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Tackling Your First Weeks With Your Pup

So you finally wore down your partner and got yourself a puppy. He’s fluffy, he’s adorable, and he’s a little bit nippy. You want to spend every waking second of the day cuddling and petting him, showering him with kisses and treats. There’s a couple of really important things to consider. Puppies are in their critical period of development when they first arrive at your home. This means that every experience they have with you, for the first few weeks, is shaping their understanding of the world and its boundaries.


A lot of us are tempted to hold off on any training until they are older. Puppies are babies, so why would we put them into training right away, right? This is the first mistake I see new owners make. The first few weeks are some of the MOST essential in terms of building boundaries and polite in home behaviour. While I don’t want an 8 week old to be learning to Sit Pretty, or Play Dead, I do want them to learn what they can and can’t do in the home.


The first 4 behaviours I want you to focus on when you take your puppy home are: mouthing, sleep training, potty training, and isolation. These are behaviours you can train passively, as in you don’t need to sit your pup down in a 15 minute training session to teach, and instead can reward over the course of the day. I highly encourage all owners to use your puppy’s daily meals as an opportunity to train them, rather than a meal in a bowl. For the first 4 months of his life, Echo never got a single meal in a bowl! Instead, we weighed out his kibble in the morning, and used it to reward behaviours we liked, as well as offering him puzzles, sniff mats, and scatter feeds.


Mouthing


How do you train mouthing? The first, and most important step, is preparation! Before we picked up Echo, I walked around the room he would have access to, and made a note of every piece of furniture and every texture he could possibly chew on, I call these the “Undesirables”. I made sure to feel each one of them and pay attention to the softness, the roughness, and the sound that they made. We then went to the pet store and picked up a toy or chew that could act as a replacement for each of those textures, “the Desirables”. My little cheat sheet is: pigs ears for anything leather (like shoes), furred rabbit ears to replace clothing or blankets, wooden chews (like coffee chews) for chairs and wooden furniture, and a variety of different textured toys for each other texture you may find in your house. I also made sure to get two of each, so I could swap them every 3 days, preventing him from getting bored. A low-cost option for chews is to look for used baby teething toys! We were lucky to have a village freebie page on facebook, and I managed to get several baby teething toys from it. To date, those are some of Echo’s favourite chews, however, make sure to monitor those more carefully as they aren’t designed with razor teeth in mind.


Every time Echo went to mouth an Undesirable, I would redirect him to the matching Desirable. This meant he still got the same feeling he wanted, but I was preventing any habits from forming on the Undesirables. He was never ever punished for interacting with the Undesirables, he was simply shown what I wanted him to do instead. Its also important to note that I didn’t stop what I was doing and start playing with him and the Desirable object. So, say for example he was chewing on a shoe while I was working on my laptop. I wouldn’t stop working and begin playing tug with a pig’s ear. This is because I didn’t want him to learn that chewing on an Undesirable would be a way to get my attention. Instead, I paused working, showed him the chew, waited for him to gnaw on it, and then went back to what I was doing.


The next step for mouthing, is management. I made sure that he was never left unattended around Undesirables. This is a key step to prevent your dog from mouthing on Undesirables when you aren’t in the room. If I was unable to actively watch him, he was put in a play pen. The word “actively” is an incredibly important part of that sentence. Just being in the room is not watching your puppy. Make sure that no matter what you are doing, you can keep an eye on him. You do not have to be interacting with them, but you do need to be sure you can see what they are doing. Having a play pen meant that Echo had space to explore and play but couldn’t reach any objects I didn’t want him to. It also really helped with our crate training and potty training, but I’ll get into that later on.


The last step to mouthing is examination. When Echo mouthed on an Undesirable, I would ask myself why he was doing it. Was he bored? Was he exploring? Or, was he overstimulated? Boredom and exploration are easily fixed with the two steps we’ve discussed. Overstimulation, however, can often be exacerbated if you handle it incorrectly. Thankfully, it is pretty easy to identify; you’ll notice your puppy suddenly looks like it’s been possessed by a demon. Ears are pinned, eyes go wide, and its often accompanied by jumping, constant nipping, and maybe some kicking with the feet. This is when you take your puppy and work on getting their brain to calm down. A good option is to offer a quick scatter feed as sniffing helps calm down the brain, do a potty break, and then place them in the play pen/crate for a nap.


You may be asking yourself why I haven’t talked about chewing on humans. That’s because mouthing on your body should be treated exactly the same as any Undesirable. If they are bored or exploring, redirect them onto a different object. If they are overstimulated, remove yourself from the situation and offer a scatter feed and then a nap time. I don’t recommend the “OUCH” method as it has been found this can actually overstimulate puppies, resulting in more out of control nipping. I don’t punish puppies for this as they don’t know what they are doing is wrong. Instead, I show them what I want instead. Do my methods work? While nothing is fail proof, Echo is 7 months old now and has yet to ever destroy a single Undesirable. No, he wasn’t some miracle puppy that wasn’t interested in chewing on furniture, and yes, he absolutely tried biting me when he was 8 weeks old. But through preparation, management, and examination he stopped showing any interest in the Undersirables by 10 weeks old.


Settling/Crate Training



In my opinion, teaching a dog to settle is one of the MOST important behaviours they can learn. Unfortunately, it’s one that many of us neglect to teach. Teaching a dog to settle not only allows you to avoid having an overstimulated demon dog, but also helps prevent separation anxiety, and really helps in future situations like taking your dog to the pub, or trying to watch TV with a glass of wine at the end of the night. For the sake of this post, I am going to define settling as the ability for a dog/puppy to relax in any situation, regardless of whether they are tired. I am going to include crate training in this section as it is a fantastic way to teach a dog to settle, along with helping curb most unwanted puppy behaviours.


I used to be a believer of the cry it out method when it came to crate training. It’s something I encouraged to all clients, and I can promise you that the first night we brought Echo home, it’s something I tried. Thankfully, it only took me 2 days to realise that not only is it ineffective, but it was impacting my relationship with my puppy and his relationship with the crate. So instead, we switched to a completely pressure free way of crate training. We did all the regular crate training games during the day, like feeding him in his crate and offering him chews in the crate, but at night time and nap times, we took off the pressure.


Echo’s crate was inside a play pen and for the first week, we never closed the door to the crate. The first 3 nights, one of us sat in the pen with him, he didn’t get any interaction with us, but our presence was enough of a comfort. We waited for Echo to fall asleep, and I’m talking dead eye, deep sleep. As soon as he reached that stage (which doesn’t take long for a puppy), we would pick him up and place him in the crate. Some puppies may resist being picked up while asleep and may growl at you, that is okay and instead lure them into the crate. Once puppies reach that stage of sleep, they are very resistant to getting up and moving so this means they stay in the crate. The crate door stayed open and I continued to sit in the pen. If he got up and left, that was okay, and I would wait for him to fall asleep again. By night 4, all he needed was a nudge when he slept, for him to get up and put himself in the crate. By night 7, he started placing himself in the crate.


Does this mean you have to spend all night in the play pen? For the first two nights I really recommend staying in the pen at all times. Get a sleeping bag and a pillow and make yourself comfortable. You have to consider that your puppy has spent all of its life constantly surrounded by other warm bodies and to suddenly be taken to a new home and then expected to sleep alone is not only unrealistic, but also unfair. If you have a partner, take shifts throughout the night, 4 hours at a time, so that you’re both able to get at least a bit of sleep.


After a couple of nights, start trying to sit outside the pen, but still beside it. Treat leaving the pen the same way you treat putting your puppy in the crate. Wait until they are dead asleep, then move your pup into the crate. Wait again for them to fall asleep and quietly stand up and step outside the crate. Once your pup adjusts to you being outside the pen, you can then try moving further away to a couch, and then eventually after a week or so, moving into your bedroom. I cannot give you a concrete timeline as every dog is different, but after a week, I was able to sleep in my own bed.


Once your dog is consistently going into the crate when you ask and you’re able to be outside the pen, you can start working on skipping the step of waiting for them to sleep in the pen before being moved. Begin shrinking the play pen every few nights. This leaves less and less floor space for them, and starts preparing them to be placed in the crate at night with the door closed. Most pens are built with panels so you can aim to remove one panel each night. Once you get to the point where there’s only an inch or so of space, you can completely remove the play pen and start closing the crate door.


You may be thinking that this all seems like a lot of work, and there’s no denying that it is. However, we are asking our puppies to change their understanding of the world and are teaching them to be alone for the first time in their lives. You will be exhausted for the first few weeks, but soon you’ll find yourself sleeping more and more, and your puppy will start placing themselves in the crate automatically. Teaching your puppy to love its crate requires having a low-pressure introduction, and this in my opinion is the best way to do it. I will discuss night-time pee breaks in the potty-training section, this is simply an introduction to crate training. By 12 weeks old, Echo began removing himself from unwanted situations and placing himself in his crate. To this day, he continues to chose sleeping in a crate over sleeping on a couch or bed.


Now, it is important to realise that puppies don’t just need to sleep at night. Much like human infants, puppies require structured naps throughout the day. They should be sleeping around 18-20 hours a day for the first few weeks of their lives! If you notice that your puppy is often overstimulated, it is a sign that they are not getting enough naps in the day. Whenever you want to place your puppy down for a nap, you need to treat it the same as you do bedtime training. Do a quick training game or sniffing exercise (5-6 minutes), take your puppy outside for a pee, and then place them in the pen. I try not to have any toys available in the pen but will leave a chew or two in case they still need to get rid of some energy. Then treat the naptime the exact same way you treat their nightly crate training. On average your puppy should play for around 30 minutes, have a snack, go for a potty break and then be placed down for a 1-2 hour nap. Use the naps as a chance to crate train and get some work done.


I will be honest…. I didn’t get to shower the entire first week we had Echo, and it was definitely hard. I will never lie to you and tell you that raising a puppy is easy, but if you do it right, you’ll end up with your dream companion. Keep in mind that encouraging your puppy to nap, will help them learn to put themselves down when they are tired in the future. Once they get used to being put down for naps, you will be able to ask your puppy to settle on cue, which is an essential life skill.


Potty Training


Oh, the joys of potty-training puppies. It can seem like one of the hardest tasks of puppy training, but here’s the dirty little trainer secret: if it’s done correctly, you can have your puppy house broken in two weeks. The first key step is to understand that a puppy having an accident is not a malicious action on their part. They are not peeing on your floor because they hate you, they did not poop on your rug because they’re mad. They had an accident because you failed to let them out soon enough! I know it’s hard to hear, but if your puppy has an accident, rather than smacking them on the nose, smack yourself for not realizing they needed to go…. Okay, I don’t actually want you to hit yourself, but I do want you to realise that any accident your puppy has is a result of mismanagement.


Puppies need to pee way more often that you realise and when they first come home, they won’t know where they are supposed to go. A rough rule is one hour for every month of age (so at 8 weeks they theoretically can hold it for 2 hours). However, an easy way to get potty training right is to set a 30-minute timer on your phone for the first week. After they understand where they are supposed to pee, and you have learned their signals that they need to go, you can switch to the hour per month rule.

Every 30 minutes, pick up your puppy, attach them to a short leash, then carry them outside. Give your puppy around 5 minutes to go pee, when they do say “Good Pee” and give them a treat. Having them on lead prevents them from getting distracted by anything and means that you are close enough that you’ll be able to reward them immediately when they pee. Make sure not to interact at all with your puppy until they have gone potty. If they’ve successfully pottied, play a quick game outside with them before going back inside. This prevents your puppy from learning that going potty means they have to leave outside, as often the puppy will begin to avoid peeing in order to get more outdoor time.


If your puppy doesn’t pee within the five minutes, carry them inside and place them in the pen. Keep an extremely close eye on them and in 5 minutes, take them right back outside. Do this over and over until they have successfully peed. If they do have an accident inside say “Oh No”, pick them up midstream, and carry them out. They may or may not continue their pee, but even if they don’t, this will help strengthen the association that outside is for peeing. The biggest difference between peeing inside and outside is that outside means they get a treat and a game, and inside isn’t rewarded at all. If every time your husband put the lid down after peeing, he got a piece of steak, you may find that he starts leaving the lid down more often.

I do want to give you some an idea of some common mistakes owners makes, in case your potty training isn’t going as planned. The first thing is making sure you give your puppy the treat as they are peeing. Many times, new owners will put the dog outside and stand by the door waiting for them to pee. Once they have, they will wait for the puppy to come back to the door to give them the treat. What does that teach your puppy? That they are getting the treat for being outside, and not for peeing. Instead, I want you to literally be shoving a treat in your puppy’s mouth while they are going potty. That way, there is no question that your puppy is getting the treat for peeing outside.

The next problem that comes up is a puppy peeing inside even with a 30 minute timer. Here is the thing, 30 minutes is relative and there are going to be events that make your puppy want to pee. Puppies need to pee after eating, playing, napping, and drinking, and it can be pretty immediate. As soon as your puppy stops actively interacting with a toy, meal, or water bowl, carry them outside for a pee. For example, if you are playing tug with your puppy and it takes its mouth off the toy and walks away, I would immediately take it for a pee. It is better to be proactive than to have an accident.

On that note, make sure you are picking your puppy up. Your puppy is not going to want to release its bowels midair, so by carrying your puppy outside you’re avoiding having an accident while you get ready to open the door. Literally, 5 seconds of struggling with the leash or door knob is enough time for your pup to pee, so make sure you are attaching its leash while the pup is mid air.


Now, here is where I’m going to get controversial. I don’t want you to use puppy pads. Why? Because I think they make owners lazy, and they send mixed messages. I want your puppy to learn from day one to go outside and having a puppy pad you ask them to pee on can be incredibly confusing. Having the pads also means owners have a back up option and are less proactive about taking their puppies outside. So, no puppy pads. The ONLY time I recommend them, is if your puppy is sick with either a UTI or gastro-intestinal problem, and you place them in a crate. That’s simply for ease of cleaning, rather than potty training.


In terms of nighttime potty breaks, I recommend setting yourself alarms. We started off by setting hourly alarms to go and take Echo outside for a potty break. We treated them exactly the same as daytime potty breaks, giving him 5 minutes to go pee before bringing him back inside. The only difference was we didn’t play with him outside and would carry him back to the pen where he would have a chew. Once we found he wasn’t going potty consistently when we took him, we increased the alarm to every two hours, and then 3 hours, then 4, etc. This meant that we never once had a nighttime potty accident. It also prevented Echo from ever needing to cry in the crate to ask to be taken outside, which really helped with crate training overall.

By day 5 of being at home, Echo started taking himself outside to pee. This doesn’t mean that we didn’t have any more accidents, but those accidents were purely because we missed his requests to go outside. For example, at 12 weeks old I let Echo out of the crate in the morning and decided I could go quickly pee before I let him outside. He had an accident while I went to the bathroom, and it was a lesson to always do what I needed to do in the morning before he was let out of the crate.


Isolation


The biggest and most common mistake I see new puppy owners make, is waiting too long to begin working on leaving their puppy alone. They spend the first few months doting on their pup every second of the day and then are surprised when they can’t handle being left on their own. Echo was left alone at home for the first time at 8 weeks old! Crazy right? At 7 months old, he can now handle being on his own for 7 hours at a time, although it’s rare we leave him for that long of a period. By neglecting to teach your pup to be on its own, you risk making yourself a prisoner to them, which can result in feeling extremely overwhelmed and isolated later on.


To start off, from day one, I want you to find a few minutes a day where you aren’t actively interacting with your pup. I made a point of being on the couch watching TV while Echo played by himself several times a day. We want our puppies to learn that while you can be in the room, you do not need to be giving them attention. Chews are an excellent option for this as they don’t need your interaction to be enjoyable for your puppy and last a pretty long time. This is an example of passive training, you aren’t actively doing anything to help your pup learn, but they are building behaviours through the experience.


I also want you to actively train isolation behaviours. Place your puppy behind a barrier (play pen, baby gate etc) and offer them a puzzle filled with treats. While they interact with that, I also want you to chuck some treats every few minutes into the pen. This helps them learn that although you aren’t immediately beside them, they can still have fun. It also helps work on barrier frustration, which many puppies struggle with. This is a great time to work on getting some daily tasks done. I’ve found cooking to be the best time to do this as I can chuck my puppy treats while chopping and stewing.

Finally, and this is the hardest one, I want you to start leaving your puppy alone in the house by day 1. The best way to make this anxiety free for you, is to invest in a baby monitor you can access outside the house. Set up the monitor facing your puppy’s pen so you can check when you are out of the house. Next, I want you to set up some calming music. Here is a fun psychology fact for you, it’s actually been found that Reggae is the most relaxing genre of music for dogs, over classical music and or jazz. So, play some Bob Marley on low volume, dim the lights, and sit yourself on the couch. Wait for your pup to start to fall asleep in the pen, making sure to keep yourself as non-distracting as possible (a good activity during this is to browse the internet on your laptop, while they start to nod off).

Once your pup is dead asleep, quietly stand up, and walk out of the door. For the first 3 days, simply focus on being able to walk in and out the front door and room, without waking up your pup. Keep it quiet and non-exciting, we are just getting the puppy used to the idea that it can wake up and not see you immediately. After about 3 days I want you to start leaving the house entirely. Go out for a quick trip to the local Co-op or a cup of tea with the neighbours and keep an eye on the monitor. You’ll find that your pup sleeps through the entire experience. Keep the outing short, to about an hour maximum, and then come home as unceremoniously and quietly as possible. If your puppy sleeps through the door opening (or maybe opens one eye and closes it again), don’t let them out of the pen/crate right away. Instead spend about 5-10 minutes doing something non distracting. This helps with keeping the excitement of your return low and can prevent your puppy developing anxiety about when you might come home.


As your pup adjusts to you leaving, you can begin making the buildup to your departure shorter. However, for the first month, I want you to give yourself an hour to settle your puppy before leaving the house. The entire idea behind this is that your pup learns that you leaving the home is a quiet and relaxing experience. You can increase the time you’re away every month, following a rough 1 hour per month of age rule, so at 7 months you can leave them for 7 hours. Make sure you practice this every single day, so your puppy has a reliable association of being left alone. Ideally, I’d like you to try and do this 2-3 times a day, as this will help your puppy adjust faster.

If your pup really struggles with being on its own, I recommend looking into an Adaptil diffuser. Adaptil is a chemically created pheromone that mimics the pheromones a mother releases when her pups are nursing. While they have many options like collars and sprays, I’ve found the diffuser to be the best option specifically for isolation and nap training. Another great option is a snuggle toy which contains a heartbeat and heat pack. These mimic the feeling of being surrounded by a litter mate, and while expensive, there are DIY options (hot water bottle, with a ticking clock inside a sock).


Make sure you aren’t doing any of this suddenly. Much like teaching your puppy to settle, be sure your pup has recently pottied and has had some sort of mental enrichment like a game of tug or puzzle. It can be incredibly hard not to want to spend all day with your new pup but following these steps will encourage independence during this critical period.


That’s a Wrap


Bringing home a puppy is a lot of work and anyone that says it isn’t, is lying. Every puppy is different and it’s important to adapt your training to your puppy. If something isn’t working, try breaking it down into smaller steps. For example, if your puppy is still having accidents despite going out every half hour, try doing every 15 minutes for a few days and then begin building up. While this is a lot of information, I want you to understand that everyone gets things wrong. Everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, despite what some trainers want you to believe.


You may be wondering why I haven't discussed name training, recall, etc. Those are all essential skills and are definitely things to work on with a new puppy. However, most owners already know to work on them, and these are the skills I’ve found most of my clients struggle with the most. In an ideal world, I’d like new puppy parents to have 2-3 training sessions a day with their puppy to work on name association, handling skills etc. However, these 4 skills are ones that I think should be practiced every day all throughout the day.

I will link some products that I highly recommend below, and over the next few weeks I will continue to post more information on the world of puppy raising, including the Puppy Blues, Trick Training, and Leash Skills. I wish you all the best of luck with your pup, and feel free to reach out with any questions!


Chews:

Puppy Dental Chews | Puppy Chomper chew box - Chomp and Chew


goodWood Chewable Wood Stick For Dogs - Medium : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


Himalayan Dog Chews, large size, set of 3 - very tasty long lasting natural dog chews will keep your dog busy for a while. Dog will love those dog treats! No GMO or gluten, dog chews are 100% natural! : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


Isolation Training

ALL FOR PAWS AFP Snuggle Sheep Pet Behavioral Aid Toy Warm Plush Toy Heart Beat Sheep(No Warming Bag Only Heartbeat) : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser with 30 day refill - comfort, calming & anxious dog, anti-stress : Amazon.co.uk


AVC Designs Pet Dog Pen Puppy Cat Rabbit Foldable Playpen Indoor/Outdoor Enclosure Run Cage (X-Large: Height 107cm) : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


Enrichment Toys

Muswanna Dog Snuffle Mat,Woven Feeding Mat for Dogs(31x31cm),Encourages Natural Foraging Skills/Easy to Fill/Fun to Use Design/Durable and Machine Washable,Perfect for Any Breed(Yellow/Purple/Blue) : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


Starmark Bob-a-Lot Interactive Dog Toy, Small : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


Dog puzzle games & toys - Nina Ottosson Treat Puzzle Games for Dogs & Cats (nina-ottosson.com)


Puppy Kong : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies


KONG - Wobbler - Interactive Treat Dispensing Dog Toy, Dishwasher Safe - For Large Dogs : Amazon.co.uk: Pet Supplies

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