I’m approaching adulthood fast fast – and still growing in leaps and bounds! – but I’m still a puppy at heart. I went to the vet last week, but I must have fallen asleep there – I woke up feeling very woozyand couldn’t remember what happened! Mom and dad say I’m getting smarter every day – I know so many words now! We’re also starting some new games, which involves my favorite thing – treats! Let’s go play now!

"At this age your puppy is continue to grow both in size and intelligence. He is listening to not only the sound of your voice now, but to what you are actually saying. Your pup will also be entering puberty at this age, which is the perfect time to schedule the spay or neuter procedure. Your puppy is finished with his puppyhood vaccines and won’t need a booster until 12 months of age. He now knows the daily routine, and potty training is solidifying. At home and when at play it is important to keep a watchful eye, as they can be a little “too big for their britches” and are more accident prone than before. This age can be the most fun for puppy owners, as you can take training to the next level!"

Dr. Jules Benson

Petplan Chief Veterinary Medical Officer

the big snip: spaying & neutering

These days, most pets adopted from rescues are already spayed and neutered. Why so? Thirty years ago nobody seemed to care, so what’s changed? The main factor behind encouraging sterilization today is the accumulation of data regarding how it affects the health and behavior of dogs and cats, as well as an increased effort to control population numbers.

When it comes to when to spay puppy, most veterinarians recommend spaying females before the first heat cycle, which happens between 4 and 8 months of age. The benefits are clear:

  • Female dogs who are spayed prior to their first heat have a drastically reduced chance of developing mammary cancer. Compare that to a 25% chance of an unspayed dog developing mammary tumors (and 50% of these will be malignant) and you already have a strong case for sterilization.
  • Spaying also eliminates the chances of ovarian and uterine cancer, as well as the risk of pyometra, a sometimes life-threatening uterine infection that often occurs in middle-aged unspayed females.

Male dogs, similarly, can be neutered between 4 and 8 months of age or can wait a little longer. Many veterinarians recommend neutering sooner, as behavioral urine marking increases in frequency as the male puppy grows older. Neutering also removes the risk of testicular cancers and limits the development of prostate disease in male dogs.

And of course, spaying and neutering are effective means to help control the animal population. Puppies may be adorable, but unwanted litters can be avoided with some forethought.

ID me: microchips & tags

a chip on the shoulder: microchipping

It's a staggering statistic, but one in three pets will get lost during his or her lifetime. Without identification, 90% of them will not return home. In fact, according to the Humane Society of the United States, only about 17% of lost dogs and 2% of lost cats ever find their way back to their original owners.

Though there are many identification systems available to pet owners, microchipping and tattooing are the only real forms of permanent identification. The “microchip” is actually a tiny transponder encased in a special type of plastic or surgical glass, which is easily implanted at your veterinarian’s office. The standard site for implantation is underneath the skin between the shoulder blades. This procedure does not require anesthesia, but many puppies are chipped while undergoing their spay or neuter procedures.

The chips are detected by a special scanner that picks up a unique combination of numbers and letters that can be traced back to your pet. In order for this trace process to be successful, make sure that any microchipped pet has been properly registered with the chip manufacturer. And be sure to update the information if your address changes!

the bling: collars & tags

While microchipping is a highly recommended permanent source of identification for your pet, having a collar and tag on your puppy at all times greatly increases the chances of reunion if you are separated.

tips for tags & collar fitting:

  • Get Fit: Pick a collar that will fit your puppy snugly. You should be able to fit one to two fingers between the collar and your pup’s neck for a perfect fit. Check the fit often as he continues to grow!
  • Tag Along: Fun, colorful tags may be eye-catching, but just make sure there’s room for at least your dog’s name and your cell phone number, so you can be contacted if your best friend wanders off.

getting mouthy: biting and "mouthiness" training tips

Puppies are naturally “mouthy,” meaning that just like babies, they like to put everything in their mouths ― this is how they learn about their world and begin to communicate with their littermates. (Plus, teething can often drive the need to chew!) Some breeds, such as Border Collies and Labradors, can be a little more “orally fixated” than others.

It may be a natural behavior, but it’s up to you to teach your puppy when biting and mouthiness are not acceptable. Here are some basic tips on how to stop puppy biting:

  • Take away attention when the dog is being mouthy. This can be as simple as setting him down and walking away. If the mouthiness happens during play or petting, one of the best tactics to employ is to simply remove all attention from your puppy when he puts his mouth on you.
  • Punishing, yelling or trying to pull away quickly may condition your puppy to think that being mouthy is a fun game. Gently, but firmly, say “no bite” as soon as the behavior starts.
  • Especially if your dog is of the "frustration mouthiness" variety, punishing, yelling or trying to pull away quickly may elicit even more frustration behavior — or even condition your dog to think that being mouthy is a fun game.
  • Give your dog something else to do with his mouth – that means toys, toys, toys! Toys provide an excellent outlet for chewing and are a great substitution for human skin or your sofa leg. With gentle encouragement, over time your pup may start to prefer a toy if he is excited and feeling mouthy. A good tip is to have a toy at the ready during times that your pup is excited, such as when you first arrive home. It will help him direct his energy (and his mouth) away from your hands!
  • Your puppy might just be bored or have too much energy to burn, so leash up and head out for a walk! Many times, this will help tone down the mouthiness and shape up his behavior all around.

play it safe: toy safety

Your dog’s toys are worth every penny. Day in and day out, these virtually pup-proof products stand up to tug-of-war, backyard fetch-a-thons and super slobber. But even the toughest toys need maintenance from time to time. To keep your dog’s top toys in fighting shape and safe for play, it is a good idea to occasionally audit your puppy’s toy box.

Examine your dog’s toys every month or so to see what needs to be washed and what needs to be replaced. If stuffing is missing or if there’s unidentified dried gunk on the rope toy, it’s time to clean up or clean out. Routine care can prevent bacterial infections or choking accidents.

Use these recommendations for cleaning your pup’s toys:

Hard rubber, nylon or plastic toys: Hand wash, then wash in your dishwasher’s top drawer.

Tennis balls, stuffed toys, blanket: Cycle through the washing machine.

Rope Toys (no metal parts): Wet them down, then microwave for 1 minute.

amped up activities

You’ve likely been working on basic puppy obedience training commands (sit, stay, down, etc.) for a couple of months now, and you both may be craving more intensive training!

Your puppy, just like a child, has talents and preferences based on his personality and genetic makeup. It is important to consider your puppy’s breed and temperament before selecting an activity. Calmer, social puppies may be very good at therapy and obedience, while very active breeds may enjoy the challenge of sports.

Consider these great ideas to keep your puppy engaged, learning and most of all – having fun!

  • hiking Enjoying the great outdoors with your new best friend can be a workout for both of you.
  • agility Learning an obstacle course engages your pup’s (and your own!) body and mind.
  • swimming Great for water-loving breeds like Labradors. (Just don’t assume your pup can dog-paddle! Start slow.)
  • obedience Requires precision and focus, which can be very satisfying for brainy herding breeds.
  • flyball An exciting relay race of sorts, which requires speed and teamwork.
  • pet facilitated therapy Now’s a good time to look into getting your dog certified to spread the puppy love to those in need.