Bringing a puppy home for the first time is an exciting event. Most dog parents look forward to having a cuddly companion they can spend quality time with. Many puppies enter our lives at the age of 8 weeks, when their cuteness levels are off the charts. That cuteness factor helps when you begin to realize you are now the proud parent of a tiny tornado that has seemingly limitless energy, eats anything and everything, and usually does not understand potty training rules!
Life with a puppy can quickly become overwhelming if you do not take steps to help them be successful from the beginning. Puppies demand your attention and time. They require effort. They hijack your plans. The action that you take in the first week is critical for your furry companion (and your sanity)!
It is important to keep in mind that your puppy will be going through an emotional rollercoaster in that first week. The puppy will have left his home, his littermates, his parents—his entire world—to now be introduced to a whole new home and family. This would be a gigantic adjustment for a human to overcome, much less an 8-week-old puppy. Other than the recommended visit to your local veterinarian, the goal for this week is to allow your puppy to adjust to his new home and to create as much of a routine as possible with respect to feeding times, potty breaks, and more. This is your chance to begin to develop that human-animal bond that will help your puppy recognize his new nuclear family!
From essential new puppy supplies to puppy proofing 101, here’s everything you need to know before bringing a puppy home—plus five expert training tips to survive the first week!
Preparation: What Do I Need for a New Puppy?
Before bringing home a new puppy, you will need to stock up on new puppy essentials. But with so many different products to choose from, shopping for puppy supplies can be a daunting task.
Creating a new puppy checklist can help narrow your focus. Here are three important things to buy before bringing home a puppy:
Puppy Crate and/or Pen
A crate or a pen will be your most useful tool. It allows you to create a safe, puppy-proof area for your puppy to be in when you are not able to provide 100 percent supervision. Most people have the best success using a metal wire crate that is easy to clean and comes with a divider inside that can be adjusted as your puppy grows. Crate training can assist with potty training, encouraging nap time (puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep every day), and establishing good habits such as learning how to settle. Choose a quiet spot away from the everyday hubbub of family life to help foster a good sleeping environment. A crate cover can help create a den-like, cozy space for your puppy as well as a soft blanket and a puppy heartbeat toy, which holds a battery-powered heartbeat mechanism and has space for a disposable heating pad to further mimic a sleeping littermate.
Your puppy will be on a current food brand from the shelter or breeder. You will need to have about a month’s worth of this diet on hand before your puppy arrives. You can look at transitioning to a new food later, based on your veterinarian’s recommendations, but the goal is to maintain as much of the puppy’s normal routine as possible. Be sure to check with your veterinarian for appropriate feeding amounts, as the feeding instructions on many dog food labels can be misleading. You will also want to purchase a few bags of different small training treats or biscuits—get a variety of different flavors as you work toward finding out what your puppy prefers. You will want to begin training your puppy right away, and using food rewards to reinforce good behaviors is a vital component to helping your puppy thrive in that critical socialization period.
Play is an important part of any dog’s everyday life, and toys can offer appropriate outlets for excess energy and seek to satisfy the primal hunting and chewing instincts that are still present in your puppy’s DNA. You should look at purchasing around 10 different toys to have for the first week. Choose a variety of toys—plush stuffed toys, toys with squeakers, toys of different materials and fabrics, puppy-level teething chews made of non-toxic material, tug toys, rubber balls, and more. A newer item on the market is a tug/chase toy called a flirt pole; it has a toy at the end of the rope and allows you to engage with your puppy while safely keeping those sharp puppy teeth far away from human skin contact.
This preparation work will help make your puppy’s transition to his new life a lot easier and a lot more fun!
Safety: How to Puppy Proof Your House
Puppies explore the world with their mouths—they do not have dexterous digits to help them navigate like we do! Just like a human infant, a puppy doesn’t know what’s edible and what’s not. The world is brand new, and he is just trying to figure it all out for the first time. This means that anything is fair game to go into a puppy’s mouth: mulch, rocks, trash, shoes, remote controls, you name it. Keeping your puppy safe and limiting access to dangerous items should be a top objective for preparing for that first week. Choose a designated room or spot in the home for your puppy. Whichever room you choose, remove décor, clutter, and any other loose objects that might be within reach. Install sturdy dog gates with easy-open doors at the entrance(s) to the room to block your puppy’s access to rooms that are not puppy-proofed. Depending on the layout of your home, a play pen could also provide a protected space for your puppy, especially in the first few weeks.
Arrival: What to Expect the First Night with a New Puppy
After you’ve crossed the must-have supplies off your new puppy checklist and finished puppy proofing your house, you’ll need to know what to expect the first night with your new puppy! When bringing a puppy home for the first time, you will want to show him where basic resources are located, such as the potty spot, the water bowl, the play area, and the crate/sleeping area.
You and your family will be tempted to play with your new puppy, take him for walks, introduce him to friends and family, and more. But remember, this is a huge upheaval in your puppy’s life and can be a very stressful day. Give your puppy a chance to go to the bathroom in a safe spot outside and then slowly introduce him to the other important basic areas. Allow the family household to gently greet the puppy. Existing pets should be kept in other rooms at this time to reduce your puppy’s stress levels. Afterward, carefully place the puppy in his crate and give him a break to take a nap, unwind, and acclimate himself to his new surroundings.
Bringing a Puppy Home: 5 Training Tips to Survive the First Week
Once you’ve survived the first night with your new puppy, here are some helpful steps you can take during the first week and beyond!
Begin potty training right away
Set up a feeding and potty schedule for your puppy. Typically the number of months your puppy is will be the number of hours he can hold his bladder (2 months = 2 hours). Give the puppy an opportunity to pee or poop in your designated potty spot. As soon as your puppy goes to the bathroom, praise him while giving him treats. Repeat this every time the puppy successfully eliminates to reinforce appropriate potty habits. Your puppy will begin to realize that awesome things happen when he does the act outside. If the puppy goes to the bathroom inside, it means that the human made a mistake, and you should get the puppy outside as soon as you can after that happens. Punishment often makes the situation worse and the puppy may not want to go to the bathroom in that person’s presence (outside or inside).
Start crate training
Some breeders start crate training before you even get your puppy. This can be immensely helpful, but it is a good idea to continue the work after bringing a puppy home. Make sure that the crate is the appropriate size; it should be small enough that the puppy can stand up and turn around. If it’s too large, the puppy can urinate on one side of the crate and sleep on the other. A crate bed or baby blanket along with safe toys, such as a puppy heartbeat toy, can make the crate cozy and welcoming. If your puppy is chewing any of those items, remove them until your puppy is older.
If your puppy is completely new to crate training, start by tossing a few treats inside to lure him inside. Once he is completely in the crate, provide verbal praise and toss in more treats. Repeat this process each time for several weeks. Every meal that your puppy gets should be given while the puppy is in the crate to help further create positive association. The feeding and potty schedule should revolve around nap times in the crate. Again, puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep a day. Sleep is essential to healthy growth, contributing to the necessary development of his brain, immune system, central nervous system, and more.
Socialization. Socialization. Socialization.
Your goal is to help your puppy to grow up into a confident and friendly adult dog. In general, your puppy is in a critical period of socialization from 8 weeks to approximately 16 weeks old, depending on the breed. Socialization means so much more than what we typically think it does and has an immense impact on future behaviors. It is not about exposing your puppy to as many new things or places that you can find; it is a crucial time when your puppy is learning how to interact with the surrounding world and forming associations with new people, children, other dogs, and their environment. These associations can be positive or negative and, as a pet parent during these key weeks, you have the opportunity to help make those associations positive and fun for your puppy! You can create positive associations with potential stress triggers (such as new people, other dogs or cats, or vehicles that make loud noises), by giving your puppy a tasty treat when he is observing or interacting with those things.
If you’re unsure where to start, puppy training classes or online video courses, such as those offered by PupCamp, are a good option to consider. A good puppy boot camp course will ensure lessons are learned on both ends of the leash!
Playtime and exercise
Part of your puppy’s daily potty/nap routine and schedule should revolve around playtime and easy physical exercise. Several times per day for about 20 minutes, you will want to engage in play with your puppy. Use toys to redirect those sharp teeth and play games like tug, keep away, or fetch in the designated play area. Keep it fun and rotate through the various toys that you have stored away in your puppy’s toy bin. While you can take your puppy outside for a leash walk, you should keep it to less than 10 minutes and keep the travel distance short since your puppy’s bones have not fully formed. Overexercise and excessive repetitive motion can cause joint and ligament damage that affects their future health.
Puppies need mental stimulation to exercise their brains and feel happy! You can swap the food bowl for a puzzle toy, snuffle mat, or slow feeder to boost their cognitive skills—smell, sight, hearing, and more! Certain games like hide-and-seek can also ignite important brain functions tied to problem solving and other abilities. In the future, you can also explore higher level mental stimulation through scent/nose work and more challenging puzzle toys.
There is so much that goes into raising a puppy, even in just that first week! With a little preparation, patience, and persistence, you’ll set your puppy up for success that will last well into the future.
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