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Puppy’s First Week

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time for the family but for the puppy, it can be a very scary experience as it is taken away from its mother and siblings and put into a new environment with people that it’s never met before.  It’s no wonder that a pup will be nervous on its first night and of course the family will worry about it.

When the pup has settled into its new home and a routine has been developed, the fun can begin but getting through the first few days can be a harrowing experience for everyone.  Planning and preparation will get everyone off to a good start and make this time of transition as easy as possible.

If possible, visit the puppy a few times before the day of picking it up and ask the breeders lots of questions including when and what to feed it as well as for a copy of the pup’s vaccinations and paperwork.  But, organise to pick up the puppy either before a long weekend, at the beginning of a holiday or at a time when someone will be home with it all the time for as many days as possible.

PUPPY PROOFING THE HOME
Before picking up the newest family member, the home must be puppy-proofed.  Put away loose articles such as shoes, clothes and kids toys and remove all floor plants that the pup might chew or knock over.  Secure anything that is hanging low such as table cloths and tea towels.  Chair and table legs may need to be wrapped if the pup shows any interest in chewing them as should cables and electricity cords.

Block all access to pools, ponds and dangerous areas as puppies can squirm through some fairly tiny spaces and check the fences for even the smallest hole.  Cover any small spots in the house that a puppy could hide in such as under beds and behind wardrobes and make sure that all the doors to cupboards and drawers are always left closed.

SETTING THE GROUND RULES
Setting strong ground rules for the family is the first step to making sure that the new puppy receives consistent messages on what is good behaviour and what isn’t acceptable and a routine needs to be put in place as this will make training the pup so much easier.

Sit everyone in the household down and decide on where the puppy will eat, sleep and go to the toilet.  Prepare a schedule for when the puppy will be fed, be played with and be trained.  In the beginning, everyone will agree to do anything, even the poo pick-ups, but of course you need to be prepared for their enthusiasm to wain when the reality of these jobs kicks in.

If there are children in the household, teach them how to hold and play with the puppy before it arrives.  Make sure that they know that rough-housing, poking and ear pulling aren’t allowed and that, when they hug the puppy, they mustn’t smother it.  Children younger than six should be taught that they must always be sitting on the floor when holding the pup to make sure that it won’t be injured if it’s dropped.  Use a stuffed toy to demonstrate how to hold, pat and play with it and never leave the kids alone with the puppy, even for just a minute.

Make sure everyone knows how to lavish the puppy with praise when it is doing the right thing since puppies respond quickly to rewards.  For a dog, the period between five and twelve weeks is critical for their development so everyone in the household needs to be consistent in what is acceptable for the pup and how to train it to behave well.

Rewarding a pup is all about using a bright and happy voice to repeat terms like ‘good boy, Fido’ or ‘well done Fido’.  Using toys as a reward is also a great idea but be a little bit careful if using treats as very young puppies can get an upset tummy when new foods are introduced.  If treats are to be used, use only those that it is already used to even if it just from their normal dinner.

Of course, at some point the pup is going to do something wrong and needs to be made aware of it.  The best technique is to use a deep, fairly loud voice to say a sharp ‘no’.  This should stop the pup and once you have its attention you can give it something more appropriate to do such as playing with a chew toy.  After it has been doing that for a minute, always follow up with some praise so that it is reinforced that this behaviour is acceptable.  Smacking and other forms or aggressive punishment are not acceptable and are not even effective.

NAMING A PUPPY
It is such a personal choice when naming a puppy.  Sometimes a name will just come into a new owner’s head as soon as he or she sees their bundle of fur but for others it can be quite tricky to choose one that is just right.  One piece of advice is to choose a name that you will be happy calling out when playing down at the park.  If you’re a tough bloke, you may not want to be calling out “C’mon Princess” whilst hanging out with your mates at a barbecue.

Some people believe that it is best only to use the puppy’s name in a positive way and never for punishment or for negative reasons.  This is supposed to make it more likely that a puppy will come when its name is called as it will always think that there will be a reward, praise or a cuddle.

LIST OF ESSENTIALS
Go shopping before bringing your puppy home. This will stop you from having to make rushed trips to the shop to pick up things that have been forgotten.

THE SCENT OF THE LITTER
When picking up the puppy from the breeder, take a brand new toy or new blanket and rub it on each of the puppies in the litter or on the bedding that the puppy slept on.  This will put the ‘scent of the litter’ onto the toy which can then be placed in its bed when it is time to sleep.  It will provide the puppy with some familiar smells on its first night when it may be missing its siblings.

PUPPY’S FIRST CAR RIDE HOME
This might be the first car ride for the pup and it will probably not enjoy the experience too much.  It may end up with an upset tummy from both the stress and the movement of the car so, if possible, ask the breeder not to feed it for about two hours before the trip.

Transport the dog in a dog crate or travel box with a blanket in the bottom.  It should be kept secure in the vehicle and not be just left sitting on a seat where it can easily fall off or distract the driver.  If possible, take a second person in the car to collect the puppy.  If they drive, you will then be free to talk to the pup on its first car ride.  As soon as it arrives at its destination, let it relieve itself on the grass before going inside.

PUPPY’S FIRST HOURS AT HOME
When the puppy first comes into the home, keep other animals outside and make sure that the house is quiet to reduce as much stress as possible.  Try to avoid having toddlers around at this time as you could imagine how scary an excited toddler might appear to a tiny puppy.  Close off doors to other rooms and keep the pup contained in just one area where it will be fully supervised.

Allow the puppy to explore the room and then to meet his new family in a calm and quiet manner.  Take the lead from the puppy as to whether it wants to be cuddled or played with or even have a nap.  Have the new dog crate in the room which the puppy can also have a sniff at and put the soft toy with his siblings scent in the crate so that the pup gets the feeling that this is where it belongs.  If the pup wants a nap, put him into the crate.  The door can be left open if someone is in the room to supervise but if they have to leave for a few minutes, close the door so that it remains safe.

PUPPY’S FIRST MEAL
Feed the puppy exactly the same food and at the same time as it was fed at the breeders so that it doesn’t end up with any tummy upsets.  But, this will be the first time it would have been fed on its own without its brothers and sisters pushing to get in too so its whole routine will be out of whack.  Every interaction with a puppy is a training opportunity and dinner time is no different.

Once the food is prepared, hold onto the puppy’s collar to get it to sit and wait.  As soon as the puppy calms down, say a word such as ‘ok’ and then release it to have dinner.  This same training should happen before every meal and soon the young dog will know to wait calmly for its food.

Carry the pup out to its new toilet spot as soon as it has eaten.  Don’t let it walk there as chances are that it won’t make it before it has an accident on the floor.  Whilst the pup is on the grass and going to the toilet, repeat the words ‘go toilet’ so that this becomes its signal that this is the time and place to go to the toilet.  When the puppy does go, lavish it with praise.

FIRST NIGHT WITH PUPPY
For the puppy, this is a night full of firsts.  It’s the first time it has been away from its mother; the first time with new people; the first time in a new home with a new bed with new sights, sounds and smells.  It must be quite a scary time.

On this first night, be prepared for very little sleep and a little bit of heartbreak as the puppy will probably feel lonely and there will almost definitely be whining.   And some of it might even be from you!

A few hours before the pup’s bedtime, have a good play with it to try to exhaust it ready for a good night sleep.  Don’t let it nap at this time or it will be fully awake and ready to play when you’re trying to sleep.  Remove any food or water after about seven o’clock and just before it’s time to go to bed, take the pup out to the toilet and give it lots of praise when it’s successful.

On the first night, and for about three weeks, have the puppy sleep in a dog crate next to the bed.  Line the base with blankets so that it is cosy and drape another blanket over the top to help it feel more secure.  Give the puppy the stuffed toy that has its littermates’ scent on it to snuggle up to.

If the puppy cries, take it out on a leash to go to the toilet and then put it back into the crate without any treats or play time.  As tempting as it might be to sit and give it a cuddle, remember that the plan is to train the puppy to know that night time is sleep time and not a time for playing or cuddles.  There’s plenty of time for cuddling in the morning.

Unless there is the intention of starting a habit of a lifetime, don’t allow the puppy into the bed.  It’s far more difficult to ‘untrain’ this habit than it is to teach the puppy to sleep in a dog crate next to the bed and possibly in another location in a few weeks time.

Some people will fill a hot water bottle with warm water and wrap it in blankets to put amongst the bedding for the pup to snuggle up to and of course, there is the age old trick of leaving a wind-up ticking clock near the bed so that it mimics the mother’s heart beat.  When a puppy won’t sleep, almost anything is worth a try.

Of course, not all puppies are going to take to sleeping in a crate in their new home effortlessly so it’s no surprise that many new puppy owners appear blurry eyed from lack of sleep for at least a few weeks.  The only way to survive this is with the reminder that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that the puppy will soon feel safe and at home.

Meanwhile, keep the training consistent and don’t fall into the trap of mollycoddling the puppy when it whines, cries, barks or howls at night as the only thing that it will be learning is that it will get much more attention if it whines, cries, barks or howls!  During these nights, patience is definitely a virtue.

FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
The pup will probably wake early in the morning, full of energy and exuberance.  The household will wake somewhat differently; yawning and red-eyed from lack of sleep.  The first thing to do is carry the pup out to its new toilet spot and give it lots of praise when it relieves itself but remember, don’t let it walk as it probably won’t make it.

It’s now time for the puppy’s breakfast which should follow the exact same routine as for dinner and then, of course, it should be taken straight back outside to go to the toilet.  After that, give the puppy lots of love and cuddles and enjoy the first full day with this little bundle of joy.

CRADLING
Whilst still allowing the puppy time to sleep and short periods of time on its own, it’s also important to handle the puppy as much as possible from the very first moment it arrives home so that as it grows it is more comfortable at the groomers and with the vet.  Adult dogs that have never been taught to have their feet, ears and mouth handled become stressed and even ‘nippy’ when it comes time for a vet check or to have their nails clipped.

At least three times a day, cradle the puppy on its back and handle its feet, nails, ears and mouth by first just touching them and then building up to being able to hold and even press them.  Gently run your hands up and down the puppy’s tummy and over its legs and give it a gentle brush all over.  Some puppies resist being cradled but they will soon learn to be comfortable and will eventually be quite happy to lie on their back for a relaxing massage.

BITING AND CHEWING
Isn’t it cute when a little puppy runs off courageously dragging a captured shoe behind it?  Everyone laughs and gives the pup a bit of attention and the pup thinks, “That was fun! I might do that again.”  But, it’s not so cute when the puppy is 6 months old and the family is hiding their shoes and anything of value for fear that they are going to get chewed up.

Even at the youngest of ages, puppies learn through reinforcement and, in this example, the family reinforced the puppy’s behaviour of shoe stealing by giving a positive reaction.

From the very first night, the puppy needs to be discouraged from chewing inappropriate toys and shoes and must learn that biting, whether that be people or other pets, is not allowed.  But, puppies have brand new, very sharp teeth that they want to exercise and if they don’t have an appropriate toy will chew on anything that they can find.  Just don’t give them an old thong or shoe though as they will never learn to differentiate between this and your favourite shoes in the wardrobe.

Choose a good quality chew toy that is designed for a puppy up to three months. These will be light weight, a size to suit a puppy’s jaw and almost indestructible so that little pieces don’t break off which can be swallowed.  Introduce the toy as part of a game and perhaps wipe just a little bit of the puppy’s wet food on the toy to encourage it to at least start licking it.  As the puppy grows, move on to larger chew toys that help provide relief when teething.

ACCIDENTS HAPPEN
Unfortunately, accidents happen often with such young pups.  They can go to the toilet as often as every 20 to 30 minutes and almost always after every meal and drink.  The trick is to pre-empt this and take the pup out to its toilet spot regularly and then give it lots of praise and reward when it’s successful.

If the pup doesn’t make it to the toilet spot, the floor needs to be cleaned thoroughly so that no smell lingers as this will entice it back to that area to go to the toilet next time.  Since urine is actually a sticky substance, even the grout in a tile floor will retain the scent of urine that a dog can smell if it’s not neutralised.

To clean up after an ‘accident’, use thick wads of paper towel to soak up as much of the urine as possible.  Then apply a bio-enzymatic product especially for pet urine which will treat the uric acid crystals as well and remove the odour totally.  All of the surface area of the floor where the urine has been needs to be treated which is a bit trickier on carpet as the urine may have soaked through to the underlay so several applications may be needed.  Avoid using chemical-based cleaners or deodorisers which actually trap the urine crystals into the carpet or fabric.

Better Pets and Gardens has several products that can be used on carpets, fabrics and hard floors but it is always best to test them first on a hidden section on the floor to ensure that they don’t cause any staining or affect the colours.

INTRODUCING A PUPPY TO OTHER PETS
When first introducing the pup, have a second person around so that both adult dog and puppy can be kept on a lead and restrained.  Watch for body language and signs of aggression which might be staring, baring teeth, laid-back ears or raised hair on the back of the neck.  If this happens, remove one of the dogs and let them both cool off and try introducing them again later.  If there’s more than one adult dog, introduce them one at a time.

When introducing a cat to a puppy, make sure that the cat has an escape route.  The cat will always feel safer if it has a ‘puppy free’ zone where it can relax without fear of being pestered or chased.

Other cats and dogs should never be left alone with the puppy or be allowed to sleep with it until you are sure that there is no potential for aggressive behaviour.  And, don’t expect them to be best friends overnight as they will all be trying to work out where this ‘intruder’ fits into the pack.

MORE INFORMATION
After surviving the first few days with the new puppy, find out more with our fact sheet ‘Bringing Home a Puppy’.  It is available in store or on the Better Pets and Gardens fact sheet.