We’re so happy you’ve selected us for your new puppy’s veterinary care! Please do not hesitate to reach out between visits if you have any questions or concerns—we’re here to help you get your pup off to the perfect start. For you puppy’s medical care, check out our Preventive Care Plan for Puppies!


Socialization between 8-10 weeks is critical to teaching puppies to be at ease with humans, other animals, and the environment. It’s important to their life-long health and welfare as well as safety of family members. Limited socialization can cause fear of other animals, humans, or new places/sounds. Under-socialized animals often have a reduced quality of life and even have more difficulty receiving thorough veterinary care.

A single traumatic event during the critical 8-10 week window can cause lifelong effects that may be difficult or impossible to fix later. Take care to avoid any traumatic events (shipping, rehoming, surgery, stressful grooming event) during this time.

On the other hand, it’s quite helpful to seek out early, positive exposure to variety of people, healthy and well-behaved and well-vaccinated pets, and environments. Be sure to include people in uniform, with assistance devices, and of different sexes, ages, and races. Good, early experiences with children are important because kids look, sound, and move differently than adults. A general rule of thumb—puppies should be exposed to 1 new human every day. This is also a great time for fun visits to the clinic—please feel free to bring your puppy by for quick visits between appointments for some positive praise and treats to help create lifelong positive associations with our clinic.

Common socialization misconceptions:

  • Puppies should not be taken in public until they’ve finished puppy vaccines. FALSE!

Research has shown puppies in basic manners classes were no more likely to contract parvo than puppies quarantined at home. Fact: puppies that go through socialization classes are more likely to be kept in their home as adults. We recommend Paula’s Basic Manner Course at Branson Pet Resort for healthy puppies.

  • Puppies should be taught to submit through dominance displays (pinning, scruffing, alpha rolls). FALSE!

Rough handling of puppies usually triggers fear, avoidance, and sometimes even aggression. Please avoid any dog trainers that encourage these outdated and disproven methods.

  • Puppies will grow out of being fearful. FALSE!

It is abnormal for a puppy to startle and not quickly recover or to behave aggressively. Puppies normally eagerly explore the environment. If your puppy is showing abnormal fear behaviors, they should be addressed now—counterconditioning and desensitization can be effective for many fearful puppies, but research has shown untreated fearful behaviors usually worsen over time.

Extra credit:
  • Consider Adaptil, a well-studied pheromone for dogs, that mimics the calming action of mother’s nursing pheromone to help your puppy feel safe and more comfortable in new situations. Adaptil is available OTC as a collar or plug-in diffuser.
  • Consider Anxitane, a chewable tablet that contains L-theanine, an amino acid naturally found in green tea, that helps puppies feel calm and relaxed in new situations like car rides, veterinary visits, and meeting new people and pets.
  • Decoding Your Dog: We highly recommend this book for more information on potty training, socialization, and ALL things behavior—it is a must-read for all dog families!
  • Creating the Perfect Puppy (DVD) or Perfect Puppy in 7 Days (book) by Dr. Sophia Yin is another great resource for setting up a lifetime of good behavior habits and helping to address early problem behaviors. https://drsophiayin.com/videos/entry/creating-the-perfect-puppy-dvd/


Which food is best?

Your new pup needs a diet developed to meet the increased demands of growth. This phase of life is less forgiving of even mild nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, so we recommend selecting a brand that meets all World Small Animal Association’s criteria for Selecting a Pet Food (https://wsava.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Selecting-the-Best-Food-for-your-Pet.pdf). The 3 companies that currently meet these criteria are Hill’s Science Diet, Purina, and Royal Canin.

How much?

All diets vary in calorie content/nutrient density, so it’s best to start with the recommendations on the package’s feeding guide. Let us know if you have any concerns that your pup is underweight, growing too slowly or growing too rapidly, and we’ll help you adjust meals if needed.

How often?

It’s good to divide your pup’s overall food into 3 to 5 meals at first, then you can transition to twice daily portions as he gets older.

How long?

Your new pup should be fed a food meant for growing puppies until reaching approximately 80% of expected full adult size. This is usually around 6-12 months for small breed pups, and up to 18 months for giant breed dogs.

Special needs:

If you think your pup will be around or more than 70 pounds as an adult, it’s best to select a food developed specifically for large- or giant-breed puppies to help reduce their risk of developing skeletal abnormalities. Check for a nutritional adequacy statement (AAFCO statement) on the package that says “[Pet Food Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for growth/all life stages including growth of large-size dogs (70 lbs or more as an adult).”

Extra credit:

Fortiflora is a well-studied canine probiotic supplement that promotes a healthy digestive tract and immune system.

Petfoodology is a wide-ranging pet nutrition blog by the Veterinary Nutritionists at Tufts University: https://vetnutrition.tufts.edu/petfoodology/

Potty Training 101

You’ll need to teach two separate lessons: outside is a good place to potty and inside the house is not. He needs to learn that every trip outside is an opportunity to potty, and we need to be sure that he does not have an opportunity for mistakes when he’s inside. Here’s our recommended protocol:

  • Take out for leashed potty-break when first waking up from his overnight in a travel kennel just large enough for his bed but not large enough for a separate potty area. Immediately carry or run him out on leash to the preferred potty spot, then silently stand still until he’s done his business (#1 and #2!). When he’s posturing to go, say a cue word like “potty” just once to help him eventually associate this action with the word. Reward as he’s finishing (you only have a few seconds to reward a desired behavior). Remember to remain silent while he’s working to avoid distracting him!
  • Come inside for meal and play session if he done #1 and #2; if not, then return to his kennel for 15 minutes then try again. Keep repeating this process until he’s urinated and pooped, or he’ll likely potty as soon as you take a break.
  • Keep your pup in sight during his free time inside. Used closed doors, baby gates, or a long leash attached to your belt loop to prevent sneaking away. As soon as you see any signs that he’s ready to potty again, like sniffing the ground, run him outside for another potty break.
  • Repeat the potty break procedure 15-20 minutes after he eats or drinks and every time he wakes up from sleeping.
  • This rigid routine should be kept in place until there have been no potty mistakes for several weeks. Accidents are still normal during this process, so try not to get upset. If you catch him in the act, you can startle him just enough to cause him to stop going, then rush him outside to finish. If you punish him to the point he seems scared, he may learn to sneak away to potty indoors. Remember that punishments only work if administered within a few seconds of the unwanted behavior—punishment after the fact will not be associated with going potty indoors.
  • Beware that new locations like your friend’s newly carpeted home may require a day or two of refresher training even in perfectly potty-trained dogs.

Preventive Medical Care

(Check out our Preventive Care Plan for Puppies)
  • Puppies should start intestinal deworming protocol at 2 weeks and continue regularly until old enough for broad-spectrum monthly products. Roundworm and hookworm infestations are extremely common in puppies, but we also need to screen a fresh stool sample for other types of intestinal parasites like coccidia.
  • Once your pup is large enough and old enough, we’ll start a monthly heartworm preventive medication.
  • Fleas and ticks are also prevalent in this area, so we’ll start a separate medication to safely and effectively prevent infestations with external parasites.
  • Distemper/parvovirus/adenovirus-2/parainfluenza combination vaccine is started as early at 6 weeks, then boostered every 2-4 weeks until at least 16 weeks of age. If your pup is in a high-risk environment (ie. you’ve had parvovirus outbreak at your home in the past), he may benefit from having his final booster at 18-20 weeks of age.
  • Your pup will need to be vaccinated against rabies no earlier than 12 weeks of age. We often wait until the last puppy visit for this vaccine. Puppies that are expected to be under 20 pounds when full grown may benefit from having their rabies vaccine given at a separate visit to help reduce the risk of having a vaccine reaction.
  • A Bordetella vaccination can be administered orally once between 8-16 weeks of age to protect puppies that will be in higher risk situations like grooming or boarding facilities, dog parks, or around other dogs.
  • Leptospirosis vaccines are recommended for any puppy that will go outside. We generally administer this vaccine at 13 weeks then booster at the 16-week visit.
  • Non-core vaccines may be discussed to protect your pup against other diseases like Lyme or Canine Influenza based on his lifestyle.
  • We want to be sure your puppy is not endangering his human family members too, as some of their parasites and diseases are contagious to humans. Be sure to keep your pup up to date with recommended parasite medications and vaccines, avoid uncooked meat, pick up feces immediately, and don’t allow bare skin contact with any areas potentially contaminated by pet feces to help keep everyone safe.

What to expect after vaccines: It’s normal for puppy to have a mild fever and be slightly less active than usual for 12-24 hours as his immune system responds to vaccination. Signs of problems include vomiting, high fever, hives, or swelling—seek help immediately if you notice severe symptoms.

Extra credit:

Spay/neuter if not intended for breeding

Recommended timing—this is an evolving subject at this time, but current recommendations:

  • Female dogs expected to weigh less than 45 pounds when full grown – spay before first heat cycle (5-6 months)
  • Male dogs expected to weigh less than 45 pounds full grown – neuter at 6 months of age
  • Female dogs expected to weigh more than 45 pounds – spay between 5-15 months. Why the big range? There are different rates of maturity between breeds, and also competing risks to mitigate:
    • Spay before first heat cycle (5-6 months of age): essentially eliminates risk of breast cancer, prevents unwanted litters
    • Spay after growth stops but likely after first heat cycle (5-15 months of age): increased risk of breast cancer, but potentially reduced certain less common cancers. May reduce risk of certain orthopedic conditions. May reduce risk of urinary incontinence.
  • Male dogs expected to weigh more than 45 pounds –neuter after growth stops (9-15 months)
    • Delaying until after growth stops may decrease risk of certain cancers and orthopedic disorders in some breeds of male dogs.

Check out more insights from Dr. Alison!

Dr. Alison Barulich

Dr. Alison Barulich