A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.
A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.
Now the day has arrived: you finally have a puppy of your very own.
It can be fun, exciting, and as you quickly discover, really overwhelming.
You’ve got this little ball of fuzz and sharp teeth wandering around your living room and it’s like, what now? What do I actually DO with this creature? Should I… walk her? Train her to do something? Enroll in puppy preschool? Perhaps start a puppy college fund?
Man, this is complicated. What if I mess up? What if I break her? What if I pick the wrong puppy school and RUIN HER CHANCES OF GETTING INTO A GOOD COLL-
Okay, first of all, breathe. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s a step-by-step plan for what needs to happen in your first week of puppy parenthood.
You’ll also get a free puppy starter kit: it includes a printable version of this post that comes with some bonus content, and a puppy supplies checklist. Read to the end to grab yours.
This is the basic stuff to get in order before you do anything else. Ideally, you’d do this before the pup comes home, but you can still do it after.
Puppies have this charming tendency to destroy everything in their path. They like to chew – a lot.
Go through the area the pup will spend most of her time and remove anything you don’t want chewed, and anything that might hurt her.
You can use a bitter-tasting deterrent spray, like Bitter Apple, on anything valuable that can’t be removed, like corners of furniture. (Just test it first in a small area to make sure it doesn’t stain)
It’s best not to allow the puppy access to every room right away. More access = more opportunities to get into mischief. Use baby gates and closed doors to keep the pup where you can supervise.
First of all, you will need a crate. In most situations, a crate makes potty- and manners-training easier and faster. It gives you a place to keep the pup out of trouble when you can’t supervise, therefore preventing any bad habits from developing. Click here to learn more about crates.
Chew toys. Lots of ‘em. Get a variety of types so you can figure out what kind your puppy favors.
Puzzle toys. At least a couple Kong-style ones that you can stuff with goodies to keep the pup busy. Click here to learn more about puzzle toys
Training treats. Use soft treats chopped into pea-sized pieces.
A good puppy-pee remover. You need an enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle. Most other types of cleaners don’t do a good enough job of eliminating the scent. If the pup can still smell the mess on the carpet, she’s likely to eliminate in the same spot again.
You’ll need to establish ground rules for the new dog. Things to talk about include:
By discussing it with the whole family, things will go much more smoothly since everyone is familiar with the rules.
Decide on words for cues. If one person says “down” when they mean to get off the furniture and someone else says “off,” your pup is going to start her life with you very confused. Also, use this time to determine a schedule for the dog.
Puppies thrive on routine. Doing the same things at the same times every day will:
Decide on times for:
Potty breaks – schedule as many as possible. When someone is home during the day, take the pup out every hour.
Meals – Puppies under five-months-old should eat three meals per day. Water should be available at all times.
Bedtime and wake-up time – To give Bella time to relieve herself, remove her access to water one hour before bed.
The first week is all about letting the puppy settle in, and creating positive first impressions.
Keep it low-key. I know all your friends and relatives and neighbors will want to meet the puppy. They should definitely meet her, but not yet. This is a big scary change for a critter who’s only been alive for a few weeks. You don’t want to overwhelm her.
She needs to get to know her new family before you add a bunch of other faces. Tell everyone that they’re invited to a meet-the-puppy party – NEXT week.
Go slow. You probably have a bunch of ideas for exciting adventure to have with your new Man’s Best Friend. That’s awesome, but don’t rush it. Let Bella catch her breath, explore her new home, and learn the basic rules of the house first.
Take a full day to slowly introduce the crate before you start using it for real. Make it comfortable: add some old towels or blankets. If you received a blanket with the smell of “home” from her breeder, put that inside. I wouldn’t buy any expensive bedding until you know if Bella is a bedding-destroyer.
Step one: Open the door of the crate and let Bella investigate. Toss really good treats inside. Praise her when she goes inside to get the food. Don’t force her to go in and don’t close the door behind her.
Step two: Leave the crate door open all day. Keep randomly placing food and toys into the back of the crate. Bella will catch on to this game and start to see the crate as a magical portal from which good things mysteriously come.
Step three: Once Bella is happily going in and out of the crate, you can start closing the door behind her. Start by keeping it closed for just a few seconds, and work your way up to longer periods of time. Always open the door before she gets anxious.
Housetraining is all about:
Close supervision to prevent accidents. Watch her like a hawk when she’s roaming the house. When you can’t watch her, she should be in her crate. Most dogs treat their crates like their bedrooms, and no one likes to soil their bedroom. So she’ll be less likely to have an accident in her crate.
Frequent trips to the bathroom. Puppies lack the physical control to “hold it” for very long. Ideally, you should take the puppy out every hour until you get to know her. Your puppy may need more or less often. A puppy under four months of age should never go more than three hours without a bathroom trip.
Rewarding the pup for good potty behavior. When she goes in the right place, praise and offer a few treats.
To survive your puppy’s first nights with your sanity intact, there are two things you must understand:
1. Bella will be a little bit freaked out.
2. You are not going to get much sleep.
The sooner you accept these facts, the better off you’ll be. Your dog’s first night will turn you into a sleep-deprived zombie. That’s just how it goes.
Decide where Bella will sleep. I strongly recommend letting her sleep in your bedroom. She doesn’t know what’s going on. Sleeping near you will be reassuring. You’ll have a better shot at getting some sleep, since Bella is less likely to howl and carry on if she can see you. You don’t have to let her sleep in your room forever – just until she’s comfortable in your home.
Set up her own bed. If you spent the day getting her used to the crate and she’s taken to it nicely, use that. Place it right next to the bed so you can reach over and reassure her as needed. If Bella freaks out when she gets locked in the crate, you can use a dog bed, and a leash to tether her to a sturdy piece of furniture. You don’t want her getting up during the night to take a bathroom break on your carpet.
Right before bed, take her to her potty area, then put her to bed with a delicious chew toy. She’ll probably whine for a while. Stick your fingers through the crate bars to reassure her briefly. Then ignore the whining. When she stops whining, you can toss a treat into the crate to reward the quiet.
If she’s quiet for a while but starts whining again, she might have to go. A two month old puppy may need to go out as little as 30 minutes after her last bathroom trip.
The first rule of adopting a pet: take them to the vet ASAP. Your vet can tell you what vaccines your puppy needs, whether she has worms, and alert you to any possible health concerns. Most importantly, this is an opportunity for socialization. Taking your pup to the vet early on will get her used to the experience. Try to make it positive; feed her treats, maybe play with a toy in the exam room. Your pup will start to get into a good vet visit habit and be easier to handle at the vet’s office when she’s older and larger.
Keep some treats in your pockets. Once in a while, call your dog’s new name, and immediately toss her a treat. Toss the treat even if she doesn’t turn around to look at you right away. After a few repetitions, she’ll soon associate the word “Bella” with treats flying past her face, and she’ll start to respond appropriately.
Any time you want to offer Bella something really awesome, like her dinner, a walk, or ear scratches, call her name first. She’ll learn to love her name pretty quick.
You don’t have to worry too much about formal “obedience” training in the first week. These puppy training games give you a no-pressure way to teach good manners and help her bond with the family.
Like I said, puppies like to chew everything. Yes, part of it is teething. But chewing is something that most dogs love to do well into adulthood. It’s how they relax. So you have to provide plenty of appropriate outlets for this natural doggy behavior.
The trick is to get chew toys that are more appealing than your shoes or expensive replica sonic screwdriver. You’ll have to experiment to find out what Bella really loves.
Some tasty choices include:
Keep a stash of about ten toys. Rotate through them so Bella doesn’t get bored. Make three or four available at all times.
Any time you see her chewing on a dog toy (instead of your valuables) reward her with praise and a treat.
The best for last. This is why you got a puppy in the first place, right? Plan on a lot of playing. It’s the best way to exercise and bond with your pup.
Aside from puppy training games like Pass the Puppy and Hide-and-Seek, here are some ideas:
Fetch – a classic, of course. To teach your pup to play, get two toys. Throw or roll one, and when Bella grabs it, wave the second toy around so that she’ll come running back. When she gets to you, gently take the first toy, and throw the second one.
Toy-on-a-string – great for puppies who need to be encouraged to chase a toy. For some reason, even dogs who don’t like fetch love this game. See instructions here.
Chase – Get down on the pup’s level, gently shove her around, then run away. Let her catch you, and praise and offer a toy or treat when she does. This teaches beginner come-when-called skills.
(Have the puppy chase YOU, don’t play chase-the-puppy. You don’t want her to learn that running away from her human is a fun game)
Puppies love to play, but they have very short attention spans. Hold several 5-15 minute play sessions throughout the day.
In the first weeks, some puppies will be too shy or overwhelmed to play. That’s okay. Proceed at her pace, and she’ll come around eventually. It took my shy, very serious puppy Jonas several days before he’d play with me. He eventually became very enthusiastic about fetch and tug-of-war.
After the puppy settles in, it’s time to venture out into the world and start socialization training.
Socialization is all about introducing your pup to new people, animals, places, and things, and making it a good experience. The more new, positive situations a puppy encounters during the critical age of 4-16 weeks, the better behaved he’ll be as an adult.
This is the time to:
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