The big day is finally here! You want to be prepared and get off to a good start right away with your new puppy. Here are some tips to make things go smoothly. The ride home – If you have a helper to drive, the drive isn’t too long, and the puppy is tired and/or calm you can try holding the puppy on your lap. Otherwise you’ll need a crate or at least a cardboard box to contain the puppy. If you use a box, put some plastic under it just in case. Place a thick towel at the bottom of the crate or box to give the pup good footing and to catch any accidents. If your trip will take more than an hour, plan to make a potty stop (or two) along the way. I would avoid highway rest areas as they are frequented by lots of dogs and your puppy doesn’t have full immunity yet. If possible, opt for a quiet grassy area instead. Be sure your puppy is wearing identification and has a secure collar or harness.
At the house – Your first order of business should always be a potty trip outside. You want to start a good habit right away. So choose the door you will regularly use for potty trips and consistently take the pup out that door. Consistency is everything when training! Don’t ever forget that. If your puppy has already been trained to potty pads, read Potty Pad Training for Puppies. If you have family and kids waiting to meet the puppy arrange for everyone to sit down in a circle (outdoors if possible) with your pup in the middle. Each person can have a few tiny morsels of something yummy to feed the pup, but allow the puppy to decide to go and visit each person. That means the kids have to wait patiently and not overwhelm it. After 15-20 minutes of this the pup will need another potty break and then a rest period. You can sit with him in your long-term confinement area (see Preparing for Puppy), but try to remain calm and detached so the pup will settle and rest. As much as the kids will want to play with the puppy non-stop, they will have to learn that puppies get tired and need naps - just like young babies do. Teaching both the pup and the kids self-control will be one of your biggest challenges. Be calm, patient, and consistent with them all.
The first night – If your pup has not been introduced to the crate by his breeder, be prepared for a good deal of fussing and crying. Make sure to take the pup out to potty before bedtime. I have found that many pups do best if you engage in a bit of lullaby and cuddle time before bed. Your goal is to quiet and relax the puppy, so soften the lights, turn off the TV, and relax yourself. When the puppy is sleepy, slip him into his prepared crate near your bed. Continue to sit with him until he falls asleep, then softly secure the door closed. Be prepared for him to wake up crying in a couple of hours. If possible, set your alarm and get the pup up and out for a potty trip before he wakes up. Afterwards, calmly put him back into his crate and sit near him, without interacting with him, until he settles again. You may also want to make a “sock puppy” as a sleeping buddy for your new puppy.
Setting the tone – It takes about three weeks for a dog to settle into a new home. During this time you are dealing with a small creature that doesn’t speak your language or understand your rules or expectations. Therefore you must be extra patient in showing him what is expected while also being careful to set him up to succeed. This generally means restricting his freedom to safe areas and watching him like a hawk. The biggest mistake people make with a new puppy or dog is allowing them too much freedom too soon. While your goal may be for the pup to have free run of your house, it can take months before that’s reasonable, possible, or recommended. Set realistic expectations for your puppy. They are not adult dogs in small bodies any more than kids are adults in small bodies. I don’t expect puppies to have the mind/body awareness necessary for true house training until they are at least 12 weeks old (longer for the toy breeds). Until that time, their success at being clean in the house is entirely up to you. The more you are able to be calm, confident and consistent, the faster your pup will learn how to act in your home.
Reward behavior you like. Every interaction you have with your puppy is a learning opportunity. If you make a point of telling the puppy all the good things he is doing you will be giving him attention (something all puppies crave) for the things you like. Adding a tiny morsel of something yummy further rewards and reinforces his good behavior.
Ignore or prevent behavior you don’t like. This is the point of all that puppy-proofing. It helps prevent your puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors. If you calmly redirect your pup to an appropriate chew item when he’s investigating his world, he will develop good chew toy habits. Remember he can’t think like we do. Don’t give him an old shoe to chew on, thinking he will understand the difference between that and your new Ferragamos or Jimmy Chus. Avoid getting yourself into the “no” habit. Saying “no” is just another form of attention for the pup, and he may learn to be “naughty” just for the attention. That’s why it’s important to be proactive and focus on, emphasize, and reward his good behavior, rather than being reactive to his bad behavior.
Be proactive. Puppies are curious and busy. If we make a point of directing them into activities we like, we can avoid the common pitfall of chasing after them telling them “no” all the time. Make it a habit to keep your pup busy and actively engaged in something rather than overlooking his good behavior and waiting for him to make a mistake. Puppies are little learning sponges, so take advantage of this tendency and start teaching him right away. Puppy classes are great for this and for the important social experiences (for the puppy, not you).
Be clear and consistent. While puppies learn quickly, we can help them by being very clear about what the house “rules” are and being very consistent in our responses to their behavior. You will confuse him terribly and make your job much harder if you sometimes allow him to jump on you and other times get upset when he jumps on you. So decide as a family what is and isn’t acceptable in your house and stick with it. Along with this you will all need to use the same cues (words) to tell him what you want. If one person says “down” to mean “lay on the floor” and another uses “down” to mean “get off the couch”, your puppy will be thoroughly confused in no time. Dogs can learn lots of cue words but each word can only have one meaning. It may help to make a list of the words you want to teach and what each word means.
Arm yourself with resources – I encourage you to enroll your puppy in a positive puppy kindergarten as soon as possible. This will help you learn how to communicate with your puppy and give your puppy some much needed social experiences. If you haven’t done so already, get a couple of good books like The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller or How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar. Then join my Start Puppy Training list at Yahoo for help and support.
Puppies are adorable, exciting, and fun, but they can also be challenging, exhausting, and messy. Don’t be discouraged; the time you invest in teaching your puppy good manners and proper habits will pay off for years to come as you enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship with the well-mannered adult dog your puppy will have become.
Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC