeds of dogs need to have some limitations on the level of their exercise until they are skeletally mature at around 18 months of age. For your puppy, discuss this aspect with your vet during a check up, and they will give you specific individualised advice.

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Make sure that anything you do give him to play with is safe. If any toys become worn or damaged replace them.  Don’t give him an old slipper to play with or he’ll think that all shoes and slippers are meant for him to play with. 

Dogs should never be left completely on their own with toys, as there’s always a small risk that they could get into difficulties (e.g. an object getting lodged around their lower jaw, or a toy with strings getting caught around the neck).

Play is not just about physical activity; it’s also about mental challenges. Play games that force him to think, such as retrieving a ball, or even playing Hide and Seek.

Playing is an important part of fostering the bond between you and your puppy, and it works both ways. Make sure you spent at least half an hour every day playing together.


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Brushing and Combing

Buy the right grooming tools to look after his coat well from the start:

  • A soft brush
  • A fine toothed comb 
  • A wide toothed comb (if he has long hair)
  • A fine-wire slicker brush

Regular brushing helps to remove old, dead hair from the coat, preventing matted fur from accumulating. It’s also an important bonding time, and it’s like giving him a gentle massage: it’s good for his muscles and circulation. 

Keep grooming sessions short as puppies easily become bored and stop enjoying it. 

The amount of grooming needed depends on his type of coat and how mucky he gets while he is out and about.

Dogs often love getting dirty and rolling in foul smelling stuff, so all dogs need to have a bath from time to time. Always groom your dog before bathing to remove dead hair and any tangled areas of fur, as bathing won’t help these issues.

You may need to bath your dog as part of treatment for skin conditions later in life, so it’s a good idea to get a puppy used to this happening from an early age. One bath a week is plenty though: you don’t want to over do it so that he stops enjoying it.

Nail Care

Dogs don’t need manicures or pedicures,  but they should be taught to accept nail clipping as part of their regular care. Puppies can develop sharp tips to their nails, and these can easily and safely clipped off. When you visit the vet for vaccinations, remember to ask about how to do this. 

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Dental Care

Dogs don’t have naturally self-cleaning teeth any more than humans, so it makes sense to pay attention to your pets’ dental care from an early stage.

Puppies’ baby teeth (deciduous teeth) appear at around 4 – 6 weeks of age, and are replaced by the adult teeth by 6 – 7 months. If any deciduous teeth don’t fall out naturally, your vet will need to extract them under general anaesthesia to allow the adult teeth to move into their normal position.

It’s a good idea to brush your puppy’s teeth every day. Start a tooth-brushing routine as soon as you bring him home, so that he gets used to you touching his mouth. 

Always use a special dog toothpaste and a child sized toothbrush, or a special ‘finger’ toothbrush which fits over your finger. 

When you visit the vet for a check up or vaccinations, ask how to clean your puppy’s teeth. You can also buy dental chews and special oral gels to put on your puppy’s gums to help prevent plaque and tartar.

Veterinary Care

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Vaccinations are essential to protect your puppy from a number of serious and highly infectious diseases. Vaccines prime his immune system so that if he comes into contact with the disease, his body will be able to fend off the viruses or bacteria involved

All puppies and dogs should be vaccinated against:

  • Canine parvo virus
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Infectious canine hepatitis (ICH)
  • Canine leptospirosis
  • Parainfluenza virus is often also included in vaccine programmes.

Your vet may also advise vaccinating your puppy against: 

  • Bordetella, or Kennel cough – your puppy will need this vaccination one to two weeks before going into boarding kennels, to a show, or anywhere else he could mingle with many other dogs.
  • Rabies (if he needs to travel abroad).

Vaccinations are generally given at approximately six to eight weeks with a follow-up dose around two  to four weeks later. After this he’ll need a booster vaccination, at fifteen months of age., to maintain his protection. After that, vaccines are needed every 1 – 4 years, depending on your dog’s lifestyle: ask your vet for advice on this.

Don’t allow your puppy to walk where other dogs (who may not have been vaccinated) have been until he has finished his complete vaccination programme.

Fleas & External Parasites

Most puppies pick up fleas at some time. Fleas cause itchiness, and can spread disease and cause allergies.  Severe infestations can cause anaemia, especially in very young or small puppies. 

Many people choose to apply regular anti-flea treatment to their dogs (e.g. once a month), to prevent fleas rather than waiting until there is a difficult flea problem to fix in their homes.

Finding Fleas

Stand your puppy on a piece of white paper and comb his fur with a fine comb. Dab any dark specks falling onto the paper with a piece of dampened tissue – if any turn a reddish brown colour, they are flea droppings, which contain dried blood. This is definite evidence of fleas, and you need to arrange treatment for your pup and also for your home.

Other external parasites

If untreated, external parasites can lead to skin infections, and sarcoptes mites can be passed to humans. So if your pet is itching or if you see any creepy-crawlies in his coat, make sure that you seek professional advice.

1) Lice – pale brown, similar to fleas but are smaller and slower moving. They cause itching and irritation.

2) Mites – can cause intense irritation and itchiness. 

  • Mange mites (Sarcoptes and Demodex mites) – burrow into the skin.
  • Cheyletiella mites – live on the skin, like fleas and lice, rather than burrowing into the skin. These all need to be seen under the microscope for proper identification.
  • Ear mites – cause irritation and the production of dark brown wax with an unpleasant smell.
  • Harvest mites – these are small orange mites, seen mostly in the late summer or autumn. They tend to attach themselves between the toes or  in the folds of the ear, causing itchiness.

3) Ticks – small, pea-shaped creatures that attach to the skin. Do not try to remove a tick without being shown how to do this first – watch our video. 

Worms & Worming 

Any dog can pick up worms, and puppies may even be born with them or pick them up from their mother’s milk.  Puppies should be regularly wormed, and all dogs need a detailed programme for treatment and prevention of worms.

 A heavy infestation of worms can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, weight loss, constipation and a dull coat. Some worms can be passed to humans, especially young children. 

Even if you never see any worms, you should set up a preventative worming programme for your pet, as some worms can be passed to humans, carrying a particular risk to young children. 

The main types of worms are:

1) Roundworms – look like tiny lengths of spaghetti. They can be passed to the puppy when still in the womb, and then in the  mother’s milk, so puppies need to be wormed regularly from three weeks of age.

2) Tapeworms – can look like flattened pieces of rice, or can join together in chains up to 50cm long. The most common tapeworm can be picked up when fleas are swallowed, while other types can be picked up by eating prey after hunting.

3) Lungworms – can also be picked up by eating slugs and snails, or small creatures such as rodents or birds, and can cause a cough.

Common signs of worms:

  • Vomiting or diarrhoea (which may contain worms). 
  • Tapeworm segments around your pup’s bottom (like squashed rice grains).
  • Swollen abdomen.
  • Weight loss or a gaunt appearance.
  • Coughing (if lungworms are present).

Remember that your dog can have worms even if you cannot see any sign of them in his faeces. Regular preventative treatment is essential. 

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If you don’t plan to breed from your dog, having him or her neutered is the responsible thing to do.  As well as preventing unwanted litters, neutering reduces the risk of a number of health problems, removes the dog’s sexual urges and can also resolve or prevent some problem behaviours.

Puppies are generally neutered between six and nine months old, although some veterinary practices may operate early neutering programmes, and some breeds of dog should not be neutered until they are skeletally mature at around 18 months of age. Your vet will advise you on what’s best for your pet.

The procedure in male puppies is called castration and involves removing the testicles, which produce sperm and the male hormone, testosterone. It is a straightforward operation performed under general anaesthetic. 

The operation for female dogs is called spaying or “ovario-hysterectomy”.  During the operation, the vet makes an incision in the dog’s abdomen and removes the ovaries and the uterus (womb). Spaying is a longer operation than castration and the puppy or dog will need a couple of days rest. She may need to wear an ‘Elizabethan collar’ to prevent her from licking her wound excessively..

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All puppies and dogs  to have a means of identification in case he becomes lost – it’s the law. 

labrador puppy sitting on the grass

Get him used to wearing a collar with an engraved identification tag on it and also get him microchipped if he has not been done already. Microchipping is an efficient and irreversible means of identification; it’s normally done by the vet.

A tiny microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin at the back of the neck by the vet in a simple procedure that’s virtually painless. Each chip has a unique number which is stored on a central computer database.  If your dog is found, his chip can be quickly read with a hand held scanner and the number checked against the database.

It’s important that your contact details are kept up to date on the database. Remember to contact the database if your details change, such as when you move house.

Pet Insurance

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Pet insurance ensures that you can afford to give your dog the veterinary care that they need, when they need it, giving you peace of mind. If your pup is insured, you don’t need to worry about being able to afford his care in case of an accident or serious illness.

It’s worth shopping around, and taking time to read the detail (“small print”) of the policy that you choose, to make sure that you understand what you are paying for. Cheaper policies may actually cost you more money in the end, because they do not cover the same level of treatment for your pet.

If your dog develops a long-term health problem (e.g. diabetes or arthritis) some insurance companies only pay for the first year of treatment while others keep paying for the whole life of your pet. Make sure that you read the detail of the policy before signing up. 

Routine procedures, such as vaccinations, parasite control, neutering and dental care are not covered by insurance, so even if your pet is insured, you still need to budget for these.

Pet Insurance Discounts

Some insurance companies offer discounts if:

  • You insure more two or more pets for them.
  • You pay one lump sum per year rather than monthly premiums.
  • You agree to pay a higher proportion of any vet bill.
  • Your kitten is non-pedigree.
  • Your kitten is microchipped.
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Dogs and the Law

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As a dog owner you have a responsibility to see that you and your pet keep on the right side of the law. 

  • Your dog must be microchipped and must always wear a collar bearing a tag with your name and address on it. You also need to buy a dog licence when he is six months of age, renewing this every year (or buying a life-long licence at the start).
  • You must keep him on a lead and under control at all times when you are around livestock. If your dog worries farm animals you may be prosecuted and your dog could be destroyed.
  • You can be held liable if your dog causes an accident. It is also the responsibility of a car driver who hits a dog to stop and report the accident to the police.
  • You could be prosecuted if your dog messes in a public place so always take a plastic bag or a poop scoop with you when walking your pet.
  • If your dog is dangerously out of control in a public place you could be prosecuted.
  • Anyone found mistreating a dog and causing suffering to the animal can be prosecuted and if convicted may be fined or jailed. They can also be disqualified from keeping an animal for a period of time.