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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. The RSPCA Smart Puppy and Dog Buyer's Guide has information on being prepared. 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:
Living space and sleeping area
Set up a living space area where your puppy can safely stay while they settle in and get used to their new environment. Check the area to make sure there isn't anything dangerous that your puppy might access by accident. Create a cosy sleeping area within the living space where your puppy can sleep and rest. Provide some safe puppy toys so they can play in their living area.
Toilet training takes time and patience. To make the process of toilet training successful and as efficient as possible, you need to use reward-based positive reinforcement training. The first step is to give your dog plenty of opportunities to go to the toilet area. The second is to reward your puppy every time (or as often as possible) that they toilet in the place where you want them to toilet. See the article 'How can I toilet train my puppy/dog?' attached below for more details.
Desexing, vaccination and other vet care
Dogs that are adopted from RSPCA shelters are desexed, vaccinated and microchipped. Desexing your dog prevents unplanned pregnancy and has some positive effects on behaviour and health. Desexed animals are less likely to wander or fight over territory thereby reducing the likelihood of car injuries and bite wounds. Desexing also provides some health benefits for both male and female dogs. Talk to your vet about desexing.
Your vet will also be able to advise you about vaccinations. Puppies are vulnerable to a host of infectious diseases, some of which can be fatal such as Parvovirus. It is important that your puppy receives the necessary vaccinations to protect against these infections, please contact your local vet clinic for more information. If you plan to board your dog at any time remember that most boarding kennels will not accept animals that are not up to date with their vaccinations.
Your vet can also talk to you about flea treatment, worming and other essentials.
Microchipping and registration
Ensure your puppy is microchipped and recorded on the relevant microchip register against your contact details so that they are identifiable and you can be contacted if they accidentally get lost. Remember to update your contact details on the relevant microchip register(s) if you move house or change your phone number. If you move interstate with your puppy make sure the microchip register you and your puppy are recorded on will be recognised in the new state. Most local council require pet dogs to be registered with them so you should contact the relevant local council to check pet dog registration requirements.
Training and socialisation
Training and socialisation should be started in puppyhood and are very important for your puppy's behavioural development. Proactively socialising your puppy is very important. Puppies have what is called a 'critical socialisation period' that occurs between approximately 3-17 weeks of age. The puppy’s experiences during this critical period can influence and shape their behaviour in 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 enrol them in reward-based puppy school classes. These classes are usually offered through veterinary clinics. You should talk to your vet about when and where you can take your puppy in relation to their puppy vaccination status.
The RSPCA supports reward-based training methods involving positive reinforcement (the animal is rewarded when the desired behaviour is performed and unwanted behaviour is ignored). Reward-based training is the most humane and effective training method, it sets the pet up to succeed, is enjoyable for the animal and positively enhances the relationship bond between the owner and their pet.
Training programs based on aversive (painful or unpleasant) stimuli, dominance, force or punishment must not be used as they are inhumane and can cause long-term behavioural problems.
Exercise is an important aspect of your pet’s day to day care. A walk is often their favourite part of the day - they are able to explore the neighbourhood and spend time with you. Exercise also provides various physical health benefits and a good opportunity for your dog to socialise with other dogs. It is important to avoid over-exercising your puppy, please see the article 'How should I exercise my puppy?' for more information. 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.
It's very important to provide balanced nutrition that is appropriate for your puppy's life stage. Your vet can advise you in detail. Also see the article 'What should I feed my puppy?'.
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 anxiety – leaving for very short amounts of time and rewarding him upon returning with a healthy dog food treat, a walk or play time. 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. Safe dog toys which can be filled with healthy doggie treats can help to keep him entertained while you are away. You can also try going for a walk before you leave as this can help to tire out dogs before they are left alone. Remember to avoid feeding immediately before or after exercise.
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.