Planning for a new puppy, or rescue dog, can be a confusing time – there’s so much advice out there it can be hard to identify what’s really necessary to have or do, what’s nice to have and what’s a complete waste of time and money. This is the Developing Dogs guide to what we recommend as our Top Tips for every dog, whatever age, joining a new family.
1) Somewhere to sleep, and to be safely confined if necessary.
You may not want to spend a fortune on your puppy or dog’s first bed; puppies will quickly grow out of beds, and both puppies and adult dogs may be prone to chewing, at least at first. They do need somewhere warm and cozy to sleep, but you can upgrade to their ‘ultimate’ bed once you’ve got to know them better – some dogs may like to sleep stretched out, others prefer roaching, being curled up, or being under covers – just like humans they all have their preferences. For a puppy’s first bed, you may prefer to use an old (easily washable) duvet or folded blanket rather than a specific dog bed.
Both puppies and older dogs can be easier to manage and benefit from a crate, or an area where they can be confined behind dog / baby gates. As described in our advice on crate training the crate should be their ‘safe place’ where they can choose to go to relax or feel safe; it is not a punishment space. Alternatively, use a dog gate to restrict access when needed, for example when the family are rushing to get breakfast and out to work or school. Provide something – like a stuffed kong – to keep the dog occupied while in their area and reduce the trigger times for mouthing / jumping up or other unwanted behaviours which often occur when everyone is rushing around and busy.
And while we’re discussing sleeping arrangements, you may have already been given the advice ‘start as you mean to go on’ i.e. if you want your puppy to sleep downstairs when older then do that from day and buy some ear plugs to block out the almost inevitable cries and howls of distress. This is outdated advice and may cause more harm than good in the long run.
Puppy brains are like a big mass of spaghetti which gradually gets refined and tidied as they learn and repeat common behaviours. Things they do often form strong pathways; things they rarely do form weak or non-existent pathways. If they practice their barking / howling then that is more likely to become a default or habitual behaviour as they grow.
Being left to learn that no-one comforts them when they are distressed can also harm the development of the necessary secure attachment between dog and owner, leading to separation-related problems too. Our advice is to either bring the dog / puppy in to your room for the first few nights / weeks until they are more settled, have developed a secure attachment and begun to learn how to cope being alone, and then move them slowly out to the place you want them to sleep. Or, if you really don’t want your dog in your room temporarily, sleep downstairs with them in the short term. Having them close to you also helps accelerate house training – as you can hear immediately if they wake and need to go to the toilet – instead of having to use pads, or come down to accidents in the morning.
2) An appropriate collar, harness, lead, and dog tag
There are so many collars, harnesses, leads etc on the market it can be difficult to choose the one that is right for your dog.
We recommend flat collars (ie not ones that can ‘choke’) although some breeds need martingale style collars for safety. Any martingale-style collar must be adjusted so that the rings meet when the collar is tightened so the collar cannot choke the dog.
While you are teaching your puppy or dog to walk nicely on a loose lead, our advice is to use a harness for the times when you can’t be consistent with their loose lead walking training e.g. when you’re in a hurry to get somewhere and would otherwise allow your puppy to pull on the lead. Choose a fixed, probably fleece-lined, harness with a front or back attachment but please avoid harnesses labelled ‘No-pull’ if they work by tightening under your dog’s front legs – they cause pain and discomfort to your dog.
Our preference is for double ended leads (leads with two clips rather than a fixed handle) which give lots of flexibility for lead length, how you attach them to your dog, and also allow you to practise a ‘park settle’ easily. For more information on the park settle you’ll have to come to our classes 😉
By law your dog must wear a dog tag with your name and address on it. We recommend adding a mobile phone number to the tag so that you can be quickly reunited with your dog if they do get lost.
3 Food – bowls / toys
When you first bring your puppy or dog home, we strongly advise you keep them on the same food as they have been used to eating. It helps to avoid any upset tummies. Once they have settled, transition them slowly to your preferred food.
All dogs can benefit from using puzzle bowls or food toys to feed rather than a normal food bowl. A puppy who eats their food from a bowl in a few seconds can be kept safely occupied and entertained by a food toy or puzzle bowl for 20 minutes or more. This gives them appropriate mental stimulation, positive associations with their crate or pen, means they can be left unsupervised while you grab a shower, and can also help teach frustration tolerance and resilience. More on food toys here.
4 Soft toys and destructible items
We often get asked to stop a dog destroying their toys, or told that an owner has removed all the dog’s toys because they keep ripping them up. For many dogs, destroying toys is an outlet for frustration, is hugely enjoyable and stems from their innate behaviour patterns as a predatory animal. Puppies, especially, explore through their mouths, need to be able to chew, rip etc as part of their development and benefit from access to appropriate toys. We suggest a range of different toys, textures, sizes, and that dogs are allowed to destroy their toys if that’s what they want to do. Cheap baby toys from charity shops offer a safe outlet for the destruction specialists, as long as you pick up the fluff post-disembowling. Or keep your empty cereal boxes, egg cartons etc and give those to your dog – possibly with a few bits of food or a chew inside – to rip up instead.
The first few days / weeks / months can be hard. We understand, and empathise, with how tough it can be. Your puppy, or new dog, will not get everything you want them to learn on day one. There are times when it will feel like they haven’t learned anything, or that they are deliberately doing things you don’t want them to do. At times like this, take a step back. Put them in the crate with something yummy to keep them occupied and give yourself a break. Come up with a plan to avoid your dog repeating the behaviour you don’t want, focus on teaching them what you do want them to do instead and remember, every interaction you have with your dog is a learning experience. Manage that experience so that they can make the choice you want them to make, and learn what you do want them to do. For ideas and suggestions for avoiding common problems we recommend Life Skills for Puppies by Helen Zulch.
You can see more about surviving those first few days in our video:Puppy Essentials for the First Few Days at Home
Sian Ryan, Developing Dogs, May 2016
For help with anything discussed here, or other dog training issues, please email [email protected]