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Starting off with your new puppy/dog

Just like bringing up children there are a bewildering number of books and articles on how to train your dog. Many people have strong opinions on the motivation behind dog’s behaviour and are forthright in sharing them with others. Please read the “understanding your dog better” section on this website for more information on this subject.

Taking on a new dog can be a daunting process, especially if you have no previous experience. However sharing your life with a dog should be the most rewarding experience anyone can ever have. A few simple steps can ensure you get off on the right track. Please talk to us or email us for advice on choosing a dog.

  • Choose the right dog for you. Most people know that different breeds and types of dogs have very different personality traits and instincts. For example terriers have been bred for hunting small mammals. They therefore have strong hunting instincts and are less likely to make the best companions for rabbits, chickens or other small animals. Retriever-types (including Labradors) are known for their gentleness and make good companions for families with children. If you are adopting a dog ask if you can spend some time with them and preferably take them home for a few days before you commit to that particular dog.
  • Socialise your dog as soon as possible and let them experience the things you anticipate they will need to experience in small doses (for example car travel, bathing, visiting relatives, meeting dogs and other animals). This will enable them to be confident, happy and unafraid throughout their lives. If they appear to be anxious about anything do not show any reaction initially, as they will usually soon settle. If they continue to be upset do not carry on, instead just stop for a while, do something else and try again later.
  • Let your dog have their own space to go to if they wish. A cage, kennel or room with a water bowl, their bed and a selection of suitable toys in makes a cosy “den”. In their den they can choose to go to rest and “get away from it all”. If a dog is introduced to their den in a positive way (feed them there frequently, put toys in and let them explore it at their own pace) before they are ever shut in, it becomes a comfortable place of sanctuary. Once a dog is happy and familiar with their den, they can be happily shut in for short periods if needed (for example when they are going through a “destructive phase”).
  • Avoid leaving your dog alone for long periods. To get them used to being left, start with short, frequent periods. You can then slowly increase the length of time he or she is left alone over time. Try to behave in the same way when you go out for a few hours as you would if you were just popping out for a few minutes to put the bin out – avoid “long goodbyes”.
  • Train your dog to the basics as soon as possible (to come back when called, sit and to walk properly on the lead) as not only will these skills make your dog a “better member of society” it will also keep him or her safe from loss or injury – see the section on “understanding your dog better” on our website for more details on this.
  • “Toilet training” comes naturally to some dogs and not so easily to others. Puppies cannot hold their urine or faeces as long as adult dogs and should be given the opportunity to toilet in an appropriate place every few hours (ideally every 1-6 hours depending on the time of day and the age of your dog). Because eating stimulates bowel movements it is essential to give your pup or dog the opportunity to toilet more frequently after feeding. Praise your dog for going to the toilet in the right place. NEVER scold your dog for going to the toilet in the wrong place, even if you catch them in the act. If you catch them going in the wrong place calmly call them and take them to the right place. Care should be taken in unvaccinated dogs to toilet them only in an area where no other potentially unvaccinated dogs may have been to avoid the risk of infection.

Feeding your dog

We all know the importance to health of having a balanced diet and dogs are no exception to this. Over the past 40+ years nutritional scientists have worked hard to understanding the dietary needs of dogs. Their health (and lifespan) has improved as a result, with nutritional deficiency diseases being virtually confined to the history books. Unfortunately, just as obesity is increasing in the human population, it is also increasing in the dog population, causing an increase in obesity related diseases.

Dogs should be fed at least once daily (preferably twice, with some training treats in between) as prolonged periods without feeding followed by large meals is associated with increased appetite (and tendency to scavenge) and also with slowing of metabolism. Dogs should never be left with unlimited access to food as they will over eat with obvious consequences.

No two dogs are the same in their nutritional needs, appetite, food flavour and texture preferences and activity levels. Remember the feeding instructions on every bag or tin of dog food are just a guide. Remember also to allow for the fact that your dog may need some of their daily food ration kept back for training treats. Please book a free appointment with one of our qualified pet health councillors for dietary advice specifically tailored for your dog.

Some people (including some vets) believe that the feeding of commercial (cooked) dog food is wrong and that dogs should be fed a “Raw meaty bones” or “Bones and raw food” diet. They believe that dogs should be fed in the same way as their wolf ancestors. It is certainly possible to safely feed some dogs this way, however it ignores the fact that dogs are not wolves and (like humans) have evolved to exploit the advantages that cooking food gives. Cooking of food not only destroys potentially harmful parasites, bacteria or other disease causing agents, it also makes many of the nutrients far easier to digest. The exception to this is that cooked bones are very difficult to digest. Cooked bones should never be fed to dogs as they can swallow large pieces which can cause obstruction of the intestines with serious consequences.

It is difficult (but not impossible) to provide a safe, balanced diet using only raw ingredients.

At home your dog should have access to clean, safe drinking water at all times. When you are out with your dog he or she should have the opportunity to drink freely at least once every hour (more often in extremely hot weather).


Just like a healthy diet, exercise is essential for a dog’s physical and mental health. Ideally exercise should be split into a minimum of two sessions every day (preferably more). It is good for dogs to spend the first and last few minutes of a walk on the lead to allow their muscles to warm up and cool down (just like you would before and after a gym-session or playing sport). Exercise should be slowly built up over time and should be as consistent as possible from day to day, as over exertion can cause temporary or permanent damage to joints and muscles.

As well as providing physical fitness, walks in different locations and play (like “fetch the ball”) provides important mental stimulation, essential for every dog’s well being.


Even properly fed and well exercised dogs can catch illnesses or sustain injuries during their lives. We are here to help and please call us if you are in doubt. The following advice is intended to help you to recognise and respond to the most important signs of illness:

Young puppies (those less than 16 weeks) and elderly dogs have less resistance to infection and reduced capacity to resist dehydration, starvation, heat and cold. Advice should always be sought more quickly if they show signs of ill-health.

The following signs should be treated as urgent and an emergency appointment or advice should be sought immediately:

Breathing difficulties (including choking), severe pain (anywhere), unproductively straining to vomit, inability to pass urine, seizures (also referred “fits” or “convulsions”), significant bleeding, severe lethargy (weakness, lack of energy, sleepiness which the dog cannot be woken from), abnormal bulging of one or both eyes, passing lots of fresh red or dark black blood in the stools (more than just a few specks).

If your dog is bright and tail- wagging, eating well and wanting to go for walks then symptoms like mild diarrhoea, occasional mild vomiting, limping or scratching are not cause for immediate concern. If however, symptoms are persistent for more than a few hours then it is preferable to get an appointment sooner rather than later.

Unexpected changes in behaviour, thirst, appetite or toileting patterns may be a sign of illness and should be investigated. It is useful to bring a sample of your dog’s urine with you to their appointment if their level of thirst has increased or their pattern of urination has changed significantly.

If your dog has swallowed a solid, indigestible object (wood, plastic, metal stone, string etc) or something potentially poisonous, please call immediately for an appointment.

Burns and scalds should be treated immediately by rinsing with large amounts of clean cold water as this reduces the damage to the skin and underlying tissues. As soon as this has been done an emergency appointment should be sought.

If your dog has been hit by a vehicle, fallen from a significant height (more than 1 metre) or had any other significant trauma, even if he or she seems unharmed please get veterinary attention as soon as possible.

Dogs are particularly vulnerable to heat stroke and should never be encouraged to exercise in extreme heat. Protect your dog from strong sunlight by keeping them shaded and always ensure that ventilation is good wherever they are when the weather is hot. Motor vehicles are particularly difficult places to keep cool and well ventilated even in mild weather conditions and therefore dogs should never be left unattended in cars or vans.


Dogs need vaccinations against distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza and parvovirus to help protect them from these serious, highly contagious and potentially fatal illnesses. None of these diseases are contagious to humans.

We recommend that previously unvaccinated dogs of any age should be given a course of two vaccinations 3-5 weeks apart. It has been shown that this greatly increases the level of antibodies and increases the effectiveness of protection. We recommend that puppies should start their vaccination course from 8 weeks old and their second vaccination should be given at 12 weeks (not earlier). For puppies considered to be at high risk (for example those known to have been exposed to parvovirus) a third vaccination at 14 weeks is advisable.

It is essential that unvaccinated dogs of any age are not exposed to infection by either being in contact with unvaccinated dogs, or going to places where other potentially unvaccinated dogs may have been.

In addition to the primary course of vaccinations we recommend a yearly booster vaccination to ensure ongoing protection. At these visits your dog will be examined by a vet and you will be asked some questions about his or her health and given appropriate advice if needed.

Dogs that are going to boarding kennels, dog shows or other gatherings of dogs should be vaccinated for kennel cough. This vaccine is a nasal spray and can be given to any healthy dog as a single dose anytime from 3 weeks of age. A single dose provides protection for a year which starts approximately one week from when the vaccine is given.

Dogs travelling overseas may need to be vaccinated for a variety of diseases, depending on their destination. Please visit the DEFRA website for details of this and other legal requirements for your dog to travel.

Parasite control

There are many different parasites that can infest dogs in the UK, some of which can cause illness in dogs or humans. We can prescribe safe, effective treatments to deal with these “unwelcome visitors”. Please book a free flea and worming consultation.

Reproduction and neutering

Dogs become sexually mature and are able to mate and produce puppies from 6 months of age for small dogs to 18 months (or even later) for the largest breeds.

Once mature, males may start to show sexual behaviour, including “mounting” of other dogs, people or objects such as toys.

Females may start to display sexual behaviour a few weeks before their first season, when they will have a vaginal discharge, a swollen vulva and are capable of conceiving puppies if they are mated by a fertile male. On average a female will have a season every 6 months, but this can vary considerably between individuals.

Pregnancy lasts 9 weeks in dogs. In some females ovulation and fertilisation can occur up to three days after mating (as this is the maximum length of time sperm can survive) and therefore birth may occur up to 66 days after mating.

The changes in a female dog’s body following a season prepare them for carrying puppies even if they have not been mated. This means that false pregnancy symptoms approximately 9 weeks after a season are very common. Sometimes the symptoms of false pregnancy cay be distressing and may lead to sore or infected mammary glands. Please book an appointment if this occurs as medical treatment is safe and effective.

Neutering of males is referred to as castration. It involves the surgical removal of both of the testes. Castrated males are incapable of fathering puppies, but may still show a limited amount of sexual behaviour.

Neutering of females is referred to as spaying and involves the surgical removal of both ovaries and the womb. Females are unable to become pregnant and should not have seasons or false pregnancies once they have been spayed.

False pregnancy symptoms are triggered by a rapid drop in the levels of the pregnancy hormone progesterone in the bloodstream. Spaying causes a rapid drop in progesterone and is therefore not advisable within 12 weeks of the end of a season.

Females spayed before their second season have a significantly lower risk of developing mammary tumours (breast cancer), which is very common in un-spayed dogs. Dogs do not have a menopause and carry on with their seasons throughout their lives. This means that un-spayed females are very prone to serious womb infections (known as pyometra) in later life.

To allow for proper maturation of the body we recommend neutering once sexual maturity has been reached and before the first season if possible in females. Please telephone for advice or book a free appointment with one of our qualified veterinary nurses if you are unsure if your dog is ready for neutering.

Neutering has little effect on behaviour, but may lead to weight gain in some individuals. However this can be prevented by feeding a suitable diet and maintaining sensible exercise.

A very small number of neutered dogs may experience changes to their hair-coat, however this is no detriment to their health.

Some people are critical of the idea of neutering and believe that is not in any dog’s best interest. Neutering remains the most effective way of controlling the dog population, has a number of health benefits and few, very rarely encountered disadvantages. Neutered dogs lead just as happy lives as un-neutered ones and are less likely to stray in search of a mate with the risk of injury or loss. Already rescue centres are full of dogs needing loving homes – imagine the potential problems caring for a much larger population of dogs. It is advisable therefore that dogs not intended for breeding are neutered.