New puppy? You're not alone

You’ve just brought your new puppy home — but now what? Help is at hand for this sometimes daunting period, says behaviourist Jackie Drakeford.

 How can something so small make so much noise? How can something so young cry so bitterly, when all you want to do is love and care for him? Why won’t he eat the food the breeder said the litter has been raised on? And given that he won’t eat, how does he manage to produce what seems to be his own weight in poo and pee every hour or so, and after you had just taken him out, too?

Why does he flop and scream when you put the lead on him, as if you were trying to murder him? How can you stop him from chewing through your possessions like a giant termite? Where is the rest of the family, who were going to help look after him? Will no one save you from this turbulent beast? And now he’s just bitten you hard on the hand.

Every pup is different

The new puppy experience can be so lonely and isolating, whether it is your first puppy or you have had dogs before — because you haven’t had this one before, and each one teaches you something new and makes you question your sanity in different ways. Puppies from your childhood, bathed in golden memories, never ripped your clothing, wailed the night away, or had the neighbours asking you whether you were aware it screeched solidly every time you went out. Having a puppy shouldn’t mean being under house arrest, should it? Or always having holes in your clothes?

And coming at you from all directions — rather like the puppy; how do they do that? — is a vastness of conflicting advice. The only thing everyone agrees on is that whatever is happening is all your fault, and you will ruin that puppy if you don’t smarten up your ideas.

What you need is a friend to help you through all this, rather like a district nurse for new puppy owners. Puppies don’t come with a handbook, so here is the next best thing: a series to take you by the hand and show you how to survive and enjoy your puppy while helping you through the inevitable hiccups. 

Do your homework

‘No time lost that is spent in reconnaissance’ says the military, so step back in time to before your puppy came home. Ideally, choose your pup with its adult self in mind, and be upfront about what you do and don’t want.

Different breeds have different characteristics, both physical and mental. If you are tactile, keep away from aloof breeds; if you like your personal space, don’t get a busy type; and only take on a working breed if you are prepared to give it the vast amount of exercise and stimulation it needs. If smartypants people annoy you, don’t get one of the super-clever breeds; and if you expect a hair-trigger response to anything you say, keep away from those types that consider deeply what you have said before deciding whether to comply.

Would mud, lots of hair, or slobber be your idea of hell to live with; can you commit to a coat that needs professional grooming; would a vocal dog drive you nuts? Would your noisy household stress out a sensitive breed?

Should the parents be tested for health issues, and what test results are acceptable? This reminds me of someone who advertised her puppies as hip tested, which they were, but the hip scores were horrendous. None of her buyers ever asked to see them.

Off to a good start

Well reared is half trained. If you take time to source your puppy from a good breeder, which might mean going on a waiting list, you will be streets ahead in your puppy management. Good breeders plan their litters, so may not have anything available when you first contact them.

They will grill you about your lifestyle and expectations, because they want a good home as much as you want a good puppy. Responsible breeders will not allow you to take two puppies together (a sure recipe for disaster) or have a runt who is cheaper than the others (good litters don’t have runts).

Good breeders won’t supply you with a puppy who has serious health issues. Most will have house-training well under way, taken puppies for a few rides in the car, started a regular worming programme with a proper veterinary wormer, and will have all the paperwork that you need. They will insist that if you have to part with the puppy, he comes back to them.

Time for training

Maybe you have your puppy already, or have taken on a rescued one and are not sure of his start in life or indeed his breeding. That isn’t the end of the world: it just makes life more interesting as your puppy grows and develops his character.

Breed traits do make a difference to our training methods, because one size definitely does not fit all, and different breed types are motivated by different rewards. You need to research training classes before you commit to one, especially as most want you to pay upfront for a course of lessons before you start. You don’t need to have a puppy to do this — in fact it is easier to check out some classes before puppy comes home, if only because you then don’t have to leave him behind for a couple of hours. Good trainers will always let prospective puppy owners watch some classes, but even a good trainer may not be teaching the class you need for your own puppy.

Think about what you want from your dog in the future. If you intend to show, then a basic pet course is not for you, because your puppy needs to learn to stand rather than sit, be examined by strangers, and move in a way that shows off his gait. Similarly, if you have a budding gundog, it is better to attend gundog classes right from the start. If you simply want a pleasant-mannered pet who comes when he is called and walks nicely on the lead, then the strict obedience style classes with their sit-stand-down routines are pointless, and in any case will bore a significant number of breeds into rebellion. If, however, you have a task-driven breed that adores being given something to do, this type of class is ideal.

So think about what you want puppy to do when he is a big dog, and apply a mental checklist as you watch each class. Watch the older dogs training, too, because each instructor teaches their own way, and starts the puppy training with a view to clients progressing to their own adult classes, which may or may not be suitable for you. Training has to be fun for all of you: instructor, dog, and owner.

 

Pup’s eye view

See your home from a puppy point of view by getting down to puppy height and finding what he can reach to chew. Start training the family to put away food and precious possessions, to shut bedroom doors, and move about the house more like people and less like stampeding buffalo — puppies are easy to tread on or trip over.

Make sure that the whole family is on board with what is and is not wanted for the pup — consistency is important with training, and it is no use wanting to keep the puppy off the furniture if some family members keep inviting him on. If there are rooms puppy shouldn’t be allowed in, make sure everyone abides with that. Be clear that puppy shouldn’t be fed from the table or worktop, nor be given unsuitable human food that could make him ill.

Younger children can be brilliant at making out rules lists and care rosters, and are much more likely to comply if they have been a part of the decision-making process. Any house rules need to take into account the puppy’s adult size and attributes, so if you don’t want a dog the size of a human adult occupying your bed, don’t let the puppy sleep there.

Suitable surroundings

Allocate space for a crate, dog beds, and food and water bowls, remembering that these should all be somewhere the puppy can feel secure rather than in areas of heavy household traffic. Put these items down before puppy arrives, so that you can discover glitches before they matter, such as teenage son’s vast feet hitting the water bowl every time he goes past. Where doors can’t be closed, fit baby-gates, and consider stairgates too, because growing puppies should not be allowed to romp up and down stairs. Do you have laminate floors? These can be very slippery to dogs, and can make them scared of going across the floor, or could even injure your puppy if he loses his footing suddenly.

Protect precious parts of your garden, while allowing areas for puppy play and house-training.

If there are other household pets in hutches or cages, make sure that puppy won’t be able to get at them, and see that cats have somewhere they can go to keep away from the puppy if they so choose. The same applies to older dogs, some of whom may be less than thrilled to have a puppy about, and even those who like the puppy will need to get away from him now and again.

Coming home

When your pup first journeys from the breeder to your home, he may be very vocal, might vomit, pee, or poo, or all of them, or he might sleep sweetly all the way. Be prepared for the worst by putting him in a crate lined with towels, and having plenty of spares for mopping up, plus plastic bags for the debris, and wipes for you. Once home, let him potter about in the garden to get his bearings and empty out again, before he goes into the house. If there is another dog to meet, this should be accomplished outside as well, and if you have several dogs, let them meet one at a time, with the calmest dog first. Subsequent car rides need to be organised so that he is safely restrained — a crate is by far the best arrangement — and be aware that puppies can get very fearful in the car if the radio is on, because their hearing is so sensitive.

Help is at hand

Every one of us gets the puppy blues from time to time, no matter how experienced we are. Take heart: help is at hand. Over the next few issues we will be exploring the puppy experience in depth, explaining how to dodge the slings and arrows, understand what’s going on in your pup’s mind, and how to arrange your home so that you are able to enjoy your puppy rather than always feeling at least one step behind him.

Just a minute, he’s gone quiet — what can he be up to now?

For more advice and information about puppies, visit Your Puppy.