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New Puppy Guide: Essential Tips to Surviving Puppyhood

Adding a new puppy to your family is a wonderful, and yet challenging endeavor! In this article we outline all the essentials you need to know to be well prepared for puppyhood!

Set you and your new puppy up for success by reading and saving this blog article!

New Puppy Guide: Essential Tips to Surviving Puppyhood


There are several vaccines recommended for puppies living in southern California that are vital in protecting their fragile immune systems from illnesses specific to that geographic area. These vaccinations include:

  • Rabies - protects against rabies virus

  • DA2PP - protects against distemper and parvovirus

  • Leptospirosis - protects against the bacterial infection leptospirosis

  • Bordetella - protects against kennel cough

  • Influenza - protects against canine influenza

  • Rattlesnake - increases the survival rate should your dog be bitten by a rattlesnake. This vaccine is lifestyle specific and is generally only recommended if your dog spends time in areas where exposure is a risk.

Several of these vaccines are age specific and require boosters administered at particular intervals. It's important to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your puppy receives the appropriate vaccinations at the correct times. At Fire Mountain Veterinary Hospital we offer pediatric care programs that bundle the recommended puppy vaccines (and other treatments) into affordable packages that offer savings of up to $150! Click here to explore our puppy programs!


Microchips are a small but mighty reunification tool! A microchip is a tiny, scannable identification marker that's about the size of a grain of rice. Each microchip has its own unique ID number that shows up anytime the chip is scanned by a microchip reader. After your puppy is microchipped, you register that unique ID number so that it's linked to your contact information. From then on, anytime your puppy's microchip is scanned and looked up, the microchip database will bring up your contact information, thus facilitating a reunification between you and your lost puppy.

How are microchips implanted? The microchip is implemented just beneath your puppy's skin using a needle, just like how a vaccine is administered except the microchip needle is slightly larger than a vaccine needle. The implantation process takes just a second or two and most puppies have little to no reaction, however topical lidocaine cream can be used to reduce sensation.


Gastrointestinal parasites (parasites that effect the GI tract) are common in puppyhood. Some parasites are passed from mom to puppy during birth and nursing, while others are picked up in the environment due to a still-developing immune system. Most GI parasites are easily treated using medications prescribed by your veterinarian, but if left untreated they can cause GI upset, malnutrition and general discomfort. Make sure to have your new puppy dewormed by your veterinarian and screened for GI parasites through a fecal test.

Some common GI parasites that may affect your puppy include:

  • Giardia

  • Coccidia

  • Tapeworms

  • Roundworms

  • Whipworms

  • Hookworms

Note: Most gastrointestinal parasites that effect dogs are zoonotic, meaning they can be passed to humans. Another reason it's important to have your puppy tested and treated for parasites!


In addition to gastrointestinal parasites, fleas and heartworms are two other major parasitic concerns for puppies living in southern California. Luckily there are monthly medications available to keep your puppy protected from these parasitic health risks! Included below are a few key dos and don'ts when it comes to parasite prevention:

  • Do put your puppy on monthly parasite prevention as soon as 6-8 weeks of age

  • Do discuss these medications with your veterinarian and acquire them via prescription

  • Don't get parasite prevention without a prescription - over the counter versions are ineffective

  • Don't skip a month! Any lapse in prevention, even just for a few days, leaves your puppy susceptible to harmful diseases


For many health and behavior reasons, it's important that your puppy be spayed or neutered. We suggest having this surgery completed by six months of age and we offer individualized surgical protocols that provide the highest quality surgery experience for your pet. Prior to surgery we recommend all puppies have a full blood panel completed to assist in creating the safest anesthesia experience possible.


Puppies are curious creatures that explore the world using their mouths, cannot control their bladders and love to climb, dig and scratch. Having a confinement space for your puppy is key to living harmoniously with your new pet.

What's a confinement space? A confinement space refers to a large enclosed area that is completely puppy-proofed - in other words, everything in the confinement space is puppy appropriate and meant to be interacted with by your dog. This area is setup in a way where it's impossible for your dog to 'make the wrong choice'. This is a space your puppy can spend time alone, entertaining themselves while learning the skill of self soothing in a positive way.

Note: a confinement space can include a crate, but a crate should not be the confinement space itself. It's important that your puppy have room to bounce about and play within their confinement space. Click here to see a visual of an ideal confinement space.

Tools to create a confinement space:

What to include in a puppy confinement space:

  • A variety of toys - conduct a preference test to find out what kinds of toys your puppy enjoys!

  • Rotating mental enrichment items - food dispensing toys, kongs, snuffle mats, lick mats, etc. Click here for an expansive mental enrichment guide

  • Food and water

  • A crate with the door left open - going in the crate should be an option, not the only choice available

  • Sleep area outside the crate - dog bed, folded blankets, etc.

  • Background noise - music, TV, white noise machine, etc.


Housetraining, or potty training, is a major undertaking that takes patience and consistency. This process can be frustrating, but we encourage you to stay optimistic! Routine is the key to success. Follow these foundational tips for success on your potty training journey:

  • Frequency: to start, take your puppy out every 45 minutes to an hour whenever possible. This frequency will increase the chances for your puppy to 'get it right' and learn the skill, while decreasing the chances of them having an accident indoors and thus practicing the undesired behavior. We recommend setting a timer on your phone - it's easy to get distracted and have several hours go by before realizing it.

  • Bladder Stimulation: In young puppies, certain events actually stimulate the bladder and cause urination. These events include sleeping, eating and playing. Add in additional potty breaks right after each of these activities!

  • Potty Time vs. Play Time: Distinguish between potty breaks and outdoor play time. When taking your puppy out for a potty break, it's best to keep things boring until they go the bathroom. Avoid continuously verbally encouraging them with cues like 'go potty' or 'do your business' - this will ultimately just distract them and provide reinforcement for the wrong behavior. Keeping your puppy confined during potty breaks, whether on a leash or within a gated area, can be helpful in keeping them on-task. Right when your puppy goes to the bathroom, throw a party! Offer verbal praise and lots of treats.

  • Limit Space: Reducing the amount of space in your home that your pet has unattended access to will greatly assist your potty training efforts. If puppies are able to wonder off to unsupervised areas, it's much harder to keep an eye on them and spot their pre-potty behaviors before it's too late.

  • Avoid Punishment: Never punish your puppy for having an accident indoors. This will not teach your puppy where to go to the bathroom, and can instead damage your relationship and cause increased anxiety around elimination. It's best to focus all of your energy towards rewarding and reinforcing the behaviors you want more of, which in this case is eliminating outdoors.

  • Have Patience: Understand that for the first few months of life, puppies are not capable of recognizing when they need to go to the bathroom. It takes them time to become familiar with the physiologic sensations that indicate the need to urinate and defecate. To then pair that awareness with the skill of communicating the need to their humans is an advanced undertaking. This skillset takes time, practice and repetition before it becomes second nature.


A lot goes into choosing the right diet for your puppy. Ultimately the best way to identify what diet is ideal for your dog is to consult with your veterinarian who can make tailored recommendations based on your dog's individual needs. But that being said, here are a few general recommendations that are good starting guidelines:

  • Feed puppy-specific food. Puppies grow at rapid speed and puppy-specific food has the appropriate caloric density required to match and nourish the fast development. Adult food just won't be able to keep to up with your puppy's calorie need!

  • Stick to larger dog food brands that are able to put their foods through quality testing. Because the dog food industry is unregulated, anyone can start a dog food company and sell their product without any sort of quality control or verification that it's an appropriate formula. With newer, smaller dog food brands comes an increased risk of unbalanced and potentially unhealthy foods. A few reputable dog food brands to consider include Purina Pro Plan, Royal Canin and Hills Science Diet.

  • Feed grains! Avoid grain-free diets. It's rare that a pet will have an allergy to grains - food allergies in dogs are almost always caused by the protein in the food. Additionally, grain-free diets are suspected to have links to heart disease.

  • Use 'training treats' to reward and teach your puppy! Made specifically for training, training treats contain just 1 to 3 kcals per treat, which makes them safe for frequent treating. Typical non-training treats can contain upwards of 60 kcals per treat - if given consistently, this quantity of calories would create a serious weight and health concern! Some training treat products to consider include Zuke's, Merrick Lil' Plates, Pet Botanics and Tricky Trainers.


Puppies brains and bodies are developing at rapid speed and they crave stimulation to stay fulfilled. Provide your puppy with a variety of activities - both mental and physical - that give your puppy opportunities to engage in species-typical behaviors such as digging, shredding, scavenging and chewing. Providing your puppy with appropriate outlets for these natural dog behaviors will prevent your puppy from finding and creating his own - likely inappropriate - outlets for these urges (furniture chewing, shoe shredding, trash diving, counter surfing etc). Included below are examples of different enrichment activities you can provide your puppy to meet their expansive needs - click on an activity to learn more!


We recommend that all puppy parents sign up for pet insurance, and we encourage all of our clients to acquire pet insurance for their pets right away, to maximize the benefits of their pet's plan. The longer you wait to purchase insurance, the more opportunity there is for illness or injury to occur prior to signing up, thus making those health concerns 'pre-existing' and therefor not covered under any insurance plan you acquire. Early sign up is key!

How to Choose An Insurance Company: Choosing a pet insurance company is a very individualized process with no 'wrong' answer. Every company provides something a little different in terms of coverage, deductibles, user platforms, etc., and it's about finding the right fit for you and your pet. Some pet insurance companies to consider include:

  • Trupanion

  • Embrace

  • Lemonade

  • Pets Best


  • Nationwide

  • Pumpkin

  • Spot

  • Figo

  • Healthy Paws

  • Pet First

  • StateFarm

Helpful Resources


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