A recent article in the Washington Post compared the new-puppy obsession during the pandemic to the “the Cabbage Patch Kids craze of 1985 … the Tickle Me Elmo mania of 1996.” At least a few people you know have probably gotten their first dog during the past six months, and as there’s no end in sight for our virus-related “new normal,” experts agree that the surge of people bringing canine companions into their house won’t be slowing down any time soon.
If you’re one of the tens of thousands of individuals seriously considering getting a pooch for the first time, we know the whole process seems intimidating, especially with everything else going on right now. Which is why we’re here to help you learn everything you need for bringing home a new puppy. Being prepared is a huge part of successfully integrating a new dog into your household, but while all the preparation in the world will help make the process more seamless, once your have your new family member in your home for the first time, you’ll need some guidance about what you should and shouldn’t do.
The first 24 hours that your new sweetheart is in her new home are key for establishing the way things will be going forward. So here are some do’s and don’ts for your dog’s debut day (and night) in her new pooch pad.
Home sweet home
Your house is now your dog house, too. Sure, you’re still the boss, but your home is going to be very different now. While you’ll probably want your new pooch to eventually have the run of (most of) the house, this is not a good idea when you first get her. It will be way too overwhelming for her and also make it harder for her to settle in. Establish boundaries by making an area of your house her “dog room.” It doesn’t have to be a full room; it can be a section of one or a walk-in closet or any other area that makes sense.
Here are some things you’ll want to have in there:
- Her crate
- Food and water bowls
- Training treats
- Toys (ones she might’ve come with and ones you bought her)
- Doggie bed
- Cleaning supplies (out of reach from her, of course)
Here are some things you’ll not want to have in there:
- Easy-to-get-into trash cans
- Human food
- Toys (ones belonging to your kids or child-like spouse/roommate)
- Shoes, clothing and anything of that ilk you don’t want her to chew on
- Exposed electrical cords
- Pharmaceuticals (both human and animal)
The rules of the house need to be established—by you. Like we said, you’re still the boss. At first, it might not always feel that way, but you have to remember—and act—like you are. Dogs are quick learners and incredibly motivated by food. While in the early puppy stages, your pooch won’t be as easy to train as she will be as she grows older, it’s never too soon to start teaching your new dog new tricks. All canines can learn roughly 150 different words (usually more), so get your new best friend started right away on the important ones, like “walk,” “sit,” “potty,” etc. This is also a “good” time to reward her with “treats” to reinforce positive behavior.
It’s training day. Trust takes years to build. Potty training doesn’t take nearly as long, but it sure will feel like it sometimes. Pee pads are a good option if you have a young puppy in a new environment and it’s difficult to get her outside. But you don’t want her to get too used to the pee pads, since you won’t want them there forever. (We met a dog owner who trained her puppy to use a litter box; a dozen years later, he’s still using it.) Pee pads a good plan b.
When training your new pride and joy, the goal is to get her to associate going to the bathroom while being outside. So for the first day she’s living with you and a couple weeks after, your objective should be to take her out every couple hours. (Yet another advantage of working from home right now.) She’ll quickly adapt to this schedule, but the most important part of this is making sure she goes potty while she’s outside. Rewarding her with a training treat and positive vocal praise each time she does the deed while she’s out and about is a really good way to get her on the right track.
Accidents will happen. That’s the bad news. The good news is the existence of cleaning supplies for just about every kind of accident that your sweetheart might have on any surface. And if you forgot to buy them, you can pretend you’re MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson or Lucas Till—your choice) and use some combination of water, vinegar, baking soda and towels (paper and/or cloth) to address the mess. If you catch your pup in the middle of going to the bathroom in the house, try to interrupt her and take her either outside or to her pee pad to finish the job. If that works and she concludes her business in the right spot, reward her with a training treat and positive words.
Make sure you immediately clean up where she went in the house, as she’s more likely to go there again if it smells like pee and/or poop. And do not discipline her for her accident. After she’s had it, if you start yelling at her or rubbing her nose in it or—Dog forbid—spanking her, she’s not going to know why you’re treating her so badly. She’s just going to think you’re an unstable, unpredictable person who vacillates between kindness and meanness for no apparent reason.
A tired dog is a good dog
Let us play—and play some more. Your puppy is going to want to play non-stop. And when she doesn’t want to play any more, she’ll tell you by taking a nap. But as soon as she wakes up, she’s going to want to play some more, right now. Until she takes a nap again. Playing with your pooch is a win/win scenario for both you and her. Playtime with your new best friend will:
- Create a positive bond between the two of you.
- Lead her to immediately start to trust you.
- Give her plenty of exercise, and puppies need that.
- Tire her out, so she’ll sleep better at night. Playing with her right before bedtime is always a great idea.
- Make both of you very happy. For her, it means she’s living her best life. For you, you get to watch your pooch doing all kinds of fun stuff, and there are few things in your best life as good as that.
Walk around the block around the clock. As mentioned earlier, walking your puppy every couple hours for potty breaks is highly recommended. But the beauty about this is that your pooch is also getting exercise as well. So you’re killing two birds with one stone, though we want to make clear that we’re using a figure of speech there and hope to Dog that you don’t kill birds (or anything else) with stones (or anything else). Although puppies loves lots of activity, they do tire—and then recharge again—pretty quickly. So frequent walks, even very short ones, will tire her our and, hopefully, get her used to going to the bathroom outside.
The crate is your dog’s friend. We absolutely recommend getting a crate for your puppy. Have it set up and ready to go before she gets there. Make sure she realizes it’s her “safe place.” You never want her think of the crate in anything other than positive terms. It’s a place she should want to spend time in—her doggie domicile, not her puppy prison—and one that provides her with comfort and joy. And you’ll want to get her thinking this way from day one at her new house.
But at the same time, she’ll be spending a lot of time in there—at night sleeping and during the day when you aren’t home—so unless she wants to go in there on her own, keep her out with you when you first bring her to her new residence. And never use her crate as a place of punishment. Your new best friend wants to spend her time with you, so when you put her in her crate to sleep or when you leave the house, she’ll already be feeling a little sad. (She’ll get over it quickly.) Adding any more negativity to her crate experience will be bad for both of you in the long run. In the words of righteous rock band the Hold Steady: “Stay positive.”
Get your pooch to love her crate. One way for her to get used to both you and her crate is by putting an old shirt of yours in it so she gets comfortable with—and comforted by—your scent. But before that, having a blanket or towel from where you got her should help her feel more at ease and make this new place seem more familiar to her. Here’s a list of things you’ll want to have in and/or around the crate:
- Blankets and/or towels
- Extra blankets and/or towels, since you’ll be washing them more than you think
- A favorite toy
- Extra favorite toys, since puppies quickly get bored
- Pee pads
Sure, when your dog has an accident in the crate (and she will, as micturition mishaps are the third certainty in life), it’s a lot easier to clean it up if it’s on a hard surface. But hard surfaces aren’t nearly as comfortable as soft ones, which is why you sleep in a bed and not on the floor or the kitchen counter. Put a peed pad underneath the blankets and/or towels to absorb extra liquid. And be glad you got that extended warranty on your washer and dryer, because you’ll be using both of them a lot. All of this will be so worth it down the line, when your buddy loves her crate and wants to spend time in their because her “safe place” is so nice.
Time for bed
Establish a routine. Like we said before, dogs adapt to schedules very quickly. So starting on day one of your first term as puppy commander-in-chief, you’ll need to be ready to be in charge of lights-out orders. And while your new best friend’s eating and potty and playing patterns are of extreme import, her sleep schedule is the one that you’ll need to get right ASAP if you want to be well-rested for any part of the immediate future. We suggest a timetable that looks like this to get your little girl ready to go to sleep for (at least part of) the night:
- Four hours before bedtime, take her out for a walk and to pee/poop.
- Three or so hours before bedtime, let her eat and drink for the last time that evening.
- Two hours before bedtime, play with her until she’s tired.
- One hour before bedtime, play with her again until she’s tired.
- 15 minutes before bedtime, take her out for a walk and to pee.
- Bedtime: Put her in her crate.
- Cross your fingers, then get ready for a long night.
- Set your alarm to wake up every three or so hours—or when you hear her whining and/or barking—to take her out to pee.
Follow your rules of arrangements. This is a very important decision you’re gonna need to make, but the good thing is, it can reversed and changed again over time: Where are you going to keep the crate your little buddy sleeps in every night? (We know, we know—part of the reason you wanted a dog is so she can share a bed with you, and that will happen if you want it to, but trust us: Your new puppy is not ready yet to sleep anywhere in your house aside from her crate.)
Chances are, after the wonderful first day you had with your new BFF, she’s going to want to sleep as close to you as possible, not just because she already loves you so much, but because she wants to be where the action is. So the natural place for her crate is in your bedroom, but … she already has her “dog room.” Luckily, crates are fairly easy to move around. If you live in a smaller space, your bedroom and her “dog room” may be close enough to each other that she knows you’re nearby and that you know you can hear her when—not if—she whines and/or barks. If not, you might want to move her crate from her “dog room” to your bedroom, at least for the first night. If you feel comfortable with it there, you can leave it there. If not, you can bring it only in at night until your little angel is ready to sleep in it in her “dog room.”
Like most things relating to dogs (and most other living things, including you), there’s no one size that fits all. You’ll learn as you go along. But for your first night together, we think you should bring the crate into your bedroom and enjoy all the time you can with the new biggest part of your life. And no matter what happens during the wee hours—whining, barking, accidents, Dog know what else—tell your new pooch how proud you are of her for making it through her first night at her new home. And give her treats and lots of pets and scratches.