The Puppy has Landed. Now What?!?

Adding a puppy to the family is a significant decision and should never be made in haste.  The right puppy (or adult dog) at an appropriate time is worth the deliberation.  Heading into the world of “dog parent” requires a K9 education, new habits and routines, and…additional stuff.  A fold-up wire crate, toys, chews (including a KONG classic – get the red one), a flat collar, a 5’ nylon leash (or 2), and food/water bowls are the basic necessities. 

Maintain reasonable expectations.  Puppies make lots of mistakes and yelling “no” is not useful in any sustained way.  Left to their own devices, puppies and young dogs urinate, poop, and chew their way through your home.  Behavior management prevents many mistakes and helps teach your new friend human-approved activities. 

If purchasing a puppy from a breeder or adopting from a foster home, you can obtain valuable information ahead of arrival.  Has the puppy been introduced to crate time?  Where does the puppy eliminate?  (Surface?  On or off leash?  At will or on human schedule?  Food-type, brand, quantity, and frequency?)  This information determines arrival plans and expectations.  If your puppy has no history of crate confinement, expect an adjustment period, which will include vocalizing.  After a few days to settle in, your puppy should show an interest in eating and exploring her new environment. 

The three priorities for new puppy parents with children are:  end the nipping, remain quiet and calm in the crate, and eliminate outdoors.  In adult only homes or those with teenaged kids, it is outdoor elimination that usually takes priority over nipping.  Young children and puppy over-arousal are directly linked:  here is the challenge in that dynamic.

Enough with the Nipping

Everyone wants this unpleasant (and painful) behavior to just disappear.  It erodes over several months with management and no reinforcement.  Puppy nipping is a gauge of the animal’s arousal (excitement) level.  It takes very little environmental stimulation to push a puppy over her threshold.  Puppy brains are immature, which means they become overwhelmed quickly.  Puppies must be socialized to habituate to the stimuli in our world.  Remember though, their mental equipment does not match ours in this process.  When we recognize the puppy’s way of telling us that she is moving into that over-threshold mental zone, we can shift gears to halt the spiral.  There is an opportunity to help the puppy decompress, and we avoid reinforcing her nipping and other over-threshold behaviors.   Children have a tendency to over-handle a puppy, which leads to lots of nipping.  Constructive interaction is an important lesson for children, so everyone is safe and enjoys the puppy’s company.  Frequent puppy time-outs to calm down are part of play routines.

Crate Adjustment

It’s wonderful news that a puppy accepts the crate:  he willingly goes in or is calmly placed in with the door latched.  Quiet prevails.  When puppies or young dogs have no introduction to (or an extremely unpleasant association with) confinement, the response is quite different.  Newly landed puppies become frightened at the prospect of alone time.  The only experience they know is the company of their litter mates and sleeping in that huddle.  A gradual approach works best.  Many new puppy parents experience a smoother bedtime transition with one crate in the bedroom and one downstairs for day time use.

It is unusual for 8-9 week-old puppies to sleep through the night:  a potty trip or two between 10 PM-6 AM is normal.  After 1-2 weeks, food/water schedules are in place, and the puppy feels settled in “at home”: one night time outing suffices.  Within a month, most puppies can sleep through the night.

Potty Preference:  Outdoors!

Structured food/water offerings and trips to the potty place plus confinement to prevent accidents are the biggest components in developing a puppy’s preference for eliminating outdoors.  Your puppy may tinkle once or twice in the crate in the first few days after homecoming.  Don’t be alarmed.  It’s likely due to stress in a new environment. 

Housetraining is most reliable when the puppy is taken out at appropriate times in the human’s schedule rather than leaving that schedule to the puppy. Ringing bells (or other going to the door behaviors) are not always reliable indicators for housetraining.  It does a great job, however, of obtaining human attention promptly and gaining access to the yard.  This method can work for humans who don’t mind being doggy doorkeepers or risking an accident when no one is on the spot to open the door.

What Moral Compass?

That’s right.  Dogs don’t have one.  Puppies and young dogs don’t “know better”, as this implies a moral choice.  The puppy is merely following his seeking instinct and looking for mental or social engagement and has made an incorrect choice (by human standards.)  Provide a human-approved substitute activity.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2018 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC