An honest guide to raising a pup from the view of a first-time dog mum.
One of the very first actions I took when arriving in Sweden was meeting a dog breeder and setting us up with our first ever pup. This was super important to me because I’d always wanted a dog, so it had somehow been cheekily interwoven into the broader moving abroad convo…
Neither Steven or I had ever owned a dog before. My dad had dogs when I was growing up but I only spent a few weeks each summer with them. Like Steven, I’d been raised in a cat house. I love cats. In my opinion there’s no such thing as being a ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ person and we definitely want to add a cat to the family later on!
To be totally honest, we were incredibly underprepared for the whole ordeal of having a puppy. It’s INCREDIBLY hard work, I can’t stress that enough. We were fortunate enough to be in a situation where I wasn’t working, which was perfect. To those people juggling a work and/or kids alongside a puppy, I salute you. That cannot be easy.
Our dog - Hoxton - is 8 months now, so we’ve been through the tough bit and have come out the other side! This post will focus on everything I’ve learned from 8 weeks - 6 months. Then I’ll write 6 months - 1 year when we get there! Here we go…
Before you get your pup.
There’s a fair bit of research and planning to do before you get a dog. If you don’t research, chances are you’ll come up against some tricky challenges or surprises along the way that might leave you feeling a little perplexed. In terms of preparation, I’d advise the following:
1) Research the breed: Yes, there are a lot of damn cute dogs on Instagram but are they right for you? Think about your lifestyle, your family, your energy level. Try to pick a dog that matches as many areas of your life as possible. There is an entire world web out there with dog breed info. I would recommend dogtime.com as I’ve found their breed description (Hoxton is a Welsh Springer Spaniel) to be incredibly accurate.
2) Research the breeder: Once you’ve decided on breeds, you’ll start looking into litters! If you’re able to rescue a dog then get acquainted with your local shelter: maybe Battersea for Londoners or Hundstallet in Stockholm. (We decided not to rescue because we didn’t think that we had enough dog experience to give the right leadership or support to a dog who might need it. In hindsight, I don’t know that our learning curve would have been any different, so next time we will rescue!) If you want to go to a breeder then do your research and avoid anyone who appears to sell puppies very often or is open to selling puppies under 8 weeks old. These are signs of puppy farming and you could end up unknowingly supporting a very cruel trade. Ideally your breeder should be registered with the kennel club (The Kennel Club or SKK) and have a strong history of breeding and knowledge of the breed. Finally, you might want to consider picking a litter that isn’t too far away, as you’ll be travelling home with a tiny little rug rat who might be a bit scared and confused.
3) Puppy proof your house: When you first arrive home, chances are that your new pup won’t feel super comfortable running around your house. Most likely, they’ll stay in the same area for at least a few days whilst they build some familiarity and confidence. My advice would be to pick somewhere without carpet, and to block it off as the roaming grounds for your little hund. The kitchen is probably ideal. Elsewhere in the house, remove any rugs and put away any precious items or choking hazards. Puppies learn with their mouths, so try to predict what they’ll be trying to put in there. The good news is that you and your family will become a lot better at putting away coats, shoes, clothes or basically anything you want to see again in one piece.
4) Get your papers in order: In Sweden you must have pet insurance in order to pick up your puppy. If it’s not a legal requirement in your country then I’d still strongly advise that you get insurance. Pets are expensive, but they’ll be more expensive if you’re not covered by insurance and something goes wrong. If you can’t afford insurance then you can’t afford a pet, the same goes for microchipping. Simple.
8 weeks - 12 weeks
1) Feeding: Ask your breeder for a feeding schedule when you pick up your pup. We fed Hoxton the exact same kibble that he was used to from the kennel and he ate 4 times per day, everyday from 8 - 12 weeks. Tiny tummies are sensitive so, rather than buying fancy treats, use pieces of the kibble when you want to treat your pup outside of meal times.
2) Toilet training: A puppy can hold their bladder for roughly one hour per month of his or her age. So, if your puppy is 8 weeks, you should expect to be popping out to the grass every 1.5 - 2 hours. Dogs are naturally clean animals so they don’t really want to go indoors, but tiny puppies don’t yet know how to ask to go outside, plus various other factors (excitement, playfulness, new surroundings etc.) might make them suddenly need to go . Expect a lot of accidents and make sure you’ve done your puppy proofing to avoid any big issues. Whatever you do, DO NOT PUNISH YOUR PUPPY when he or she goes inside. Dogs don’t learn by punishment, they just become fearful of their owner. The best method is to take your dog outside to the same spot each time, let them relax and sniff about, then quietly praise them when they go (quietly praise because loud praise can be distracting!). Try to predict when your puppy might need to go by watching their behaviour: have they just interacted in exciting play? Take them out. Have they just woken up? Take them out. Have they eaten? Take them out. Sniffing around? Out. Bottom line (excuse the pun) is that you’re going to spending a lot more time hanging out in your garden for the next couple of months. My advice would be to get a puppy in the summer!
3) Teething: Your puppy will be getting his or her first set of teeth. This is quite a painful experience and can be a bit upsetting for them. Obviously, don’t give them any human medicine! The best thing is lots of chew toys (Hoxton liked these ones because they were hard enough to chew on but soft enough for baby teeth!). In your pups eyes, you are now his or her parent, so expect a fair amount of chewing on your fingers! This shouldn’t be encouraged but is also quite soothing when they’re very young. When they bite too hard, let out a loud, high-pitched yelp, imitating the sound of another puppy. Sometimes this works and they realise they bit too hard… other times they think it’s marvellous fun and get really excited. It’s a process…
4) Night time: The night time routine was the most surprising and possibly the hardest part of puppy life for me. As mentioned, I wasn’t working so it made sense for me to take on the lion’s share of the night care. It was totally exhausting! Firstly, I’d suggest a small crate in your bedroom when they’re small. You might find that your puppy cries out in the crate in which case I’d recommend that you pop the crate by your bedside and hang your hand down, so they can reach your fingers. This is really comforting and works a treat. Your puppy should be able to comfortably turn around in their crate but without much space to wander about. If there’s too much space then they can go to the toilet and move away from it, but if there isn’t the space then even a very sleepy pup will do their best to let you know when it’s time. For Hox, it was 2-3 times per night for the first month or so. At this age, they’re much too small to share the bed with you (even if you want them to) because you will end up with dog wee in your bed. Trust me.
5) Playing: For such a miniature fluff ball, you’ll be shocked at how much energy your puppy has! Generally speaking, the routine is eat, play, sleep, repeat (plus loo breaks where the commas are). My favourite thing about puppies is they play like maniacs until they pass out with their legs flailing in four directions! Your puppy gets their next set of injections at 11 weeks, which prevent against a whole host of nastiness. Your puppy is susceptible to catching awful things like kennel cough or distemper if you take them out before this, as they can get it from mixing with other dogs or being around other dog poop. Scary stuff. The best thing to do is to make a practical space indoors for playtime at the beginning. If you’ve done your puppy proofing then you might already have a set space in the kitchen to throw a ball up and down, for example. It’ll be a bit of a madhouse, but just remember it’s only for 3 weeks!
12 weeks - 20 weeks
1) Feeding: We moved Hoxton’s feeding schedule to 3 per day at 12 weeks. After he got used to just 3 meals, we also decided to move him onto a different brand of dog food. If you want to do this, I’d recommend giving yourself roughly 10 days, substituting 10% of his normal food for the new stuff on day 1, 20% on day 2 and so on. This gives your puppy time to get used to the new food and avoids any digestion problems.
2) Toilet training: By 12 weeks you should be noticing a vast improvement with fewer accidents. Keep consistent and don’t be disheartened when your pup slips up. We found that Hoxton was particularly forgetful of the outdoor rule when we had guests. Delightful.
3) Teething: Your pup will now have a lot more of his or her puppy teeth, they’re razor sharp and hurt like hell. At this stage you might find that your pup begins to lose the baby teeth as they’re replaced for adult teeth. Unfortunately, this means more teething but 10x worse that the first round. If your pup turns into a little piranha , try replacing your skin with a chew toy. If this fails, my recommendation is to stop whatever you’re doing, get up and walk into another room, shut the door behind you and wait for 30 seconds or more. This disrupts the piranha behaviour and teaches your puppy that biting ends the fun. It also avoids you shouting endlessly at your puppy. Frozen carrots are also a life saver.
4) Crate training: If you’re planning on crate training, I’d advise that you begin to leave your puppy for short periods of time. Slowly build this up from just 5 minutes to an hour or two. The best thing to remember here is that you shouldn’t make a big fuss when you leave or when you return. Try to avoid lots of love and attention as it heightens the anxiety of your pup when you’re away.
5) Playing: Now that your puppy is up to date on injections you can finally enjoy the great outdoors! Start with a bit of lead training nearby the house. Hoxton was terrified of walking and we found that an extendable lead was much better for exploring during these early weeks. I’d also recommend lots of grooming and teeth brushing on a daily basis, it’s fun for your puppy and ensures positives habits for a lifetime.
20 weeks - 6 months
1) Feeding: We reduced Hoxton’s feeding schedule to 2 meals per day from 6 months, this will be the same for the rest of his life. We also decided to move to raw food at about the same time. 6 months is also a good time to try new treats for your dog. Hoxton’s tummy wasn’t a fan of change before 6 months, but now he munches on all manner of jerky and cow hide delights to his heart’s content.
2) Teenage habits: At around 5 - 6 months, your puppy slowly begins growing into an adult dog. Much like human teenagers, you may encounter some cheeky behaviour such as ignoring commands or testing boundaries. Hunting breeds may also begin to notice other animals (our little bird dog is obsessed with the crows and blue tits!). Consistency is key when training, they know who’s boss but they often need reminding!
Other important bits.
When I started writing, I hadn’t realised quite how much info I’d want to share, thanks for bearing with me! Two bits I’d also like to mention…
1) Socialisation: This is SO important for your dog’s wellbeing and is a continued process from the moment you bring him or her home. Think about all the new experiences and interactions that your dog could have and be mindful of how to provide them. Think about the hoover, the hairdryer, the postman, having guests in your house, taking your dog to other houses, going out in the car, meeting other dogs, meeting cats, meeting children, walking in woods, walking along busy roads… do all of it and help your dog to remember it as a positive experience!
2) Training: Intelligence will of course vary depending on breed and individual, but most dogs are keen to learn and to please you. Hoxton loved learning tricks from early on, so get them used to sitting, giving a paw and other simple commands on a daily basis. Often an energetic puppy is still full of beans after a long walk, if you exercise their mind then finally you might find a relaxed, sleepy dog in your home!