While adopting from a registered shelter has many advantages (including giving a second chance in life to older or overlooked dogs), owning a puppy is a whole other ballgame: not only are you bringing a pet home - you’re helping to shape their behaviour and social habits throughout key stages of their development.
Puppy care is one of the most joyful, exciting - and nerve wracking experiences there is (especially if you’re new to dog ownership). In addition to setting them up with a routine and preparing for life as a pet owner, it can be useful to have a new puppy checklist handy.
Buying or adopting a new pet is a huge responsibility - one that can last for many years. Decide carefully whether you are ready to become a pet owner and factor the budget, the size of your home, and any other pets or children living there into your puppy checklist.
You can start walking your puppy 1-2 weeks after they are fully vaccinated - but watch closely and check with your vet first. Begin with short walks, such as a quick toilet trip to the garden. In general you can use the following to work out how many minutes per day of exercise your puppy needs:
Minutes of walking (for two short walks per day) = puppy’s age in months x 5 ÷ 2
Leash, Collar and Harness
Be very careful when using any sort of leash or harness, and never leave your puppy unattended as this can lead to strangulation. A longer training leash is recommended - plus a short “dragline” leash measuring 4-6 feet for keeping them close by. Remember your puppy will outgrow their collar and harness in a surprisingly short amount of time, so make sure these are sturdy, yet inexpensive.
3. Puppy Food
Puppies require nutritious food to support their mental and physical development at every stage. Before collecting your pup from the rescue centre or breeder, ask about the type and brand of puppy food (they should be able to supply a few days’ worth of food for you to bring home). Your pup should also have safe access to water at all times.
By eight weeks they should be fully weaned and on solids (if they have not been weaned, they are not ready to come home). If switching over to another brand once they’re settled, allow a week to 10 days to avoid tummy upset - and introduce gradually (if switching to dry food, your puppy may need to drink more water).
Food and Water Bowls
A simple stainless steel food and water bowl are all you need to feed your pup. Safer than plastic or glass and easy to clean, they’re also less likely to flip over by accident. For speedy eaters, a puzzle bowl can help to prevent stomach upset while providing mental stimulation.
Pouches and Containers
If you find yourself with a pocketful of crumbs, a treat pouch is useful to keep on hand - especially for training sessions or if you’re out and about. Food containers are also useful for food on the move (if you’re bringing wet or raw food be sure to keep it chilled so it doesn’t spoil as this can breed bacteria, making your puppy unwell).
Raised voices or physical punishment (even a quick “bop” on the nose with a rolled newspaper) are not effective training methods and can even lead to avoidant, fearful or aggressive behaviour in your dog. Instead, use positive reinforcement. This involves rewarding positive behaviour and ignoring “unwanted” behaviour.
Treats are a great training incentive. Allocating a “special treat” will teach your puppy to make a positive association between training and can help to reinforce positive behaviour. Choose something healthy and nutritious and avoid treating your pet too often to ensure they stay at a healthy weight.
Clicker training is arguably the simplest, most effective way to train your dog. There’s various guides on how to do this - but to start add a selection of clickers to your puppy checklist to keep with you wherever you go.
6. Sleep and Rest
A Puppy Bed
The best beds and bedding for puppies are properly sized (not too large or small) - and chew proof: chewed blankets or other textiles can be accidentally ingested, leading to dangerous blockages in their digestive tract - so where possible, avoid using any old blankets or towels and choose something relatively indestructible - and washable.
To help soothe your puppy at night, you can rub puppy blankets on their littermates before you bring them home). Other comfort items might include soothing music to help them get to sleep - and if you find it’s you they’re pining for, an old t-shirt with your scent on it.
Crate training is optional - although many dog owners find it to be an effective way to help train your pet to sleep through the night (it’s also useful for occasions where you need to leave them somewhere safe for a moment or two).
As another alternative to a crate, you can also opt for a pet pen. These sturdy, portable pens are useful for keeping puppies contained at short notice. Whether you use a pen or a crate, never leave a puppy in there for longer than 3-4 hours at a time as this can be distressing for them.
For trips away from home, a portable travel kennel or carrier is also a good solution, especially those you can collapse and store when not needed. However: these do have mesh lining, so be careful in case your puppy decides to chew on them.
Getting your dog microchipped should be one of the first items on your new puppy checklist. In the event that your dog ever becomes lost or stolen, microchipping helps to track down your pet so that they are reunited with you. A microchip contains a 14 digit number linked to your phone number, email and home address - so if you move house be sure to update your details with the company you are registered with.
An ID tag is one piece of kit your pet can’t outgrow - and one that’s likely to stay with them their entire life. Tags come in a range of styles, from simple classic tags to fun shapes and colours - but the only two essential details you really need are the name of your puppy and an up-to-date contact number.
If your pet ever becomes injured or unwell pet insurance can help reduce vet bills. Depending on the type of coverage, it can also help reduce the expense of treatment for long term conditions, holiday cancellations and assistance in case your pet goes missing. If you include public liability cover it can also protect you in the event that your pet causes an accident.
Puppy-proofing your home is important to keep your new pup safe from injury (and to protect your belongings). In addition to a number of other measures (such as keeping toxic substances well out of reach), a safety gate can be useful to help gently introduce your pup to their new home room by room without overwhelming them.
8. Toilet Training
Pee or puppy pads can be useful for owners who don’t have easy access to an outdoor space - and can be used either full or part-time. If using these, set up a consistent training schedule and look for reusable, eco-friendly options, rather than disposable ones.
Poop Bags or Scoops
Biodegradable poop bags are essential for walkie (a pouch to keep these in can help save you rooting around for any loose bags) - but a good alternative to have is a scoop. In many places, leaving behind a mess when you go on walks isn’t just unpleasant for other pedestrians; in some cases it can even result in a fine - so have something with you to clean up when you go out.
Stain and Odour Remover
In addition to wipes, paper towels and/or a selection of old rags (useful for quick clean-ups), a petsafe enzymatic cleaner will help to clean up any miscues and mishaps without leaving a trace.
10. Grooming Equipment
The type of grooming equipment your puppy requires depends on their breed (short or hairless types might need little-to-no brushing). Allow your puppy to sniff any brushes or combs to be used on them first, and incorporate treats into grooming sessions so they make a positive association.
Starting with a silicone puppy brush is a gentle way to introduce your pup to grooming. For medium to thick or coarse breeds, a basic two-sided pin brush can help to get out any mats or tangles, while longer-haired dogs can benefit from starting out with a wide-toothed pet comb. There’s a variety of other brush-types on the market, including ones that help reduce dander shedding - but in all cases, a flea comb is essential - just in case.
Wait at least 3 months before giving your pup a proper bath. In the interim, grooming wipes can help clean up mucky bellies and paws without water. When bathing your pup, products intended for humans can be too harsh - so choose a gentle shampoo formulated for puppies instead.
In cases where your claws get a little too long, a trip to the dog groomers is a must - but if you are familiar with the safe and correct methods, you can clip them at home. Include lots of cuddles and treats - and avoid cutting beyond the “quick” - a vein that runs through your puppy’s claws - as this can cause pain and bleeding.
Keeping your dog’s teeth in good condition is important for their health: in addition to a dog-safe toothpaste and brush set, consider getting a few dental chews to help keep their teeth clean, strong and healthy.
Essential medicines like vaccines are typically part of the puppy “induction” process. Other medicines you may need include medication to prevent heartworm and flea and tick medication. Always consult your vet before giving your puppy any form of medication and to check they will not have a bad reaction.
When choosing a veterinary practice for your puppy, make sure they are registered and ask for recommendations from trusted family and friends. Consider other factors such as distance, opening hours, and whether they run an emergency out-of-hours service, in addition to the general “bedside manner” of the staff and how well they treat the animals in their care.
12. Toys and Teethers
Keeping your pet occupied also means keeping them out of trouble - but they can also be a great way to help you bond with your pet.
A petsafe plush toy (rubbed on the puppy’s mother and littermates) to bring home with your new pup can help to soothe any first-night separation anxiety they might have. Some plushies are made specifically for this purpose, including heat pads and mechanical “hearts” that simulate being close to their puppy siblings.
While there are an array of high-tech toys to keep your puppy entertained on the market, sometimes simple is best. Food puzzles (usually made from sturdy rubber) are always a hit - and they’re great multitaskers - acting as teething toys and mental stimulation all in one.
A two-pronged strategy of puppy proofing and offering safe toys to chew on can help prevent your puppy from gnawing on anything they shouldn’t (such as furniture). Dog chews (such as bully sticks) and textured toys have the same benefit - make sure they are safe for the puppy to use before introducing them.
If distraction with chew toys and positive reinforcement fail, a bitter, puppy-safe no-chew spray can also help to prevent your puppy from chewing. Ask your vet for safe recommendations on which formulas to buy.
13. Non-essential (but useful to have)
No, not for your pup (while dogs have an excellent grasp of the human language, they haven’t mastered the art of reading just yet!) - but for you: in addition to the wealth of resources you’re likely to find online there’s also a range of great books available to help guide you through the process of becoming a new puppy owner.
A “Doggy Cam”
A “doggy cam” can be useful for keeping tabs on your pup if you are busy in another area of the house and need to check in on them ( you can also use a baby monitor with a screen or something similar.
A Quality Camera
Speaking of cameras, you may wish to bring one with you when you go to pick up your new pup.
Puppies grow up quickly, so documenting their development as they grow into thriving, healthy dogs is a special part of being a pet owner. If you don’t have access to a camera or if it’s not within budget, most smartphones usually come with inbuilt editing suites to take care of any pet-related photographic issues such as red-eye.
If this list appears somewhat overwhelming, not to worry: while some things (like microchips and insurance) are important to have, others are simply there to make life a little easier. The most important thing is that your puppy is healthy, happy and safe in an environment where they can thrive - and with a little research and a few puppy essentials, you’ll be well-equipped to give your puppy the very best start in life.