What to Expect When You Are Expecting a Puppy – Part 2
Day 1 with Your New Puppy
The first day with a new puppy is an exciting time for everyone, but it can also feel stressful and overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect or if things don’t go as planned. This may be the first time that your new pup is away from their sibling and mother so they will need some time to get comfortable in their new forever home. Your puppy may also be feeling overwhelmed as they adjust to a new place!
Think of it like changing jobs or going to a new school – it takes a bit to get used to new routines, get comfortable with new people, and learn the ropes in this new place. Your puppy won’t know where to eat, where to go to the bathroom, or what all this new stuff is or who new people are, but a little patience and preparation goes a long way towards helping both you and your puppy get settled into life together! Keep reading for my top three tips on having a low-stress first day with your new puppy.
1. Take Things Slow
Take things slow and keep it low-key when your puppy first comes home. Remember, they have likely just been on a car ride with brand new people and have been taken away from their siblings and mom. It can be tempting to have friends and family over right away to meet your new adorable pup, but this can be way too overwhelming for lots of puppies. Instead, take things slow for the first few days – avoid having lots of people over, wait on trips to busy pet stores or dog parks, and give your pup time to get settled into their new home. There will be plenty of time for visitors later on!
If you have other pets in the home, keep them separated at first so that neither pet gets overwhelmed. Introduce new and resident pets gradually and keep interactions positive for all. If possible, take a few days off work or work from home to spend bonding time with your puppy and give you a chance to get used to their needs. Puppies sleep a lot but will also need to be taken out regularly for potty breaks, so spending a few days at home allows you to tackle potty training head-on from the start. The Potty Training Primer linked at the bottom of this post has guidelines on how to get started!
Take your new puppy to their potty area as soon as they get home and make sure to reward them any time they use the bathroom in the appropriate place. Young puppies who haven’t yet had all of their vaccinations should avoid walking in places where potentially unvaccinated dogs may have been, so keep this in mind when choosing an appropriate potty area. There are disposable grass potty boxes that can be used as a temporary bathroom spot if you do not have access to a private yard or a safe place for walks! If your puppy has an accident (which is likely!) don’t scold them or make it a big deal – simply clean up the accident with an enzymatic pet cleaner like this one from Nature’s Miracle, and take them out more frequently. Remember that they are still learning, and accidents are very normal!
Spend this first day calmly hanging out with your puppy and letting them settle in, get accustomed to new routines, and get comfortable with their new family. They may be interested in exploring your home or may just want to nap or spend time on their own – and any of those are okay! Take things at their pace and give them time to decompress.
2. Prevent Unwanted Behavior
Management is a key element of setting our puppies up for success! Prevent bathroom accidents in hard-to clean spaces by blocking off carpeted rooms or keeping your pup in a safe confinement area like an x-pen, particularly when you aren’t able to fully supervise them. Keep floors, low tables, and shelves clear of items that you don’t want puppies to chew, and put any potentially dangerous things out of reach or behind a barrier. Puppies are naturally curious and will explore rooms or items that they find interesting, so the best option for preventing incidents is to manage the environment!
Make sure your puppy has access to plenty of appropriate toys and chews and direct them to those instead of biting at your hands or clothing (this free Enrichment Guide has lots of ideas for how to keep your puppy’s brain and body appropriately occupied), and keep shoes, remotes, and other household items out of reach to prevent your puppy from chewing on them. Biting and chewing are natural behaviors for puppies and it’s up to us to set them up for success by not leaving items out that we don’t want chewed!
Trainer Tip: If your puppy does get ahold of something they shouldn’t have, avoid the temptation to scold them or pull the item away. This can result in a puppy who learns that grabbing stuff means their humans either do something scary or come to “steal their stuff”, and can make them run away with items or even swallow things in an effort to keep them! Instead, if your puppy grabs something they shouldn’t calmly walk up to them with a couple of stinky, tasty treats to offer instead. When the puppy lets go of the item to eat the treats, casually reach down and pick it up and then offer more snacks. This kind of trading is a much safer and more effective way of getting items back, plus it can help to prevent resource guarding behaviors!
If you ultimately want your dog to stay out of the kitchen or dining room while you are cooking or eating, use a baby gate to block access and give them a tasty puppy-safe chew or toy to keep them occupied during human meals. If they practice jumping up on counters or tables when they are young, it makes it much harder to change that behavior as they get older and bigger. Management sets our puppies up for success by helping them make good choices right from the start.
3. Helping Your Puppy Feel Safe Is More Important Than Training Skills
When we bring a new dog into our home we often expect a lot from them. We want them to quickly be potty trained, respond to cues like sit and stay, walk nicely on a leash, greet guests politely, be almost while we watch TV or make dinner…the list goes on! But we have to remember that puppies and new dogs are adjusting, and that learning takes time.
My priorities for new puppies center around teaching them that the world is safe and that the humans in their home can be trusted. We can of course use management to prevent behaviors we don’t want, and reward behaviors that our puppies offer that we like, but we don’t need to jump into training lots of things right away! Safety and comfort come first – sit and stay can come later.
The main goal for Day 1 with your new puppy should be helping them feel safe and making all of their interactions and experiences as positive as possible. Watch their body language and offer them comfort if they are unsure or nervous (a brief bit of myth-busting here: comforting your dog when they are afraid won’t “reinforce their fear”, and instead is more likely to help them recover from scary moments in the future!). Give them breaks from new experiences, and pair new things with positive stuff like treats, pets, and playtime. Remember that most of what they experience on day one in your home will be new for them!
Trainer tip: Place containers with small pea-sized treats in locations where you plan on spending time with your puppy. I like to use jars with a top or these OXO Pop containers for easily accessible treats. Having “reward stations” like this makes it easy to grab a couple of treats for your puppy when they are experiencing something new, if they need help feeling comfortable, or to reward behaviors you would like to see more of. Check out this free handout on the SMART x 50 training game that is a great way to start with building good behaviors by rewarding what you like to see!
This is the second in a three-part series all about welcoming home a new dog! Tune in on Friday for tips on Week 1 and Beyond, including tips for where to start with puppy training and how to handle unwanted behaviors as your puppy grows. For customized puppy training support, check out our services designed just for Puppies and New Dogs!