Are you considering the addition of a new four-footed family member?
Bringing a puppy into your home is a joyous occasion. Watching them grow and mature into a well balanced, social dog who is a pleasure to be around is everyone’s dream. It is a big deal for you, your family and your puppy and life will change forever once he steps through the door.
Considering the right dog for your family
Although many people breeze through puppyhood, sometimes problems arise if careful research has not been given on what type of dog would best suit your family. If you live a sedentary life and mostly want a dog as a companion and to take for gentle strolls, then clearly, a Border Collie is not going to be suitable! Think carefully about:
- What time do you have to devote to a dog?
- How much will it cost to provide everything your dog needs initially and month on month? (Food, insurance, Vets fees, training and socialisation, daycare or dog walker if you work, kennelling or dog sitting if you plan to holiday without your dog).
- Work commitments – will your dog be left home alone for long periods and what plans do you need to put into place for that?
- Are you buying a dog for the right reason – or to placate the children? (Who will likely go off the idea of owning and caring for a dog over time and it will be left to you)!
- How big will he grow?
- Would you consider offering a home to a young rescue dog?
- If you are considering a specific breed talk to other owners about them or contact the breed society websites and learn more there.
- There are many things to consider, these are just a few. The Kennel Club offer some advice on how to find the right dog for your family: https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/getting-a-dog/are-you-ready/finding-the-right-dog/ or contact a local trainer or behaviourist who will be able to help you.
Do your research and remember a dog may be with you for 15 years or maybe more, depending on breed!
Selecting a breeder
When you have chosen what breed or type of dog that fits with your family, selecting a suitable breeder is the next BIG consideration.
What the breeder has exposed your puppy to in his environment for the first few weeks of life will help to shape how confident your pup is, how easy he is to toilet train, his curiosity, his health condition now and going forward and his likelihood to take life in his stride. Breeders have a huge responsibility to make sure the litter has had enrichment, appropriate socialisation with people and objects and have started the separation process and toilet training so that when puppy starts his new life with you, he is already equipped with some of the coping strategies and skills he will need.
Please ALWAYS make sure you visit the litter at their place of birth, that you see Mum interacting with the puppies and that she is friendly and approaches you. Ask to see Dad if he is on the premises or photos of him.
- Look around you, where are the puppies kept?
- Are the premises clean?
- Are you asked to wash your hands before interacting with Mum and pups?
- Do they have access to see and hear household things like the washing machine, vacuum cleaner and the general hustle and bustle of daily life?
- What is there for them to play with?
- What is the breeder’s policy about returning a puppy? Sometimes, unfortunate circumstances arise where you are unable to keep your puppy, can you return to the breeder, or in fact do they insist on it?
Before you visit the litter and whilst you are there, be prepared to feel like you are at a job interview. A good breeder will want to know all about you and your family, previous dog-owning history and a wealth of other information. I have known breeders turn people away if they feel prospective new owners are unsuitable and that is exactly the way it should be, good, reputable breeders will want to make sure you and the puppy are a good match.
On the flip side of that, if when you visit, you do not get a good feeling about the people or premises or the bitch and puppies look unwell, underweight or timid – WALK AWAY. It is the hardest thing in the world to do, particularly if you would like to take a puppy away to give him a better life, but you may be saddling yourself with a lifetime of health or behavioural issues which is not the dream you have for life with your dog. Hard as it may seem and however callous I may sound, another puppy will be out there for you.
PLEASE do not be tempted to have two puppies from the same litter, I have known this end in disaster, conflicts may occur and fights ensue – no one wants this.
If you are considering more than one puppy, start with one, learn all about them and build a bond then consider adding another over time. Talk to a behaviourist who can help guide you.
When you have selected your breeder the excitement begins
Hopefully, you will have several weeks to prepare for the arrival of your new puppy. This is an ideal time to get everything and everyone ready.
Preparation is key – Think about the equipment you will need:
- A crate/pen and a bed
- Baby gates or other management items
- Water and food bowls
- Collar and tag/harness
- Car restraint
- Toys – suitable for your puppy’s age and breed
- Puppy pads or indoor toilet area
- Poo bags
- Brush/comb suitable for your breed
- Finger brush / toothbrush and paste specially made for dogs
- Dog Shampoo
- Cleaning products for accidents
- Treats for training and rewards – suitable for your puppy’s age and breed
- Dog first aid kit – taking a Dog first aid course is also an excellent idea to make sure you are prepared and know what to do if an emergency should happen. Vet Sophie Bell of Animal Love Pet First Aid runs excellent courses. More details here: https://www.animallovepetfirstaid.co.uk/
Before you bring puppy home let’s set you and puppy up for success by considering the following and having a plan in place so that everyone is singing from the same sheet, this ensures consistency which will help puppy settle into your routine more easily.
Crate or Pen: Is puppy used to this? Choosing an appropriate sized crate, pen or area where he can settle quietly for a sleep or be popped safely into when you cannot supervise him, is vital. If puppy is not used to this, crate training will need to be slowly introduced.
Is he going to be allowed upstairs or onto furniture? Being consistent will help puppy understand what is expected of him.
Toileting: Where will you encourage your puppy to toilet, indoors or outdoors? Having a routine for toileting is the key to fast toilet training – consistency and careful observation is needed.
Rota: Puppy will most likely need the opportunity to toilet during the night – who is going to do this? Do you need a rota so if puppy is unsettled you don’t all become exhausted.
Sleep Time: Where will you provide for your puppy to sleep during the day? What about at night? Contrary to popular belief science tells us leaving a puppy to cry at night may promote problems when being left alone. Just think how it might feel to be alone, frightened, maybe cold and missing your Mum and brothers and sisters.
Nipping and mouthing: What will your approach be to puppy mouthing? Puppies will often nip more if they are overexcited, overtired or teething. Have all the family be consistent when it comes to nipping. Advocate for younger children, it’s not much fun being chased and nipped by an overstimulated puppy and may break their relationship.
Children: Have a plan for your children. ALWAYS supervise children and puppies together. Please DO NOT allow children to pick up your puppy. Puppies wriggle and nip and children are not adept at managing safe and careful handling. Just one drop could result in the puppy being injured or becoming unwilling to be handled.
Environment: Cover slippery floors: Dogs of all ages suffer micro-traumas on a daily basis by slipping on wood, tiled and other slippery surfaces. Constantly having to correct their position can cause skeletal and muscular problems from a very early age. Provide rug runners over slippery areas to prevent further injuries. If puppy is not used to slippery floors just one incident of them becoming frightened because they slip may provide a lifetime of anxiety about different surfaces under their feet.
Training: Are you considering taking your puppy to training classes? Find a qualified trainer, the Kennel Club or https://www.findadogtrainer.com/ are reputable sources of information. Also enquire in your local area, ask other dog owners for recommendations. Only consider ones with small class sizes (ideally no more than 4) and who use positive training methods. Visit the class without your puppy and observe a session. Are the puppies happy, is there lots of noise that might be difficult for you and puppy to cope with, is the instructor clear with instructions and are they kind? If you don’t like what you see, find another class.
Not every puppy copes well in classes. If your puppy seems overwhelmed or overstimulated and cannot concentrate there are other ways of learning – for example online. This takes the pressure off and allows you to socialise puppy at his own pace. Or maybe you are not yet ready to mix with others or the timings of puppy class are difficult for you. Geographically the time spent travelling might be unrealistic for you. Learning online gives you that freedom to build rapport with your puppy, learn at a pace which suits you both and allows the whole family to be involved.
When you go to collect your puppy
On one of your puppy visits take with you 3 or 4 hand towels or similar sized cloths for the breeder to pop in with the bitch and puppies so you will have a ready supply of scented items that will be familiar to him. Ask the breeder to pop the scented items into a plastic bag and seal it for you to bring home on collection day. This will give him the smell of something familiar to help him settle during his first few days.
Try, if possible, to collect your puppy in the morning so that he has all day to get acclimatised before being asked to sleep overnight. It may be tempting to try to ‘tire your puppy out so they will sleep well’. This doesn’t work! An overtired puppy may become bitey and anxious – let them sleep if they need to. Young puppies need up to 20 hours of rest and sleep a day!
Good breeders will provide you with a ‘puppy pack’ to take home with you containing information about his worming and vaccination status, microchip details, any health issues and medical treatments, whether he is used to a crate or pen plus lots of others. You should be provided with 14 days of the current diet puppy has been brought up on. This gives you time to ensure the diet is suitable for your puppy and plenty of time in which to change him over slowly, onto a more appropriate diet if necessary. Kennel Club registered puppies are also likely to come with 6 weeks’ insurance cover.
The journey home
It is likely that your puppy will not have travelled very much in the car – if at all.
Take another adult with you who can provide comfort for your puppy on the way home. If it is a long journey make frequent stops where puppy can have a break from the car’s motion, he will not be able to go outside the car (because he is unlikely to be fully vaccinated) but a respite may be welcome. Make sure you have plenty of puppy pads or towels in case of accidents.
Please NEVER have your puppy loose in the car. It is dangerous for you and your passengers if there is an accident and it is illegal, your dog must be suitably restrained by law.
If your puppy suffers from motion sickness or becomes distressed on the journey home you will need to carefully introduce travel thereafter so that he becomes used to the car and does not see it as a place of anxiety.
When you get puppy home
Let them safely explore their new environment. Keep everything low key with minimal excitement. Ask children to be calm so that puppy does not become overwhelmed.
Put your routine in place. Offer frequent toilet breaks and NEVER scold them for accidents that happen in the house. You will quickly learn your puppy’s body language and routine for when they are about to toilet – you then need to be ready to get them outside as quickly as possible so they toilet in an appropriate place.
Offer plenty of opportunities to sleep and make sure that your children know that when puppy is in his bed he is not to be disturbed under any circumstance. A puppy that is startled from his sleep may become anxious about sleeping or may snap to make the child go away. If puppy is crate or pen trained he will value this area as a place to be able to retreat if he needs to sleep or get away from unintentional constant interaction with children.
Be prepared to either have puppy’s crate in your bedroom for the first few nights whilst he settles in, or, alternatively, sleep downstairs with puppy. You will not spoil him by doing this, you are providing comfort at the time they need it most. Gentle separation can be done over time.
On the days that follow you need to find your balance of interaction, sleep time, socialisation and fun times. We all get it wrong from time to time – you will work it out!
Be careful not to overstimulate puppy. You will be advised, that even before puppy can be safely put down on the ground following vaccinations, that you take your puppy to meet lots of new sights and sounds. Some puppies can cope with this, others take a little longer. Be your puppy’s advocate. If he seems overwhelmed by people, noises or sounds GO HOME, you will have plenty of opportunities to try again another day. If you are struggling or want to know how to introduce puppy safely and mindfully seek the advice of a dog trainer or behaviourist.
Introducing puppy to other dogs already in your home
If you already have a dog at home the introduction of a puppy must be done carefully so as not to upset the already established dogs.
Bringing a scented cloth back from one of your puppy visits will help your other dog to get to ‘know’ puppy before he arrives. Take the cloth and rub the puppy with it, pop into a bag and seal. Offer this for the older dog to sniff when you get home. Do this each time you visit puppy as his scent will be changing as he gets older.
When you introduce the two together make sure puppy doesn’t harass your older dog, be an advocate for them both, if puppy is becoming too much make sure your older dog has a place to retreat away from puppy or a place you can pop puppy safely whilst things calm down. Equally, if puppy is worried by the older dog remove him from the situation and a more gentle introduction can be tried next time. If you are struggling seek the advice of a trainer or behaviourist.
It is easy to give a lot of attention to the new family member but making sure you have quality, one to one time with your older dog will make them feel included and still loved.
Many new puppy owners breeze through the first few weeks of living with their new puppy, however, sometimes the reality is far from ideal. If you are struggling seek advice, don’t plough on getting frustrated or exhausted with your puppy’s behaviour. The behaviour your puppy is showing is likely to be quite normal, but some pups can be persistent. A competent trainer or behaviourist will be able to guide you through these first few weeks.
I have been working with puppy owners for 38 years and I have a trick or two up my sleeve.
Why not join my online Puppy Parent Super Skills Course for new or soon to be puppy parents. Let’s get you both started on the right foot.
Albion followers and clients also receive a 20% discount. Enter Albion20 in the coupon area at the checkout. Click this link for more details or use the contact me page via my website and we can talk further.
Then if in-person puppy classes are not for you, you have the opportunity to join my online 8-week puppy starter course. Please ask for further details.
Article by Tracy Brind.