The arrival of Gwen the Jack Russell puppy has forced integrative vet Ilse Pedler of Ilse Pedler Holistic Veterinary Care to think about puppy issues once again! She highlights the things to consider here…….

As some of you may know, we have recently welcomed a new puppy into our family. We lost our old dog, Broccoli, two years ago and we found that the dog-shaped hole in our lives refused to get smaller. The conversations beginning “So if we did get another dog…” started to become more frequent and of course, the inevitable happened; someone we knew was having a litter and the rest is history. A small Gwen-sized history. I’ve had dogs for 40 years but even so, the arrival of a new puppy still turned our lives upside down, so I thought I’d share a few discoveries or rediscoveries we have made over the last three months!

Do your research

A Kennel Club survey a few years ago found that people were more likely to buy a puppy on impulse than a pair of shoes. Almost a quarter of respondents spent five minutes or fewer on where to buy a puppy, yet 22% said they spent half an hour or more choosing a new pair of shoes! The survey goes on to reveal that the puppies chosen in twenty minutes or less were three times more likely to suffer illness, ongoing veterinary treatment or death within six months than puppies chosen in an hour or more. As a vet, this is a depressing survey particularly when there is so much advice freely available. A good place to start is the Kennel Club1.

They have pages of information about the different breeds and their characteristics. Sometimes these do have to be interpreted carefully. Huskies, for example, do make wonderful house dogs but only after they’ve had three hours of exercise, preferably pulling a sled. The Jack Russell breed standard states that it is “A confident, energetic and happy dog that has the ability and conformation to go to ground.” Roughly translated this means, stubborn, dreadful recall and happiest of all getting stuck down rabbit holes. This is the breed we chose….

Gwen at 9 weeks old

Other sources of information include the specific breed clubs, all the large charities like the RSPCA and the Dog’s Trust and local rescue centres, and of course books and the internet. 

If possible, find someone that has the breed you think you want and chat with them or even go on a walk with them and the dog.

A lot of the above advice assumes that you want a pure-bred dog, however, there are many crossbreed dogs out there that are delightful and often have fewer genetic problems than specific breeds. Decisions about the type of crossbreed are often made more on the size of dog you want. 

One thing I have seen as a vet over the last 30 years is that breeds seem to go in and out of fashion. This usually leads to an increase in people buying and breeding from the fashionable breed which has knock-on effects on its health status and genetic faults. Twenty years ago Staffordshire Bull Terriers seemed to be all the rage, then it was Pugs, then French Bulldogs and now it seems to be Dachshunds. So, a heartfelt plea from me and other vets – don’t allow fashion to dictate your choice. Do the research and get a dog that is appropriate for your circumstances and budget. 

Be prepared for no sleep

The first few weeks will be like having a new baby in the house. Be prepared for little sleep and constant vigilance. The more time you can put in with the puppy in the first few weeks, the quicker it will become house trained and respond to basic commands. A puppy is like a small toddler, likely to put everything in its mouth, have no concept of danger and have uncertain toilet habits. We used a crate for the first time with Gwen and it’s been brilliant. The puppy has somewhere safe and comfortable to relax and you can guarantee coming down in the morning and not stepping in a pile of poo or a puddle! There are lots of online resources about crate training for puppies. We also got the softest, comfiest bed we could so Gwen had somewhere really snuggly to begin with. We also got her a big teddy which is still her favourite thing.

Gwen and her favourite teddy


The more you can expose your puppy to different situations in the first few weeks of life the better. They are likely to become accustomed to different noises and scenarios and won’t become fearful of them in later life. A breeder friend used to take her puppies individually to the garden gate to watch traffic, as well using a variety of power tools outside the kitchen and playing videos of fireworks and other noises at low levels to desensitise them. By the time the puppies went to their new homes they were pretty bomb proof. 

Go to puppy training classes even if it is embarrassing

It’s a great idea to read training books and watch online videos, but nothing tests your training techniques more than being in a room with a load of other puppies and getting yours to focus on you and follow commands. I’m sure many of you will have found you can get the perfect sit or recall in the kitchen but once outside any concept of following a command goes right out of the window. The world is full of distractions and at least going to a training class will help you keep control in challenging circumstances. Of all the online videos we watched there are some great ones by Absolute Dogs2 and one of their tag lines is that to get your dog to follow your commands you have to be ‘sexier than a squirrel’ i.e. if your dog sees a squirrel or other temptation it will still come back to you. Sometimes conversations with my husband run along the lines of, 

Him:- She wouldn’t do anything I wanted today. 

Me:- Were you sexier than a squirrel? 

Him:- I haven’t checked lately….

Hmmmm, I wonder what that is over there……

Even if you’ve had dogs before and think you know it all, training techniques change and there are always new tips you can pick up. Thank you, Chris and Jess of Puppy Pals Cumbria, for being calm voices in the presence of an overeager Jack Russell puppy who just wants to climb your leg and lick your face!

Do the admin

There are certain things that are less exciting when you get a new puppy but still essential:

  • Change your puppy’s microchip details to your name and address.
  • Register with a vet and check their out-of-hours provision. Will you be seen at their practice or will you have to go to a different emergency centre? Put the emergency contact details in your phone straightaway – the worst thing is trying to find your vet’s phone number in an emergency situation.
  • Have a vet check your puppy within the first few weeks of ownership. If there are any congenital problems, it is best to pick them up as soon as possible. 
  • Take out pet insurance. Shop around for the policy that suits you and read the small print. 
Because this is what a Jack Russell puppy does!

The holistic approach

If you have a puppy check, most vets will promote conventional flea and worming preparations and even suggest you sign up to the practice pet health care scheme. Think carefully about how you want to tackle issues like fleas and worms. Do you really need monthly chemical treatments? There is growing evidence that these animal treatments may be getting into watercourses around the country and adversely affecting invertebrate populations3. Some of the products also kill bees. All of this has knock-on effects along the food chain. Conventional products may be necessary at certain points in your dog or cat’s life but there are alternatives. Find a holistic vet4 who is more open to exploring these with you. 

Vaccination is another huge subject and again discussion with a holistic vet is advisable. In general, I recommend puppy vaccinations and then use titre testing as a way of assessing immunity.

Feeding is also a huge topic. Personally, I’m a fan of raw feeding dogs and have seen the benefits time and time again but it does need researching properly and ensuring a balanced diet is fed. The Raw Feeding Veterinary Society5 is a great source of information and a good place to start.

And finally

Life with a puppy is hilarious, fulfilling, frustrating, never boring and yes, the teething phase does pass, just hold your nerve!

Read about Broccoli here.


Blogs by Ilse Pedler

1Kennel Club When Buying a Dog

2Absolute Dogs training videos

Puppy Pals Cumbria

Dog Behaviour and Training Charter


A more natural approach to ticks and worms

4Finding a holistic / integrative vet

5Raw Feeding Veterinary Society

The Complete Book of Cat and Dog Health by vet Lise Hansen (special offer here)

Ilse Pedler MA VetMB Vet MFHom MRCVS

Ilse qualified as a veterinary surgeon from Cambridge University in 1989 and started work with Mercer and Hughes in Saffron Walden, Essex, treating both large and small animals. She became a director in 1992 working her way up to senior partner by the time she retired from there in 2020. 

Ilse had always had an interest in complementary therapies and studied with the Homeopathic Physicians Teaching Group (HPTG) in Oxford, gaining the Diploma of Homeopathy in 2001. She went on to study Chinese traditional medicine and acupuncture and more recently herbal medicine. Ilse has written many articles on complementary therapies for magazines and is a member of the British Association of Veterinary Herbalists, The Raw Feeding Society, The British Veterinary Association and is currently President of the British Association of Homeopathic Veterinary Surgeons (BAHVS).

With over 30 years of experience, Ilse has recently set up Ilse Pedler Holistic Veterinary Care. Here she offers holistic veterinary treatment for animals in Cumbria and the NW, providing services in acupuncture, herbs and homeopathy as well as advice on species-appropriate diets and a wide range of supplements. 

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website