At the starting line of puppy parenthood
Raising a puppy is hard work. IMHO, it’s the most challenging phase of having a dog at home (which is why I’ll always adopt an older dog — at least 2 years old). And in more of my honest opinion, the very beginning of your journey as a puppy parent and the pup’s journey into the world makes a huge difference. Many people do not think beyond walking into a pet shop and buying the pup they like. My family did this, and we brought home a pup whose nose never developed fully and who had digestive issues for a long time. We loved this dog with all our heart, and despite his malformed nose, he went on to live a good life. However, one cannot deny that our lack of knowledge (and the general lack of knowledge among people), and the breeder/ seller’s predatory nature caused such a pup to exist in the first place.
That puppy came home more than a decade ago, and I have since grown up, learnt better, adopted and raised a pup of my own (and a senior dog!) and continued learning. And I still maintain that the pup’s beginnings in the world and your home are crucial to their well-being. So, if you are thinking of getting a pup home, here are three things — from experience — I need you to focus on: when to bring a pup, where from, and when to begin taking that pup out of the house. Its general advice for Indian pup parents, and outside of special situations, it applies to anyone getting a pup home soon.
When do you bring the pup home?
This matters; it really does.
Unfortunately, puppies are often sold very young, separated from their mother way before they should be to fulfil customer demands and fill breeder pockets. Raising a pup becomes more challenging when you have one that has been prematurely separated from the mother. You see, the mother’s milk doesn’t just fill up round puppy tummies. It provides them essential nutrition and immunity from common infections that dogs are prone to until they’re old enough to be vaccinated and develop their own antibodies. Additionally, being with the mother and their litter for longer helps your pup develop crucial social skills and significantly impacts their dog-to-dog behaviour.
When puppies are separated from the mother and their litter prematurely, they miss out on social skill development and have a period until vaccination where their immunity is low. Throw in the unhygienic, crowded conditions at breeders and pet shops, and you have a recipe for disaster.
It is no surprise that many puppies bought from breeders and pet shops develop symptoms of Parvo, Canine Distemper, or other highly contagious diseases. Unfortunately, there’s only so much that little body can take, and many pups pass away due to these diseases. This is not to say you should completely give up if your puppy contracts them. Puppies can recover from Distemper and Parvo with consistent and timely care, but it is quite the battle. So, if you can wait a little longer and avoid this whole scenario altogether, wouldn’t that be better?
To sum up: don’t separate the pup from the mother before 8 weeks of age. There may be situations where the mother may have passed away or may reject the puppy, or the puppy may be a motherless rescue. In such cases, you may feed the pup what the vet advises or even adopt the puppy out. However, wherever you can, choose to leave the puppy with the mother for as close to 8 weeks as possible.
Where do you get the pup from?
I’m a vocal supporter of #AdoptDontShop, so I won’t pretend like that isn’t the best option. I also won’t pretend that the alternative is good by any means because the alternative to adoption is not buying a pet (surprise, surprise!) — it’s breeding. Whether you buy a pup or get it for free from a home litter (not an actual adoption; please read on), someone has bred their dogs to give you a picture-perfect, IG-worthy pup. Here’s where the trouble starts.
Before we get into illegal or home breeding, let’s talk about the elusive mythical creature called the ethical/legal breeder. I’ve never met one, but even if I assume they exist, they are the proverbial needle in the haystack. Now, not all ethical breeders are legal and vice versa. So, that complicates your search further, making it a pinpoint in a haystack. On top of this (based solely on what I’ve heard), such breeders are painfully discerning about their clients, have long waitlists and charge twice as much as most people’s paychecks for their pups. So, if you’ve set out to do right by your pup and the parent doggos, by the time you find a legal/ ethical breeder and vet them, you will have jumped through enough hoops to become a show dog yourself. All this, assuming they even exist.
Most folks who want a puppy are not this patient. They drown their money in the illegal kind of breeding, which is common in our country to the point where you can get forged ‘legal’ documents for illegally bred dogs. Some people also ‘adopt’ dogs from illegal breeders — the families that breed their pet dogs without a breeding license (yes, yes, they’re kept with love and care like your own children but it is still illegal. It would also be illegal if you were to breed your human kids and give their progeny away).
Either way, with illegal breeding no genetic testing is done so the pups may be born with a cocktail of poor genes that show up as physical deformities, aggression, diseases, etc. To save money, the nutritional needs of the parent dogs, especially the mother, may not be fulfilled, so the offspring may be weak and nutrient-deficient. We’ve already covered how premature separation from the mother and poor hygiene predisposes pups to contagious diseases, so that’s another threat.
Commercial illegal breeders cull or abandon unsellable dogs (to nobody’s surprise, they care for the money, not the dog) and don’t take pups with deformities or illnesses back. Barring the very ideal scenario where the family continues to care for the pup, these dogs are either abandoned or given away to some random stranger. From here, they make their way to another illegal breeder or, in the best-case (as best as possible), land up at a shelter.
I bet filling an adoption form out doesn’t seem like that much work now. When you adopt a puppy, you’re likely to get a pup who has undergone health checks and is suited to your home, plus you’ll have the organisation/ rescuer in your corner!
To sum up: If you’re buying, an instant puppy is definitely an illegal puppy. Don’t make the same mistake my family made all those years ago. Documentation can be forged easily — we had papers for our weird-nosed dog. Besides, you’re not just risking your pup’s health but also subjecting the mother to a lifetime of abuse. So, either find the unicorn called the legal/ethical breeder and jump through hoops or #AdoptDontShop
When do you take the pup out?
A quick answer to this is after 3 months or until the first round of vaccinations is done — at least DHPPIL and Anti Rabies Vaccine. Read more on dog vaccines and deworming here.
However, you have a crucial window to socialise your puppy and make them well-adjusted that closes around that time. This begins at approximately 3 weeks of age and closes around 16 weeks (as early as 12 weeks per some sources). But you can only bring the pup home at 8 weeks of age, and then you must wait for vaccinations. So when do you begin? You may be surprised to learn that in many countries, the responsibility of socialisation until the pup is 8 weeks old lies with the breeder. Laughable, given the breeders here can’t even be bothered to feed a dog for that long.
For the sake of our sanity, let’s assume they do that, and you get a pup home at 8 weeks old. There’s still the question of vaccinations. So, can you take your dog out before they’re done?
Let’s begin by reviewing what we’re preventing. Diseases like Distemper, Parainfluenza and Parvo are airborne. Canine Hepatitis and Canine Coronavirus spread through the ingestion of urine, faeces or saliva of an infected dog. Rabies spreads when the dog gets bitten by a rabid animal or an open wound comes in contact with saliva or infectious material from a rabid animal. Some of these diseases transmit dog-to-dog only, while others can come from other animals. Depending upon the infection, the affected animal can continue shedding pathogens for months after recovery.
Since there is a chance that you may come across an unvaccinated dog or a dog with a transmittable disease, it’s best to avoid taking your puppy outside before the first round of vaccinations is complete. Vaccines don’t provide immediate immunity, so give your pup a few days after the first round, then take them outside with caution. Frankly, an infection may not even happen. However, the risk is too great, and it’s just a matter of a few days.
So what should you do? Begin their socialisation at home. Play various sounds for them on speakers or your phone, introduce as many different textures under their little paws as you can, and get them used to at least the everyday noises, people and activities around the house. If you have vaccinated dogs at home, slowly socialise your pup with them (always under supervision).
If you want to show your pup other dogs, let the pup observe them from a safe distance, preferably from the safety of your home. Keep your puppy away from unknown dogs, and avoid taking them to spaces like dog parks altogether. It’s okay to say no to parents of other dogs during this time (even later, if your dog doesn’t enjoy it), and it’s important that your puppy remains under your supervision.
If you have a car, you can take your pup out for a drive once in a while (this is a two-person task: one person holds the pup securely while the other drives) so they adjust to traffic sounds and general outdoors/road noise. While you’re waiting for vaccinations to be done, ensure you always carry the puppy in your arms at places like the vet or anywhere outside the car and outside your house.
To sum up: Avoid taking your puppy out before the first round of vaccinations is done. Use this time to begin socialisation at home. Once you can take them outside, carry them around at places like the vet, and avoid spaces like dog parks. Always supervise your puppy.
Whether they can handle one or not, everyone loves a puppy! I can only imagine the joy in your life when you bring yours home. While you will undoubtedly strive to give your pup the best life, ensure that you give them a good start — in life and in your home — by paying attention to the three points above. It’ll allow you to focus on raising your puppy sans the frequent, worrisome trips to the vet, and you’ll thoroughly enjoy puppy parenthood.