Five Steps to Giving Your New Puppy the Right Start

Puppies are an enormous, life-changing responsibility, but they bring great joy to our lives. It’s our job to be prepared, emotionally and logistically, in order to give them the best start that we can.

Here are some tips for the journey...

Feed ‘em right! Puppies are little metabolic powerhouses. They need extra calories, and extra protein in particular, to support their mind-bogglingly rapid growth. The exact amount will depend on the breed, but generally, pups need about twice the energy per pound of their body weight than an adult dog needs. As they get closer to their final size -- their teenage months as it were -- they don’t need to be quite the food-devouring machines that they were as young pups.

Be choosy about what you feed your puppy. If you are buying commercial food, look on the packaging for an Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement that the food meets the nutritional requirements for puppies. If rearing a large breed and feeding commercial food, you will have to keep them on their puppy food longer than if rearing a small or medium-sized dog. This is a good topic to discuss during that first vet visit.

If you wish to prepare your own natural puppy diet, you might begin your research with books like “All You Ever Wanted to Know about Herbs for Pets” (1) or “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats” (2). You can also seek out further guidance, perhaps from a holistic veterinarian. It is rewarding to make your own puppy chow, but it’s important that you provide appropriate nutrient coverage. Don’t forget to add a big dose of love to the recipe!

Meet the vet Bring your new pooch to your favorite local veterinarian as soon as possible for an examination and to get guidance on what needs to be done, on potential problems to look out for, etc. Make it as pleasant an experience as possible. Use healthy, high-value treats in small amounts as rewards throughout the process: Getting into the dog crate, arriving at the vet office, putting up with the poking and prodding, arriving back home. This will make it much easier for the next trip when your furry friend is perhaps not so small anymore! Come prepared with questions for your vet to get the most out of the visit. For instance, breed-specific issues, preventative medicine, and nutritional considerations.

Be kind when house training The key to successful house training is positive reinforcement. Praise the heck out of your pup when she does her business outside. Avoid punishing your pup if she has an accident inside...they are new at this! Expect that there will be quite a bit of puppy poop and urine deposited indoors during the process. (This would be a good time to temporarily roll up that expensive Persian rug.)

To reduce the number of accidents, take your pup outside frequently and be ready to give immediate positive reinforcement, whether it’s praise, a healthy treat, or some scratches on the butt.

Provide a safe environment Puppies are mobile chewing units. They are inquisitive by nature, and like small children, the mouth is often a way to meet the world, for better or for worse. When Milo was a puppy, he destroyed books, prescription glasses, socks, shoes, and power cords! Be aware of hazards: Power cords, toxic house and garden plants, toxic household chemicals and anything else at puppy level that you don’t want to have gnawed.

Herbal support Herbs can be a helpful addition to your pup’s world, though not all are appropriate. Remember that puppies are very sensitive to herbs, so a small amount goes a long way. Accordingly, use the actual plants, or maybe a bit of tea from the plant, rather than stronger liquid or encapsulated extracts when working with puppies. Gentle tummy herbs, calming herbs and growth-supporting tonics are usually the most valuable support for puppies. Research herbs like Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Alfalfa, Chickweed and garden mints such as Peppermint and the milder Spearmint. Start out with very small amounts of the plant (for instance just a small bit of Lemon Balm leaf torn up and added to your puppy’s food for an upset stomach). You can work your way up slowly dosage-wise, but like children, puppies are particularly sensitive to herbs. Keep in mind that many herbs are diuretic, so it may be best to hold off on their use until your pup is house broken.

A final word.... Provide socialization, boundaries, good nutrition and lots and lots of love. Remember that the more effort you put into your puppy at the beginning, the more fulfilling your relationship will be!

References 1) Wulff-Tilford, ML & GL Tilford (1999) All you ever wanted to know about herbs for pets. Bowtie Press, Irvine, CA. 2) Pitcairn, RH & SH Pitcairn (2005) Dr. Pitcairn’s complete guide to natural health for dogs & cats. Rodale Inc.

Anna-Marija Helt, PhD, is a research scientist-turned herbalist who practices and teaches at Osadha Herbal Wellness in Durango, Colorado. She is also Milo, Zeke, D, and Ratticus Finch's human.