25 February 2021
He’s a baby, leaving his mum, his littermates and the only life he has ever known, to come to a strange place with strange people. It’s up to you to make his homecoming positive, help him feel safe and give him the very best chance to settle and bond to his new family.
Make sure everything is prepared in advance and set up ready for your puppy coming home – this includes the crate/s if you are using one, beds, water bowls, baby gates if needed – and everything you could possibly need for the first few days. Have a good supply of the food he has been fed up till now so that you can prevent any stomach upsets that comes from a change of diet, and also find out from the breeder what treats he is used to and enjoys, as you are going to need lots of these!
This all means that from the moment your puppy arrives, he can start to get used to his new routine and begin to discover where everything is immediately. In turn, you can be calm and relaxed knowing that everything is in order and to hand. The first day is very important and you need to start well – good preparation is the key to that.
One of the most important parts to this early planning is having decided where your puppy’s toilet area is going to be. This will be the very first place he should visit on his arrival, as he will no doubt need to go to the toilet following his journey. You may however have to be patient and wait a while for him to check out this strange new place before he gets down to business. This gives you a chance to kick start his toilet training by having an early success that you can immediately reward with a treat.
At this stage it is more important to use a treat as a reward rather than praising him with your voice or hands. Remember he doesn’t know you, hasn’t learnt to trust you yet, and may not think of this as a reward – whereas yummy treats are always good!
Now he can start to get to know his new home. While everyone will be excited to finally have the new puppy at home, don’t overwhelm him or expect him to be instantly lively or playful. He may well be but far more likely he will need time to get used to his new life gradually and settling in can take a few weeks.
This means making sure everyone handles him gently, and that all games and interactions are positive. Children especially need to be taught that the puppy isn’t a toy and that he is a thinking, feeling, sentient animal who should be treated with love and respect. Children and dogs can make very strong bonds and enhance each other’s lives but this needs to start off on the right foot while the puppy is learning all about his new home.
In his first few weeks, he needs to learn to trust his new family, and this can only happen if he isn’t frightened or worried by rough play, uncomfortable handling, or just too much overwhelming enthusiasm. Puppies can easily learn to become afraid of people’s hands in the early weeks, and this can lead to an adult dog who grows up to mistrust people or not enjoy being handled.
In these early weeks, a puppy is still growing quickly – and growing takes energy. Puppies need to sleep a lot so make sure he gets time to rest. Often in their excitement, new owners want to do things with their puppy all the time and forget that he needs sleep! Give him a comfortable place to sleep in every room he will be in – and let him rest whenever he needs it. If he is a real livewire, you may need to schedule in these nap times yourself!
Try to keep to the same daily routine the puppy has been used to. While everything is new and different, it can be helpful for him to be able to predict what will happen next. There is plenty of time to change things round in the future but for now, familiarity can give a puppy a sense of security. None of us feel relaxed and secure when we feel out of control of our environment.
The most important thing is to allow your puppy to settle in in his own time. While you will be teaching him the rules of the house, you need to make all interactions and experiences positive. Puppies have no idea as to what you want them to do, what is right and wrong, or how to succeed and make you happy. These are all things we have to teach them. While having a puppy can be hard work and sometimes frustrating, never think that your puppy is being bad or naughty… he is just behaving like a puppy and as yet, you’ve not taught him any different.
Guide him as to the ways you want him to behave, encourage him to make the right choices, and always reward him when he does. Things that are rewarded, will be repeated – that is how training works. Anything he does that you would rather that he didn’t are not his fault, he doesn’t know what you want. Instead to telling him off, tell yourself off and try to show him how you want him to behave then reward him when he does.
The skill of raising a well behaved, happy family dog is to spend time together, learn to trust each other - and watch for the good behaviour and reward it.
If you have a Kennel Club Pet Insurance policy, you can access the free Pet Health Helpline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The veterinary-trained team will advise on any concerns or queries that you may have over your pet’s health – much like the NHS 111 service for people. Call free on 03333 32 19 47.