Puppy 101

What to expect when you bring a new puppy home. Here are some best practices for training, socializing, and feeding your puppy.

Puppy 101

Welcome to Puppy 101! Adding a new puppy to the family can be exciting yet overwhelming. We’re here to help! Here is a basic overview of what to expect when you bring a new puppy home.

Medical Care

It is extremely important that your veterinarian looks at your new puppy as soon as you bring them home. This gives us a good baseline and lets us screen for any congenital issues (issues that are related to genetics and are present at birth). It also allows us to place them on the proper vaccination schedule as soon as possible.


Why so many puppy boosters? Some of you may wonder why we do a series of “puppy shots” instead of just once a year or every three years like we do when they get older. This graph may help explain:

At the first feeding, the mother transfers a small amount of immunity to the puppy. This immunity wears off gradually over a period of weeks. What we have to do is stimulate the puppy’s immunity against serious disease BEFORE they get exposed and after the mother’s antibodies have dropped a bit. If the mother’s antibodies are too high, it prevents the puppy from developing an immune response to vaccination. If the puppy’s immune system isn’t stimulated AND the mother antibodies are gone it is extremely susceptible to disease. Because there is no way to determine the level of maternal antibodies in a puppy’s system, we do a series of vaccines at a set schedule to give the puppy the best chance of developing an appropriate level of antibodies before becoming exposed to serious illness.

What vaccines is my puppy getting?

While this can vary somewhat from clinic to clinic there are usually a set of “core” and “non-core” vaccines.

Core Vaccines: Core vaccines are recommended for all puppies. The diseases involved are highly contagious, cause significant illness and are widely distributed. For ReadiVet, Core Vaccines include vaccines for canine parvovirus (CPV), canine distemper virus (CDV), canine adenovirus (CAV), leptospirosis, bordetella and rabies.

Non-Core Vaccines: These are vaccines that can vary depending on the lifestyle of your dog. These can include vaccines against Canine Influenza Virus, Lyme Disease, Rattlesnake Venom, among others.

Talk to your Veterinarian: You should always discuss your puppy’s lifestyle (or planned lifestyle) with your veterinarian so that they can help formulate the safest and most effective vaccination protocol for your puppy.

Spaying and Neutering

In general, we start discussing spaying (for females) and neutering (for males) around 6 months of age. However, there is no longer a “one size fits all” approach to spaying or neutering. There are multiple factors to consider when deciding the perfect time to schedule this surgery, and the veterinarians at ReadiVet can help you make the best decision for you and your pet. Studies have shown that sterilized animals live longer lives and have less behavioral issues than their un-sterilized counterparts. Preventing unwanted canine pregnancy is another huge benefit. It is estimated that approximately 3.7 million animals are euthanized in the nation’s shelters every year. Pet overpopulation is a huge problem. Have your pet spayed or neutered.

Nutrition and Feeding

Pet nutrition has become a very hot topic lately. First and foremost, your veterinarian is the best resource when it comes to recommending a diet for your pet. Veterinarians are trained in pet nutrition and witness daily which diets are the most effective in keeping pets healthy. There is a lot of misinformation surrounding pet food, and your veterinarian can help separate fact from fiction. If you are looking into doing a little research start with this article: 10 questions every pet food manufacturer should answer. This article and your veterinarian’s recommendation can get you started in the right direction.

It is important to note that currently, we do not recommend feeding any grain free foods. There is a current investigation into the connection these foods have to a disease called Dilated Cardiomyopathy (or DCM). If you would like more information on this investigation check out the Food and Drug Administration website.

Your puppy should eat a puppy formula food based on his or her breed. For example, a German Shepherd puppy should eat a specially formulated large breed puppy diet. Your Shih Tzu puppy should eat a small breed puppy formula. These diets have the correct caloric and nutrient profile to help your pet grow appropriately.

If your pet is on a high quality food it is not necessary (or recommended) to feed a vitamin supplement. Some supplements can contain minerals that could actually be harmful to growing pets.

The frequency of feeding depends on the size of your puppy. Smaller puppies generally need to be fed more often until they reach a certain size. How often you should feed your pet is another good question for your veterinarian. Generally speaking, it is best for puppies to learn to be meal fed. This means offering a veterinary recommended diet at set times 2 to 3 times a day. Allow your puppy 20 minutes to eat his meal then remove the food bowl. This allows us to know if your pet is eating consistently or if there is a change or drop in his eating habits.

Do not feed people food or give food from the table. Besides potentially causing a weight problem or GI issue like vomiting or diarrhea, it teaches bad behavior in the form of begging and confuses the puppy as to what is off limits.
Please speak to your veterinarian about proper nutrition for your puppy. Always check with your veterinarian prior to switching food or giving any new food item. This conversation may help you avoid a problem (or expensive visit) down the road!

Crate Training

We cannot stress enough the importance of successful crate training with your puppy. The crate allows your puppy to develop a place all his/her own. This place should be inviting, secure, and off limits to any humans (especially small children). The crate gives your puppy a place to retreat to if he or she is feeling overstimulated or insecure. Crate training is neither cruel nor unfair, provided your puppy had sufficient social interaction, exercise, and an opportunity to eliminate before she is placed in the crate. In fact, allowing your dog to wander through the home unsupervised to investigate, chew, and eliminate is unwise and potentially dangerous. It is also the safest place for your pet to sleep. Letting your puppy sleep in your bed can create behavior issues down the road and it can also increase the risk of injury if she were to fall off the bed while young. It may be difficult the first several days, but trust us, it is so much easier down the road to take the time to make sure your pet loves her crate and will sleep there voluntarily.

You and your dog will love crates! There are numerous benefits to crate training your dog:

  • Security for your dog
  • Safety for your dog
  • A place that is their own
  • Prevention of household damage (chewing, elimination, etc.)
  • Help with housetraining
  • Preparation for travel, boarding, and spending time alone
  • Improved relationships (fewer problems mean less frustration and discipline)

Here are ways to teach your puppy to love their crate:

  • Locate the crate in a commonly used area of the house. If your puppy’s crate is in a spare bedroom or unused area of the house, she is less likely to enjoy spending time in it
  • Always give your puppy a treat for going into the crate
  • A food-stuffed toy will entertain your puppy for a longer period of time. Offer it to your puppy when she is in her crate.
  • Hide treats daily in the crate. When your puppy explores the area she will begin to believe in the crate treat fairy
  • Use an upbeat tone, command and attitude when asking your puppy to go into her crate.
  • Never punish your puppy by sending her to her crate
  • Feed your puppy her meals when the door is opened or closed
  • If your puppy is vocalizing, wait for her to quiet down before you let her out or give her any attention (verbal, physical or eye contact)
  • Place your puppy in the crate at times even when you are home. This will teach your puppy that the crate does not always signal you are leaving.
  • Minimize the length of time your puppy is in her crate by offering scheduled breaks and play. Generally an acceptable time is your puppy’s age in months +1 hour. (Example: 2 months of age + 1 hour = 3 hours maximum). Excessive confinement results in hyperactivity.

House Training

House training is another critical component to you and your puppy’s happiness long term. Unfortunately, dogs are often relinquished to shelters due to a lack of house training, and house training, much like potty training in children, can be a very stressful time for all involved parties. Similar to potty training a toddler, your puppy will not be house trained overnight. Prevention of accidents through management and supervision is the key to successful house training.

4 Steps to Successful House Training

Step 1: Prevent Accidents from Occurring

  • As previously stated, and generally speaking, a puppy can hold his urine for one hour plus his age in months. However, full bladder control may take 4 to 5 months to develop and accidents may occasionally occur up to 1 year of age. The process will vary with each individual.
  • Direct supervision is imperative. When you are not using your crate, your puppy should be tethered to you by a leash to avoid your puppy wandering off to eliminate unnoticed.
  • Train your puppy to love her crate.
  • Allow your puppy free access to water. Restricting water induces excessive water intake later and, thus, excessive and frequent urination follows.
  • Do not offer food 2 hours prior to bedtime to help insure success through the night.

Step 2: Reward Elimination in Appropriate Areas

  • Pick a cue phrase, such as “let’s go outside” or “let’s go potty”
  • Use the same exit from the house and take the dog out on a leash every time (even if you have a fenced yard). Designate a specific area of the yard for elimination. This helps your puppy develop a process and introduces him to the leash early on. Sometimes puppies develop the habit of only being able to urinate/defecate off leash and this becomes troublesome while traveling, boarding, etc.
  • Withhold attention from him until he eliminates. This means do not talk to, play with, or look at him. (Obviously try to monitor to make sure he doesn’t get into anything in the yard).
  • Add a cue phrase, such as “hurry up” just prior to elimination. This allows you to get elimination behavior on cue.
  • Praise your dog with attention after he eliminates and offer a treat. Reward with play time.
  • If he does not go, take inside, confine or supervise and try again in 10-15 minutes.

Step 3: Anticipate when your puppy needs to eliminate

  • Setting a routine and schedule is one of the most critical steps to success. However, knowing your pet’s routine is often difficult. Some people find it easier to keep a log for the first several months of their puppy’s activity, feeding and elimination in order to learn the puppy’s routine. This will vary from dog to dog.
  • Make repeated trips at set intervals. First thing in the morning, last thing at night and several times in between
  • Take a potty break after eating, playing or sleeping.
  • Take your puppy outside frequently whether you think he needs to eliminate or not.
  • Watch for your puppy’s signals of impending elimination (sniffing the ground, wandering to the door, circling) and take him outside quickly.

Step 4: When Accidents Happen

  • Do not punish your dog for having accidents.
  • Yelling or scolding your puppy will only teach him to be afraid and not eliminate in front of you. This makes house training difficult. Punishment does not teach your puppy where to eliminate and increases fear of people during a critical socialization period.
  • If your puppy is in the process of having an accident, use the cue “outside” to interrupt the behavior and teach him to go outdoors. This may momentarily make him stop and give you the opportunity to take him outside and praise him for eliminating in the proper location.

Unfortunately, there are times when we are forced to leave our puppies for longer periods of time. However, it is important to note that using pee-pads directly on the floor should be avoided at all cost. This confuses your puppy down the road when he comes into contact with something similar (aka a rug) that it is not appropriate for him to urinate on. Consider having a friend stop by our hiring a dog walker to help keep your puppy on a good schedule.

Using these techniques, most puppies can be successfully house trained. To be effective, however, all steps must be followed simultaneously and consistently.


The socialization period is the most influential learning period of a dog’s life, forming the foundation of all future learning. It usually ranges from 3 to around 16 weeks of age. A fear period has been documented to occur between 8-10 weeks of age. Traumatic experiences to stimuli that induce fear during this period may be generalized and produce lifelong aversion responses. Puppies should not be shipped during this period, elective surgery should be put off and veterinary visits should be made positive with treats. Proper socialization decreases chances of common behavior problems like aggression towards dogs and people, fear of people, places, and things, and anxiety related problems.

To help puppies become comfortable, confident and emotionally stable adult dogs, they must be properly socialized before 16 weeks of age. Physical and emotional stability and learning are enhanced through positive exposure to novel experiences during early development. Lack of an experience during this time is just as detrimental as a bad experience. It is important to discuss where your pet should be socialized with your veterinarian prior to going out into the world. While we do want your pet to have positive experiences we also have to avoid places that have the ability to harbor serious diseases (like dog parks or heavily populated areas in apartment complexes).

So how do you start to properly socialize your puppy?

Select areas, people and pets that you know will be a positive experience for your puppy.
Avoid areas with too many people, noises or pets at first, or allow them to observe at a distance while you are offering treats. We need to establish a baseline of positive experiences before pushing the limits. There is a socialization checklist provided in the attachments. The most important thing before doing these exercises is to be familiar with signs of fear in your puppy so that you can either modify the situation or offer higher quality treats when those signs occur.

Use treats liberally.

If you notice your puppy starting to withdraw or become fearful (see attachment on signs of fear in dogs) do not give verbal encouragement and do not reprimand your puppy. This can potentially reinforce the fear response. Instead let your treats do the talking. This will allow your puppy to make a positive connection (treats) with the issue causing fear.

Allow your puppy to investigate at his own pace.

Forcing a puppy to investigate areas, people or things may increase the fear of those objects. It is best to let them explore and reward them for doing so with treats.

Consider enrolling your puppy in a good puppy socialization class.

This is different from obedience training in that it starts very early (8 weeks) and focuses on play, handling and creating numerous positive interactions with dogs, people and objects. It “vaccinates” against common behavior problems.

We know you may want to look for a trainer or group classes for your pup. Click here to view an article that can help you choose the right trainer. Please call us if you have any behavior questions. Call us early, as the longer the unwanted behavior goes on the longer it can take to correct!

Here are some additional great resources for puppy introduction:

Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog by Kenneth Martin, DVM and Debbie Martin, RVT, VTS, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP

Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Horwitz, Debra F., Ciribassi, John and Dale, Steve (Jan 7, 2014)


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