ASK A VET: The 5 things you need to know before bringing a new puppy home.

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Last month, my partner and I welcomed an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy into our home. His name is Vinnie, he likes long walks around the kitchen, tummy rubs and chewing the furniture.

Yes, we’re one of the many Australian families who got themselves an ‘Iso puppy’ this year. With more time at home and some forced savings from a cancelled wedding and overseas trip, the timing just felt right.

But I’d be lying if I said we went into pet ownership knowing exactly what we were in for.

My partner has owned dogs before so had more of a “he’ll be right” attitude, whereas I’m a first-time dog owner and more of a planner.

Before we picked Vinnie up, my brain was buzzing with questions: Should we crate train? Will we introduce wet food or keep him on dry? How do we avoid separation anxiety if we’re at home all day?

I did my research, but with SO much information out there (hi, endless Reddit threads about dog training) it was hard not to feel overwhelmed.

I’d also been warned multiple times that we had a few crucial weeks to do the right things to avoid turning our new addition into a tiny monster.

"Who me?" Image: Supplied.

Veterinarian Dr Ben Porter knows what it feels like to want to set your pup up for success, but not know exactly where to start.


“When you first bring your puppy home, it can be a big change – for you and for them,” Dr Porter told Mamamia.

“To make the experience better for everyone, it’s a good idea to have done plenty of research and to have the key essentials ready.” 

With these five commandments of puppy ownership, you should feel a little less of the overwhelm and a lot more ready for the good stuff.

1. Puppy proof your home.

This is one of the most important steps in preparing for your dog. Keep in mind they'll be getting used to a completely new environment, away from their mum, along with the stimulation that comes with meeting family members - whether human or animal. It's a lot. So you want to ensure they’re comfortable and able to settle into their new space.

“Puppies are naturally curious and inquisitive, so it’s imperative to make sure you puppy proof the inside and outside of your house - you’d be amazed what trouble puppies can get into,” Dr Porter says.

Oh, and do it BEFORE they arrive. Because it’s easy to forget this step when you’re running around cleaning up accidents and trying to stop them nipping at your ankles on day one.

You’ll want to secure and doors or windows, put away electrical sockets or cords (they WILL find them and they WILL chew them), and ensure there’s no way they can get into cleaning or medicine cupboards. 

The same goes if you have a balcony or garden. Ensure you’re not exposing your dog to any poisonous plants they might be interested in eating, and look out for garden implements or small bits of rubbish that, again, are going to end up in their mouths.

For more information on the specific hazards that might be lurking in your home, check out this comprehensive guide from Royal Canin.

Once the basics are taken care of, you can starting decking out the puppy’s space with a comfy bed and lots of toys (hooo boy, you’re going to need toys.)

Vinnie in his bed (yes, we chose to crate train. No regrets.) Image: Supplied.


You also want to ensure their water and food bowls are in a convenient location, like the kitchen or laundry. Royal Canin has a full list of all the essentials you’ll need, I highly recommend checking it out.

2. Be firm with boundaries.

This one is about keeping them safe, yes, but it’s also for your own sanity. If you’re working from home in your study like me, although your dog might be a welcome distraction for your colleagues on Zoom, having them lingering and pawing at you when you’re trying to get stuff done can be stifling. And loud.

We made the decision from day one not to let Vinnie upstairs to access the study and bedrooms. This way, downstairs is his domain, and when we go up to bed he knows it’s time to tuck into his own.

This was partly informed by our neighbours, whose enormous retriever Oscar likes to wedge himself in the bed between them - and while it used to be cute, now they’re lucky if they get a few hours of undisturbed sleep.

3. Manage (and stick to) their diet.

Establishing a healthy and consistent diet for your dog is essential. Because the thing with dogs is - if you give them food, they’ll eat it. They don’t discriminate.

“Puppies don’t know how to regulate their food intake, so it’s important you control their portions to avoid them becoming overweight,” Dr Porter says. (This is particularly crucial for large breed dogs like ours, as overfeeding can cause them to grow too quickly and develop skeletal problems.)

“It’s easy to overfeed with rewards. I recommend keeping some kibble from their daily ration and using this as treats throughout the day; that way you know how many calories they're getting.”


Make sure everyone in the house is aware of the puppy’s feeding routine, to make sure no sneaky table scraps or other human foods make their way into your dog’s belly.

“Always give your puppy their food in the same bowl, placed in the same place, and at the same times. This will teach them good eating habits," says Dr Porter. 

"Feeding a premium puppy food that is nutritionally complete and balanced and backed by science, like Royal Canin, is the perfect way to ensure your puppy is getting the best start in life."

4. Do the admin.

Something a lot of people don’t consider when getting a new pet is the sheer amount of admin that comes with the responsibility. The first step, of course, is to take them to their NEW FAVOURITE PLACE (jokes), the vet, for a general wellness check. 

While you’re there, you can organise their vaccinations to guard them against diseases like parvo and heartworm, and to make sure their flea and tick prevention is up to date.

“A good first visit to a vet clinic will hopefully help make future visits less stressful,” says Dr Porter. And there’ll be lots more appointments in puppy’s first year to keep their health on track, so you want to make it a positive experience for you both.

You’ll also need to contact your local council about registering your dog, and it’s a good idea to get pet insurance for peace of mind. 

Then there’s the extra steps you can take like puppy school and obedience training. My tip? Get a wall calendar so you can keep track of the dates, and stash all the materials in one folder. Most vets will issue what’s called a ‘puppy passport’ which is an (adorably named) document that contains all your dog’s medical information; take this to every appointment for ease.

5. Start good habits.

In the early days of training your dog, make sure you're not inadvertently encouraging the behaviours you want to see less of. Puppies are like sponges and they’re constantly soaking up signals and cues from their owners. So if your pup is jumping up at the dinner table while you’re eating, and you’re giving it pats and scraps from your plate, you’re telling them to keep doing it. It’s behaviour that will be really hard to discourage later, as you’ll just confuse them.

"Oh, is this annoying while you're working?" Image: Supplied.


The key to getting your puppy to behave the way you want it to (and learn exciting new tricks) is positive reinforcement, says Dr Porter.

“It’s essential when it comes to training and new experiences," he says. While exposing your puppy to new experiences is vital, those experiences and any training need to be be backed up with rewards (like play, food or affection) to reinforce desired behaviours.”

And remember, there’ll be little wins and fails every day. We recently celebrated not coming downstairs to an overnight wee, but later our puppy got so excited he weed all over the floor while I was patting him.

As prepared as you want to be, there will be accidents, and moments of complete overwhelm - and then there’ll be the moments you nuzzle your hand into their tummy fur and wonder how you deserved such an angel. Or you teach them to “shake” and it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen (guilty.)

“Take things one step at a time,” Dr Porter says. “Don’t overload your puppy with stimulation. Your new family member needs time to become acquainted to you and their new surroundings. Every puppy’s pace of development is different."

For your complete Start of Life guide to welcoming a puppy into your home, visit Royal Canin's website here.

Feature image: Supplied.

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