With the pandemic still keeping everyone mostly at home, many people have warmed up to the appeal of having pets. In many ways, it sounds like the perfect time to get one – with a lot of people working from home, they may feel like there's more time to train, watch over, and bond with a new furry friend.
I am one of those people. Upon the encouragement of my dad and best friend, I brought home a puppy while Metro Manila was still fresh out of our strictest lockdown – and while I am completely in love with her now, there are a lot of things I wish I knew and prepared for before getting her. (READ: Life with puppy: Sleepless nights, endless messes, and an unexpected unconditional love)
If you're thinking of diving into the fascinating new world of dog ownership, spare yourself some sanity and keep these tips in mind, to prepare both your home, and yourself:
Pet food brand Royal Canin held a webinar on February 27, focusing on everything owners need to know about the first year of a dog's life. Among the speakers were veterinarians, breeders, and long-time pet owners, who gave tips on how to make sure you and your puppy get through their cutest – but arguably most challenging – stage of life.
Among the speakers was Meg Laudit, a long-time breeder with Klondike Walker Kennels, who spoke about preparing your home for your new puppy.
Puppies are insanely and unendingly curious and they don't seem to have a good gauge for danger yet, so they will sniff, taste, and chew on pretty much everything within their reach. It's very important that before you bring your puppy home, everything dangerous that's puppy level is kept out of their sight. Some of these things, according to Meg, include:
Also, get trash cans that are properly covered – or keep them under the sink or out of reach.
For your puppy's safety as well as for your sanity, limit your puppy's access to the house only to certain areas.
Meg reminded dog owners to keep all your doors closed, and if you have an outdoor area, make sure your yard is properly fenced.
"We need to supervise our puppies. Young puppies should not be left outside alone. This is the time to play with them and train them and to protect them from predators, heatstroke, and other hazards."
Keeping your puppy restricted to one area can also help with the potty training and teach them to hold in their poo and pee longer as it speaks to their natural instinct to keep their play, eating, and sleeping areas clean.
Obviously, you can't just bring home a puppy and not have puppy things within your reach – but with the amount of products out there, how do you know what your must-haves are?
According to Meg, get yourself the following:
Make sure her bowls don't easily tip over (because puppies have a lot of energy). They should also be easy to wash. Meg recommended stainless steel bowls because some dogs are allergic to plastic, and she also suggested to buy smaller bowls first and upgrade to bigger sizes as your pets grow.
If your puppy doesn't have any issues with eating, I would suggest getting a slow/maze feeder. These special bowls are built with little obstacles that make it slightly challenging for your pup to get their food.
In my experience, slow feeders have given my puppy mental stimulation (which also helps tire them out, which means they're less rowdy!), and at the very least has bought me at least an extra 15 minutes to gather my wits in between chasing her around, cleaning up her potty accidents, and keeping her from chewing on whatever she can dig her teeth into.
Puppies need to be taken on short walks every day, so having a good collar or harness and leash is a must-have, and as Meg says, "it is a valuable training tool."
Meg also highlighted the importance of getting your puppy an ID tag that has his name and your number on it.
"Don't take chances with your puppy's safety. Make sure he has an ID tag secured to his collar," she said. She also said that another alternative is to have your puppy microchipped at the vet. Microchips are small capsules they inject into your puppy, containing unique registration numbers and their basic information.
Photo by Amanda T. Lago
"Your puppy will need a warm comfortable place to sleep. Crates are perfect in that they provide a den for your puppy to hang out when you're not home," Meg explained, adding that puppy's should also have a separate sleeping bed outside of their crate for when you're at home.
Many trainers and breeders have recommended crate-training to help with potty training – because again, dogs don't like shitting where they eat or sleep. They also say crate-training gives your dog a safe space where they can go to be alone – kind of like having a little room of their own.
If you're not keen on crate-training your dog, a playpen is also ideal for keeping them safe in certain areas of the house where you can see them. Playpens are often more spacious, and you can fold them up or stretch them out to whatever configuration works for you.
As someone who lives in an open-plan condo, my puppy's playpen has helped us block her off from the kitchen while still giving her free access to the rest of the house (just a note: I only let her roam free once she was bigger and mostly potty trained).
Meg says it is important to choose the right supplies for your puppy's coat. As a clueless first time owner, I initially bought a finetooth comb for my short-coated Boston Terrier – but eventually realized that a soft-bristled brush works better for her coat.
Matilda's grooming kit also includes a toothbrush, enzymatic toothpaste, paw and nose balm, and a nail grinder. I got her at 8 weeks so her permanent teeth weren't in yet, but our vet recommended getting her used to toothbrushing even then (she was about 9 weeks old), and now she has no problems when it's time to clean her teeth.
Also, invest in a good enzymatic spray to clean up any potty accidents (and there will be a lot!). Apparently, just a regular cleaner won't keep them from possibly remarking the area, but an enzymatic one really removes all traces of their scent. (I swear by the Pee Wee spray by Akkula PH).
When it comes to puppies, toys aren't just an extra – they're a need – especially if you want to keep them away from destructive zoomies, or chewing on your furniture or shoes. Toys are also a great way to bond with your puppy if you can teach them to play fetch or tug.
"Your puppy is just a baby, so he'll definitely need a few playthings. Puppy-safe chew toys are great for teething and working off excess energy," Meg said.
Photo by Amanda T. Lago
Some toys that really helped occupy Matilda and tire her out while I was busy were a snuffle mat (a mat where you can hide treats or bits of kibble), a flavored nylabone, a pillow ball that bounces when she plays with it, and an antler – with the last one definitely saving a lot of our wooden furniture from being chewed to bits during her teething phase.
You can't just feed your puppy table scraps and call it a day – not if you want her to develop in a healthy way.
"Your puppy's first year is crucial to his development. During this time, your puppy needs special nutrition to promote strong bones and teeth, proper development and body systems, and a shiny, healthy coat," Meg said.
Kitsie Torres, a veterinarian with Royal Canin further explained a puppy's specific nutritional needs at the webinar, saying that growing puppies need a specific diet that is tailored to their age and needs.
She said that you'll know your dog has a good diet if they have more energy, a great appetite, well-formed poop, no tummy troubles, and a glossy and shiny coat. She also said that apart from the physical manifestations, having a good diet strengthens a pup's immune system – so they don't get sick often, if at all.
According to Kitsie, puppy diets have 4 specific requirements: more energy, immune system support, high digestibility, more key nturients (proteins and minerals, calcium and phospohorous).
There is also a difference in the diet needs of small vs large breeds. Because small breed dogs grow quickly over a short period of time, they have denser calorie requirements, whereas larger breeds grow slower over a longer period of time, which means they need more moderate calories.
Kitsie also reassured new puppy owners that it's common for dogs not to eat at first.
"Bear in mind that your puppy could still be adapting to the new surroundings. Just give them time to adapt," she said, noting that if they do show any other symptoms, it would be best to bring them to the vet.
When it comes to food, Royal Canin was recommended by our vet, but I know other dog owners whose pets prefer other brands, so it's all a matter of finding the right fit for your dogs.
Other friends of mine also mix cooked sawdust (leftover bits of meat from the butcher) and dog-safe veggies like carrots and squash to make the meals more enjoyable – though as always, it's important to ask the vet first before giving your pup anything, which brings us to the next puppy-prep must-do:
It's a good idea to bring your new pup to the vet shortly after you get them for a routine check-up, and so the vet can check for any health conditions they may have gotten from the breeder or shelter. Also, if you got your puppy really young, their vaccinations are most likely not complete yet, so it's crucial to schedule that session as soon as you can.
Edgardo Unson, a veterinarian at Animal House, said that vets act as the internist, dentist, pediatrician, and surgeon of your pet, so it's important to establish a good relationship with them.
Photo by Amanda T. Lago
"Your first puppy visit is most important. Ask questions…please make time to visit the clinic, to make an appointment. Ask questions because this is the person you want to spend time with," he said.
He also said that vets are focused on providing preventive medicine so they will "recommend a lot of things to prevent sickness," including vaccinations.
"A pet will only live 15 years, so try to maximize those 15 years by regularly going to the doctor and having a good health check," Edgardo said.
The thing is, no matter how much you prepare – how puppy-proofed your home is, how complete your grooming kit is, how much dog food you have in supply, how much you've read up on Google, and even if you follow all the advice in this article – you'll never be 100% ready for your new puppy.
Every puppy is different – some are little lovable devils, others are shy and aloof, some are super sweet but super stubborn (like my Matilda) – so while there are things that we can know for sure based on science, nothing can prepare you for the actual tiny creature you are now responsible for keeping alive.
So perhaps another great way to prepare is to have a reality check. You will experience sleepless nights. There will be days when you feel like all you've done was mop pee off the floor and pick up globs of poop. You will be worried over the smallest things. You will lose your temper. Some of your things will get chewed up. And while I don't know of any hack to get through the puppy stage stress-free, I do know that expecting the worst and knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel has helped a lot.
At any rate, preparing in every way you can for a new puppy can help you stay calm – which can help your pup stay calm.
"Pets read you, they absorb your energy. Be the person you think your pet is," Edgardo said. "Please be kind people…pets are our reflection, they're angels." – Rappler.com
After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.