It is absolutely essential to thoroughly research the basics of pet care before acquiring any new pet. RSPCA Australia recommends you take the time to find a detailed book on puppy and dog care before bringing your new pet home, so that you are well prepared for its arrival. Once you have done your research and decided on a suitable pet there will be several things you need to consider upon bringing your puppy home:
Desexing, microchipping and registration, vaccination
All dogs that are adopted from RSPCA shelters are desexed and microchipped. Desexing your dog prevents unplanned pregnancy and has positive effects on behaviour and health. Desexed animals are less likely to wander or fight over territory; in turn reducing the likelihood of car injuries and bite wounds. Desexing also comes with health benefits for both male and female dogs. Female dogs desexed early are far less likely to suffer from mammary tumours later in life and male dogs are less likely to develop prostatic disease. You puppy can be desexed as early as 8 weeks of age when the operation is straight forward and recovery is very quick. Your local vet can provide this service. Some RSPCA veterinary clinics offer desexing at a discounted rate. You are legally required to have your puppy microchipped and registered with council so that he is easily identifiable, should he go missing. Your vet will be able to microchip your puppy at the same time he is desexed. Microchipping is a permanent form of identification. The chip itself is about the size of a grain of rice, and is inserted just under the skin, usually between the shoulder blades. Microchipping is a very quick, simple procedure and most animals show little sign of discomfort. The fee for registering desexed animals is lower than for non-desexed animals. Remember to change your microchip registration details if you move house.
Your vet will also be able to advise you about vaccination. Puppies are vulnerable to a host of infectious diseases, some of which can be fatal. It is important that your puppy receives the necessary immunisations to protect against these infections, please contact your local vet clinic for more information. Booster injections are usually administered annually and are particularly important if you plan to board your dog at any time. Most boarding kennels will not accept animals that are not vaccinated.
Training and socialisation
Training and socialisation should be started in puppyhood and are important for several reasons. Obedience training will ensure that your puppy learns how to behave around people and other animals. It is important to set basic ground rules early to ensure that your pet learns to behave well from an early age and to reduce the likelihood of behavioural problems emerging later in life. Training is also great fun for your puppy as it provides an outlet for mental stimulation and a chance to interact with you. Obedience training takes time and will require patience and consistency from you and your family.
Proactively socialising your puppy is very important. Puppies have what is called a 'critical socialisation period' between approximately 3 -17 weeks of age. The puppy’s experiences during this critical period of learning and development can influence and shape their behaviour well into adulthood. Providing plenty of opportunities for socialisation and exposure to different environments during this time can help to ensure your puppy grows into a well-adjusted adult that relates well to other dogs, other animals and people.
The best way to begin socialising your pet is to take him to puppy school classes – these are often offered through veterinary clinics. You can also take your puppy to meet with the puppies and dogs of your friends and family, either at your house or their house. But you should make sure that the other dogs and puppies are friendly, healthy and up-to-date with their vaccinations.
Training should be based on positive reinforcement. Aversion therapy and physical punishment must not be used in trainng programs because of the potential for cruelty.
Exercise is an important aspect of your pet’s day to day care. Often a walk is a dog’s favourite part of the day - they are able to explore the neighbourhood and spend time with you. Exercise also provides various health benefits and provides a good opportunity for your dog to socialise with other dogs which is vital for their behavioural development. It is important to avoid over-exercising your puppy, please see the article "How should I exercise my puppy?" for more information. Please check with your local vet when your dog will be sufficiently vaccinated to be taken out in public.
Obesity is a huge problem in Australian pets so before you commit to a pet make sure that you can fit your dog’s exercise into your daily routine.
Puppies should be fed a combination of both natural foods and a high quality commercial puppy food. Natural foods include fresh raw meat, raw meaty bones and some vegetable matter. Please see the article titled "What should I feed my puppy?" for detailed information about puppy nutrition.
When you leave your dog alone
Your puppy will require a lot of care and attention from you. At some stage, however, you may have to leave your puppy alone for short periods. Try and make this a gradual process to avoid causing separation anxiety – leaving for very short amounts of time and rewarding him upon returning with a walk or play. Gradually increase the length of time you are away so that your puppy realises that you will always come back and he will have a walk to look forward to. A good way to avoid boredom while you are away is to leave toys for him to play with. Keep a stash of toys hidden and give him different toys to play with on different days. Look for toys such as the Kong or Buster Cube which can be filled with healthy doggie treats to keep him entertained while you are away.
Purchasing a pet should never be an impulsive decision. RSPCA shelters receive thousands of unwanted and abandoned animals each year, these are often the result of an ill considered decision. Before you become a pet owner make sure you can fully commit to the responsibilities of owning a pet and do the necessary research to make sure that your new puppy is well cared for when he comes home with you.