There are few events in life as special and life changing as welcoming your new puppy into your life. I clearly remember the day I went to the breeder to pick up my baby puppy Chilli. He was so incredibly brave and came back to London with me via train, cab and tube.
How to prepare for a puppy
I remember the excitement I felt as soon as I met little Chilli. I fell in love instantly. And as he was already 7 weeks old, I only had to wait one more week to bring him home. At that time breeders allowed the puppies to leave their mums at 8 weeks, but I believe this has now changed to 12 weeks. I went to Pets at Home and did a proper “baby” shop!
How to stop a puppy from whining
Your puppy’s first night has arrived. Dogs are by nature pack animals, which means they are hardly ever alone. They are interdependent, needing each other as a pack or family to survive. So when you bring your cute little puppy home and night time comes round, he or she – who has never slept alone before – finds that fear and loneliness is a natural reaction. When together, the siblings all sleep huddled up, feeling each other’s heart beats and body heat. Don’t forget your puppy doesn’t know its new home, and he or she barely knows you, so it is very likely your pup will cry.
Don’t underestimate the intensity of that cry! It is heart wrenching and so hard to bear. You will likely be tempted to bring your puppy into your bed with you to comfort him. This is of course a natural instinct and it will create a very strong bond. But you need to consider whether you are encourage this behaviour for the lifetime of your dog. If your puppy never learns to be alone, how will it cope with life?
So what do you do when your puppy starts crying?
You have 2 options:
Ignore the crying altogether, and after a few days the puppy will stop. However, this is quite harsh. At the time I met Chilli a lot of the breeders were giving me exactly that advice. The downside to ignoring your puppy’s cries is that you are – indirectly – teaching your pup that he or she is alone and needs to be self soothing and independent.
The other option is to rush to your puppy and cuddle and soothe them. This will stop the crying, of course, but you are teaching your puppy a habit called learned crying. The pup will learn that whenever it cries, Mummy or Daddy comes. Imagine what a powerful tool that is! I personally think you run the risk of your dog becoming so attached to you that it might suffer from separation anxiety in the future.
So if both options are extreme, what do you do?
Perhaps try this: place the puppy’s bed on the floor next to your bed. The puppy will feel your presence, smell your company. He or she will know you are there and that he or she is safe in this new den next to you. After a few nights, maybe a week, you can try moving the puppy’s bed into another room. By that time the bed or crate will feel like a safe home. Do remember that every puppy’s character is different. Some tend to be more anxious while others seem to feel 100% safe everywhere and all of the time. So observe your puppy during the day, see what feels right for him or her. If you have other dogs maybe your pup will feel comfortable sleeping in the same room as them, but make sure that they are all individually crated. They do not yet know each other and leaving them together unsupervised is dangerous.
Crate training a puppy
I really wish I had crate trained Chilli as a puppy! It took me years to train him to feel safe in a closed space as an adult dog, but he loves it now! The beauty of crate training is that you’re teaching your dog to relax in an allocated space. This means your dog can stop being vigilant, and just relax and settle.
When I first heard of crate training years ago, I thought it sounded cruel and strange, the idea of “caging”. But it’s not, it’s actually quite the opposite! A confined space is a safe haven for a dog. Don’t forget that in nature they have dens, and especially for nervous, anxious or even just tired dogs, it is a relief. And don’t just think of crate training as a fixed crate in your house – it translates to any enclosed space including a dog bag or portable crate bag. This means that when you want to bring your dog in the car he or she will be used to jumping into a bag or crate, and being still and comfortable there. Alternatively, if you take a small dog into a pub or public place you can bring a good sized dog bag with you for your pup to settle into if the environment is too much. Or perhaps you have the builders over and there are too many things going on for you to safely monitor your pup? You can zip him or her up into the crate with complete peace of mind.
However, do not expect to be able to do this with an adult dog who’s never been crated! Dogs need to learn what it means to be confined. If you force an adult dog he or she might end up hating all enclosed spaces, and then you have a problem.
The other benefit of crate training your puppy is that it can be used to help with potty training.
What exactly is puppy socialisation? When I first heard of the concept of “puppy socialisation” I didn’t understand its true meaning nor how important it would be to the whole life of my pup. Dogs are social, or pack, animals meaning they live within their families, and must learn the dynamics and appropriate behaviour in different situations. Puppies need to learn how to interact with each other, their parents and the extended family, if you like. Just look at it like this – your puppy doesn’t come with an installed version of experience. Everything he or she experiences is NEW.
Puppies don’t know how to greet strangers, for example. Unless a puppy is very confident and outgoing, chances are it will be a bit wary of a new person it hasn’t met before. This is where you need to show the pup that he or she is safe, and that it’s ok. You also need to tell people when it’s too much for your puppy. This can be a bit awkward, but setting the right boundaries for your pup to flourish in is so so important. I didn’t understand this at the time and it pains me that no one told me, so I’m keen to pass this on.
So I would say that socialisation is the process of introducing your puppy to the world. Your puppy needs to learn about what a car is, public transport, the postman, other dogs, your own family rules, traffic, outdoors vs indoors, etc. Here is a story which really illustrates this: I was thinking of adopting a young girl Chihuahua for Chilli to have a little friend. I found someone wanting to rehome her mother’s dogs. I went to visit them, and the young dog was a bit shy but curious enough. I asked to lead walk her, and the owner froze. I put the pup on the lead only to discover she didn’t know what a lead was! And what was even more shocking, I realised that she had never been outside of the house! She didn’t know what a garden or streets were. I took her outside and watched with an aching heart as this 9-month-old little girl saw the outdoors for the first time. She was gazing around herself in awe, sniffing at the grass, the flowers, feeling the light. She was so mesmerized and probably so overwhelmed that she didn’t focus on any of us. I was imagining myself on my hands and knees on the pavements of London, attempting to encourage her to walk by using treats. Sadly her lack of socialisation meant that I could not adopt her. It would not have been fair on her to be brought to a big loud city with so much unknown to her. This sheltered experience is something you should try and avoid at all costs.
My advice is really to make sure you introduce your puppy slowly and carefully to your normal life, and especially other dogs. Socialising puppy with other dogs is imperative. They do need to be with their own kind, and you want a dog who is happy to meet other dogs. Chilli is lead reactive (he feels unsure and nervous on the lead making him to want to protect himself), so greeting dogs on the street is impossible at the moment, but once he’s free in the park he runs to greet all the dogs he feels safe around. That makes him so happy.
House training a puppy
Are you a first time puppy owner? I’m sure you have heard many stories about potty training a puppy! But let me tell you, puppy toilet training doesn’t have to be as stressful as you may imagine. First of all, it really varies from breed to breed. Secondly, you need plenty of time. Your puppy needs you for all his or her needs anyway, and toilet training is no different. There are several ways to do this, depending on whether you live in an apartment or have access to a garden, and also if you choose to crate train or not.
It may be an obvious statement, but looking after a puppy is like having a little baby. You are its parent, and it relies on you for everything. Puppies tend to sleep most of the day, and having your pup snuggling into the crook of your neck or cuddling into your lap is one of the most beautiful feelings in the world, forming a connection that is pure heart. They also need to eat frequently, around 4-5 times per day at the beginning. And this time you have together passes by quickly. Puppies grow up fast, and before you know it you have a teenage trouble maker!
You will have to slowly teach your puppy how to be on his or her own. Your social life will need to adapt for a while as you can’t just abandon the little one for a night out. Puppies need to experience you leaving the home and returning quickly. They need to understand you always come back. So the duration of your outing needs to be built up gradually. During some of the time you spend with your puppy you need to teach him or her various things such as wearing a collar and how to walk on a lead. It seems obvious but a puppy has no understanding of this to begin with.