Getting a new puppy is an exciting time. Here are some tips to help things go as smoothly as possible:
1. Start out right. Know what breed or type of dog you want. Many factors, including personal preferences, influence this. Consider what breed suits you best, for example. Match your ability to exercise them versus how much exercise they need, and consider your financial position.
Eukanuba has a fantastic online tool called a ‘Breedopedia'. After answering questions about your lifestyle and so on, the website provides you with a list of suggested breeds. There are also hundreds of photos of the various breeds to help you decide. It can be accessed for free at http://www.eukanuba.com.au/.
2. Once you've settled on a breed, discuss your choice with your vet, dog trainer and friends who have had similar breeds. Get personal referrals for breeders of your chosen breed. Alternatively consider adopting from an animal shelter such as the RSPCA or Animal Welfare League. It might be harder to find a puppy at a shelter, but if you do you have the joy of knowing you're giving the dog a second chance at life.
3. Find out about the parents and meet them, if possible. Assess their temperament and ask for proof of hip scoring and genetic eye testing, where relevant.
4. Take out pet insurance from day ONE. Puppies are accident prone and you never know when you might need it. Look for a stand-alone pet policy (that is, not as an ‘add on' to home and contents insurance) that offers “covered for life”.
5. Have a vet visit within the first few days to ensure that there are no hidden health problems. Your vet, and his or her vet nurses, will be able to advise you regarding the healthcare program your puppy needs.
6. Vaccinations are important to protect against several nasty diseases such as Parvo virus. Puppies are more susceptible to many of these diseases than adult dogs. Intestinal worming is especially important in puppies – heavy worm burdens can make young pups very sick and even cause death in severe cases. Dogs should be wormed once a fortnight until four months old, then monthly until six months old and then once every three months for the rest of their lives. And remember that in Australia there is heartworm, something we're not familiar with in South Africa. It's spread by mosquitoes and all dogs need year round protection – either a treatment every month (tablets or drops on the skin) or an annual injection. Flea and tick prevention is another part of their routine healthcare that you need to remember.
7. Once vaccinated, get out and get them socialised. Puppy preschool is ideal – it's all about them meeting other young pups in a supervised environment and learning that they're play mates, not something to be scared of. It also teaches them to be confident in unfamiliar environments. It's not dog training, but a well socialised pup leads to a more obedient and trainable dog.
8. Good nutrition is crucial. Premium foods are not as costly as they may look on a bag for bag comparison – you need to feed less at a time so the bag lasts longer. Another plus is that premium foods are more digestible, meaning that there's a lot less poop to scoop! Get a puppy food that is specific for your pup's breed type. For example, large breed for Labradors and German Shepherds.
9. Have your pup microchipped. It is a wonderful “insurance” to increase the chance of finding them should they stray.
10. And finally, remember to take LOTS of photos – you'll be amazed at how they grow up when you look back at the pictures in years to come.
Dr Kevin Cruickshank is a South African trained and qualified vet living and practicing at the Gold Coast Vet Surgery in Queensland.