New puppies are so much fun, but they can be a ton of work!!! I brought home a puppy a little over two years ago and the months and weeks leading up to bringing my little bundle of joy home were full of excitement and planning! So much planning and prep was going on from the time I knew I would be getting a puppy until we left to go pick her up from her breeders’ house. In this post, I’m going to share with you how I prepared for my puppy and what my priorities were after bringing her home. I’ll also discuss some considerations, and differences, between bring home puppy to a “multi-dog” house versus a “single-dog” house.
Let’s get started!!!
Puppies should not be acquired on a whim. There should be prior planning with the entire family about the puppy. The first step to acquiring a puppy is to determine why you want a puppy and what your goals are for that puppy: Do you want a sports prospect puppy? Do you want a companion? Do you want a running partner? Guard dog? Looks intimidating, but is really a softy?
Puppies are not all created equal! It is important for you to have a realistic expectation of what you and your family can handle. This refers to grooming requirements (long coated dogs such as PWDs, Poodles, Poodle mixes, some terriers, and even Golden Retrievers and Newfoundlands, etc. will require extra grooming costs), health requirements, and temperament of the puppy. A low income family is not likely going to be able to handle the grooming requirements of a dog that must be professional groomed every 4-6 weeks. This family may also struggle with financial aspect of health complications from a poorly bred French Bulldog (or other breeds well known for medical issues). However, a short-coat, mixed breed dog from the animal shelter may be perfect for that family. On the flip side, a financially stable family may be able to afford grooming and medical issues, but maybe they are too busy to take their dog to the groomer or prefer not to have to take their dog to the veterinarian every month or so. Again a short-coat, mixed breed dog from the animal shelter might also be a good fit for this family. Be realistic on what you can commit to your dog in these two aspects. Regardless of whether you prefer a mixed breed or a purebred puppy, you should always work with a reputable source, whether it is a rescue or a breeder, the dogs’ health and well being should be the top priority. There are “retail rescues” out there, where they work with Puppy Mills to “adopt out” puppies the millers are having a hard time selling.
Another place you need to be realistic is the temperament of your puppy. Temperament is in reference to how the puppy acts. Is the puppy high energy or low energy? Problem solver or slug? Sweet and cuddly or independent? Reputable breeders will perform temperament evaluations on their litters to help in their decision on which puppy is going to which home. This is NOT typically something many prospective puppy owners even consider. Personally, I want sports prospect puppies, which means I want a confident, high energy, biddable, problem solver. Generally the naughtier the puppy, the easier it will be for me to train. The puppy’s temperament requirement should be different for everybody! Most families want a nice family companion with moderate energy. When the puppy’s temperament does not match the families’ desires this is when disaster happens. The family is frustrated and resentful towards the puppy (or dog), which often makes life harder for the dog and the family. Bringing a dog into your life should be pleasant and relatively easy. If it isn’t there is a good chance your temperament requirements do not meet your puppy’s temperament.
The physical characteristics of your puppy should be the least of your concern. For example, I always said I would never own a “black, curly coated” Portuguese Water Dog. I currently own a “black, curly coated” Portuguese Water Dog. His temperament fits well and is what I enjoy living with. Trek’s temperament was not overly enjoyable for his first home. His original owner loved him dearly, but love alone does not help a dog flourish. My point here is you can live with whatever color, coat type, or size of dog (physical characteristics) within the breed you are interested in, but it is much more difficult to live with a dog who’s temperament does not fit into your lifestyle.
The Puppy Pen
The puppy pen should be set up prior to you bringing home your puppy. Puppies are not very helpful creatures, so you do not want to be setting up the pen while your brand new puppy is trying to help. When you should set the puppy pen up depends on if you currently have dogs or not. Since I have older dogs, I set the puppy pen up a little over two weeks before I went to get Kiely. The trip to get Kiely was 5 days long (not because it had to be, we visited family and friends along the way up), so it had to be up before we left. The other reason I set the puppy pen up so soon was because I wanted my current dogs to get used to something being different in the house. They were allowed to go into the pen, sniff, and investigate the puppy pen well before the tiny terror arrived home. This helps the current dogs realize there will be a major change coming.
What is a Puppy Pen you ask? Well, it can be whatever you want it to be for the most part. The goal of a puppy pen is for it to be a puppy-proofed area where your puppy can spend time. In my house, the puppy pen is a puppy-sized crate within an exercise pen (ex pen) with accident-safe flooring, plenty of toys, and soft surface to sleep on. Since puppies generally don’t come house trained, I add some type of easy to clean flooring, such as a cheap roll of laminate flooring, so I’m not as upset when the puppy has an accident. My puppy is kept in the puppy pen with access to his or her crate during the day. At night and during meals the puppy is put into the crate that is within the ex pen.
I use a Puppy Pen with my puppies whenever I cannot keep an eye on them. This is to reduce the number of housetraining accidents, keeps my puppy from chewing on things he or she should not chew on, and in the case of a multi-dog household it keeps the puppy safe from the big dogs. It also keeps the puppy from annoying the big dogs. I also find Puppy Pens to be useful in decreasing the likelihood of separation anxiety. Using puppy pens and/or crates correctly, will teach your puppy that it is okay to be alone. You will find me referring to “puppy pens” quite often in this post.
If you have read some of my other puppy-related blog posts (House Training Troubleshooting) you will know that I really like schedules for my puppies. What is it about schedules that are so important? Well, a schedule will instill trust and confidence in your puppy which will also help you develop a better relationship. When your puppy can predict what is or is not going to happen, your puppy feels better. For example, if my puppy learns that she will be let outside at certain times to potty, it will help her learn to control her bladder and bowels. This is immensely helpful in house training. If my puppy knows that playtime will happen at a certain time, she will be less likely to make play time happen on her own (such as grabbing pant legs, stealing things, or nipping at people).
The schedule should also include who will be responsible for certain tasks. It is difficult to house train a puppy when everybody in the house is responsible for house training the puppy. It is easy to overfeed a puppy if everybody in the house is responsible for feeding the puppy. If everybody thinks someone else is supposed to do something and there is no clear communication, it can become easy to forget to take the puppy out after play time or a nap, or accidentally feed the puppy twice. If you already have an adult dog or two before brining home puppy, this schedule won’t be much different, nor will the division of tasks. You’ll simply add the puppy into the mix.
The schedule MUST also include “nap times” for your puppy. Yep, you heard that right. Your puppy will need scheduled nap times. These nap times should occur in a crate or ex pen, not on your lap. Forcing naps onto your puppy is much like forcing naps onto your toddlers. When your puppy gets over tired, they become incorrigible, often resulting in excessive nipping and “wildling” behavior. This is not only stressful for the owners, but also the puppy and other dogs in the house. Giving everybody a break will help ensure more positive relationships. One of the biggest reasons I recommend nap time being in a crate or ex pen is to help reduce the risk of the puppy developing separation anxiety! Separation anxiety has become an increasingly more common with many dogs. Behaviorists have attributed this increase to owners being home more, such as working from home and the strong animal-human bond. It is emotionally healthier for our dogs to be okay with our coming and going. Ensuring a nap happens away from people is a great way to start helping your puppy understand this.
This schedule with be constantly changing as the puppy matures. There will be less “forced” naps and less potty breaks, but communication in regards to the schedule needs to remain clear and open among all members of the household.
Socialization…What is it? Do I need to do it?
Socialization is teaching your puppy that new “things” are not scary. Between the ages of 6 – 16 weeks puppies’ brains are little sponges, soaking up all the information that they will need to keep them healthy and safe for their environment. A puppy who only goes to the veterinarian (which can often times be scary) and no where else for the first 4 months of life, might find the car to be stressful and strangers to be scary. For a pet dog, we want to encourage our puppies to meet new people, experience new environments, and meet puppy safe dogs. With that being said, there are many veterinarians, breeders, and animal societies that recommend not taking your puppy out in public or around other dogs until the puppy’s puppy vaccine series are completed. This is very well meaning advice, but it can back fire. Veterinarian Behaviorists and Dog Behaviorists, along with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, recommends taking your puppy to “puppy safe” places such as: dog training classes, non-pet store, dog friendly stores (such as: hardware stores and feed stores), and friends’ houses who enjoy puppies. The more you expose your puppy to, such as: environments, people, situations, etc. the more likely your puppy will be a confident adult.
Notice the word that keeps being used…EXPOSED. The reason I’m saying “exposed” is because your puppy does not need to have direct contact with people, environments, dogs, etc. for socialization to occur. If a puppy shows fear to an object, environment, or person you should not continue to force your puppy to experience the scary thing. This is a data point, which should be noted and then worked on in a systematic way (preferably with a reward-based trainer or veterinary behaviorist) to overcome the underlying issues. When we force our puppy to experience something that is overwhelming without giving the puppy an out, this is called flooding. If we flood our puppies too often, we will cause our puppies to resort to “learned helplessness.” While puppies who are resigned to learned helplessness may not seem to have any behavior problems, these dogs are often much more difficult to train. These puppies learn to be scared of new things and to be scared of making a mistake, which is a far cry from the outgoing, happy, confident puppy most owners hope their puppies will be.
Do not take your puppies to dog parks or pet stores where dogs with unknown vaccination histories might be present. This can be too overwhelming for a puppy, but more importantly could expose your puppy to deadly diseases, such as parvo virus or distemper.
Another type of socialization that is super helpful for puppies is to let them have sleep overs! This is not an essential part of raising a puppy, but it sure is a fun one. I am lucky enough to have dog/puppy loving friends, with puppy safe dogs who are kind enough to let my puppies have sleep overs occasionally. I like the idea of sleep overs for many reasons. One reason, is because it helps my puppy learn that being away from me for the night or a couple of days is not the end of the world. This can be very helpful later in life when you might have to board your dog when you go on vacation or if your dog needs to be hospitalized over night. When I drop my dogs off at the boarder, veterinarian, or a friend’s house, I love the fact that they just go without looking back or worrying about if I’m coming with them. It makes me happy to know that my dog is going to have a good time, or be able to heal properly if they are hospitalized.
Sleep overs also gives me and my adult dogs a break from puppy antics. When your puppy is at a sleep over you might be able to sleep through the night, get chores done around the house that have been lingering, and spend some much needed one-on-one time with your older dog(s). All of these are good for healthy relationships. Speaking of healthy relationships, sleep overs can also help prevent separation anxiety on both the dog and owner’s end.
I’m a dog trainer, so of course I’m going to recommend training for your puppy! I always recommend people start their puppies in group puppy classes with a reward-based trainer as soon as they get their puppy! I usually end up with some push back about the puppy not having completed her puppy vaccine series. This is a valid concern, I completely understand, but when does that socialization window close? At 16 weeks, remember. When do puppies finish their puppy vaccine series? At 16-20 weeks. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s Puppy Socialization Position Statement (you can read all of it here), “the combination of maternal immunity, primary vaccination, and appropriate care makes the risk of infection relatively small compared to the chance of death from to a behavior problem.” The ABSAB’s recommendation is for puppies to have received their first vaccine at least 7 days prior to attending puppy classes. They also recommend puppies continue to be updated on vaccines throughout their training classes.
The other point that I generally make when I get push back for a puppy to start training classes prior to being vaccinated is, you take your puppy to the veterinarian’s office for her check-ups and vaccinations, right? Where do people take their sick dogs? The veterinarian’s office. While we do make every effort to clean thoroughly on a daily basis and even more so if a dog with parvo has been in the building, there is still a risk. Do you know what does not come to a dog training facility? Sick dogs. If a sick dog did come to my facility, I would close the facility for a specific period of time to ensure proper disinfecting would occur. Dogs that come to my facility (and most other dog training facilities), must be up to date on their vaccines prior to attending class. This greatly lessens the risk of communicable disease being spread.
Do you have current dogs? Well, the adjustment to having a puppy might be tough for them, but keep in mind YOUR ADULT DOG DID NOT ASK FOR A PUPPY!!! New puppy owners always have these hopes of their adult dog and puppy getting along and being the best of friends. Well, sometimes your adult dog needs some time to develop that relationship with the new puppy and that is perfectly normal. Your goal when introducing your puppy to an adult dog should be to make it as easy as possible for your adult dog. Your adult dog’s schedule should not change because there is a puppy around.
Some people know what type of adult dog they have before they bring home a puppy, but it is common to not know how your adult dog will like a puppy. For example, I have one of each of the common type of puppy loving or unloving adult dogs. Trek is my “puppy lover.” He lights up when he sees puppies. He is gentle and appropriate with puppies. Kiely is my “indifferent” dog to puppies. She does not really care about them, but she generally does not seek out interactions with puppies. Armada is my “puppy-hater.” He prefers for puppies to just go away and leave him alone. He is very appropriate with his corrections and telling puppies to go away. Knowing this about Armada and Trek made brining Kiely home much easier. I knew Trek would LOVE every interaction he had with Kiely. Because I knew Armada was not going to be a fan of the puppy, I made sure she did not harass him and made sure she was respectful of what he was telling her.
The best way to ensure your puppy is not being bullied by your adult dog (or vice versa) is to use a Puppy Pen, which I discussed earlier. This will allow your puppy to learn about the body language of the adult dogs and allow your adult dog to interact with the puppy on their own terms. It is best for your adult dog to decide how much or little interaction they want to have with the puppy. I always supervise all interactions between my puppy and adult dogs, regardless of how much my adult dog loves puppies. I do not allow my adult dogs to bully my puppies and I do not allow my puppies to bully my adult dogs. I will allow the dogs to growl and grumble to make corrections. If the offender does not respond appropriately (back away if growled at), I am quick to remove the offending dog. I do not punish any of my dogs for growling. Growling is normal canine communication behavior. It is your job, as the owner, to ensure your dogs are acting appropriately, which may mean removing one of the dogs.
I do not allow my puppy to steal food, bones, or chews from the adult dogs. I always feed in crates and I lock the puppy’s crate. Your puppy is probably used to communal eating, but your adult dog is NOT used to communal eating. Feeding in a crate will eliminate the chances of dogs trying to steal each other’s food. If you prefer to not feed in crates, as your puppy gets older and gets used to eating by his or herself, you can stop feeding your puppy in a crate, but you will still need to supervise and intervene when needed. Food fights are never pretty!
Over time, usually a few weeks, your puppy and adult dog will begin to develop a mutual relationship, which will make interacting much easier between all parties involved.
As Your Puppy Grows-Up…
A couple of things to consider as your puppy moves into adolescence and young adulthood, is that they frequently revert in some of their training. This could be house training or even their sleep schedule gets out of whack for whatever reason. Adolescent dogs also tend to go through “fear periods.” These fear periods are unpredictable, but may last up to a week. This is when your dog is suddenly scared of novels items or even things that have never been scary in the past. If you notice this with your dog, please do not try to “work Fido through it.” This often backfires and makes your dog more fearful of the things. It is highly recommended to do less training, do less outings, and keep your dog where she feels the most comfortable. As frustrating as a fear period can be, it is best to just wait it out.
With proper planning, socialization, and training your puppy will turn into a wonderful adult dog!