Adding a puppy to your life is thrilling, and there’s no doubt that they’re adorable, clumsy, goofy, cuddlesome little bundles of delight. They also, however, require a lot of work and attention and making sure you are prepared BEFORE bringing your new family member home is vital. A lack of planning and proper equipment will make the transition much more stressful for all involved, and can have a detrimental, long-term impact on training.
There are three main areas to consider when planning for puppy parenthood.
Supplies and Equipment
Food: Not all dog foods are created equal, so do your research. Also be sure to find out what she is eating currently at the breeder’s or the rescue. You are of course under no obligation to continue feeding her the same diet indefinitely, but to avoid an upset tummy it is important to transition her slowly on to her new food.
A Crate: The usefulness of a crate cannot be overstated. If used correctly, it will facilitate housetraining, allow you to sleep/eat/relax peacefully and will provide your puppy with a safe, comfortable den in which to spend her down time. Her crate should be a pleasant, safe space so be sure to never use it as punishment.
A Playpen: This expands on the concept of the crate (and is often linked to one). It provides your pup with a protected space in which she cannot get up to mischief or harm herself, but gives her a bit more leg room to stretch out in.
Baby Gates: These are useful when expanding her access to the apartment as her house-training proceeds and she learns what is and is not acceptable.
Wee-wee Pads: These provide her with a potty space if it is unfeasible to take her outside every few hours. Not everyone has easy access to a garden, and carrying a squirming, desperate puppy up and down flights of stairs, or waiting for the elevator, can be a tricky proposition. As her house-training progresses, pads can be eliminated (although many dog owners in the city, especially of smaller breeds, opt never to transition away from them).
An Enzymatic Cleaner: It is inevitable that your puppy will have accidents during the house-training process. Using an enzymatic cleaner on these will help break down the smell faster and avoid the situation in which she will return to the same previously-soiled spot because it smells of her. Using an ammonia-based cleaner will achieve exactly the wrong thing; although you may no longer smell anything, your puppy may in fact be encouraged to re-soil over the ammoniac odor.
Collar, Harness, Leash and Tags: There are a wide variety of leashes, collars and harnesses available; your choice should be influenced by the type of dog you have, and of course bear in mind that she will be growing swiftly! It is important use correctly-sized equipment however – don’t buy a harness that is vastly too big for her so that she can “grow in to it”. All that this will achieve is making the item useless and possibly giving her a distaste for it if the size makes it uncomfortable. Also be sure you are au fait with the licensing laws in your city, and be sure to abide by them.
Toys: Toys are invaluable, and choosing the right ones helps with training desirable behaviors and with keeping your pup appropriately stimulated, active and enjoying life. Interactive, chew-resistant toys like Kongs and Busy Buddies are great, rope toys are great for tug games and help keep teeth clean and of course playing fetch with a suitably sized ball is great fun for everyone involved.
Treats: Rewards-based training is impossible without treats, so make sure to have a selection of different types and flavors available.
Grooming Tools: Even if you intend to have your puppy professionally groomed, it is a good idea to get her used to being handled and brushed beforehand, so that she is comfortable with the experience.
London is an amazingly pet-friendly place, and there are many different pet-service providers working in the city. Having so much choice is wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming. We recommend the following steps to help you find the right people for your pup:
Make a list of the services you will need (veterinarian, emergency vet or animal clinic, dog trainer, dog walker, dog sitter/kennel and groomer are the most common).
Research a list of options in your neighborhood in each category (pet-owning neighbors can be particularly helpful in this regard, but make sure to do your own checking as well; different people have different philosophies on pet care).
Call all of the businesses. Whilst a pleasant phone manner is no guarantee of good service, an unpleasant one certainly does not bode well. Based on these conversations, draw up a short list of providers in each category and ask for references. Then call the references to see what they have to say about their experiences with the provider; this should narrow the list down still further.
Now ask if you can visit the provider’s premises/observe them at work. Do the animals seem happy and well cared-for? Are the employees competent and compassionate? Are the facilities clean and well-tended? If yes, then you have found one of the people who will help make your new puppy’s life as happy and healthy as can be. Let them know that you would like to use their services, and set up membership and accounts in advance as far as possible. This way, you have so much less to concern yourself with once your new pup finally arrives, and you can focus your energy on her, rather than on admin.
House Rules and Routine
Life in your home is likely to be very different to anything your puppy has previously experienced, and this can be very stressful. She is going to be trying to figure out how this new world works by experimenting with different behaviors, and it is up to you to encourage her towards behaviors you like and to discourage behaviors you don’t. It is therefore very useful to have a good idea of what you, and your family, feel is appropriate before she even arrives. This will help maintain consistency across the board, allowing her to learn much more quickly. If every person is giving her different feedback, the situation can quickly become confusing, fraught and unpleasant.
Some things to consider include:
Where will she sleep?
Where (and when and what) will she eat?
Who will feed her?
Who will be responsible for her walks? (During house-training, puppies may need to be walked on the hour every hour, so this is a big responsibility and can lead to resentment and frustration if not acknowledged in advance).
Will she be allowed on furniture? If yes, is there any particular furniture which is out of bounds?
What kinds of games will she play? (There are great games, like fetch and tug, and definitely-not- so-great-games like body-slamming, wrestling, biting and jumping which should be discouraged. They maybe cute while she’s tiny, but when she gets bigger they can be extremely inappropriate and difficult to train away).
What training and correction methods will you use? (We at The Decorous Dog feel that the positive, reward-based methods produce the happiest, most well-adjusted pups, and encourage the strongest human-dog bond. We do not use aversives or punishment, but instead work to understand why your puppy is demonstrating whichever behaviors she is, and then find ways to motivate her to perform the desired behaviors instead).
Will one person in the household be the primary trainer? What will the role of any other household members be in the training process? (Remember, consistency is key! If your pup is permitted by some family members to jump/bite/demand bark/chew the couch/etc, it will be much harder to train these behaviors away).
The first few months of a puppy’s life are extremely formative, so although all of this may seem like a great deal to take in, addressing these questions well in advance really is the smartest thing to do!