Puppy Care

Close-up photo of a black and white border collie puppy with prick-ears, standing on a tree stump

How to Look After and Train a Puppy

Remember that your puppy is learning from you the moment it sets eyes on you.
That means EVERYTHING the puppy sees you do, will be accepted as normal.

Collecting your puppy and taking it home:

Probably the single most stressful time in a dog’s life is when it’s taken away from the place of its birth, and transported to its new home. Although this is an especially joyous time for you (and your children if you have any) try to remember that rehoming’s unlikely to be a happy time for the pup and it almost certainly won’t want to play. From the pup’s point of view, strange people are taking it away from everything and everyone it has ever known (and learned to trust) in its life. With this in mind, the puppy should be transported to its new home with the absolute minimum of stress.

Some puppies travel very well – they quickly go to sleep and stay that way for journeys of many hours. If this is the case, we recommend you try to avoid stopping on the way home if it’s practical. This means the puppy will have the minimum amount of stress because the first stop will be the puppy’s new home. Of course, road safety is of paramount importance here – tiredness when driving is a killer so please stop for rest and / or refreshments if you need to.

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Travel sickness in puppies and young dogs:

Not all pups travel well. The most common problem is travel sickness. To help prevent travel sickness, a thoughtful breeder will withhold food from a puppy on the day that it’s going to its new home. Even so, to be on the safe side, be prepared for the puppy to be sick. It’s a good idea to buy a travel cage or box for the puppy to spend the journey in – make sure it’s plenty big enough and well ventilated.

A puppy stretches out a paw to greet its mother

Travel crates – calming and secure – or a nightmare for your puppy?

Travel boxes and crates usually have slippery smooth plastic floors to them. These become even more slippery if any liquids (urine, water, vomit or faeces) come into contact with them. Imagine a nervous puppy that’s just been taken away from its home by some strange people, sliding around, falling over and bumping into the sides of its crate every time the car goes round a corner, accelerates or brakes. Not the sort of start you intended to give it, so it’s very important to put an old rug, piece of carpet or material on the floor to stop the puppy from sliding around.

Always have fresh water with you:

Puppies need to drink a lot of water – and with the serious delays we encounter on trunk roads and motorways these days, it’s wise to take a drinking bowl and a bottle of clean water for the puppy – especially if the weather’s likely to get hot. Puppies dehydrate quickly in hot cars – especially when stressed by being taken away from home.

Drive carefully – reduce the chances of your puppy vomiting:

Drive steadily – especially if the roads are winding. Fast driving is the best way to make a dog sick in the car. If you drive steadily, there’s every chance the pup will fall asleep and have a pleasant, stress-free journey. Once you’re on the motorway, there are no significant bends to worry about, so as long as you avoid heavy acceleration and braking, it’s OK to speed up!

Feeding a young puppy:

Before you collect your puppy, make sure you find out from the breeder what type of food the pup’s used to eating and then buy some. For the first few days, feed your new puppy the same food that it’s used to. If you want to change to a different brand or type, make the change to your preferred food gradual, and so avoid stomach upsets.

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Recommended food for a puppy:

We have absolutely no connection with Purina but we recommend their “Beta Puppy” – Lamb and Rice Flavour. It’s so good, it’s the only food we feed our puppies apart from their mother’s milk and we never soak it. Even very small puppies eat it (or we suspect suck it) when they first start to eat solid food at around three weeks of age.

Assuming you collect the puppy from the breeder at eight week of age (this should be the minimum age) the pup won’t have had its mother around to top him up for some time but he’ll still need between 3 and 5 meals at regular intervals through the day.

How much food should I give my puppy?

As a general guide, give the pup much food as he will clean up easily and quickly. This can be reduced to 3 meals at 5 months and by 12 months either 1 or 2, as you prefer.

Some owners feed ad lib, leaving a bowl of dry food available at all times. We don’t feed our adult dogs this way because it’s wasteful and unhygenic. More importantly, if the dog is bored, sometimes it will eat just for something to do. You may find it’s a regime that suits you but in our experience, it encourages the pup to eat too much – with consequent digestive and weight problems. Food can be fed moistened with warm water or fed dry, according to the dog’s taste or your time, but dry food will exercise jaws and keep teeth and gums clean and healthy.

Fresh, clean water should always be easily available for all dogs.

Other things you can feed for variety include Ready Brek, Weetabix, rusks, boiled rice, pasta, plain chicken, cooked fish, scrambled eggs, rice pudding, cooked vegetables, natural yoghurt or tinned dog food. Bear in mind that it’s almost certainly you who need the variety, the puppy won’t know what he’s missing!

What to do if your puppy has diarrhoea.

If the puppy has an upset stomach soon after going to a new home, the most likely cause is the stress caused by the change of environment, so don’t panic and take the dog to the vet unless you have other cause for concern, such as seeing blood in the faeces. Just provide water for 6 hours, and then begin feeding small amounts until all is back to normal. Rice and chicken are good for the first meal or two.

Once the puppy is fully settled into its new home (after several days at least). Bear in mind that if the pup has a runny tummy, it’s probably having too much food – either at mealtimes, or maybe someone’s giving it titbits? It’s important to stop the diarrhoea quickly (by not feeding the pup for at least six hours and then introducing small amounts of easily digested food) as it makes the puppy prone to infections of the stomach.

If your puppy has very serious diarrhoea – and especially if there’s blood in the faeces, take him to your vet for a proper examination – especially if the pup appears to be poorly.

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Veterinary health check:

This should be at the top of your priority list when you take a new puppy home. The vet will check the puppy over and give it the first vaccination. It’s advisable to worm the pup (unless the breeder has clearly just done this) and apply some anti flea treatment such as Frontline.

Always buy wormer from a vet

Supermarket wormers are not as strong as those you can buy from your vet and in our experience they are quite often ineffective.

Alarm bells:

Your vet may give you alarming information about the puppy, such as “retained testicle(Cryptorchid) or worse, “heart murmur“. There’s no need to panic, both of these problems are fairly temporary in a young puppy (all puppies are born with a heart murmur and all males have “retained” testicles at first) but they should be normal by about twelve weeks. If the vet tells you the pup has either heart murmur or retained testicle, take it back at twelve or preferably fourteen weeks for a further check. Even after this time, there may be no need to worry about a retained testicle, they can sometimes take quite a number of months to descend. Your pup will require it’s second (booster) vaccination two weeks after the first one.

Socialisation and training puppies:

Don’t take your puppy to dog training classes or walking in public areas such as town streets, parks or playing fields until full immunity is achieved – usually 2 weeks after the 2nd vaccination. However, visiting friends and relatives, trips in the car, meeting visitors to the house and encountering as many different animals, noises and experiences as possible at home in the meantime will make your early public appearances that much easier.

Dog training groups:

Get in touch with local dog training groups to enrol in puppy classes as soon as possible – there’s often a waiting list – but as with all things in life, there are good and bad dog training classes.

Are you getting good advice?

If what your dog trainer is trying to get you to do to your dog clearly isn’t working  – or doesn’t seem to make sense, look around for a new class or talk to experienced owners who own well trained dogs to see what they think. If it doesn’t seem right for your dog, it probably isn’t.

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Training a border collie puppy:

Games are essential for puppy development, physically, mentally and emotionally, but where toys are involved, you should always be able to win the prize at will – and you should regularly demonstrate this to your dog. A mother uses a harsh growl to warn her puppies if they’re making a mistake, and a growl is a good way for you to correct your puppy too. Before long you will have a repertoire of soft and hard growls to suit any occasion, and if you have small children the puppy won’t mistake a reprimand to a child as directed to him – and vice versa. Growling is something children can learn to make themselves understood.

If a puppy nips, for instance, a high pitched squeal can be quite exciting to him and make him repeat the action. A good growl as the child snatches their hand away will be quite effective. A growl will also, usually, make the puppy let go of a toy (or stolen sock!) more efficiently than pulling. Again, as soon as the puppy releases reward him with your voice and if he’s “stolen” something replace it immediately with a toy he can keep.

Incidentally, such is the arrangement of a dog’s teeth and jaw that if it’s pulling back on something, such as a sock, it’s physically incapable of letting go of it. Slacken the pressure on the sock and THEN growl. It does work, and avoids damage to sock or puppy.

Rules for good behaviour:

As regards behaviour, a good rule is not to let the puppy do ANYTHING at 6 weeks that you don’t want him to do at 6 months or older. It’s hard to be strict with a puppy when you first get it home. As humans, we feel sorry for the pup but puppies are not humans. If he’s never done it – he won’t miss it. He will, however, look to you for guidelines and consistency and both parties will be the happier for it if you make your puppy obey the rules from the word go.

Remember to reward good behaviour, not bad:

If you take him out of his bed BEFORE he starts to whine or bark for attention you will be rewarding him for being quiet. Even if he’s just lying quietly with a chew make a point of letting him know you’re pleased. He will want to repeat the things you like.

Be FIRM, FAIR and CONSISTENT when you train your puppy

Puppies and chewing:

All puppies chew. It’s important for the development of jaws and teeth as well as providing entertainment and a release for some pent-up energy or frustration. There are many types of chew on the market, from quite expensive branded “dental” chews, down to rawhide strips, rolls and shoes as well as roasted or sterilised bones.

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It’s a good idea to put puppy/dog and chew onto a surface that cleans easily, preferably in the garden or the dog bed, as some chews will stain. If you find the puppy chewing something you don’t approve of, growl, remove the item from the puppy (or vice versa) and then offer the “good” chew with encouraging words and a pleased tone of voice. Always let the puppy understand which are the “good” habits and which are “bad”.

A puppy’s attention span is short, and he needs regular naps. In the early days at home you can make good use of this. When he begins to tire, or if he actually falls asleep, take him to his designated sleeping place – whether it’s a dog crate in the kitchen, outside kennel or the end of your bed – and leave him to sleep. He may complain a little but hopefully he’ll be tired enough to sleep.

As soon as he wakes up his reward will be to come out and be with you so keep an eye on him and be ready to take him out to the designated toilet area as soon as he’s awake. Refuse to play until he’s finished and then praise him. Remember he only wants to do what will make him be a part of the pack so make it easy for him to understand.

Dog crates, travel boxes and cages:

We thoroughly recommend the use of cages, well ventilated crates and travel boxes for puppies and young dogs. Used sensibly, the are not cruel at all, in fact, puppies and dogs love “dens” and if they encounter an open box or crate, they’re likely to curl up in it and go to sleep. Crates are a very useful place for a young puppy to get away from children (and adults) when they are tired – and it’s a good rule for every member of the family to leave the puppy alone when he’s in his crate.

Take care when using crates

Of course, dogs and puppies should not be left in crates for too long and the crate must be large enough for the dog to be able to sleep comfortably and move around.

The ‘recall’ or – getting your dog to come back when you want him:

This is something we get asked about an awful lot – it’s all part of everyday puppy training. Make a point of calling the puppy to you, rewarding him, and then releasing him.

Until he knows his name, or whichever “Come here” command you decide to use, a puppy will be happier to come to you if you crouch to his level and extend your hands – palm uppermost – while you call him. Fuss, a happy voice, his dinner, a toy or the occasional treat will make it worth his while to come back.

If it’s fun to come back to you it will become a habit, wherever you are.

NEVER punish a dog that has returned to you – however long it takes.

If it’s taken a very long time you may not want to fuss the dog or give a treat, but punishing him will only make him more reluctant to return next time.

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If your dog won’t come back, it’s probably having more fun where it is.
Make coming back to you a good fun experience!

In the early days at home, if you see the puppy coming to you make use of it. Call him and be pleased when he reaches you. Always make use of any opportunity to reward an action you will want him to repeat.

On the subject of treats, manufactured treats often contain salt and sugar, and can be quite expensive. Pig’s liver, boiled then cut into small pieces and dried in a medium-hot (190º C) oven makes a good treat. Dogs love it, it’s healthy and cheap and quite smelly (to a dog) so he’ll know when you’ve got it with you and try extra hard. It will also keep for a while in a sealed jar in the ‘fridge. The drier it is the better, and the longer it keeps.

House training or toilet training your puppy:

And after about every 30 MINUTES or so !
Your puppy will probably need to “go!”

The puppy should have have learned very basic toilet training. He already knows to move out of the “nest” when he needs to, and to move away from his food. Use this to your advantage. Puppies are quite predictable in their toilet routine – they will need to pee when they wake up after a nap, if they’ve been busy playing for a while, immediately after they’ve eaten and at regular intervals just ‘anyway’.

If you don’t give your puppy the opportunity to make a mistake, toilet or house training will be quick and easy. That said, most Border Collies that we’ve house trained have had a day or two when everything they’d learned just disappeared. Just when you think they’re 100% reliable they’re peeing everywhere. My opinion is that this is a ‘testing time’. They seem to need to know that they’ve understood you. My advice is to deal with any accidents that you actually see in progress by growling and whisking the puppy away to an approved toilet area. Put it down and speak kindly, perhaps using any words you want the dog to associate with going to the loo to order (it’s very useful!). Then go and clean up and forget about it, but resolve to take the puppy out earlier next time.

Watch your puppy carefully when he’s in the house. If he starts wandering around with his nose to the carpet as though he’s looking for something, he’s more than likely looking for somewhere to pee (or worse)! Quickly but calmly, pick him up and take him to the toilet area to do his “business” and don’t just leave him there. Once outside, for instance, the first thing that will spring to the pup’s mind is to come back to you – or where the fun was. If you simply leave the pup outside, it will probably spend the time fretting about how to rejoin you in the house. Going to the toilet will be forgotten – until you let the pup back in, and then the pup will go on the carpet or in the kitchen!

Once you’ve taken the pup to an approved toilet area, stay there with it until it goes to the toilet. We find it helps if you encourage the pup to walk on the grass. Once the business is done, don’t forget to tell him what a good boy he is for going in the right place! (This is Very Important)!

If the pup has an accident in the house and you didn’t see it happen, you’ve missed the opportunity to house train the pup (by growling) but you can still whisk it outside to show it that’s where it should go. In this instance, there’s probably not much point in waiting around as the pup has already relieved itself, so your time will be better spent cleaning the mess up.

A hot solution of biological washing powder is very good for cleaning puppy pee – and worse – out of carpets, but you may want to check for colourfastness. Clean up solids, and soak up as much urine as possible (pieces of disposable nappy are ideal for this, and newborn baby size is usually quite enough). Then soak the area with the biological powder solution, leave it to soak for 10 minutes or so, then mop it up, rinse and dry the area. We’ve found this method removes the discernible smell (well enough for humans, anyway!) and the paper or disposable nappy can be left in the puppy’s toilet area for a while to show him where to head for.

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Night Time

Remember that your puppy is learning from you the moment it sets eyes on you. So EVERYTHING the puppy sees you do will be accepted as normal.

Don’t make the mistake that so many do, of getting up in the night to take the puppy to the toilet. Dogs are generally very clean animals, and one thing they rarely like to do is mess in their own bed, so provided your pup goes outside last thing at night, and you stay with it to make sure it relieves itself, the chances are, the pup will be clean through the night. In the morning, DON’T have a lie-in, get up early, take the puppy straight outside – and make sure it goes to the toilet befor it comes back in. If you do this properly, your puppy will be house trained in just a very few days.

If you make the mistake of getting up in the night, the puppy will expect it, and once you stop doing it, the pup will begin to demand it. Some people even put temporary beds next to the pup’s bed so they can get up whenever the pup begins to whine.

I have to say, this is one of the silliest, most misguided actions it’s possible to take when bringing up a young puppy. All these people are doing is teaching the dog that they’ll attend to its every whim.

There is so much to be written and learned about living with dogs, this article does no more than scratch the surface of your early days. We recommend a book called  “Think Dog!” by John Fisher, to get you off to a good start. There are others, of course, and dog-training classes are excellent for socialising and educating your dog. An Excellent DVD is “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell

Do try to look at life, and yourselves, from your puppy’s point of view.