New Puppy? What You Need to Know!
Welcoming a new puppy into our life is a rewarding and exciting experience, but it can also feel overwhelming without the proper guidance and support.
With so much conflicting advice over the internet, it can be very hard to know the right thing to do to support our puppies and help them grow into happy, healthy, and well-balanced adult dogs.
The first few days can feel particularly confusing, as everything seems to happen quickly, and you are still adjusting to your new life and routine.
Your head will be full of questions and full of doubts.
Are you supposed to let your puppy sleep on the furniture?
Does it make you a good or a bad owner if you do?
And what about when your puppy cries?
Are you supposed to ignore that until they calm down, or should you go to them to comfort them?
And how about when the puppy mouths everything and everyone?
How long should the puppy sleep?
Is it true that playing with the puppy will make them aggressive?
(Read on to find the answers!)
The truth is that some of the advice you’ll find online will be extremely outdated, while some will be generally good but inappropriate for your puppy and situation.
Indeed, all dogs are individuals, and an appropriate training plan will need to be tailored around your dog, considering their personality and main behavioural tendencies.
This is why working with a dog trainer on a private basis can really support you in helping your pup flourish and thrive.
This said all puppies (and dogs) have some basic needs that we MUST meet if we want our puppy to feel happy and safe and thrive.
In this blog post, I explore THE most important things we need to consider and work on when we first welcome a puppy into their new home.
We need to meet puppies’ physical and emotional needs if we want them to grow into confident and balanced dogs. From an emotional point of view, puppies (like us humans) need a secure attachment to feel safe. This is true not only when it comes to the attachment and bond between a puppy and their mum and siblings, but also in regards to the relationship they develop with us humans.
Safe attachment is about providing safety and being emotionally responsive to our puppies’ physiological and emotional needs. This means providing a nurturing and comforting environment and observing, recognising and responding to any signs of discomfort, anxiety, hunger, stress, or confusion.
In practical terms, if your puppy is crying and feeling distressed, you need to attend to them, comfort them, and think about how to avoid this from happening again. If your puppy is scared, you want to remove the source of their fear and anxiety and help them feel secure again. If your puppy is confused, you want to guide them with kindness and compassion. And so on.
Being available to your puppy and providing a safe and nurturing environment is essential, and it’s the best way to reduce the likelihood of behaviour problems down the line.
Confidence, good social skills, great learning abilities, and emotional stability develop in a safe environment and stem from secure attachment.
Learning how dogs communicate will also be extremely important to understand and respond appropriately to your puppy. Being skilled in reading dog body language can help you know when your puppy feels happy, calm, excited, or worried so that you can act accordingly and give them what they need, be that support, attention, or some extra space.
Learning to read and respond to dog body language from the start can help us create and provide a safe and nurturing environment for our puppies, where they can learn to trust us.
The more you can tune into how your puppy is feeling (and act accordingly), the less likely your puppy’s behaviour will escalate.
Puppies need a lot of sleep. Young puppies need between 16 and 20 hours of sleep in a 24-hour window. Although literature varies on the subject, and there will be differences depending on your puppy’s specific age, puppies should spend more time sleeping and resting than being active.
Getting enough sleep is necessary to maintain regular bodily functions, process information and consolidate memories, repair muscle tissues, allow healthy growth, restore energy, and feel physically and emotionally balanced.
I don’t know you, but after a bad night’s sleep, I don’t necessarily feel at my best, and I might feel a bit grumpy, unmotivated, irritable, or unable to focus…this happens to our dogs too!
Sleep deprivation can lead to many problems, including increased arousal, reactivity, restlessness, and behaviours such as excessive jumping up, mouthing, and chewing.
Research has shown that dogs prefer to sleep on slightly elevated surfaces and in close proximity to others when given a choice. This includes us, their caregivers.
It should come as no surprise that puppies struggle when left to sleep alone in a different room. My professional recommendation is to take things slow when the puppy first comes home and make arrangements to sleep near your puppy (safely and appropriately, of course).
My dog sleeps in my room, and she’s allowed on my bed. This might not work for you, and that’s ok. But I must advise that if you want your dog to sleep in a different area, you will need to make the whole process of teaching them how to relax and rest separately slow and easy for your puppy to start with, so they can gradually adjust to it.
Remember what we said about secure attachment!
Movement is essential for healthy development.
But whilst exercise plays a significant role in mental and physical health, we need to give attention and be mindful of the type of exercise and how the puppy moves in particular.
Indeed, not all exercise is the same. Different types of exercise will affect our puppies’ bodies and minds differently.
Intense, fast, repetitive, and arousing exercise, such as ball chasing, for example, can create musculoskeletal damage and increase the risk of conditions such as hip dysplasia, cartilage damage, and soft tissue damage (just to name a few!).
Furthermore, arousing activities cause an increase in cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, which, when circulating for prolonged periods in the system, can affect normal growth.
In other words, puppies don’t need speed and intensity, but they need plenty of opportunities to develop body awareness, balance and coordination through flexibility and balance exercises.
An appropriate exercise routine needs to include activities that help develop postural balance, core strength, the ability to use limbs and paws with awareness and coordination, and motor laterality.
Including proprioception activities in our puppy’s routine will also help develop and maintain the brain and the nervous system in tip-top condition, as they play an important role in alertness, self-awareness, learning and focusing abilities.
Providing sniffing and puzzle-solving opportunities can also positively influence a puppy’s growth and development and provide them with the mental stimulation they need.
This includes everything from toilet training to grooming.
It’s crucial to ensure a puppy has plenty and appropriate opportunities to eliminate. Dogs are not born knowing they are supposed to only toilet outside and in designated areas, so it’s our job to teach them where to eliminate.
Puppies cannot control their bladders, and they will need frequent toilet breaks throughout the day and during the night as well. Although the time between breaks can be stretched as the puppy grows older, at the very beginning, we want to give them the chance to eliminate VERY frequently.
For some, this might mean every 30/60 minutes.
It’s also important to take a puppy out after any activity such as playing, eating, drinking, or waking up from a nap.
Handling and engaging in grooming activities such as nail clipping and brushing from a young age will also help our puppies feel more comfortable with these procedures as they grow older.
Learning about cooperative care techniques can help you introduce handling and grooming in a positive way to your puppy so that they can learn to enjoy the process rather than become scared.
This will help keep their coat, skin, teeth, ears, and paws healthy, prevent matting, and enable you to detect sensitivity, and early signs of pain and discomfort, as you will learn to observe and recognise what is normal and what is not normal for your dog.
Furthermore, physical touch causes a release of oxytocin, sometimes called the feel-good hormone, that plays a role in bonding and building trust.
Gut microbiome health impacts several other areas of our bodies. Indeed, the microorganisms in the digestive system can affect overall health – and an individual’s behaviour too.
The composition of the intestinal microbiota is influenced by many factors, including mode of birth (vaginal vs cesarean), early feeding (breastfeeding vs formula), and how the weaning is done.
A responsible breeder should consider all the above and adopt processes that allow normal gut development.
This is why getting a puppy from a reputable and responsible breeder is extremely important. Indeed, whatever the breeder does (or does not do) during those critical first weeks of the puppies’ life will play a huge role in their growth and physical, psychological and emotional development.
When choosing your puppy’s diet, a good idea is to consult a qualified nutritionist to help you select the best option for you and your pup. With so many foods and so much information available on the market, it can be hard to make an informed decision, and getting the help of a professional is always sensible.
Besides choosing an appropriate diet, providing the puppy with good variety (including how the food is presented) and chewing opportunities is also essential.
There are a lot of natural chews available on the market, and I would advise heading to your local pet store to get a good selection of them.
I recommend getting natural and long-lasting chews that are appropriate for your puppy’s age and size, and I would avoid things like raw hides and highly processed chewing sticks. Make sure you include lots of different textures and consistencies (just make sure they are not too hard for your pup) to keep it varied and interesting and identify what your puppy loves.
Chewing is a normal dog behaviour, and it’s important to give our dogs plenty of appropriate opportunities to chew, as the more they can chew their things, the less likely they are to chew ours.
Be aware that you must implement some management to prevent unwanted chewing, like keeping items you care about or anything that might be dangerous out of reach.
Remember NEVER to punish your puppy for unwanted chewing, and NEVER take anything away from them. If you need to remove something, always trade it for something else (treats work wonders for this) to avoid conflict and developing guarding behaviours down the line.
You can also think about teaching a ‘leave’ and a ‘drop’ cue to help with that!
Again, working with a trainer can really help you set everything up for success from the very start and avoid the most common problems people tend to encounter during those first few weeks of puppy life.
Play, exploration and socialisation opportunities!
Puppies need to play to become healthy, well-balanced, and happy adult dogs.
Indeed, playing with mums and littermates from an early stage allows puppies to learn and practice behaviours and everyday life skills such as how to use their mouth and bodies (remember when we talked about the importance of developing motor lateralisation, balance, and fitness?) and how to read other dogs’ body language.
Positive play interactions between puppies and humans are also essential, as they constitute a great bonding and confidence-boosting activity.
This said we need to be mindful about how we play with our puppies and think about what we are teaching them, what they are actually learning, and how what we do now can affect their future behaviour.
Repetitive ball throwing can, for example, teach our puppies to focus on moving objects, potentially leading to them becoming obsessed with all things moving when out and about. The more they practise this as young puppies, the more likely they will engage in this behaviour when they get older.
This is not to say you should never play with a ball, but working on building value in your relationship and your puppy’s ability to focus on you, is equally (if not even more) important.
We also need to be careful of letting puppies engage in fast-paced and repetitive movements such as chasing and catching objects when they are really young, as this can not only pose a risk to their joints (see above, when we talked about the importance of the type of exercise we provide!), but also teach them specific behaviour patterns that we might not want them to rehearse as they become adults (e.g., chasing moving items or other animals; engaging in fast-pace and high arousal activities).
Don’t forget that the more your puppy practises a behaviour, the better they get at it!
Exploration and socialisation are also essential to help puppies become healthy, happy, and well-balanced adult dogs.
Dogs are a social species; they are inquisitive by nature and love to explore.
Providing puppies with plenty of safe and appropriate opportunities to explore and get used to different environments and all the things they might encounter throughout their life is essential to their development. And the same can be said of giving puppies the chance to get used to other people, dogs, and different animals too.
Don’t forget that you want these interactions to be positive and tailored to your puppy’s needs and personality. Whenever in doubt, play it safe. A missed interaction is better than a bad one, and the main goal is always to keep your puppy happy and safe.
If you feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of things you need to do and consider to help your puppy become a confident and happy dog, you are not alone!
Getting a puppy is a significant life change and a massive responsibility.
But I promise you that everything you do now WILL pay off.
Starting things on the right foot can make your life much easier, your puppy much happier, and your relationship even more robust!
Need Further Help?
If you have no idea how to start implementing the things discussed in this blog post, the good news is that you don’t have to wing it, and you don’t have to do it all on your own!
Getting professional coaching from the start (even before your puppy comes home!) can help you set things right and avoid the most common problems new puppy parents encounter during the first weeks after bringing a puppy home.
If you are ready to ditch the overwhelm and truly enjoy the precious time that is puppyhood, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s get chatting!
This blog has been brought to you by Giulia, the owner of My Kinda Dog.
Giulia is a qualified and experienced dog and puppy trainer covering Bristol and surrounding areas.
She offers private puppy training sessions, private dog training sessions, and scentwork classes.
Giulia is passionate about helping people understand, communicate, train and thrive with their dogs.
You can see her here with Ruby, her beloved canine companion.