Not long after moving to Anglesey last year, me and my husband decided to get a puppy. We have wanted a dog for a little while and so neither of us took much persuading. Our pup, Nelson, is a Great Dane. For those of you that know this breed you will be aware that they are not small, so we really dove in at the deep end! This month Nelson turns 6 months old. We’ve had a wonderful experience owning him so far. Dog ownership brings so many rewards – a healthy lifestyle, improved sociability, a sense of community and unconditional companionship. However, even as a vet, I have found that there are a few challenges you will face along the way.
In this blog I will describe my experiences and what has worked (and what hasn’t!) for me so far.
Is getting a puppy right for me?
Caring for a puppy
Most puppies are taken to their new home at 8 weeks old. When they leave their mum, they look to you as their surrogate so don’t be surprised if you end up taking on similar duties. This includes cleaning your puppy when they get messy (and they will at some point!), waking up in the early hours of the morning for toilet duties, and teaching your puppy what is right and what is wrong. Getting a puppy really is a full-time commitment and it’s important to consider whether they will fit around your lifestyle, job and other interests.
If getting a puppy is not for you, then don’t forget there are dogs of all ages in rescue centres that need a home that may be more suited to your lifestyle.
Can I afford to get a puppy?
In general, the costs associated with owning a dog are proportional to its size (i.e. the bigger the dog, the more expensive their upkeep). Essentials to consider include:
- food (a good quality puppy food is vital for ensuring your puppy’s health, as well as making sure they get enough energy and nutrients to grow)
- preventative care (vaccinations, dental care, flea treatments and worming treatments)
A lifelong commitment
The lifespan of a dog varies widely, with larger breeds living 8-12 years and smaller breeds often living well into their teens. Try and imagine what situation you might be in in 20 years’ time and whether you will still be able to care for your dog then. The oldest dog in the world, Bluey, an Australian Cattle Dog died at the ripe old age of 29 years and five months!
Do your research
Once you have decided that a puppy is for you, then you have the tricky question of which type of dog to get. A Great Dane was the perfect breed for us as we wanted a large-breed dog with short hair and a docile nature. Don’t be tempted to get a puppy on looks alone - there are many other factors to consider. Think about:
- What size is the puppy likely to be when fully grown? Will they fit in your house or in your car? Knowing how big Nelson would become, we ended up getting a van to transport him!
- What coat type do they have? E.g. Shorthaired vs Longhaired. Do they moult or will you have to take them to the groomers to have their hair cut?
- Would you be looking for a male or female dog? There are pros and cons to both sexes. Female dogs are generally smaller than males of the same breed and may be easier to train, whereas male dogs can be more bouncy and playful – however be aware that a lot of dogs will not stick to these stereotypes.
- What is their temperament like? Are they lively or calm? Confident or shy? Friendly or reserved? Do they require a lot of mental stimulation?
I would recommend getting some first-hand experience with the breed you are considering. A good breeder will often have one or both parent-dogs present when you go to see the puppies. Not only can this help you to get an idea of the breed personality traits, you can also see how big they are likely to grow to, and what their adult coat is like. Also, remember to do your research on the breeder and find out whether your puppy will have had a microchip and/or vaccinations before you pick them up. More information on this can be found in the ‘advice’ section of the Aran website.
Bringing your puppy home
Preparing the house AND the household!
When your puppy arrives home they will not have an inbuilt knowledge of what is right or wrong, and they will want to do a lot of exploring. Make sure you put breakable and swallow-able items out of reach. We forgot to move our tea towel, and so Nelson had great fun chewing off the corners.
Other preparations include choosing a cosy place for a bed and/or crate and finding suitable areas for puppy-pads for those little accidents. It may also be a good idea to discuss some ground-rules with other members of the household, for example, whether your puppy will be allowed on the sofa. Making these decisions now will help your training to be consistent. Consistency is vital in training puppies, so make sure everyone in the household knows what commands to use. For example, a puppy could be easily confused if one person uses the word ‘down’ to mean lie-down, and someone else uses the word ‘down’ to mean ‘don’t jump up’.
Picking up your puppy
When you go to get your puppy he/she may be quite timid. Going out for the first time into the big wide world can be quite overwhelming. It is important that your puppy is safe and secure when travelling. You could put your puppy in a cosy dog carrier (these tend to be for smaller dogs), or secure them to a seatbelt via a harness. We have always transported Nelson in a crate. At first he would cry on journeys, but he soon realised that going in the car meant going on nice walkies! On your first few trips be sure to have some baby-wipes and/or a puppy-pad to hand in case of any accidents or car-sickness. To make your new puppy as relaxed as possible try to prevent them from being over-stimulated and avoid exposure to loud noises.
You may want to think about crate training your puppy, or having a puppy play pen, where your puppy can be left safely when unsupervised for short periods of time. We decided to crate train Nelson and it is one of the best decisions we made. If encouraged to spend time in their crate through positive experiences, puppies will enjoy spending time there and will see it as their ‘safe’ place. Make sure that the crate isn’t too big. Smaller crates will feel cosy and warm and will also discourage your puppy from using the crate as a toilet. One of the main benefits that we found through crating Nelson is there is no opportunity for your cheeky pup to pinch and chew objects they shouldn’t have when unsupervised! If you plan to use a crate long-term your puppy will likely out-grow it. As Nelson is a large-breed we bought a crate with a divider so that it was small and cosy while he was little, and we removed the divider once he was big enough.
If you plan to leave your puppy for any length of time it’s important to do this gradually, starting with being left for just a few minutes at a time. How long you can leave your dog without them becoming distressed will depend on their character and personality traits. Remember that a crate is not a substitute for a dog sitter. Generally, all dogs are social animals and will get very lonely if left for long periods.
Toilet training a puppy is a challenge and will be likely to have you in despair at some point! We decided to get Nelson to go outside for his toilet duties from the offset. However, as we got him in winter it was difficult encouraging him to go out into the cold when it was lovely and warm inside. For smaller dogs, it may be worth training them to go to the toilet on a puppy pad indoors first. Once they are used to this you can gradually move the puppy pad towards the door, and eventually outside.
Take your puppy outside (or onto the puppy pad) every hour. This might sound like a lot, but repetition and consistency is key. The more occasions you have that you can reward the appropriate behaviour, the quicker your puppy will learn. If you leave it too long and they have an accident in the wrong place, you cannot praise and reward them, and so this is a missed learning opportunity for your puppy. Be patient, consistent and avoid punishment. Punishing your dog after an accident will not teach him anything, except that you are to be feared. If an accident happens, don’t make a fuss. Clean it up, move on and try to take your puppy out more frequently.
Positive rewards for correct behaviour have been shown to help puppies learn a lot quicker. This goes for any type of training and not just toilet training. Most dogs aren’t motivated enough by praise alone, so try using a tasty treat as a reward! Keep your treats on you at all times so you can reward correct behaviour within a few seconds.
Good socialisation is the best way to ensure your puppy grows up into a friendly, well- adjusted dog. There is a very narrow window of opportunity between 8 weeks and 17 weeks of age in which your puppy can be socialised. During this time expose your puppy to as many experiences as possible. These experiences must be positive if your puppy is not to be fearful in the future. For in depth information into socialising your puppy download our socialisation guide from the ‘advice – caring for your puppy’ section of the Aran Vet Website.
Taking on a puppy is a challenge, but certainly a challenge to be enjoyed. Keep consistent with your training and make the most out of playtime and getting lots of puppy-cuddles – they will be all-grown-up before you know it!