Whether you’ve just brought home your newest family member or you have yet to pick out that perfect dog for you, getting a new puppy is a fun and exciting experience that involves a lot of time and research to ensure that you know what is to come in the first few months as a new pet parent. If you’re planning to get a dog and are undecided on what breed and where to adopt from, see our previous article here.
Even the most experienced dog owners will find puppy-hood to be an exciting time filled with unexpected challenges and learning experiences. There is a wealth of information out there to guide you as you begin this journey. We’ve written up some of our favourite tips for first-time puppy parents to help ease the transition for you and your newest addition to the family.
Puppy Proof Your House
Just as an expecting parent would baby-proof their house for their coming baby, you should puppy proof your house. Since Puppies do not have hands like people, they explore their surroundings by scent and taste. Expect anything left out and accessible to end up in your pup’s mouth. Ensure that cords or anything your puppy might be able to chew on are off the ground and out of reach. Put away any other choking hazards, children’s toys, stuffed animals, and shoes you don’t want chewed. Be sure you have no poisonous plants or chemicals within reach. Around 4 – 6 months of age, teething will be the worst. To help a teething puppy try freezing some broth and water as ice cubes or even freezing their soft toys. The cold will help to ease gum pain as new teeth come in.
It’s a good idea to introduce your puppy to areas of the house little by little. Try to limit them to one area for the first few days to ensure their safety and not overwhelm them. Slowly introduce them to bigger areas before giving them complete freedom. It is good to be consistent about areas you want them to stay clear of, as a puppy will naturally be curious. This is a proactive way to limit potential accidents/disasters such as your dog getting into harmful food scraps in the garbage. Don’t wait for your puppy to do something wrong before you begin teaching it what is right. Rewarding your dog when in new environments is incredibly important to keep it a happy and positive experience. Set them up for success by controlling their environments as much as possible!
Establish A Routine
Dogs learn very quickly through routines and repetition. Try to feed, go to the bathroom, and go to sleep at the same time every day to help your dog assimilate to your lifestyle. Routines can also be very helpful when it comes to training manners and expectations for your dog. Ask your dog to sit and wait before giving them their food. Alternatively, put them in their bed and ask for a stay every time the doorbell rings. Establishing these routines and expectations early on will set you and your puppy up for the future. Here are some of our dog training tips.
Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Your puppy goes through a socialization period in the first six to twelve weeks of their life. During this time, your dog will be learning about all the new and exciting things in their lives. This is when your puppy will decide what is safe and fun versus scary. Proper socialization can prevent all sorts of anxieties from developing. To ensure your dog is properly exposed to new things, try to follow these tips:
- Each socialization exposure must be fun for your puppy. If your puppy is forced to confront fears they aren’t ready to handle, the process can backfire and create a fearful or aggressive response. Go at their pace, and at a distance, they feel safe. Your puppy should be the one to initiate each approach to something new and be allowed to retreat when needed to feel safe.
- Socialization includes generalization. Though your puppy may be fine with the toddlers or dogs in your home, that does not mean they are fine with all children and dogs. Even if they are in a class, they will need to meet new and different dogs and people, and in different places, after their classmates and their owners become familiar to them. You need to continue to expose them to new things, places, and contexts to best generalize their confidence with new things.
- Pair treats with exposures to make good associations. If your puppy is worried about those children he sees running across the street, it can help if the sight of children makes treats suddenly appear. Or if they don’t like their paws touched, a brief touch followed by a lick of peanut butter from a spoon can make paw touches easier to handle. If they will not take food, that is a good indication that you need to back up and lower the intensity of the exposure with more distance or less pressure.
Get Your Puppy Used To Being Handled
Handling your puppy in a variety of ways will benefit them for life. Touching their ears, tail, paws, and more prepares them for real-life situations such as in a first aid emergency. Not to mention your groomer and vet will thank you. Keep sessions short and be sure to reward them while doing this to keep it a positive experience. Most teething puppies will instinctively want to bite, so it is also a good opportunity to teach them to use their tongue not teeth. This will also lessen the risk of your adult dog biting children or adults who might play too rough with them. Refer to our socialization checklist for more suggestions
Enroll in Group Training classes
Even if you know how to teach your puppy their basic commands, group classes are a fantastic way to socialize your new puppy. Most training classes require all the puppies in the class to have at least their second set of shots. So, it is one of the few places they can interact with puppies their age in a safe manner. Plus, there will be a trainer there to help teach you about canine body language and appropriate play. Besides the social aspect of it, group classes also help teach your puppy to pay attention to you during distracting times.
While it’s a rewarding feeling to come home to an excited dog, a calm hello and goodbye will teach your puppy that being alone isn’t a big deal. You may also feel special having your puppy follow you from room to room. However, these behaviours can transition into separation anxiety if they never learn how to be on their own. Set up a puppy proof room or kennel where your puppy can have some alone time, then start with small steps. Five minutes of you in the other room is a good place to start; wait until your puppy is quiet, then calmly let them out of their room/kennel. If your pup has a hard time settling on their own at first, giving them a stuffed Kong can help distract them and reward them for their alone time.
Take lots of photos!
Puppy-hood is fleeting! They aren’t puppies for very long so enjoy this amazing time and take photos of everything!
Written by: Rachelle Biever CPDT-KA