Whether you’re stepping into the breeding world with your first litter of puppies, bringing home a new pup, or returning with your shelter’s cutest pooch, you’ll want to know the ins and outs of caring for a new puppy. Here are some tips and tricks for care, feeding, and a little training from conception to adolescence. A new puppy is a great experience, and starting off on the right foot is key!
Puppy care ultimately begins when the dam (mother dog) becomes pregnant. Typical pregnancies in dogs last about 60-65 days with 63 being the average. New moms are likely to have a slightly longer pregnancy and longer labor, while experienced mothers may have a shorter pregnancy and a short labor.
Signs of pregnancy can include changes in behavior (due to hormones), weight gain, nipple development, movement visible along the flanks (moving puppies), and other habit changes . A vet can confirm pregnancy by ultrasound and can count the number of puppies present with an X-ray right before labor.
Development: Development is a critical stage for mom and baby, and the second half of the pregnancy is when the bulk of development occurs. Pets4Homes has a great week by week pregnancy calendar to follow each step of a puppy’s development and mom’s needs: “Dog Pregnancy: A Week by Week Pregnancy Calendar”. Knowing what to expect during pregnancy can alert you to potential problems and signal when it’s time to schedule a veterinary check-up.
Nutritional Needs: Nutritional needs are important during the last half of the pregnancy when the puppies are in rapid development and mom is preparing to produce milk for nursing. Most breeders and veterinarians recommend feeding a puppy formulation to the mother for the increase in calories and nutrients.
There is some debate whether or not additional supplements are needed during pregnancy if the mother is already on a high-quality diet, but vitamins and other supplements such as fish oils or omega fatty acids are not harmful. Be sure to always check with your vet prior to giving anything new to a pregnant dog, just in case.
The first eight weeks of your puppy’s life is filled with many firsts. First walks, first sniffs, first taste of solid food, and first play sessions! During this time, mom usually does most of the work, however, if the mother becomes very ill, rejects a puppy, or otherwise can’t care for every puppy on her own, owners may need to step in and provide some extra help.
Development: The first few weeks is full of rapid change, with your puppy opening his eyes and ears around day 10, beginning to walk by day 14, and rapidly exploring his environment once he is able to move around. Puppies experience critical socialization periods during the first eight weeks as well, bonding with their mothers, other dogs in the home, littermates, and people. By about week five, puppies will have most of their teeth in and will start to nibble on softened food in addition to mom’s milk.
Nutritional Needs: Until they are eating solid food, puppies get all of their nutritional needs from mom by nursing several times per day. It is important to keep feeding mom a high-quality diet of puppy food or other high-calorie diets to ensure she has enough to keep herself and her puppies healthy. At about four weeks of ages, moistened food or special weaning foods can be offered to encourage puppies to explore and switch to solid foods. By eight weeks of age, most puppies are weaned and eating a complete puppy diet.
What to do if a Puppy is Orphaned: In some circumstances, a mother dog may not be able to care for her puppies, or an event happens that leaves a puppy orphaned. Owners will have to step in to care for puppies themselves via multiple feedings per day, bathroom assistance, socialization, and more.
While most puppies do not get vaccinated until eight weeks of age due to mom’s antibodies provided via her milk, orphaned puppies may need vaccines sooner. It is always best to work with your vet on a correct plan of action depending on how and when your puppy became orphaned.
Pet Education has a great in-depth guide to caring for orphaned puppies including feeding schedules and when to consider weaning, socialization, and vaccination. Check it out here.
After eight weeks of age, puppies are ready to go to their new homes. This is the age when most owners receive their puppy, and one of the best times to have one! Eight weeks and beyond are the best times for bonding, training, care, and enjoying time together.
Bringing Home Puppy: The first night can be the most stressful for you and your puppy and is often times the first time your puppy has been on his own. Be sure to have all the supplies needed for making the transition easy, such as a warm blanket or water bottle to snuggle, and be prepared for a few nights of crying and adjustment! VetStreet offers seven tips to keep in mind for a healthy new puppy: find a vet, make the most of the first vet visit, shop for quality food, establish a bathroom routine, watch for early signs of illness, teach obedience and be sociable .
Basic Needs: Puppies have pretty simple needs, but it is still a good idea to ensure they’re all met. Most puppies will need a nutritious diet of puppy food to ensure great brain growth and overall health, visits to the vet for vaccinations and monitoring growth progress, and some obedience training to get used to your family’s routine, establish rules, and stay out of trouble. Extra toys, treats, fancy beds, food dishes and more aren’t needed, but are always appreciated!
Basic Obedience: At 8-16 weeks of age, your puppy is in a critical socialization period, and it is a good idea to enroll in a puppy kindergarten class when he is able. Most classes require a certain number of vaccines prior to enrollment so be sure to check with your trainer and vet. Obedience classes are a great way to socialize your puppy with other dogs, people, places, and things to get him used to changes and new environments.
A well-socialized puppy is less likely to be fearful as he grows up, and more likely to get along well with other people, pets, and dogs. Socialization and training can be done with older dogs, but it is much easier to start off right than to try and correct established issues!
Health Care: Health care is also important at this stage. Puppies that are newly weaned begin to need vaccinations as their immunity from mom wears off. Puppies are also more susceptible to illness at this age, so keeping them in a safe, clean environment, and scheduling regular checkups is key. Your vet can educate you on various puppy illnesses to watch out for, such as parvo or distemper, and can help you monitor and track your puppy’s progress.
The dreaded teen months. Like people, dogs go through a period of “teen” months, where they reach sexual maturity, have lots of hormonal changes, and sometimes test boundaries just like their human counterparts. This is also the age of rapid physical growth, including teething.
Behavioral changes also occur during this time, and this is the age when most dogs are likely to end up in shelters due to behavioral problems. But, all is not lost at this age! With continued training, care, and love, most dogs make it through their teen months just fine.
Teen Rebellion: There are seven distinct changes that help signal adolescence in dogs: becoming more interested in the world, increasing in energy, sexual maturity, suddenly “forgetting” training, becoming suddenly shy or frightened, reaching adult size, and losing the puppy coat . Your dog may lose his puppy teeth and begin to chew on everything again, may suddenly forget what “sit” means, and may wake up looking like a grown-up one morning! A refresher obedience class is usually recommended at this stage, along with continued practice at home.
Nutritional Needs: During this period of rapid growth, your puppy’s nutritional needs are also rapidly changing. Most dogs will begin to transition to an adult diet at this age, depending on their breed and size needs, and additional supplements in their diet may help with the transition. Omega 3 fatty acids and Vitamin E can help with the switch from coarse puppy coat to silky adult coat, while also helping protect rapidly growing joints and brain development.
While conception to adulthood is a short portion of your dog’s life, it is the period of the most rapid change. Ensuring great health throughout the entire experience, lots of love, and a little obedience training can help your puppy grow up healthy and happy. Puppy care may seem daunting to some, but it has the big payoff of seeing your puppy grow and develop as their own little fuzzy person.
Remember, however, that training, nutritional needs, and care don’t stop once your puppy stops growing; keeping up the same routines, supplement regimens, and care can help keep your dog happy throughout his entire life.
All photos provided by Creative Commons/Pixabay for commercial use.
 "Adolescent Dogs." Dogtime. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. http://dogtime.com/trending/257-adolescents
 "Dog Pregnancy- A Week by Week Pregnancy Calendar." Pets4Homes. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. http://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/dog-pregnancy-a-week-by-week-pregnancy-calendar.html
 Foster, Race, DVM. "Orphaned Puppies: How to Raise Them." PetEducation. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=2+2099&aid=863
 "Puppy Basics 101- How to Care for Your New Dog." VetStreet, 27 Feb 2014. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. http://www.vetstreet.com/care/puppy-basics-101-how-to-care-for-your-new-dog
 "Signs Your Dog is Pregnant." Pets.WebMD. Web. 04 Nov. 2016. http://pets.webmd.com/dogs/signs-dog-pregnant