The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Puppy | Scratch Australia

The New Dog Guide

Getting a new dog is an exciting time. But it can also be confusing. To help you enjoy every minute with your mate, we’ve broken down what you need to know.

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Introduction to getting a puppy

There aren’t many things more amazing than bringing home a new dog for the first time. But the start of your canine odyssey can also be pretty overwhelming. The internet is so stuffed full of advice, information, and opinions about raising a happy and healthy dog, it can be hard to know where to begin.

That’s why we created our New Dog Guide to ensure you enjoy every minute with your new mate. Working with trusted dog trainers, behaviorists, and vets we’ve broken down what you need to know now. The result is a set of simple, practical, and helpful tips and articles to ensure you and your pet start off on the best foot (or paw) possible.

Young girl holding her newly adopted puppy

It’s great to hear you’re thinking about getting a dog, we love dogs!

So, you’re thinking about getting a dog? Great! We love dogs (obviously). But we know from experience that whether you’re a first time pet parent or a seasoned pro, emotions (and adorable slobbery faces) can easily cloud judgement. It’s worth taking a beat to check that you’re really ready for this commitment. Take our quiz to see if now is the right time to get a dog.

Take the quiz and see how prepared you are for a dog

Q1 of 15: Would you consider yourself responsible?

Obviously or I wouldn't consider getting a dog.
I haven't thought about it–I just want something to love!
I am at first but I get bored easily.
Not really. I watch out for myself first.

Q2: Have you put much thought, research, or planning into getting a dog?

Yes, quite a lot. I feel good about it.
Yes. Do you want to see my colour-coded binder?
I've done plenty of thinking about dogs… not so much research though. Bleh.
Nah, planning is for suckers.

Q3: Can you have a dog in your home?

Yes, I've checked / I'm the homeowner.
No. It's sadly not suitable but maybe there's another way?
I haven't asked but I'm sure it's fine.
No, but I won't tell if you don't.

Q4: Are you close to suitable places for toilet breaks?

Yes, I have a backyard.
Yes. I live in an apartment with green spaces nearby.
How many times do they need to go a day?
Yeah, but I'm not picking it up.

Q5: Does anyone close to you have allergies?

No, all good.
Yes, but I have an action plan.
I'm not sure. Haven't thought to ask.
Funny you ask, I'm allergic to dogs actually.

Q6: Will some barking or whining annoy your neighbours?

No. I've chatted to our neighbours and they're cool.
Probably, so I've been researching less yappy breeds.
All good. They have dogs too.
So what if it does? Dogs bark.

Q7: Will you be able to take your dog for regular walks every day?

Yes / I have a dog walker on speed dial.
Yes, except it might be tricky some days.
Exercise is one of the main reasons I want a dog.
I'll just throw a ball for them in the living room.

Q8: Do you have or want kids or other pets?

Yes and I've taken that into account when researching ideal breeds.
Yes. I have another pet who is really antisocial but hopefully they will get along.
Not applicable to me.
Yes, I have a toddler at home who never met a tail she didn't want to pull.

Q9: Have you thought about where you will get your dog? Eg. rescue, breeder, etc.

Yes, I've done lots of research and have found the perfect pup already.
I have a plan but haven't found the right dog yet.
Not yet. I'm feeling unsure of where to even start.

Q10: How would you manage training difficulties or behaviour problems?

I've had lots of experience training dogs in the past.
I'd research, seek advice, try puppy school, and dedicate lots of time for training.
I'll just wing it, I'm sure my instincts will kick in.
Discipline. If that didn't work, I'd give them up.

Q11: Do you have the money to cover food, accessories, toys, vet bills, and emergencies?

Yes. I've crunched the numbers.
Yes but honestly, only just. But vet bills worry me.
I have a bit of money saved but no idea how much I need.
Nah, I'm pretty broke.

Q12: When you go to work, what will you do with your old mate?

I can take them to work with me / I work from home.
I've been looking into doggy daycare.
I'm pretty sure someone will always be home.
They'll be fine chilling at home all day.

Q13: When you first bring your pup home, will you be able to take some time off work to get them settled in?

Yes, I'm taking pawternity leave.
No, but I can work from home.
I haven't asked but I'm sure it will be fine.
Nah, she'll be right.

Q14: Do you have someone to care for your pup when you go away?

Yes, plenty of friends/family have already offered.
Not really. It makes me nervous thinking about it.
I'll never be able to leave my baby!
That's what kennels are for. Or I'll just leave food out.

Q15 Do you know where you'll be in 5 or 10 years? Will you be able to commit to caring for your dog long term?

Yes, I'm very settled.
Yes. I'm not settled but am committed to taking my dog with me.
I don't know what the future holds but I want a dog now.
Honestly, I'm not a commitment kind of person.


How to actually get a dog

We’re going to assume you’ve already done your soul searching and decided that you’re really ready for a dog. You’ve researched breeds, shortlisted some names, and picked out a few ironic dog jumpers. With all that done, it’s time to actually find your perfect pup. That means making the call about whether you want to adopt through a breeder, rescue group, or try your luck online. Each option has its own pros and cons, so let us help you figure out what’s right for you.

A litter of Australian Shepherd puppies on stairs



  • Going through a breeder gives you more choice when it comes to breed, sex, and colour.
  • They’re able to guarantee that you’ll get a puppy (if that’s what you’re after).
  • Reputable breeders will provide information about the history, heritage, and health of the dog.
  • Breeders can offer ongoing support and guidance, and may introduce you to a community of other dog owners in your area.


  • Dogs from breeders are generally far more expensive than rescues.
  • Pure breeds (which tend to populate most breeders) can be more susceptible to hereditary health issues.
  • You’re passing up the chance to rescue a dog.



  • Adopting from a rescue means you’re saving two lives: the dog you adopt, and the dog that will take its place in the rescue centre.
  • Rescues tend to be older, so you are able to get a better sense of their personality.
  • They’re usually considerably less expensive.


  • If you have your heart set on a specific breed or puppy, it may take a while for one to come up for adoption (that is, if they pop up at all).
  • There’s usually less information available about their history, making it harder to flag health and behavioural issues.
  • Rescues had a life before you, so some may have additional physical or emotional needs.



  • Buying a dog online allows you to adopt from interstate, increasing the dogs (as well as breeds and ages) available.


  • It’s much harder to guarantee that a dog is from a responsible and reputable breeder or rescue. Many puppy farms function via online adoption.
  • You usually can’t meet the dog first, or check the breeder and conditions yourself.
  • There is a higher chance of getting scammed.
  • Considering the dog might not be from your area, there are less opportunities to access ongoing support or community connections through the breeder.

In general

Wherever you choose to adopt your dog from, it’s important to do your homework and make sure they’re reputable. This means visiting the space, speaking to people who have adopted from there, and checking for reviews and articles about them online.

Signs of a good organisation include: detailed knowledge of dog health and behaviour, offering ongoing support and training, allowing you to return the dog if there are issues, and a detailed adoption process where they ask you a lot of questions to ensure you’re a suitable pet parent. Trust your gut, if something feels off find another place to adopt from. It might feel like saving a dog from a puppy farm is the kind thing, but in reality you’re only keeping them in business so they can continue exploiting animals.

The pre-puppy checklist

With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Sophie Allan.

If you’re setting up for your new dog, keep this checklist on hand to make sure you’ve got everything ready for them when they walk in the door!

New puppy checklist

How to puppy proof your home

With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Sophie Allan.

Puppies find many of the ordinary things that we see (and ignore) everyday very exciting. That pot plant, those socks, that power cable might be boring to you, but they’re fascinating to them. So before you bring your new puppy home it’s worth taking the time to look around your house from their perspective.

Start by deciding what rooms you’ll allow your new dog into. Any space where they’ll be spending time needs to be vetted–including garages and yards. Once you’ve assigned your dog-friendly zones, review them with an eye out for the following items. Any dangerous objects should be removed or placed somewhere high out of reach.

Cleaning products and medications

Be very conscious of your cleaning products, medications, household poisons (such as weed killer or rat bait), fertilisers, insecticides, or paints. Think, would I want to eat that? If the answer is “no way” then store them in a locked cupboard or on a high shelf.

Electrical cables

Puppies use their mouths to explore new objects, so be wary of any electrical equipment that could give them a shock if chewed. If you can’t remove them, make sure they’re tied up or taped down.

Blinds or drapery cords

Dogs can easily become tangled in cords or mistake them for a toy during play. This can lead to injuries or strangulation. So make sure they’re tied back or secured away after use.


Many popular house and garden plants can be dangerous to dogs if ingested. Look up the plants you have around your home to see if they’re toxic to pets. If so, make sure they’re removed or out of reach

Items on the floor

Pick up anything that may be small enough for them to swallow. This includes things like shoes, socks, rugs, pillows, homewares, and objects with small parts they could gnaw off. Remember, you can’t be too careful. Even soft objects can cause issues.

Don’t forget the garden

All the above watch-outs also apply to outside areas. Make sure any garden, courtyard, or balcony is fenced and secure with no holes where pets could escape. Pool fencing is also a must, along with a pool cover.

Think about their sleeping area

Pay extra attention to where your pet sleeps to make sure it’s safe and secure. Small rooms, crates, and pens are all good options. But wherever you choose, ensure it’s not in a thoroughfare or an area where there is a lot of movement. You don’t want them to be constantly disturbed, tripped over, or stepped on.

Playpen, Crate & Baby gates

If you want to keep your dog away from dangerous areas for a short period of time or when you’re not around (say if you’re doing house work that involves chemicals), consider using a crate or playpen. To make areas of your home permanently pet-free, you can set up a baby gate.

Keep things closed

Doors and cupboards aren’t the only things to keep in mind. Also ensure that washing machine and dryer doors, rubbish bins and toilet lids are all secured too.  Trust us, if it’s possible, they’ll find a way to get in.

Child proof latches

If you have low cupboards or doors that don’t close securely, and you don’t have time to get them fixed, child proof latches are great as a quick solution.

Bringing a dog home for the first time

With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Ian Shivers.

The first time you bring your dog home is a chance to set the mood for their whole life with you. Whether they’re a puppy or a rescue coming from unknown or stressful circumstances, positive introductions can set them up for success in the long run.

Some fundamentals to remember:

  1. Before you let your pet into a new area make sure they’ve been to the toilet. It sounds simple but this small step can prevent a lot of accidents.
  2. Establish rules early and be proactive. Know where they’re going to sleep and eat, and have clear plans for what their days will look like. For example: If you don’t want them to beg at the dinner table, feed them their meals at the same time you’re eating yours. Be consistent and keep it up. Too much free reign, or breaking routines, sets them up to fail and pick up bad habits.
  3. Have your home set up for them before they arrive. That means pre-organising bedding, food, toys and chews, water bowls, and some treats so they walk into a consistent, calm environment.
  4. Know what associations you want them to have with each area of your home and reinforce them. For example: You probably want the living room and bedrooms to be spaces where your pet is relaxed and setted. So avoid leaving toys such as balls and squeakers around, and rather provide bedding and chews in these rooms.
  5. Introducing them slowly, moving one room at a time. Too much too soon can be overwhelming and cause them to get overstimulated. The goal is for them to learn calm and positive associations with each space. Let them sniff and explore before removing them to where they are going to sleep or allowing them to rest in the room itself.

A newly adopted puppy lying down on the floor

  1. You don’t have to introduce them to the whole house in one go. Absorbing new information is exhausting. Watch and respond appropriately to your dog’s body language. If they become agitated, distracted, or hyper-aroused it means their mind is racing. Take time to settle things down using gentle encouragement and chews. If you need to pause and come back to the rest of the home later that’s fine.
  2. Lift up or remove anything you don’t want your dog to have access to BEFORE they come home. If you can’t remove it, then coat it with a chewing deterrent so they learn as early as possible to not put their mouth over it.
  3. Introduce family members one at a time. Each interaction is a conversation, and it’s easier to focus one-on-one. The same rule goes when introducing them to other animals. Ensure both parties feel comfortable in the environment before trying a face-to-face meeting. Let one pet into a space alone, remove them, then bring in the other. The goal is to let them have a sniff before they meet. They don’t need to be in the same room to start getting acquainted.
  4. Positive experiences do not have to be over-stimulating. If your dog is calm, content, and showing no signs of stress, they’re happy. This is a great frame of mind to remember for the home environment. Getting them worked up through play and boisterous interactions may be fun but is it really what you want them to learn about being at home? Nobody has ever called a dog trainer because their dog is too relaxed.
  5. It takes roughly three months for a dog to understand that this new space is home. They have strong cyclical memories and remember patterns such as when you get up, go to work, take walks, and feed them. But they need repetition to learn and can be thrown off by changing routines–so be consistent.

The awkward truth is that in these first months your dog doesn’t know for sure it’s safe. Their nervous system will be firing on all cylinders as they constantly anticipate change and learn how to fit into this new human world. Give them time to learn, relax, and digest all this information. No wonder dogs need to sleep for 18 hours a day. All that learning is tiring.

A crash course in puppy health essentials

We all want our pups to never grow up. But the reality is they grow incredibly fast. Which is why it’s so important to look after their health when they’re young to set them up for a healthy and happy life.

Puppy Food

Puppy Food Vs Adult Food

Do puppies really need special food? Absolutely. Not only do growing dogs have more energy requirements compared to adult dogs of the same size, they also have higher needs for key nutritional building blocks. Puppy food should contain additional protein for healthy muscles and organs, fat for energy, and calcium and phosphorus for bones. As well as specific omega 3s (ALA, EPA, DHA) to help brain development. It takes lots of neurons to learn toilet training, tricks, and how to make you do exactly what they want!

Because of these complex requirements, if you decide to make your dog’s food rather than buying it from a trusted brand, you need to get advice from your vet or animal nutritionist.

Some high-quality dry dog food is designed for both puppies and adults. The key is to look for claims like “nutritionally complete for all breeds and life stages”.

We like to suggest getting a mixed box (you can choose that at checkout) to expose your dog to different proteins and ingredients in order to see if they may need a dog food for allergies. You’ll also help to build up communication with your puppy and learn what they like.

Large Breed Puppy Nutrition

Another claim you might spot is “nutritionally complete for all breed and life stages, except for large breed puppies”. Large breed puppies have more growing to do than smaller dogs-think of a Great Dane compared to a Chihuahua. They also take longer to get to their full size. This creates complications such as too much calcium putting them at risk of bones deformities. If you have a large breed pup always check to make sure their food is designed for them and look for a large breed dog food or large breed puppy food.

Feeding time

Puppies need to eat more often than adults. A 10 week old pup needs four meals a day. After four to six months they can move to three meals a day. Once their growth starts to slow you can drop to twice a day.


It will take a while until your puppy can double as a running buddy or yoga partner. They need time to grow into their body. Young puppies might be yogi flexible, but their joints, muscles, and tendons have to strengthen. Start with short walks and try not to encourage too much jumping or running until they’re a bit older. This is a good conversation to have with your vet and breeder as early exercise levels vary greatly between breeds.


Just like us, your puppy will start with baby teeth. Beware, they’re needle-sharp. You want them to learn quickly that you and your family are not on the menu. There are multiple training methods to do this, and you need to decide early what style works best for you and your pet.

While you can teach an old dog new tricks, puppyhood is the perfect time to normalise behaviours you want to encourage later in life. For example: if you regularly brush your dog’s teeth when they’re young, it’s more likely they’ll enjoy it when they’re older.

Also, don’t get too alarmed if you see some little teeth laying around. They start losing their baby teeth from around four months old.

Vets and Grooming

It’s also important to create positive associations between your puppy, the vet, and the groomer. Ideally they should be comfortable being handled by both of them, but that takes time (and treats). Teaching them to open their mouth on command, be happy getting their claws clipped, and relax around electric clippers and scissors will make your life easier later on.


Adult dogs tend to sleep between 12 to 15 hours per day. With young puppies that can be closer to 20 hours. They need time for their bodies and brains to grow and power their 200 percent energy levels. Crate training is a technique that will help your dog understand when it’s play time (AKA, not 4am) and when it’s sleep time.

You should aim to not have your dog waking you in the night to go to the toilet by the time they’re four months old. Remember, no one is a good dog parent if they don’t get their beauty sleep.

Five minutes with Melbourne’s Johnston Street Vet

The practice of a Puppy Vet

Once you’ve found the perfect dog, it’s time to find the perfect vet. Having a good relationship with the individual who looks after your pet’s health is vital. Together you’ll be able to spot changes in behaviour, appetite, or appearance that could signal potential issues. So take the time to find a vet you trust and click with, and who your pet can grow to feel comfortable around.

To help you prepare for this new journey into the world of vets we checked in with the team at Johnston Street Vet in Fitzroy to get up to speed with the basics.

How often should a dog visit the vet?

As pets can’t talk and age faster than we do, we recommend seeing your pet at least once every 12 months. That’s if they have no health concerns. We recommend for dogs over seven years old to have an examination every six months as they are considered “seniors”.

Like with humans, some health issues can make your pet acutely unwell or they can deteriorate quickly. Regular check-ins let us find problems and detect abnormalities so we can act on them fast.

When should a puppy have their first appointment?

Ideally within the first two weeks of ownership. This way we can give your puppy a full health examination, discuss nutrition, parasite and vaccination schedules, and provide other tips to help you as an owner. There is a lot of information out there, so speaking to a professional about this can help cut out irrelevant and overwhelming info!

What does that first appointment usually involve?

During any examination a vet will look at your pet’s entire body system–internally and externally. This begins as soon as you walk into the consult room by assessing their gait (how they walk). Next they check their eyes, ears, and mouth for any abnormalities such as discharge or odour. A full dental and oral examination is performed and we grade your pet’s teeth. The veterinarian will then check your pup’s chest with a stethoscope to listen closely to their heart and lungs.

Then they’ll check your puppy’s skin for lumps and bumps, dryness, itchiness, inflammation, and parasites. Lastly, they look at your puppy’s genitals and rectal area. Worm infestations and fleas can hang around here, the vet will make sure this area is clean and a rectal temperature will be taken.

What does an owner need to bring to an appointment?

A previous history and vaccine record is important to see what your puppy has had previously. It’s also important to bring them in on a lead or in a carry cage to ensure you have control and they can’t escape.

How much does a check up cost?

A consultation with a veterinarian starts from $78 (at JSVet that is). This is a full examination and time to discuss any concerns you may have about your pet.

Do you have any tips for helping your dog relax (and behave) at the vet?

Repeated exposure helps reinforce positive association. So come say hi,  place your dog on the scales, let them get a treat and a pat before their visit.

For the appointment keep them on lead and bring their favourite treats to allow for better control. Also, be present. People can be distracted and on their mobile phone which makes our job harder when we’re trying to discuss your pet’s health and your pet picks up on this. If you give them (and us) your full attention they’ll be less than likely to play up.

If they’re very unsettled there are also natural aids like Adaptil, Feliway, and Zylkene. These products copy your pet’s natural pheromones when they’re feeling happy. Spraying them on a carrier, bandana, or giving them through food before your visit can help chill out your pet and leave them feeling less stressed in general.

Do you have any advice for finding a vet that’s right for you?

Finding a vet you like can be hard. But they should make you feel comfortable, answer any questions you have, and take into account your decisions and what you think is best for your pet and lifestyle. JSVet is a small independent clinic and we are directly accountable to our clients, making us a bit different to larger corporate clinics.

Ultimately if you are comfortable and at ease when you visit your vet team and need help, your pet will be too. We are always here to help!

The case for puppy school

With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Ian Shivers.

Investing in a good puppy school will not only get you and your pet off to a strong start, but also serve you both well in the long run. Puppy schools help you train your dog and offer a chance to really get to know them outside of the home. They’re a safe space where you can observe your dog interacting with new friends, environments, and gain an insight into their personality. Plus you’re able to do all this while safe in the knowledge that you’re also being set up for success by an experienced trainer.

A puppy at puppy school lovingly looking up at its owner

In the short term, puppy school offers dogs and owners the opportunity to socialise safely and learn the basics of training. But a good puppy school will put more emphasis on the education of the owner than the pup. There is only so much anyone can teach a puppy in that short window of time. But by teaching the owner, we can send them home with the right tools and information to succeed.

The more education dog owners have on behaviour and training, the fewer issues they will have later with their dogs. Most unwanted behaviours are driven by the emotional state and frame of mind the dog is in. So focusing on a dog’s mental, as well as physical, health is the way forward.

Puppy school can be a great emotional support during a joyous but often overwhelming time. Sitting down each week, knowing you’re not in this alone, that others are going through similar issues, while working together and sharing information, can be empowering to owners.

It is worth noting that puppy school may not be for all dogs. Some animals feel overwhelmed and scared in group environments, while others get hyper aroused. This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with them. Just that they would do best in a different training scenario, such as a one-on-one environment or smaller class.

How to choose a good puppy school

It’s worth taking your time when deciding what puppy school is right for you and your dog.  A good program can set you both up for success, but a poorly run school can be detrimental during this crucial developmental stage of your pet’s life. Here are the key factors to keep in mind when researching puppy schools.

How big is the class?

We recommend a maximum of four or five puppies per class. Ideally the trainer has a helper with them also. Think of it as a classroom: it has to be calm so that everyone can concentrate. Too many participants and the atmosphere quickly becomes over stimulating, setting the pups up to learn nothing but hyper arousal. Too few and the dogs may not get the opportunity to interact with new friends and broaden their learning.

Does your trainer know the difference between habituation and socialising?

Between the ages of three to fifteen weeks your dog’s mind is like a sponge. This is known as the socialisation period and it’s the best time for them to learn about the world and whose in it.

Habituation is about getting them used to different environments and building positive associations. Whereas socialising refers to learning how to react in socially appropriate ways to different animals and people.

A “social dog” isn’t simply friendly to everyone they meet. They have the ability to read and react appropriately to others. Sometimes that means not running up and getting in another animal’s face straight away.

A school that allows dogs to play non stop is not necessarily teaching them to be social, it’s teaching them how to play and potentially not helping them learn to settle and relax in a group environment.

Does your trainer understand and use positive reinforcement?

Dog training is about communicating and rewarding the behaviours you want to see from your pet, rather than correcting unwanted behaviours. A good trainer will help you understand how to communicate with your pet so they understand what you want from them.

Avoid trainers that focus on correction, discipline, respect, and dominance.

Using punitive methods and terminology such as “pack leader” and “dominant” are outdated, but many trainers still use these techniques. If your trainer starts employing this language, opt out early before you do more harm than good.

Getting ready for the dog park

Dog parks can be a lot of fun for pets and owners. But they can also get very tense, very fast. So before you head down, consider these five things to decide if you’re ready to join the pack.

A dog lying in the dog park with a ball

Record Check

Puppies under the age of 16 weeks aren’t ready for the dog park because they may not be finished with their early inoculations and can be vulnerable to disease. But even older dogs need to keep their health in mind. Check that your dog’s vaccination, flea and heart treatment records are up to date. They’ll also need to be dedesexed: dogs that aren’t spayed or neutered can cause issues among the group (not to mention risk unplanned mattings).

Manners Matter

Read up about the park online or swing by without your dog first. This will inform you of specific rules ahead of time. For example, are there areas for different sized dogs? Is it an on or off leash space?

In general, pets that don’t have strong recall skills aren’t ready for the dog park. This means they (always) come when you call, no matter what else is going on.

To decrease the chance of them getting overly excited, don’t take them straight to the park. Go on a walk first where they can burn off extra energy to they arrive in a more relaxed state.

Dress Code

All dogs need to wear a collar and tag with their name and your phone number on it. Make sure their registration information is up to date too. Whether it’s an on or off leash park, they should stay leashed as you enter.

Pack a Bag

Remember your poop bags. Many parks provide them, but there’s no guarantee they will be stocked up. Leaving mess behind in a communal dog park is a bad move.

Take toys, but not their favourites. Remember, anything you bring could be damaged or snatched by another dog. You don’t want them to become overly possessive or risk losing a special item.

Treats are a great way to reward your dog for good behaviour, but ask before giving them to other pets. You never know who has allergies or special diets.

Heart to Heart

Ultimately, you’re the one who has the best sense of whether or not your pet is ready for the dog park. Even the sweetest animals in the world can get anxious, overwhelmed, or struggle to properly engage with other pets. Be objective: is your pet going to be a positive presence in this space? Will they make it a good experience for others? If not, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad dog. Just not a dog park dog.

Are you ready for the dog park?

Before heading out to the dog park, make sure you and your pet are ready by completing this handy checklist:

  • Have you looked up the park and its rules? Y / N
  • Have you checked your medical records? Are they in good health and up to date with vaccinations, desexing, and treatments? Y / N
  • Are they wearing a tag with your name? Are their registration details correct? Y / N
  • Have then been for a pre walk or play to burn off extra energy? Y / N
  • Do you have  poo bags, snacks, and (their second favourite) toys? Y / N
  • Is their recall command strong? Y / N
  • Do you think other animals will honestly have fun with your dog around? Y / N

If you answered yes to all these questions, lace up your shoes and head out.

If you said no to any of them, you’re not quite ready for the dog park.

Learning to leave your dog alone

With advice from Healthy Dog Pod’s Sophie Allan.

Dogs are an integral part of family life. So when they’re very new, and spending so much time with us, it can be hard to leave them alone. But it’s important that you do let your dog get used to saying goodbye. Otherwise they may find it difficult to be left alone later on, and could even develop a serious condition called separation anxiety.

A puppy lying in a crib with a giraffe plushie

To be clear, we’re not talking about a little whining when you head out the door. For dog’s suffering separation anxiety being left alone can bring on something comparable to a full-blown panic attack. It causes their amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions and fear) to go into overdrive, creating an imbalance of chemicals and hormones.

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Urinating or defecating
  • Vocalisation
  • Destruction
  • Pacing
  • Escaping
  • Self harm
  • Hypervigilance
  • Excessive greetings
  • Shadowing
  • Excessive drooling
  • Coprophagia (eating poop)
  • Not eating

Not only is it deeply distressing for the dog, but separation anxiety is also one of the main reasons owners get frustrated with pets and choose to rehome them. It doesn’t only impact new dogs either. Common causes include:

  • Being left alone for the first time
  • Change of owner
  • Moving house
  • Moving from a shelter to a home
  • Change in routine
  • Losing or gaining a family member or other pet
  • Traumatic experience when left alone
  • Genetic predisposition

When treating separation anxiety, the goal is to resolve the dog’s underlying stress by teaching them to enjoy, or at least tolerate, being by themselves. Here are a few tips to help you do that–and hopefully leave the house in peace.

  • Provide a safe, secure space for them to rest.
  • Leave for short periods of time at first, gradually building up to longer periods away.
  • Desensitise them to triggers that indicate they’re going to be left alone. For example, put your shoes on but don’t go anywhere.
  • Tire your dog out before leaving them alone either with training or exercise.
  • Keep them busy when you’re out with a feeding puzzle, snuffle mat, or scatter/hide food around the house for them to find.
  • Leave the radio, TV, or music on while you are away.
  • Leave a piece of your clothing with them.
  • Practice the STAY command so they are ok with you being at a distance.
  • Encourage independent behaviours such as chewing, playing by themselves, resting and sleeping away from you.
  • Film them when you’re out to see what they are doing when alone.
  • Look into natural calming products or sprays such as ADAPTIL.
  • Say a big goodbye or a big hello when you get home. Instead take your time and reward them when they are calm.
  • Punish your dog for crying or barking.
  • Leave in a rush–this can overwhelm them.
  • Blindside them by throwing treats and running out the door as this will stress them out even more.
  • Leave them in a crate or small pen if they are not very comfortable there.
  • Get your dog a companion. Their separation issues are a result of being away from you, not just being alone.
  • Think they will just get over it.

Remember, every dog is unique and some may take a while to get used to being alone. Go slow, but don’t leave it too late before asking for professional help from a vet, behaviourist, or a trainer that specialises in anxiety.

That’s all folks. Enjoy the journey!

A huge thanks to our contributors in this guide to getting a puppy:

Sophie Allan

Sophie AllanSophie is the Founder of So Help Me Dog and one half of the Healthy Dog Pod. She has always had a passion to work with animals especially dogs ever since she was little wanting to be a vet. Working at the customs breeding facility in reignited her study again when moving to Sydney in 2013.

Ian Shivers

Ian ShiversIan Shivers founded Bondi Behaviourist in 2015 and is the other half of Healthy Dog Pod. Having worked within rescue organisations and doing one on one consultations since 2007 in England and Australia, Ian has a wealth of experience. His passion is to create a platform for which information on dog behaviour and training can be shared to improve the quality of life for both dogs and dog owners alike.

Johnston Street Veterinary Clinic

Johnston Street VetJohnston Street Veterinary Clinic is a Melbourne veterinary hospital, fully equipped with the latest equipment including a surgical operating theatre, X-ray, ultrasound, anaesthetic equipment, endoscopy, on-site laboratory, orthopedic surgical kit and dental work station. Their philosophy is community-based and one of prevention.

For more useful dog advice, learn from our guides to plants safe for dogs, dog-friendly offices and getting a rescue dog.