How do you find and raise a happy, healthy puppy? With a bit of research and a lot of love. Here’s our insider’s guide to get you started…
How do you find and raise a happy, healthy puppy? With a bit of research and a lot of love. From choosing the right breed to welcoming your furball of joy home, it’s all covered in our latest guide...
Finding the perfect puppy
The first step in raising a happy, healthy puppy is finding the right one for you! There are two steps to this: working out which breed or mix will suit your circumstances and lifestyle; then finding the actual pup who’ll join your family. Let’s start with the research bit…
Researching puppy breeds and characteristics
Here at Lintbells, we adore puppies of all breeds and mixes, though most people seem to gravitate towards a breed or type. It may be how they look, it may be because you’ve had experiences in the past, or it could be that friends and family have suggested a breed or mix. However, it’s really important to do your research, and think about compatibility too. Ask yourself things like…
- Will your puppy enjoy an active adult life, joining you as you run, ride or cycle?
- Do you want to participate in doggy sports together?
- Is travel a big part of your life – and will Fido join you on adventures?
- Do you have children – or do you plan to in the future?
- Are you mobile – or will your dog need to be happy with shorter walks but lots of cuddles?
- Do you already have other pets?
- How big is your home, and do you have a garden?
...then start research breeds and mixes that are a good fit by looking at the ‘doggy job’ different breeds were historically used for, and what characteristics they are bred for today. The Kennel Club is a good place to start.
For example, if you’re an active person who plans to run every day with your dog, a working breed with lots of stamina like a Labrador, Husky or Spaniel might be a good choice. However, if you have reduced mobility or prefer a less active life, it’s not really fair to choose a dog originally bred to run 20+ miles a day. A companion or toy breed whose ‘doggy job’ is to enjoy company, comfort and cuddles might be more appropriate.
Rescue a pup or buy from a breeder?
This is completely up to you. Contrary to what many people think, puppies do come into rescue… often when pregnant Mums are abandoned. Rescue pups are often raised by very experienced foster carers who give them an exceptional start in life, so don’t see these little ones as ‘second class citizens’. However, you won’t necessarily know who Dad was, so that little ball of fluff may end up a bigger or smaller dog than you’d imagined!
If you choose to buy a puppy from a good breeder, you’ll meet Mum, possibly Dad and maybe even some older brothers and sisters. You should get an idea of temperament too… good breeders can see from the litter who is likely to be calm and placid, and who is a bit more feisty.
Did you know? Good rescues and breeders will provide life-long backup, and be happy to take the pup or adult dog back if you struggle to provide the care it needs. You might at this point consider an adult dog too… there are lots of lovely dogs in rescue who’ll be very grateful to share your sofa! Many have already learned basic training, houstraining, and have an established personality – you’ll ‘know what you’re getting into’ more than you might with a puppy.
How to recognise a healthy puppy
If you choose to take the breeder route, be aware that there are some people out there who see their dogs as a way to make extra money. Pups from these ‘back yard breeders’ (BYBs) – and puppy farms – aren’t bred for healthy bodies or temperaments, and the Mums often endure litter after litter in terrible conditions. There’s lots of info about this on PupAid website but in short, to avoid BYBs and puppy farmers you can:
- Visit dog shows and ask competitors who’s a good pet breeder in their breed.
- Do lots of online research, and cross-reference names in the dog’s pedigree.
- Check the Kennel Club website for potential health problems, and which (if any) health checks parents should have passed.
- Don’t take KC registration as a guarantee of a healthy, happy puppy – the KC doesn't inspect breeders, so it’s important to do your own research too.
- Always ask to see the puppies with their Mum – and ideally Dad – and be sure to see the puppies suckle, so you know it’s really Mum.
- Beware of very expensive puppies (over £2000) and very cheap pups (£150 or less)
- Never meet a breeder in a ‘convenient’ location like a service station, or let them deliver the puppy to you.
- Be careful and ask lots of questions if you see pups advertised in papers or online – it’s unusual for top breeders to advertise, and many even have waiting lists for their puppies!
- Don’t buy puppies from shops or places selling lots of different breeds and crossbreeds – they may be a front for a puppy farm.
- Avoid anyone advertising lots of different breeds online or in the paper for the same reason.
- If the breeder asks you lots of questions about your family and lifestyle, or asks you to sign a ‘puppy contract’, you are likely to have found a good breeder and this suggests they really cares.
- Be patient – it can take weeks, or even months to find a healthy, well-bred pup, but they’ll be your companion for 10+ years, so it’s worth the wait!
You’ve done the research, found the ideal breeder or rescue puppy, and are eagerly waiting to bring your puppy home – what should you be doing meanwhile?
Happy, healthy puppy prep checklist:
- Go shopping for puppy essentials: a comfy bed, puppy toys, food and water dishes. A puppy collar or harness and lead are a good idea, and perhaps a crate – more on that below.
- Choose your vet and book a puppy vaccination appointment.
- Find out what food your puppy is accustomed to and stock up – buy treats, too.
- Buy or borrow a puppy DVD or book, and learn about positive reinforcement dog training.
- Start researching puppy classes in your area – your vet can advise, or check out Dog’s Trust Dog School.
- Puppy-proof your home – consider where your little one will sleep and spend most of their time. The kitchen can be a good place whilst you’re working on house training.
- Prepare your family – talk to children about how to carefully and kindly handle animals.
- Decide your housetraining method and make sure everyone at home knows it too!
Bringing your puppy home
The big day has arrived and it’s finally time to collect your puppy! Ask the rescue or breeder if you can borrow a blanket that smells of home and Mum with you. Wrap your pup in the blanket, then very carefully take your new little one home. Once you arrive home, try and keep things calm and quiet, and remember that puppies need a lot of sleep.
Pop your puppy in their new bed with the blanket that smells of their Mum, and give them time to rest. You can pop a hot water bottle under their bed to help them adjust to not having the warmth of their doggy family close by. Don’t get excited and forget about your house training plans – it can help to set an alarm on your phone to remind you when it’s time to take the puppy outside to toilet.
Feeding your puppy
It’s not a good idea to switch your pup’s food when they first arrive home. We’d recommend stocking up on the puppy food the rescue or breeder weaned your pup on, as a change in food may bring on a wobbly tum. It might be sensible to have some YuDIGEST Plus handy just in case. If you want to change your puppy’s diet, do so gradually over a couple of weeks, and always feed the best quality food you can afford. Adults have different nutritionals to pups, who burn lots of energy and need lots of fuel as they grow.
Puppies and children
Most breeders and rescues will already have introduced your puppy to children, but remember that little people can be scary and confusing to dogs. Their body language is different to ‘speaking dog’ and they tend to be noisier and move more quickly and unpredictably than adults. There’s more on socialising puppies in the next article in this series – view here – but remember to take it very steadily so excited little ones don’t hurt or overwhelm the puppy.
Top tip – never leave children and dogs unsupervised and encourage little ones to only ever touch the dog or puppy with one hand. This stops children hugging dogs, which is one of the top causes of stress in child/canine interactions.
Toilet training puppies
We could write a whole article about this, but there are two basic methods: puppy pads/newspapers or get it right first time. If you are around all day – the ideal situation for a puppy – the latter is best.
- Take your pup outside in the garden every 20 minutes or so, after food or water, after playtime, and when they first wake.
- If they ‘go’, treat and praise.
- Once they’ve got the idea of toileting outside, you can add a cue as they toilet – ‘go quickly’ or ‘get busy’ work well.
- Set an alarm and wake them through the night for toileting in the first few weeks.
- Gradually reduce this until they sleep overnight.
- If you don’t crate the puppy, pop a bell on their collar at night, so you wake if they start pottering and need the loo.
- Keep up the treats and the praise, even once they seem to have ‘got it’.
When there are accidents (and there will be!) just clear them up and ignore it – never shout at a puppy, or ‘rub their nose in it’. This is cruel and frightening, and can lead to lifelong problems with toileting. The Blue Cross has a more detailed guide here, and there’s also info on the Dog’s Trust website here.
The puppy pad method takes longer as the dog ‘learns’ that it’s OK to toilet indoors, but is more suitable if you will have to leave your puppy during the day or don’t have have a safe outside space (eg: flats with shared gardens where other dogs may go).
Immunisation, socialisation and habituation
It’s really important to book an appointment at your vets to get immunisations underway ASAP – your vet can also provide lots of tips and advice. Ask them about puppy walks, ‘dos and don’ts’ and how to socialise your pup. It’s likely they’ll also be able to recommend a good local puppy class, where your pup can meet doggie friends and begin basic training.
Did you know? Puppy vaccinations usually cost between £30 and £60, but these ‘jabs’ are vital – all of these diseases are potentially fatal, and very expensive to treat if your new best friend becomes poorly.
Should you crate your puppy?
What is a crate? A large cage that you can use to confine a puppy or dog in. There’s lots of discussion about whether they are a good idea or not, and only you can decide how you’d like to raise your puppy.
- Dogs are den animals – many take to crates very quickly, and see them as a safe, happy space.
- Crates can help with puppy housetraining, particularly at night.
- They are handy if you have a very active puppy who needs to be encouraged to rest.
- They are good if you have young children or a multi-pet household, and you want to sometimes separate the family for safety reasons – for example, when you can’t supervise children and dogs as you’re doing housework.
- They can keep a dog confined if they have been injured and a vet recommends rest.
- Some owners come to rely on crates a bit much – should you get a dog at all if it will live in a cage for 6+ hours a day and all night?
- Some owners use them as a punishment tool – putting puppies and dogs on ‘time out’.
- Some dogs hate crates – especially rescues who haven’t been crate-trained with kindness and positivity, or have learned to associate the crate with punishment.
We recommend doing your research, and if you decide to use a crate, really taking your time with crate training. There’s more info on the RSPCA website.
Getting out and about before immunisation is complete
Before you begin your puppy walks at around 12 weeks, your pup can start experiencing the world by being carried around with you. This is the start of a process that’s called socialisation and habituation – more on this in our next puppy blog.
Normal – and not-so-normal – puppy behaviour
Here at Lintbells, we all remember getting our first puppy. Some of us have lived with dogs since childhood, but for those who welcomed a furry family member for the first time as an adult, there’s a common theme when we reminisce about our puppies:
“I wish I’d worried and stressed about getting it right all the time a bit less, and focused on having fun a bit more!”
So to help you understand what’s normal – and enjoy your baby dog’s early days – here are some pointers on what to expect, and when to seek help....
|Totally normals||Keep an eye on it||Get some help|
|Licking and nibbling everyone and everything – this is called ‘mouthing’ and is how your puppy learns about the world. Don’t encourage it though – offer your puppy a toy instead.||Harder bites that hurt and persistent mouthing when offered more appropriate things to play with and chew. Try this Victoria Stilwell technique to stop it.||Persistent hard biting, bites that draw blood, mouthing continuing 6-months plus. Get some expert help at your puppy class, or from a certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist.|
|A snoozy, lazy puppy – don't worry if your pup sleeps a lot, growing pups need sleep!||A very active puppy who rarely sleeps and won’t be left alone. Puppies need to learn to spend quiet time alone so you can leave them as an adult – RSPCA training guide here. It’s also worth checking their food for additives.||Seeming unwilling to run, jump and play. This unusual, so get their joints checked at the vets to make sure everything’s OK physically.|
|Having wind or the odd runny poo.||A wobbly tummy… being sick or more than one runny poo. Puppies can eat things they shouldn’t or be stressed – support their digestion with YuDIGEST Plus.||Upsets for more than 24 hrs, or any sign of blood. Get your puppy to the vets ASAP.|
|Chewing, especially at ‘teething time’. Just like children, puppies have milk teeth and adult teeth. The adult teeth come in from 8 weeks, and your pup will want to chew to soothe their gums. Provide suitable toys so they don’t find their own!||Chewing table legs, remote controls, favourite shoes. What’s cute at 8 weeks is a real pain in an adult dog. Encourage appropriate chewing by swapping ‘stolen’ items for tough toys like Nylabones and giving lots of praise when your pup chews the ‘right’ thing.||If your puppy chews their own body parts, or persistently chews things they shouldn’t even when you consistently provide alternatives. Get some expert help at your puppy class, or from a certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist.|
|Toilet accidents – it can take up to 8 months to fully housetrain a puppy.||An interest in other animal’s pee and poo – particularly the cat tray. Try and keep it clean, as many puppies and dogs will eat other creatures’ faeces given the chance.||Eating their own poo. This can be a sign that there’s something missing in your pup’s diet – talk to your vet, as if it becomes a habit, it can be hard to stop.|
|Being into everything, growling when they’re playing, and a bit ‘full on’ from time to time – puppies will push boundaries to discover what’s OK, and what’s not.||Puppies who are a bit shy or standoffish. This can be down to genetics or poor socialisation in the first weeks. Work on gently building your pup’s confidence – more on that in our puppy walking blog.||Puppies who hide all the time, freeze, or growl when you approach them. Get some expert help from a certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist.|
Last but not least
Don’t forget the baby photos! You can never take enough puppy pictures (or videos) so go camera mad… and don’t forget to share them with us on our social pages!
We hope you’ve found our healthy puppy guide useful – and don’t miss the next in the series, Top puppy walking tips from Lintbells. It covers walkies and socialising your pup, so is well worth a read. If you’ve got a puppy-related question, why not let us know below, or pop over and join in the chat on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter?