Author: Valerie Barry, KPA-CTP, BC SPCA Accredited, Owner/Trainer, Dog Partners
Our lives are constantly changing, as we get older and our life circumstances shift and turn. Getting a puppy should be as carefully planned as everything else in our lives.
Who can resist a puppy?! They are everything they advertise themselves to be – cute, cuddly, warm, affectionate and heart-wrenchingly precious. They are also, however, a big responsibility and take more time than you can imagine. The basic planning steps might look like this:
Step 1 – Should I get a Puppy?
Step 2 – Where should I get my Puppy?
Step 3 – Pre Puppy Planning!
Step 4 – I’ve got a new Puppy, now what?
Even if you’ve had a puppy before, trust me the next one will feel like it’s harder than the last puppy! Our lives are constantly changing, as we get older and our life circumstances shift and turn. Getting a puppy should be as carefully planned as everything else in our lives.
Once you’ve made that decision, make a plan. You can’t be too prepared but you can be really, really unprepared.
Let’s Skip to Step 3!
This article is about helping you with Step 3 of the process. You’ve done Steps 1 and 2 – now puppy is on her way!
What does the future with puppy look like?
I highly recommend that everyone write a list of how you see a puppy fitting into your life. What do you want to be able to do with your dog for the rest of your lives together? How might your life change over the next 15 years?
Puppies are sponges and soak up experiences and training quickly. Many things in your life with your puppy can be at least started early which will make things much easier down the road.
The following is a pretty thorough plan to follow.
1. What do you need puppy’s daily routine to be?
- If you’re a family with children in school and working parents, or if you’re on your own and work 9-5, then you need to prepare puppy to be alone.You need to plan a routine of care that takes into account her changing levels of maturity and the length of time she can comfortably be alone.
- If you’re retired, work from home or have a dog-friendly office, you do still need to teach puppy to be alone. In this case the meaning “alone” likely means “keep yourself busy when I’m busy”. In theory, that should make training easier but because the motivation is different, it’s sometimes hard to stick to a solid plan.
2. What if your lifestyle changes?
- If you know that your housing situation will change in the next few years – down-sizing into a condo maybe – you need to think about preparing your puppy now for living in what might be closer quarters and a shared elevator in the future.
- Are there small children in your future – either your own, your children’s or any close friends or family members?
I can’t stress this strongly enough– be ready to prepare your puppy now. It’s extremely difficult for an older dog to suddenly have to adjust to the presence of young children in her space. You absolutely cannot wait until baby appears and start then. Many, many dogs are given up when children come on the scene – so tragic and so easily prevented.
Find people who can help you socialize your puppy positively to the sights, sounds and equipment that are particular to the various ages of babies up to elementary-aged children.
Even if there are no children in your future, you still need to socialize your puppy with children and to happily tolerate being around them when she’s out in public. Locate your nearest fenced school yard so you know where to take puppy to begin socializing her to the sights and sounds of playing children.
3. How does puppy factor into your usual holiday plans?
If you’re intending to take puppy with you, she will need preparation for hotels, for camping or even for staying with friends who may or may not have dogs.
- Hotels can involve elevators and being crated in hotel rooms. Find a dog friendly hotel close by and ask if you can do some training with your puppy in their elevator, their lobby and other public areas once she arrives.
- Whether it’s hotels or camping, think about what skills your dog will need in order to join you on holidays and plan your training – what needs to start as soon as puppy comes home and what can wait.
- Friends that will welcome you and your dog for a visit deserve to welcome a dog that is polite and easy to have around. If they have dogs themselves, it’s even more important that things go smoothly.I like to invite my friends who have friendly dogs to visit my puppy and me as soon as appropriate in my home. I would like to prepare my future adult dog to accept other dogs in her space, sharing her toys and sharing my attention. Tell your friends what you have in mind and make sure at least a few of them will be in town and on board to help when puppy arrives.
If you plan to holiday without your dog or in the event of an unexpected trip, it pays to investigate alternatives well in advance.
If you have friends or family willing to pet-sit for you, that’s great! Ensure, though, that they are truly on board and find out in advance any limitations they may have – work schedules, holidays of their own, tenants or students living with them.
- Friends and families have emergencies too so, investigate commercial alternatives: pet sitting, boarding, pet care in your home, etc. Don’t just get the phone number, go and visit them or arrange a meet and greet. Find out their policies - if you need certain vaccines, you’ll need to prepare for that. Find out what their philosophy is, whether they are supportive of your positive training methods and see if the dogs in their care are housed in a way you’re comfortable with. Find out how quickly they fill up at various times of the year and how long in advance you should book, so you can ensure you get a spot when you need one.
- These things are important – you are entrusting your family member to the care of strangers in an industry that is unregulated at present. Be sure it’s a good situation on all fronts. Ask questions, ask for references and check those references.
One situation that I’ve been called in on fairly frequently is when people spend a considerable amount of time in one place for part of the year and another for the rest of the year. Examples would be snowbirds, who travel south in the cold weather, or retirees that have a nice quiet cabin in the woods to get away from the bustle of the city, or RV’ers who spend entire months traveling elsewhere.If your quiet cabin in the woods or your comfy RV is a huge contrast to your noisy condo in the city, it can be very hard on your dog to make this adjustment without some help. Again, getting a puppy used to this type of change can really help long term.
If this is in your future plans and you can’t actually have puppy experience it now, then factor into your planning ways to condition puppy for sounds of the city, sights, smells and sounds of nature as well as perhaps long distance travel in your vehicle.
4. What do I need to buy in advance?
Puppies are expensive – they need a lot of things! Figure out what you need and then figure out your budget and how you can get what you need within your budget.
Confinement. You need at least one confinement area in order to be able to teach puppy to be left alone. It’s far more likely to be successful than trying to let your puppy have free run of your house from Day 1.
I have always started my initial confinement set up with a crate for when I’m away and at night; a more spacious x-pen for when I’m home but not able to keep an eye on puppy; and finally a way to keep puppy in the same room with me when I’m available to keep a close eye on things. This set up lasts until puppy is house-trained and less destructive. Usually the x-pen is the first to disappear. The crate and blocking off parts of the house continues for at least 6 months or even longer depending on puppy.
This means you will need a crate. Crating is a good skill for a puppy to learn. If they ever need to be in one as an adult, at least it’s not completely foreign and stressful for them. Many veterinarian clinics require dogs to be crated if left overnight.
You can either buy the size of crate you need now and be prepared to upgrade once or twice as puppy grows, or you can buy your long-term crate now and block off the inside appropriately as your puppy grows and her housetraining skills increase.
Note about soft crates: A soft, collapsible crate is a very handy thing to have for travelling but they are NOT appropriate for puppies because small, sharp teeth can make big holes very quickly! However, a soft crate in an adult size is a nice thing to add in early – not to be closed up and used as confinement but simply introduced as an “open bedroom” for your puppy to get used to going in and out of and learning to enjoy hanging out in.
A metal x-pen is a good investment because they can be a small confinement area at first, then you can take the panels apart to make appropriately sized “gates” for room entrances once puppy outgrows the confines of the pen. Just be sure to buy the highest x-pen you can find. Puppies learn to climb x-pens very quickly if it looks at all doable to them vs. dauntingly out of reach. Once they learn to climb, they will attempt to climb any height as their strength and agility grows.
Toys. You will need a lot and different toys have different purposes.
Caution: Spend lots of time observing your puppy playing with any toys you purchase, particularly those you plan to leave her alone with. You need to be make sure puppy can’t get pieces off her toys and ingest things that aren’t intended for consumption.
Treat Dispensing Toys.
I cannot stress enough the importance of owning a good selection of treat dispensing toys. Treat dispensing toys help dogs learn to busy themselves when they’re alone, they provide a more content “tired dog” than physical exercise can, they build confidence, and they provide enrichment for your dog.
Research appropriate toys for puppies and purchase enough of them to give you several options available throughout day. Many of the toys are also appropriate for adult dogs so shop wisely and buy things that will last long term.
There are 3 categories of toys and one from each category – is ideal:
- Slow bowls or puzzle toys – you can fill them quickly, they slow down consumption, build confidence and provide a small measure of mental enrichment.
- Active toys - they need to be rolled, pushed, or toppled in order to get to the treasure inside. These are perfect for those “puppy zoomy” times and offer active, physical interaction.
- Lastly there are toys meant to be stuffed with various treats and require chewing and licking to extract the goodies. These are perfect for confinement areas and ultimately for leaving puppy alone with.
- The popular pet toy company Kong has many great enrichment toys for dogs: Kong Dog Enrichment Toys
Most puppies love squeaky, fuzzy, soft toys to chew on, to cuddle with, and to fetch and chase. They do, however, serve a particular purpose, which is to help teach our dogs to re-direct their bitey mouths onto more appropriate objects.
All puppies are mouthy – they love to bite things and they need to bite things. It’s NOT at all appropriate to correct your dog for biting or to try and prevent biting. They need to learn how to use their mouths appropriately, the training needs to be done neutrally, and re-direction onto appropriate objects is the key. Simply put, if your puppy tries to bite your arm, put a soft toy in her mouth instead – every single time.
Puppies are very fast and very busy so you need to have toys everywhere your puppy will be – even stuffed into your pockets. You need to have something immediately available to put in her mouth at all times.
Rather than investing a small fortune in expensive stuffed toys, I make many of own, temporary “toys” by taking old socks, jeans or t-shirts and knotting them – sometimes even stuffing an old squeaker inside them. They turn into something that no longer resembles clothing but becomes a cheap alternative to a stuffed toy to use for bite re-direction. I wouldn’t consider leaving my puppy alone with any of these toys but they are really handy to have available.
If you have young children, make sure you have plenty of soft toys in place before puppy arrives. Small children very quickly become playmates for puppies who like to chase and grab feet, pant legs and arms when they play.
Important Note: Adults should always supervise puppy interactions with young children. You should have an advance plan for addressing and redirecting bitey puppies.
There are many protein-based, consumable chew items that are very handy to have on hand. There are lots of options made out of the dried body parts of many different animals available in every pet store I’ve ever been in.
These types of chews are often appealing to a puppy who is tired or fussy – they’re tasty, easy to chew and can be safely consumed.
Do your research and find out what’s most appropriate for a puppy. Discuss your choices with your vet to ensure he or she is on board with your choices.
5. What equipment do I need?
You need a collar, a leash, a body harness, grooming tools, maybe some dog clothing and a dog bed.
You need to get your puppy used to wearing any equipment he might need while he's young.
a. Collar and Harness. Buy an inexpensive buckle or snap collar in a lighter weight and smaller size for a puppy. You will likely need to buy a larger, heavier one for your adult dog.
In my opinion, collars are best used to hold identification and harnesses are the best choice to attach a leash to.
A harness is something you can buy after your puppy arrives, because fit is important. Choose a simple “H” style harness for a young puppy with the leash attachment on the back. It’s important that a harness fits a growing puppy well, doesn’t constrict anywhere or prevent free movement of their shoulders and allows them to stand straight and square as much as possible. There are inexpensive, starter versions available in most pet stores.
Long term, I have some harness favourites:
- Ruff Wear Front Range Harness (available at MEC or online)
- Tellington TTouch Harmony Harness (available online at TTouch.ca)
- Freedom No Pull Harness
b. Coats. If you happen to have a very short-coated breed and live in a cold and/or wet climate, you may need to buy coats. Again, these are better purchased after you see how big puppy is but do some initial research on where to buy and what the best deals are. If puppy is coming home in the cold months, you may need clothing options quickly.
c. Leashes are another consideration. I’ll be blunt – don’t get a flexi or extendable leash. These leashes really have no good use and I don’t know of a single trainer that recommends them. They can be dangerous and they can be very detrimental to your training, especially leash training.
Choose a fixed length leash that’s 4 or 6 feet long in a weight appropriate for a puppy. Don’t buy the adult weight leash just yet. It’s easier to teach loose leash skills with a leash that’s a lighter weight for puppy.
Consider also investing in a longer leash (a long line), which is what we use to teach off leash skills. A long line should be a fixed length – no more than 12’ – and quite lightweight for a puppy. I’ve made my own at times by using butcher twine and a simple clip fastener from the hardware store.
d. Grooming. All dogs require some level of grooming if only to get their ears cleaned and their nails clipped. If your puppy will require regular coat grooming, you will need to have these items on hand or something similar to begin conditioning puppy to grooming.
Even if you have no intention of ever grooming your own dog, you still need to prepare them for the person who will. Arm yourself with the necessary items in advance: baby brushes or the backs of human hair brushes will work as a start, using a pen with a pocket clip can mimic a set of nail clippers when it’s placed around each nail and paired with treats, a hair dryer to condition puppy to its loud sound and warm blowing air might be necessary.
e. Beds. A bed or comfortable sleeping mat is something all puppies should have. Err on the side of something inexpensive and washable for a puppy bed for now. You can invest in something more expensive that fits your décor later on.
A bed isn’t just a comfortable place to sleep; it can also be a “safety blanket” for many dogs. Their bed or mat can travel with them to the vet, to a training class, to a hotel or campsite and to a friend’s house. It can become “home base” and make it easier for dogs to transition to new environments and even get weighed on the scale or examined at the vet clinic.
6. The professional people in your puppy’s life.
Think about all the people you need to rely on to help you with your puppy when she arrives and in the future:
- Dog Walker
- Dog Daycare
- Pet Sitter (covered above)
Do your research, ask your friends for recommendations and meet them in advance of getting your puppy.
- Meet your vet and ensure you’re comfortable with their recommendations and familiarize yourself with their hours and location. Vet clinics are busy. If you know when puppy is arriving, book your first puppy appointment in advance. As an added precaution, locate the nearest 24-hour emergency clinic so you know where it is should you ever need it.
- Find a trainer; ask about their methods, policies and services. Find out their requirements for group classes, and ask if you can drop in and watch a class to see how they train and whether you’re comfortable with them.
- Visit a few groomers to find one you like and see if they have any helpful tips. Set up several preparation visits for your puppy before she actually needs to be groomed.
- If a dog walker will ultimately be important in your life, meet a few and ask if you can join a walk to see how they manage things. Your puppy shouldn’t go with a group walker until at least 2 years of age in my opinion, but many walkers have pee-break options for puppies during the weekdays.
Important Note: Find out exactly how much exercise your puppy needs during the various stages of development. It’s actually a lot less than many people think and too much or the wrong kind can be structurally damaging for a growing puppy. Ask your vet and visit this link from Puppy Culture for their recommendation on appropriate exercise for puppies and young dogs: https://www.puppyculture.com/new-exercise-chart.html.
7, Treats and lots of them!
- Part of the best early training for puppies is simply rewarding any and all behaviour that you like. You will need lots of very tasty treats stashed all over the house so you can grab them when you need them. Consider getting a treat pouch for each family member. Your puppy will be learning every moment she’s awake, so you might as well ensure she’s learning what you need her to know and you’re not missing valuable opportunities.
- Good quality dog treats can be expensive! Consider making some of your own to add to the mix. A simple, unseasoned cooked lean beef roast or chicken breast cut into tiny pieces can be the tastiest thing in the world to your dog. Save the pet store treat purchases for the super yummy, highly desirable ones that you would rather not cook at home like organ meats or more exotic protein sources.
- Plan to have several good quality and tasty choices on hand when puppy arrives. You will quickly find out what she likes, doesn’t like and absolutely loves.
8. The first week.
The final step in our plan is that all-important first week with puppy at home.
You, someone else or several people need to be available every hour for the first week you have your puppy. This first week is a critical period for your new puppy and you. You want to begin building a relationship with your puppy where she thinks you’re “Safe” meaning that you’re supportive, comforting, instructive and sensitive to her particular needs.
You simply cannot get a puppy and head back to work the next day with puppy comfortably tucked in her crate for many hours. Your long-term relationship with your puppy depends on building her trust that you will keep her safe.
If you got your puppy from a fantastic breeder or a rescue group with a great foster setup, they probably started preparing puppy for time alone. Best case, you will still need to help puppy learn to be alone in her new home, which is different from the home that contained mom and siblings. Worst case, you’re starting from scratch and this can be a long process.
8 or 9 week-old puppies need to “do their business” at least once in a 2-hour period. A general guideline is that puppies can hold their bladders for 1 hour every month of life – so 2 hours for an 8-week-old puppy is a reasonable expectation. However, this is just a general guideline. Smaller breeds have smaller bladders and are generally considered to be more difficult to house train.
If you have a more anxious puppy, they may have a bit of separation anxiety after being taken away from mom and littermates. In this case, they may not be comfortable being left alone at all and will need support and training to accomplish learning to be alone in more gradual steps.
Important Note: No longer is the “just let them cry it out” philosophy considered either appropriate or humane for puppy rearing.
Sound like a lot of planning and a lot of work? It should, because it is and it needs to be done well. The end result, though, is a dog who fits into your life well and is a joy to live with.
Don’t forget that even with the best of plans, things can still go sideways. You need to be prepared that despite all your careful planning, you may need to be flexible to needs of your individual puppy and change the plan to suit her. For more information on puppies and dogs – check out my website and my Blog at www.dogpartners.ca.
Have fun with your new puppy, get some extra sleep before she arrives and keep it positive!