Everything You Need Before Bringing Home a New Puppy for the First Time
First time puppy parents? Get your home ready with this vet-approved new puppy checklist.
A new puppy! Is there anything more exciting to bring home, especially if it’s a surprise for the kids? But before the cuddling, bonding, and playing can begin, it’s crucial to puppy-proof your home inside and out—to protect your furry addition, your family, and your stuff. So we have Kurt Venator, DVM, PhD, and chief veterinary officer at Purina, to walk us through the ins and outs of everything you’ll need before bringing home a new puppy for the first time.
Puppy-Proof Your Space
Before you bring that ball of fluff into your life, make sure you’ve done a sweep of potentially hazardous spots, taking care to check every corner. For example, cleaning supplies, medications, valuable household items, and anything else that could be harmful to your pet should be safely stowed away somewhere inaccessible to them. Dr. Venator names things like toothpaste or chewing gum, which may contain artificial sweeteners like Xylitol that are toxic for pets. Find a way to cover or move loose electrical cords your pup might be tempted to chew on. And check your greenery too: “Elevate or remove any household plants from your puppy’s reach,” he adds.
New Puppy Essentials
The Name of a Veterinarian
Not sure where to start? Dr. Venator suggests first asking your pet-owning friends for vet recommendations. “Many veterinarians are Fear Free certified, which means they’re dedicated to offering their pet patients exams centered around making the veterinary experience as stress-free as possible,” he adds.
One of the first questions to ask the vet is about parasite prevention—aka flea and tick medications. “Preventative care is a critical component of health for puppies. There are many options available, so it’s a good idea to speak with your veterinarian about the ideal parasite prevention plan for your individual puppy,” Dr. Venator says.
A Non-Retractable Leash
A leash should be at the top of your must-have list, and Dr. Venator advises against retractable leashes, especially if you have young kids. “Retractable leashes can be dangerous and lead to rope burns and serious injury if a child, dog, or adult gets tangled up,” he says.
An Appropriate-Size Collar
Dr. Venator says every dog should wear a properly fitting collar at all times (even if you’re using a harness), and especially outside the home. “Vaccination and ID tags should be worn in case your puppy gets lost or needs emergency medical attention,” he explains. How can you gauge whether or not a collar is the correct size? “Keep it loose enough so two of your fingers can fit between the collar and their neck to ensure there’s enough room for your growing pup.”
“A harness is a great tool to help your puppy learn how to walk on a leash, and they’re becoming a preferred way to walk dogs, particularly puppies, because they discourage pulling,” Dr. Venator says. “Harnesses use the puppy’s center of gravity (instead of their head or neck) to guide their body.”
Dr. Venator recommends this crash-tested harness the Sleepypod ClickIt Sport ($75; amazon.com), as a must-have item for dogs of any size who’ll be joining you in the car and outdoors.
Dishwasher-Safe Food and Water Dishes
A puppy’s got to eat! Dr. Venator says your pet’s dishes must be washed everyday to prevent the growth of bacteria. So to make your life easier, get a dishwasher-safe food dish and water bowl, like the Yeti Boomer Dog Bowl ($50; amazon.com), that’s a “food-safe” and “high-end option that keeps water cold in warm weather,” he says.
Age-Appropriate Dog Food
“Puppies, like babies, have specific nutritional needs to help them grow and develop,” Dr. Venator says. “To ensure your new family member gets all the vitamins and minerals she needs, it’s very important to buy food from a trusted manufacturer that’s complete, balanced, and formulated for puppies.”
For a puppy chow that’s high in protein and specially formulated with DHA for optimal brain and vision development in growing puppies, Dr. Venator recommends Purina ONE SmartBlend Healthy Puppy food ($12; amazon.com). You may want a different, specific puppy food option depending on your dog’s breed and needs, so make sure you do your homework on what’s best for them.
Another big thing to note: “Many shelters may provide you with a supply of food that your pet has been eating,” he adds. “Be sure to slowly transition your puppy to any new food by mixing together the current and new kibble over 7 to 10 days, increasing the amount of the new food each day, to help avoid digestive issues.”
“Crate training can be a good way to help a new pup feel secure in her new home and establish a ‘safe space’ where she can escape family chaos,” Dr. Venator says. “Introduce the crate in a very positive way by feeding your puppy in the crate and providing fun toys and treats in the crate to create a positive association.”
A Comfy Bed
In addition to a happy crate, your new puppy should get a soft place to snooze that’s all theirs. “A soft bed (or two) can help your new pup feel at home and help establish appropriate areas for them to sleep on—instead of furniture,” Dr. Venator says. As for where to set up the puppy bed: Your pup will want a safe, comfortable dozing spot with a clear view of high-traffic areas (like the front door or the kitchen), but not actually in a high-traffic spot. The vet recommends putting one next to a sofa.
Potty Training Pads
Don’t forget the potty-training supplies. You’ll want to establish going to the bathroom as an outdoor behavior as early as possible, (use positive reinforcement to praise them when they do their business to develop a positive association during training, Dr. Venator says). But “having a tiny, but growing, bladder means your puppy will need to go out frequently, so having training pads close to an exit door can help make accident clean up easier,” he says. Better safe than sorry.
”Adding a puppy to a family with young kids can bring even more fun and chaos to the house,” says Dr. Venator. “It’s important to model the behaviors you want your kids to mimic when it comes to how you love, reward, and train your new puppy. By turning puppy training and care into a family responsibility, and exercising patience with your kids, your pup and yourself, you can help make the integration process educational and interactive for everyone.
Helpful Extras You’ll Be Glad to Have
Toothbrush and Doggie Toothpaste
“When it comes to establishing good oral health for puppies, the earlier, the better—getting a puppy used to having his mouth touched at an early age can make vet visits a lot smoother later on,” Dr. Venator says. Use a soft finger toothbrush ($7; amazon.com) to clean your pup’s pearly whites (it’s best to leave this task up to adults). And when it comes to toothpaste, the vet warns never to use human toothpaste, since it may contain Xylitol, a toxic-to-pets sweetener.
For a household with babies or toddlers (or rooms you’d prefer to stay pet-free), it’s smart to use baby gates either instead of or in addition a crate. “To help them adjust to their new environment, creating safe zones for your new dog where they can rest, relax, and be contained for safety when you leave the house,” Dr. Venator says.
Brushes for Grooming
“Taking care of a puppy’s soft coat is a great way to bond and create good grooming habits together,” Dr. Venator says. He loves the Kong ZoomGroom ($19; amazon.com) to remove loose hair and massage your little guy at the same time.
To help train your puppy and promote positive reinforcement for good behavior from day one, stock up on treats. “Just remember that the caloric intake from treats should not exceed 10 percent of a dog’s total daily caloric requirement,” Dr. Venator says.
Separate Toy Boxes for Pets and Kids
You don’t want the puppy chewing up your toddler’s favorite teddy bear—or your toddler playing with a dirty chew toy. Establish some house rules for picking up after play time and keeping toys in separate storage spots.