The time has finally come! You are soon about to go pick up your puppy! So, let’s talk about the things you should keep in mind on your first day together.
You may be feeling a wave of excitement paired with a vague sense of worry. Do not fret, this is normal. You have just made a big commitment and have welcomed a new responsibility into your life. Maybe this is your first time raising a puppy and you are dealing with some doubt. We are here to assure you, nobody is perfect, mistakes will happen and challenges will arise, but even the most experienced dog trainers and owners face hurdles. So, you are not alone and, despite the challenges, you are about to embark on an amazing adventure. Now, let’s get started!
PICK YOUR PUPPY UP IN THE MORNING
It is best to pick your puppy up in the morning; have a talk with your breeder or shelter in advance and ask them if it would be possible to do so. Picking your puppy up in the morning is beneficial because it gives them some time to acclimate to you and the new environment. In addition, giving your puppy the extra time to get used to their new home during the day will most likely make your first night much more peaceful than if you were to bring them home in the evening.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED TO TAKE WITH YOU:
Here are some things we advise you take with you when going to pick your puppy up:
- A harness and a seatbelt that attaches to it.
You will need a safe place for your puppy when transporting them back home. We recommend that you buy a harness and a seatbelt which you can attach to the harness and insert into the seat buckle. Your puppy’s first car ride will likely be stressful for them; it may be their first time in the car and their first time away from their siblings and mother. They will find the car ride easier if they can be close to you (or to someone who can console them) as opposed to in a crate, in the back of the car, alone. By securing your puppy with a seatbelt, they can be close to you, in your lap, while you can rest assured that they are safe. Of course, later on, once your dog is familiarised with the crate, you can transport them there – in fact we would recommend transporting them in the crate later on as we find that it is more stable, safer, and more comfortable for them than on the back seats. However, for now, have them close to you, in your lap, and be ready to calmly comfort them if they find the ride stressful and whine.
- Water and a bowl
If your car ride back home is long, take some water and a water bowl with you too. You want your puppy to be hydrated and happy!
- A leash.
Take a leash with you so that you can walk your puppy from the shelter/breeder’s home to your car, and in case you will have to stop to take them for potty breaks during your ride back home. Leashing your puppy is important to keep them safe and to manage their environment.
Note: Your puppy will likely find the harness and leash you attach to them quite uncomfortable. This is normal! They may squirm and scratch at their gear, but be patient. We work on getting your puppy used to their gear in the “Getting used to gear and walks” lesson in our Fetching Manners class. For now, simply focus on making this new experience pleasant and safe for your puppy.
- A chew.
To take the stress out of the situation (the big, scary car ride away from the siblings and mum) you can bring along a pig’s ear or some other chew for your puppy to enjoy on the way back home. Doing so will also begin the process of positive association with the car and have something enjoyable happen.
Once you arrive at the shelter or at your breeder, you can ask for one more thing:
- A blanket or your puppy’s favourite toy.
Something that smells like “home”, or like your puppy’s mother, can help them greatly with this big transition. The smell will remind your puppy of their safe space which can help put them at ease while they are in the car with you, or in their new home. A blanket from their puppyhood can also come in handy when teaching your puppy that the crate is their safe space (you can use it as bedding for your puppy too).
- Tire them out before the car ride
Ask the shelter or your breeder if there is somewhere you can walk your puppy before you get going. The journey back home will be much less of a burden on you if your puppy’s exercise needs have been met. So go for a walk. The walk can be a great bonding exercise for you and will fulfil your puppy. In addition, it will give your puppy a chance to relieve themselves before the journey.
- No food before the car ride
Kindly ask your breeder or shelter to not feed your puppy at least an hour before you pick them up. If your puppy is fed right before your car ride home there is a likely chance that they will throw up due to motion sickness. So, to be safe rather than sorry, limit their food intake before the trip.
Now that you have arrived, take them to relieve themselves again before bringing them inside. Once you do so, it’s time to establish a routine. Establishing a steady routine when you bring your puppy home will help them integrate into your lifestyle early on, and will help make the transition easier for them. Stick to your rules early on and your puppy will be more in tune with the rhythm of your life. Predictability will help your puppy face the challenges that come their way with more confidence and less stress. In addition, a good routine will also help your puppy know when it’s time to sleep at night and when it’s time for action during the day.
It is best that you plan this in advance. But in short, ask yourself:
– When will my puppy go for their walk?
– When will my puppy need to potty?
– When will my puppy eat?
– When will my puppy sleep?
– When will they play?
You can find more information on how often they will need to potty, eat, as well as the number of hours a puppy needs to sleep, in our online class Fetching Manners.
However, that being said, do leave some room for spontaneity, go with the flow, every puppy has their own rhythm. Let there be balance, you listen and adapt to their needs and they listen and adapt to yours; a give and take.
Note: Once your puppy gets used to the new environment and lifestyle you can be more lenient with your routine. In fact, we suggest that you do not stick to an exact timing every day. Too much predictability can cause overdependence on routine which can result in behaviours such as begging for food at 7 pm because it’s dinnertime…or begging for food at 6 pm because your dog does not know what daylight savings time is and for them it’s still dinner time. Another example of being overdependent on routine is your dog waking you up at 6 am on the weekend because they are used to you waking up early during the weekdays. Your dog will not know the difference between weekends and weekdays or the effects of changing the time for daylight savings time or not, so change things up a bit later on. However, in the beginning, routine is beneficial and will reduce a lot of stress, so stick to it at the start.
A NEW ENVIRONMENT, TAKING IT EASY, AND THE PUPPY PEN
Don’t forget, big changes aren’t easy! Albeit being excited to welcome your new family member, it is important not to forget that this can be a stressful time for your puppy. Your puppy will be going through big changes for the first time in their life – everything for them will be new; new places, new people, new smells, new sights, new sounds, etc. To help visualise how this feels just think back to how you felt on your very first day at a new school, or the first day at a new workplace. Stressful right? Your puppy is going through a similar experience, so keep things calm at the start and give them the time and patience necessary for them to adjust.
Keep social interactions to a minimum at first. Although many family members and friends will likely want to see your new puppy, it is best to tackle one thing at a time so as to not overwhelm them. During the first few days give your pup some space and time to explore their new surroundings, to discover your house and to get used to the place where they will sleep. The new environment and stimulus which it brings (new smells, new sights, new sounds) will be plenty for your puppy to take in. Once they grow confident with that, you can invite your friends and family over. However, be attentive of your puppy, see how they feel. Some puppies are more social than others, so if your puppy is more on the shy side, take it slow and ask your visitors to be respectful and keep their distance until your puppy feels confident enough to go say hi on their own initiative. Take a similar approach if you have children. Talk to your children in advance and explain to them that this experience can be quite demanding of a puppy so your children know they should be respectful of your puppy’s personal space. Mutual respect between children and dogs will build a strong foundation for a fulfilling relationship as they grow up. In combination with offering your children an explanation of how the puppy feels it is also important to keep any interactions between children and dogs supervised. All in all, be attentive to how your puppy feels, some puppies may be social butterflies and take new environments in their stride while others might need more time. Watch and adjust the new experiences to their pace. So…keep social interactions and visitors to a minimum at first and expand on those as your puppy feels ready.
A great tool to help your puppy adjust to the new environment is a puppy pen. The puppy pen will limit your pup’s environment and thus prevent them from feeling too overwhelmed by all the new sights. We recommend that you fill the puppy pen with fun toys, chews, interactive toys, different surfaces and a crate with their blanket. This way your pup will be in a safe environment, an environment that is small enough not to overwhelm them and an environment that is filled with fun things for them to do! Keeping them in a puppy pen for the day will also limit their space just enough for them to grow accustomed to it by the night, where they can then rest peacefully knowing that they are safe. You can set up a mattress next to the puppy pen to help your puppy not feel lonely during the night, but more on this in the next lesson. The puppy pen is also a great management tool that helps set your puppy up for success by preventing them from chewing on furniture, plants or cables. In this crucial time where your puppy is learning about the world around them, it is as important as ever to set them up for success and limit their environment so that they do not learn to make choices that displease you.
MAKE TIME FOR THEM
This is just a friendly reminder that puppies are not used to being alone. Most likely they have been with their siblings and/or mother for their whole life, up until now. So understand that if they are left alone they will likely complain or whine; all of that is normal. For the first few days, take the time to comfort them. Know that they may need you to be with them while they get used to being in their puppy pen. Take some time to bond, get to know your four-legged companion. Play with them, bond with them and keep in mind that the upcoming nights could be a little sleepless.
Note: Once your puppy grows accustomed to the big change in their life you are advised to start leaving them alone for a few minutes at a time so that they can learn that being alone is no cause for concern.
But, rules aside, remember to have fun and savour the time you have while they are still small! The puppy days are full of funny wobbles, new life, playtime and learning about the world so have fun while you’re at it!