The big day has arrived! You are about to bring home your new family member. Are you ready?
The Ride Home
Bring some treats and a toy. Also, bring a spare towel and some cleaning supplies in case your puppy gets carsick or has an accident on the way home.
You may be tempted to cuddle your new puppy on the ride home, but please resist the urge. Just as all your family members should wear their seatbelts in a moving car, your puppy also should be safely restrained—and your arms are no safety guarantee. Would you carry a baby home from the hospital in your lap? Of course not. To transport your puppy safely, use her crate for her first ride home. Surely, your need to cuddle that cute little fluffball is not as important as keeping her safe and secure. Getting her used to riding in the car properly will also be one of your first training opportunities.
If possible, have an adult friend or family member go with you so that you can keep your puppy company while the other person drives. Secure her crate in the backseat of your car. Put her in her crate, and give her a treat and the toy. Sit next to her so that you can talk to her while the other person drives. If she’s being good, occasionally give her a treat. Don’t overdo the treats at this time because she could become carsick. You can slip your fingers through the crate door to scratch her instead.
If your puppy is not used to being in a crate, she may whine or cry. Do not reassure her, because this will inadvertently reward the behavior and could make her more anxious. Just talk to her calmly. Try to redirect her attention to the toy. Be strong! Do not let her out of the crate, or you will be teaching her that crying works. Just as you wouldn’t let a small child get out of a car seat because she complained, you shouldn’t let your puppy out of her crate, either. Remember, her safety is a priority. Should you have an accident, you never would forgive yourself if she were thrown around inside the car or through a windshield.
If your ride home will take a couple hours or longer, you may need to stop to give your puppy a potty break. Avoid areas where other dogs have been because your puppy is very susceptible to diseases until she has had all her vaccinations. Instead of rest stops with designated pet areas, it’s safer to stop at a fast-food place or other store and use a grassy area there. Always pick up after your puppy.
Carry her to the potty area rather than letting her walk. Bring pet or baby wipes with you to thoroughly wipe her paws after she’s been on public grounds. Also, always make her wear a collar with identification, and take it off before putting her back in her crate. If you have an exercise pen, set that up for her as a potty area. If not, always make her wear a leash.
If she’s not used to her collar and leash, she may stop to scratch her neck or react to them. Distract her, and don’t be tempted to take them off if she complains. Safety first!
When you get home, immediately take your puppy to her potty area because she may have to relieve herself. Go ahead and start your housetraining right from the start.
If you have a fenced-in area, carry her there. If you do not have a secure yard, put on her collar and leash. Don’t risk her dashing off—puppies are fast! Plus, you don’t want her to learn her very first day that she can run away from you. Because she doesn’t know you very well, you might have trouble catching her.
Don’t be surprised if your puppy doesn’t eliminate. She may be too excited, and this is normal. Give her about five minutes, then take her inside to her new home.
The First Few Days
The first few days are the honeymoon period. You and your family will be completely entranced at your new family addition, and your puppy will provide you with hours of entertainment. You’ll take pictures and e-mail your friends, you’ll laugh at her cute antics…and you’ll also start to realize just how much work raising a puppy can be.
Puppies need constant supervision. You may find that your puppy has lots of energy but you’re beginning to get very tired. Here are some tips for making the first few days easier:
• Take your puppy to the vet right away. Bring your puppy to the veterinarian within 48 hours to make sure that she is healthy and so that you can start her health care program.
• Set rules now, and stick to them. If you let your puppy get up on the couch with you now because she’s small and cute but don’t want her to get up there later when she’s bigger, that will confuse her. Give her consistent structure.
• Begin your training now. Start teaching your puppy manners today, such as sitting for her food or at the door. If you train her now, she will keep those manners as she gets older. Puppies are like sponges—they soak up information. They have very short attention spans, though, so shorter training sessions are best.
• Stick to a schedule. Puppies do best with consistent routines. Even if you are home for a few days, you should keep your dog’s feeding and potty schedules consistent, just as you would during the days you work.
• Get your puppy used to being alone. If you picked up your puppy on a weekend or decided to take a few days off to bond with her, she might be confused and upset the day you head back to work. To prevent this reaction, train her to being confined in her crate now. Leave her crated while you run short errands so that she won’t experience such a dramatic transition when you return to your regular schedule.
Some puppies will waltz into your home and act like they’ve lived there all their lives. Some puppies may be hesitant or confused. Some puppies will be fine during the day, but whine or cry at night. Keep in mind that your puppy has left the only home she’s known, and this could be a confusing transition for her. It may take her a couple weeks to feel comfortable and fit in with her new routine; this is normal.
If your puppy is very shy, if she hides from you, if she growls at you when you try to touch her or pick her up, or if she growls over her food bowl, call a professional, reward-based dog trainer. Your puppy may need special help.
If you have other pets, you may be worried about how they will accept the new puppy. How do you let them know that you still love them, even when there’s a new addition to the household? In general, most animals can get along fine if introduced and managed properly.
If your existing dog has a history of any kind of aggression with other dogs, call a professional dog trainer. Some people think that the perfect puppy makes an aggressive dog less aggressive, but this is rarely the case. Your new puppy could be seriously injured if your existing dog has problems with other dogs. A professional dog trainer can help you evaluate the situation and assist you in determining what’s best for your family.
If your existing dog is fine with other dogs, then proceed with the introductions. If you have more than one dog, do introductions separately. When you first bring your puppy home, put your existing dog in a separate room. When you’re ready to introduce them, have them meet in a neutral area, such as a neighbor’s yard. (Make sure that the yard is safe for your puppy.) Both dogs should be on leash, with a different person managing each dog.
Let them sniff each other. Try to hold the leashes loosely so that they don’t sense any tension from you. If either dog becomes too excited, call them apart. Praise both dogs for good behavior. If things go well, bring them home.
Do not leave the dogs alone together unsupervised. Puppies can be relentless with older dogs. Some older dogs will discipline puppies. They may growl or snap at them, which is their way of teaching them canine manners. This is fine, as long as it doesn’t escalate into injury. Other older dogs won’t discipline a puppy at all. The bottom line is that you always should be in control of the situation. If you see your new puppy pestering your older dog, redirect the puppy’s behavior. Don’t let your older dog get nagged so much that he becomes stressed or unhappy.
Don’t allow your puppy to steal your other dog’s toys from him or eat from his food bowl. Don’t let your older dog take all the puppy’s things, either. You are the leader in your household, so it’s up to you to maintain manners for all parties. Give each dog individual attention so that everyone feels loved.
If your cat has had positive experiences with other dogs, introductions will go more easily. In any case, the key to success with cat–dog introductions is to go slowly. It’s best to keep them apart for several weeks and gradually get them used to each other.
Manage the situation so that your cat is kept elsewhere when your puppy is loose, and so that the cat can be loose when your puppy is in her crate. Rub a towel over your puppy, especially on her paws, and leave it with your cat so that she becomes accustomed to your puppy’s scent. Rub a towel on your cat, especially on her cheeks, and leave it with your puppy so that she gets used to kitty’s scent as well.
After a week or two, introduce the pets in person. Always keep your puppy on leash. Keep your cat’s nails trimmed short—cats have been known to swat at puppies and can cause injury, especially to the eyes. Praise both pets for good behavior. Don’t force your cat to approach your puppy or hold her up next to your puppy. Let her approach at her own pace. If she chooses not to, keep up the management routine and try again later.
As they gradually become accustomed to one another without incident, make sure that things continue to go smoothly. Set up baby gates so that your cat can have a safe escape route if necessary. Don’t let your puppy chase your cat or play with her roughly. If necessary, tether her to you until you can teach her the leave it cue. Don’t let your cat terrorize your puppy, either. Stay in control, manage their interactions, and you’ll have a happy multi-species household.
If you have other pets, such as guinea pigs, rabbits, or horses, take your time in introducing your puppy. Set realistic expectations. For example, if you have a terrier puppy, it may be difficult to stop her from chasing a pocket pet, and she could injure or kill it. Always manage interactions to keep everyone safe.
Choosing a Boarding Kennel or Pet Sitter
Now that your puppy is settling into her new home, what if you have to leave her for an extended time? Maybe you planned a vacation before realizing you’d have a puppy in the household. Or maybe you have holiday plans to visit the family out of town, and a puppy wouldn’t be welcome at the festivities. Or sometimes, traveling with a puppy just isn’t in her best interests; long car rides, trying to find a hotel that allows dogs, a vacation where she won’t get much attention— sometimes it’s best to just leave your puppy at home.
Many new puppy owners overlook the need to find a quality pet sitter or boarding kennel well in advance of any travel plans. If you ever have to go out of town and leave your puppy behind, you cannot wait until the last minute to choose the right people to care for her. It’s important to do your research ahead of time and always make reservations early. Good pet sitters are in hot demand, and quality boarding kennels fill up quickly! During holidays, especially, you may have to reserve a pet sitter or boarding kennel months ahead of time.
Why should you use a professional? While it’s great if you can get a neighbor or friend to check in on your puppy during the day for a potty break, for example, that’s usually just a half-hour visit. If you are gone for a weekend or a week, that’s a longer commitment to ask of them. You also want someone who is prepared and qualified to handle medical emergencies or other issues that may arise.
Kennels are a good choice for keeping dogs in a safe, confined area while you are traveling. However, they can be stressful places for puppies because they are unfamiliar and often quite loud. This is why it’s important to find the right one to take care of your puppy.
Before considering leaving your puppy at a boarding kennel, she should have completed her immunizations, including the kennel cough vaccine. This will help to protect her against catching deadly diseases.
Material adapted from Puppy Care & Training (Terra Nova) (T.F.H. Publications, 2007), used by permission.