Bringing home a new puppy is terribly exciting and also prompts a flurry of preparation and activity. Your puppy’s first week home is critical, and can set the tone for many budding issues down the line. Your relationship with your puppy is being established, and they’re learning about an entirely new environment and way of life.
The age that most puppies go home is also part of a critical developmental period. During this time your puppy is learning the most about the world and their place in it. What they learn, what they’re exposed to, what they’re taught, these things will all shape your dog For the rest of their life.
The tone is set, dog trainer’s puppy or not, now is the time that we must utilize to the fullest if we want our puppy to live up to their full potential and be an easy dog later in life.
What our journey home showed me
During our drive, Froot was exposed to a lot of things. Massively loud semi trucks, strange dogs barking, noises outside our room at night, sand, tumbleweeds, and rain. He only had one poor reaction, and that was to strange dogs barking in the night unexpectedly. The level of his reaction though is what mattered to me the most.
Ideally a puppy (or any dog) will be startled by something and then recover quickly, within 30 seconds to a minute or less. Froot’s reaction was not only to run, but then for a few minutes afterward he was a little bit shook.
Being that it was our first full day together and we had little to no bond, this was entirely understandable, BUT still noteworthy. With any puppy, but especially a dog trainer’s puppy, when we see fear responses like this, a little amber flag starts to wave in our mind. It’s better to be careful than to try to overdo things. At this stage we had no real relationship to speak of, which puts us at a severe disadvantage. At the time Froot didn’t know me, didn’t have a lot of trust, and therefore I was not seen as a source of comfort he could find support in. It would be foolish and potentially damaging to jump into the world feet first, and so my first course of action was to make sure that Froot and I developed a strong bond.
Our first days home
At 8 weeks, a puppy needs a ridiculous amount of sleep, 18-20 hours. In some ways this is fantastic, but when you’re really wanting to train or do something with your pup, you’ve got an extremely limited window. I don’t use puppy schedules and for very good reason, check out why here.
My training plan for my puppy's first week home
- Teach Froot the crate isn’t a terrible thing – can’t have a puppy tearing up the house!
- Start teaching him how to tolerate being alone – I can’t always be in the room, or the house for that matter
- Begin installing our communication system for training
- Work on teaching him basic play skills and that I’m tons of fun
- Start teaching him his name
- Begin socialization to the world
Crating and alone time
These are both things that I find a lot of people either struggle with, or neglect completely, yet these are both very important life skills for any dog. Your puppy’s first week hone should include what I call “quality of life” training. As I haven’t figured out how to be in multiple places at once, my pup will need to learn how to be alone quietly. At the same time they must have an understanding that the crate is a place of good things, of rest and relaxation, not of anxiety and terror of being confined. I also need to have peace of mind that not only can I leave the home, but that my puppy will be safe, content, and not having a meltdown while I’m gone.
The amount of time that your puppy is sleeping at 8 weeks really works to your advantage. We can pretty easily cultivate a habit of the dog sleeping only in their crate, and thus beginning to view it as a place of resting. By strategically using food we can also teach a young pup to enter their crate without a fuss and not mind us shutting it and potentially leaving them alone briefly.
My crate set up
The crate is where I am. This is so I can monitor Froot throughout the day and be there to let him out, feed, water, and whatever else he may need. In his crate he has several different types of chews, access to a limited amount of water, and comfy bedding. His crate has a crate cover, this is to help him nap by darkening the interior. Regardless of age this is the same basic set up that I use with any dog who is learning to relax in a crate or learning separation skills.
All of the other line items are geared towards being able to get Froot out into the world and him being able to find comfort and support in me during any difficult situations. The clock is ticking. The sooner we have a little bit of proficiency in these small skills the more time I will have to introduce him to everything.
Play skills also do double duty. By teaching him what he can bite, chew, shake, and focus his teeth on, I’m literally saving my own skin from that needle mouth. As an adult we’re going to be able to use play in training, which is much more useful and valuable than food ever could be.
What about my other dogs?
Relationships between dogs that last their lifetime can literally be built in minutes in some cases. One of the most common issues I see with multiple dog households is issues between the dogs. This could be jealousy, separation issues, aggression, or over attachment, and they all stem from bad intros, over exposure, or over prioritization of relationship between the dogs rather than with the humans.
To be clear, I didn’t get a puppy to be a companion for my other dogs. He’s a dog trainer’s puppy, not a dog trainer’s dog’s puppy. It also takes longer and more effort to build a good bond between a dog and yourself. At the same time, my girls didn’t ask for a new pup, and so he’s a bit of an invader.
Because of all of this, his time with them is very limited. They do get to have time together, but it’s not all day, it’s never unsupervised, and I’m actively participating with them too. No doggy free for alls! This is how we keep everyone safe, preserve our own growing bond with our puppy, and sidestep a whole boat load of future problem behaviors.
There is plenty of time for them to develop into the best of friends, and it will happen easily and naturally. The bond that he and I share though, this takes priority and is a little bit more work!