So you got a new puppy for Christmas...
First, call your vet to get clear advice on the care and health of your new friend. Prevention is simpler than fixing a problem.
Remember this little creature is dependent on you, so responsible ownership is important.
Many puppies are born with worms and, as roundworm can cause illness in humans, especially children, puppies need to be wormed every two weeks from two to 12 weeks of age, then monthly to six months, then at three-monthly intervals afterwards.
Hydatid tapeworms may be a problem if your dog has access to raw offal, so worming every six weeks is a good idea.
Also make sure you pick up your puppy's faeces regularly, as puppies love to eat their own poo, which can cause reinfestation with worms.
Different vaccines offer different levels of protection and your vet will recommend the correct one for your new friend.
To neglect this can condemn your pet to a painful and untimely death.
Vaccinations usually start at six to eight weeks of age followed by boosters at four to six-week intervals until the puppy is 18 to 20weeks of age.
Annual vaccination is then recommended to keep antibody levels high throughout life.
Regular vaccination is important as your pet may not be accepted by a boarding facility if not vaccinated and it takes time for immunity to develop after the vaccination, so this is not something you can do at the last minute.
A good diet containing the right balance of nutrients is essential.
A good-quality diet means it is highly digestible, as undigested food results in soft, smelly faeces and flatulence.
While tinned food contains the same nutrients as dry food, it also contains more water, so dry food usually works out as less expensive and is easier to store.
Using a combination of dry and tinned food is suitable but it is important to have the right food for the breed of dog.
Puppies under three months of age should be fed three to four times a day then reduced to two to three times a day at three months and further reduced to twice daily until six months of age.
Stick to a routine and do not feed puppies ad-lib as this may increase body fat and predispose them to obesity.
Avoid table scraps, provide chew toys and get your pup used to brushing its teeth early for the best dental care.
Flea control is important as a few fleas can quickly become a plague and fleas carry tapeworm eggs, which infect puppies as they chew at and swallow the fleas.
There are many products available for flea control but it is important you use them all year round to ensure you have the situation always under control.
The latest and most effective treatments seem to be the chewable tablets but there are other options.
All have different characteristics and some treat other things beside fleas, such as different worms.
The variety of products can be confusing so seek advice from your local veterinary clinic as to the most appropriate treatment for your puppy.
Many new pup owners battle with this task and steady persistence is the key.
Create a toilet spot in the garden and leave some of the pup's deposits there to decay for a while so the smell gives the pup the correct message.
Then predict the need so you can praise the right action.
Keep an eye on your pup and take it to the toilet spot after it eats or wakes from a sleep (especially first thing in the morning) and whenever it has not 'gone' for a while.
Be careful of high stairs and small dogs. Stairs can be a major impediment to the little guys getting to the garden and thus learning the correct technique.
Socialisation is a vital part of the development of a puppy's future behaviour.
Dogs that receive insufficient early exposure to people, other animals and new environments may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity and aggression.
Training should start early to ensure your puppy understands what exactly is expected ofit.
Provide clear and consistent instructions, reward good behaviours and ignore unwanted behaviours.
Puppy preschool can be a great help as this is an ideal way of learning about gentle training techniques and the pup is exposed to other dogs and to other people in a safe, non-threatening way at its most impressionable age.
Desexing of male and female dogs is recommended before they reach sexual maturity and vets perform this operation at around six months of age.
Bitches desexed will not have unwanted puppies or come into season twice a year and ifthey are desexed before their first season, therisk of mammary tumours is virtually eliminated.
Male dogs desexed before puberty tend not to urinate on everything in sight, wander less and are usually less aggressive towards other dogs and people.
They also don't develop prostate, testicular or perineal hernia problems later in life.
A collar and ID tag is essential but can be removed or lost so microchipping is a permanent and safe form of identification and often insisted on by local councils.
The microchip is usually injected under the skin between the shoulder blades and is there for life.
Many family pets are euthanased every day because they cannot be identified by councils and other shelters.
Ask your vet for more information.
Lastly, pet insurance offers you peace of mind.
If your pet is involved in an accident or suffers a sudden illness the medical costs can be several hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Unfortunately, many pets are euthanased when owners are unable to meet these unexpected costs.
Pet insurance can be your safeguard against this outcome.
Overall, though, please discuss any concerns with your vet.