New puppy guide

How do I look after my puppy?

Bringing a new puppy into your home is a big change! Your goals are to help your puppy to bond quickly to its new family, and to minimise the stress associated with leaving its mother, litter mates, and former home.   If there are already dogs in the new home this transition may be a little easier as the puppy is able to identify with its own kind. However, most puppies, especially those obtained before 12 weeks of age, will form attachments almost immediately to the people and any other pets in the new home, provided that there are no unpleasant consequences associated with each new person and experience.

How do I prevent my puppy from doing damage or getting into mischief?

The rule of thumb for dog training is "set the dog up for success". Supervise the puppy whenever possible until it has learned what it is allowed to chew, and where it is supposed to eliminate. Keeping the puppy on a house line is an excellent way to keep it in sight, and to train it not to wander off. This is particularly helpful with a highly investigative puppy or in a very busy household.

At any time that the puppy cannot be supervised, such as throughout the night or when you need to go out, house it in a secure area.  An escape-proof cage, a dog run, or collapsible pen are simple, highly effective, and most important, safe. The puppy could also be confined to a room that has been carefully dog-proofed. When selecting your dog’s confinement area it is useful to consider a number of factors. The dog will adapt faster to the new area if it is associated with rewards. Have the puppy enter the area for all its treats, toys, and perhaps food and water. The area should have some warm, dry, comfortable bedding and should never be used for punishment (although it can, and should, be used to prevent problems). Housing the puppy in isolated areas where there is minimal human contact, such as in a back room or basement cellar, should be avoided. In fact, often the best area is a kitchen (so that this can also be the dog’s feeding area) or a bedroom (so that it becomes the dog’s sleeping area).  Each time the puppy needs to be confined, it should first be well exercised and given an opportunity to eliminate.

Another consideration in selecting the type of confinement area is how long you may need to leave the dog alone.  Anytime the puppy will be left alone for longer than it can control its elimination, you must provide an area for elimination. A room or collapsible pen with a paper-covered area would be needed. A simple cage could be used for owners that do not have to leave their puppies confined for longer than 2 or 3 hours.

How can I prevent problems?

Supervise the puppy at all times that it is not confined to ensure that the puppy does not get itself into mischief or cause damage to itself or the home. Leaving a house line attached is all that is usually needed to prevent or interrupt inappropriate behaviour such as bin raiding, chewing on household items, house-soiling, or wandering off into rooms or areas that are out of bounds. When the puppy cannot be supervised, confinement (discussed above) will be necessary. It is not fair to stop the puppy doing things for when you provide no suitable alternative. Providing for your puppy’s needs is discussed below.

What if my puppy does something wrong?

Every effort should be made to avoid punishment for new puppies as it is unnecessary and can poor relationships at a time when bonding and attachment are critical. By preventing problems through confinement or supervision, providing for all of the puppy’s needs, and setting up the environment for success,  punishment should never be required. If a reprimand is needed, a verbal "ah-ah" or a loud noise such as a hand clap is usually sufficient to distract a puppy so that you can then direct the puppy towards the correct behaviour. NEVER hit or smack a puppy.

What must I do to provide for my puppy’s needs?

Chewing, play, exercise, exploration, feeding, social contact and elimination  are basic requirements of all puppies. By providing appropriate outlets for each of these needs, few problems are likely to emerge. Puppies should be given chew toys that interest them and occupy their time.  When supervised, the owner can allow the puppy to investigate and explore its new environment and can direct the puppy to the appropriate chew toys (and away from inappropriate areas). Hollow toys can be stuffed with biscuits and treats to make them more attractive. Play, exercise, affection, training, and handling must all be part of the daily routine. New tasks, new routines, new people and new forms of handling can be associated with rewards to ensure success. And, of course, the puppy will need to be provided with an acceptable area for elimination, and will need guidance until it learns to use this area.

How do I house-train my puppy?

With a few basic rules you can house-train most puppies within a few days. This does not mean that the puppy will be able to be trusted to wander throughout the home without eliminating. What the puppy should quickly learn is where it should eliminate.

Puppies have a strong urge to eliminate after sleeping, playing, feeding and drinking.  Take your puppy to its selected elimination area within a few minutes of each of these activities. In addition, although some puppies can control themselves through the entire night, most puppies need to eliminate every 3 to 4 hours during the daytime. With each passing month, you can expect your puppy to control itself a little longer between elimination times. The puppy should be taken to its elimination area on lead, given a word or two of verbal encouragement (e.g. "Hurry up") and as soon as elimination is completed, lavishly praised and patted.   A few tasty food treats can also be given the first few times the puppy eliminates in the right spot, and then  intermittently thereafter. You can also have a short game with a favourite toy. This teaches the puppy the proper place to eliminate, and that elimination in that location is associated with rewards. Always go outdoors with your puppy to ensure that it has eliminated and so that rewards can be given immediately when it performs.

When indoors the puppy must be supervised so that you can see when it needs to eliminate and immediately take it outdoors to its elimination area. If you see pre-elimination signs (circling, squatting, sneaking-off, heading to the door), immediately take your puppy to its elimination site, give the cue words, and reward the puppy for elimination. If the puppy begins to eliminate indoors, interrupt it by saying “oops”, and immediately take the puppy outdoors to its proper site, so that it can complete the act.

When you are not available to supervise, the puppy should be confined to its confinement area.   Be certain that your puppy has had a chance to eliminate, and has had sufficient play and exercise before any lengthy confinement. If the area is small enough, such as a pen or cage, many puppies will have sufficient control to keep this area clean. When you come to release the puppy from confinement, it must be taken directly to its elimination area. If the area is too large for the puppy to keep clean, or the puppy is left alone too long for it to control itself, the entire area, except for the puppies bed and feeding spot, should be covered with paper for elimination.

What do I do if I find some stool or urine in an inappropriate spot?

Be cross with yourself for not watching your puppy and just clean it up! There is no point in punishing or even pointing out the problem to the puppy. Only if the puppy is in the act of elimination can you correct it (and take it out to the appropriate place). Make sure your clean the area thoroughly with a proper pet odour and stain remover or use diluted biological washing powder. Leaving any residue will encourage the puppy to eliminate in that spot again.

Why does my puppy refuse to eliminate in my presence, even when outdoors?

Puppies that are not supervised and rewarded for outdoor elimination, but are constantly being disciplined and punished for indoor elimination, may soon begin to fear to eliminate in all locations in an owner’s presence. These puppies do not associate the punishment with indoor elimination; they associate the punishment with the presence of the owner. Check to see whether or not this could apply in your situation and ask for urgent help from our behaviourist! Punishment does not work!

How can I teach my puppy to signal that it needs to go out to eliminate?

By regularly taking the dog outdoors, through the same door, to the same site, and providing rewards for proper elimination, the puppy will soon learn to head for the door each time it has to eliminate. If you recognise the signs  of  impending elimination and praise the puppy whenever it heads for the doorway, the behaviour can be encouraged further.

When will I be able to trust my puppy to wander loose throughout the home?

Generally you will want your dog to have been error free around the house for a month before you can begin to decrease your confinement and supervision. The first time you leave the puppy unsupervised should be just after taking the dog outdoors for elimination. Gradually increase the length of time that your dog is allowed to roam through the home without supervision. If the dog has been able to go unsupervised for a couple of hours without an "accident", it might then be possible to begin going out for short periods of time. Of course, if the dog still investigates and chews, then confinement and supervision may still be necessary as well as a wider range of chew toys.

Puppy socialisation and habituation

Habituation is the process whereby your puppy becomes accustomed to non-threatening things in the environment and learns to ignore them. The aim is for every experience to be positive for the puppy

Socialisation is the process whereby your puppy learns how to recognise and interact with the people and other animals it will live with

There is a sensitive period of development in which socialisation and habituation must occur. For puppies this period is between 3 and 14 weeks of age, but exposure to things needs to continue regularly for the first year of life. A dog that has had no experience of something by the end of the sensitive period will always be fearful of it; a dog that has had some exposure, but not sufficient, will be better  adjusted, although not entirely sound; and a dog that has had adequate experience in the sensitive period will grow up to be "bomb proof". Although it is possible through training to improve fearful reactions, prevention is always better than cure!

Watch your puppy carefully when he meets something new. He should be curious and want to explore. You are responsible for making sure the experience is always positive for him. If he shows any fear, move away and try again.

A puppy’s exposure to environmental stimuli should be as systematic as possible to ensure the best chance of it developing a sound temperament and capacity to cope in all circumstances. A lot of responsibility lies with the breeder. Basically, a puppy obtained from a chaotic, noisy family household is far less likely to develop a fearful temperament than one that has been kept exclusively in a kennel or farm building.

Of course, the puppy needs to be kept safe from catching infections and it should not be taken for walks in public places until after its vaccinations are completed, but this does not mean you need to keep your puppy indoors at home all the time until then. There are lots of things you should do at home and you can even take your puppy out and about in the car and by carrying it until it is safe for your puppy to walk by itself.

Things that you should do at home

Visitors

Accustom your puppy to lots of visitors of both sexes and all ages. This will develop its social experience and help to keep territorial behaviour to manageable levels in later life. Ensure your visitors only say "Hello” and fuss your puppy once it has got over it's initial excitement, so as to prevent the development of boisterous greeting behaviour.

Children

Accustom  your puppy to being handled by your and/or visitor's children, but don't let them pester it or treat it as a toy. ALWAYS SUPERVISE. Arrange to meet someone with a baby regularly, especially if you plan to have a family. This will help to overcome the common worries about how the family dog will react to a new baby and toddlers.

Domestic sights and sounds

Expose your puppy to noisy domestic stimuli such as the vacuum cleaner, washing machine, dishwasher, toaster etc. but don't make an issue of them. Let the puppy get used to them gradually without being stressed.

The postman and milkman etc

Carry your puppy and meet these people as often as you can. If your puppy gets to know and like them and more importantly learns that they will not "run away" if it barks, it is far less likely to show territorial aggression towards them when it grows up. (Some householders have to collect their post from the sorting office because the postman will not deliver as a result of their dog's behaviour).

Cats

If you have one, introduce your puppy to it. Keep the puppy under control and reward it for not pestering. Be careful not to worry the cat, as it may scratch your puppy. Placing the cat in a cat carrying basket just out of the puppy's reach can be a useful method of introduction with little chance of an unpleasant incident occurring. This can be repeated after a few days so that both puppy and cat learn to become settled in each other's company.

Other dogs at home

If you already have a dog introduce your puppy to it in the garden. Once the initial acceptance has been made by the older dog, the two should find their own level and settle down without too much intervention from you.

Leash training

Prepare your puppy for walking on the lead by getting it used to its collar and lead in the house and garden.

Going solo

Socialisation is very important, but so is learning to be alone. Puppies who are not accustomed to being left unattended on a regular basis are much more likely to suffer from separation anxiety (i.e. become anxious when separated from the owner) in adulthood. The three main symptoms of separation anxiety are destructiveness, incessant howling or barking and loss of toilet control.

To help prevent your puppy from suffering from this very common syndrome, you need to leave it unattended (i.e. in the house on its own) for over an hour on most days, preferably in the area that it sleeps in overnight. Ensure this area is "chew proof" and free from hazards such as electrical cables etc. Crates and pens are useful. Leave your puppy with some appropriate chew items, such as long lasting chews from the pet shop, and fresh water.

Initially you should accustom your puppy to you sitting in another room, with the door between you open. Over a period of time the routine can be carried out with the door shut. Once your puppy accepts this you can start to leave the house; go next door for a coffee, for example. Gradually extend the time you are away until you are absent for over an hour on a regular basis. Do not go back if you hear your puppy crying. Return when it is quiet. If a puppy thinks it can "call you back “ it may never accept being left.

Be very matter of fact about going out and coming home. If you fuss your puppy before leaving you can unsettle it and make it want to go with you. Too much fuss on returning home highlights the loneliness of your absence.

Things to do away from home

Go to all the environments you can think of that will help your puppy become "bomb proof" . Start in quieter places and gradually find busier ones. Remember to carry your puppy until it has completed its vaccinations.

The street

Expose your puppy to the sound of traffic and the movement of people. Start in quiet side streets and gradually build up to busy ones.

Places where people congregate

Any environment where people tend to congregate to sit and chat will do, so that they have the time to take interest in and handle your puppy. Local parks, beaches and town centres are good for this

Children's play areas, schools, creches

These are good places to meet lots of children of different ages (but consult your veterinary surgeon about the appropriate worming programme before bringing your puppy in contact with children). Take your puppy along to the local school or creche at playtimes or starting and end times. Take your time and start with just a few children and control their enthusiasm to prevent your puppy from being overwhelmed.

The car

Plenty of car travel will accustom your puppy to it and help prevent car sickness. Do not let your puppy sit on the front seat or on someone's lap. Accustom it to travelling in the place it will occupy when it is an adult.

The countryside

Accustom your puppy to the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside and livestock etc. (in your enthusiasm don't forget the Country Code).

Leash training

Once your veterinary surgeon has said that your puppy can be safely walked on a lead instead of carried, carry on as before but go back to using quiet areas, then gradually build up to noisy and busy ones again. In addition think about the unusual places to which you can accustom your puppy, for example, open staircases can be a problem, as can the vibration of station platforms when trains arrive or the movement of the floors on trains, buses and lifts. Encourage your puppy to walk on lots of different surfaces, such as concrete, gravel, sand, mud, stones, gratings and manhole covers. In the countryside keep your puppy on a lead and reward it for staying with you and ignoring livestock.

Socialising with other dogs

Puppies learn a lot from their littermates and mother. It is important that the process of learning to interact with other dogs continues througout the socialisation period and first year of life. However, socialising with other dogs does not entail allowing your puppy to run amok with other dogs in the park or on the beach! You would not allow your child to run off and play with any child they see, so be as careful with your puppy! If the other dogs are not properly socialised, their interactive and communication skills may be poor, which can often result in a misunderstanding and aggression. This sort of encounter could result in your puppy learning to be aggressive towards, or fearful of, other dogs. So set up meetings with your friends’ or family well behaved dogs instead.

Puppy training classes are a great environment for puppies to learn to be with and meet other dogs in a controlled way. Good classes will teach you how to help your puppy greet people and other dogs calmly and politely. Our behaviourist, Carol Clark, runs such classes, so contact her to enrol now!

What should I do if my puppy shows any fear whilst it is being socialised/habituated?

  • Do not overreact. Just keep calm, be matter of fact (it’s OK you know!) and show your puppy there is nothing to worry about

  • Reward the puppy every time it does not react to the stimuli, or as soon as it recovers from its fright if it does react

  • Expose the puppy to the type of stimulus that worried it as often as possible, but initially from a distance (i.e. reduce the size of the stimulus) so that the puppy can become desensitised to it and learn to cope. As the puppy's reaction improves you can gradually get closer

  • Do not try to pressure a puppy into approaching the item as you will make things worse, rather move a little further away until you see your puppy calming down and coping

​​Remember: Start socialisation and habituation from the moment you get your puppy and continue it for the first year of its life!

Book your puppy's appointment