Bringing home your new canine friend is both exciting and worrisome. This dog will be with you for the next fourteen to sixteen years as a walking partner, a friend to play with, and a confidant. You may decide to participate in dog sports
or volunteer work together. There is so much to look forward to, but there are worries, too. Are you really ready? How much is this dog going to change or (gulp!) disrupt your life? Your life is going to change, no doubt about it, but the more prepared you are, the easier things will be.
Keep in mind that this is a big change for your new canine friend, too. If you’re bringing home a puppy, it will be his first time away from his mom and littermates. If you’re adding an older puppy or an adult dog to the family, this may be his first time away from the kennel or shelter (at least in a while), so it will be a change for him, too. In any event, it will be a time of worry and confusion for everyone. So, before you bring him home, make sure that you are prepared.
In this comprehensive article we cover everything you’ll need to know before bringing your new puppy home:
The Importance of Planning
Before you bring your new puppy home there are necessary supplies, household chores, and planning which will need to be completed. We’ve broken it out into sections so that it’s easier to delegate and digest. Once you’ve completed everything on this comprehensive checklist, you’ll be at ease knowing your dog will come home to a safe, fully-stocked new home. Rather than making emergency runs to the store or vet you can spend your time getting to know the new member of your family!
Necessary Supplies / Shopping List
The first task on your list is to go shopping. Here’s the essentials you’ll want to have in advance:
- Puppy or dog food: Make sure that you have some of the same type of food the dog has been eating. If you want to change to a different food, do so later. If you change now, abruptly, your dog could suffer gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhea. Not a good way to start out in a new home! Call the breeder, rescue group, or shelter and find out what your new dog is used to eating.
- Food and water bowls: Have a couple of spill-proof water bowls and decide where you want them. Choose a place where you won’t be upset if he splashes and dribbles water. The bathroom is often a good spot, or a corner of the kitchen where you won’t trip over it. You also want to have a big water container outside. Metal bowls work well, are unbreakable, and are easy to clean.
- Identification: Pick up a temporary collar tag for your new dog. There are tags on which you can handwrite your name and phone number. This will serve until you decide on your new dog’s name and can get an engraved tag. Your dog also needs a microchip (a permanent identification chip that is injected under the skin), but you can talk to the veterinarian about that on your dog’s first visit.
- Collar and leash: Pick up a nice, soft collar that buckles for your dog’s everyday wear. His identification tag should be attached to this collar. A 4- or 6-foot leash is fine for walking the dog and for beginning his training.
- Crate: A crate will serve as your dog’s bed for the first two to three years of his life. Rather than thinking of it as a cruel way to contain your puppy, remember that it’s a place where they know they can relax and let their guard down. It also will keep him safe when you travel and will provide him with a place that’s all his. The crate should be big enough for him to stand up, turn around, and lie down, but not so big that he can relieve himself in it and get away from the mess. You may need to buy a couple of crates as your puppy gets bigger. You can place an old towel in the bottom of the crate; don’t buy a cushion or bed, as those will get chewed up during puppyhood.
- Baby gates and X-pens: If you already have children, you’re in luck. It turns out a lot of your previous purchases like baby gates and X-pens will become useful again to create limitations on where your puppy can travel around the home. Baby gates work best for blocking hallways while X-pens are effective at fencing off portions of rooms.
- Toys: Your dog will need a few toys to help keep him busy. A few chew toys, such as good-quality rawhides and bones, will give him something to chew on. A couple of interactive toys, like a Kong or a food-dispensing toy, will keep him occupied when you have to leave him alone.
- Grooming tools: Your puppy needs some basic grooming tools, including nail trimmer, shampoo, toothbrush and baking soda, soft pin brush, and comb. Depending on your dog’s breed, he may need more tools; see chapter 5.
- Cleaning supplies: Your new puppy or dog will make messes. He may have house training accidents until he learns where to go to relieve himself. He may get overexcited and throw up or might spill his water. He will definitely track in mud from outside, and, at some point, he will chew up something he shouldn’t. It’s much easier to have these products ready in advance than have to make an emergency run to the store.
- Pooper scooper: You will need a pooper scooper (available at pet stores) or a shovel and rake to clean up after your dog in the backyard. You can use plastic bags to pick up after him on walks—either the commercially available bags made for this purpose or plastic grocery or newspaper bags.
That covers all the essentials you’ll need to buy in advance. Now we’ll dive into the steps and precautions you need to take to make your home and yard safe for your dog.
Puppy-Proofing Your Home
Your house is going to be a source of amazing things to your puppy. Puppies explore the world with their noses, followed shortly thereafter by their mouths. Things get sniffed over really well and then, if they smell appealing, are tasted. Unfortunately, your puppy is not going to have any idea what is good for him and what isn’t, nor will he know what is valuable to you, so it’s up to you to make your house as safe as possible for him and to prevent these kinds of accidents from occurring.
To puppy-proof your house:
- Put childproof latches on all lower cupboards in the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and anywhere else you have storage cupboards. Don’t forget the laundry room.
- Pick up all knickknacks, magazines, books, and other things that can be chewed in the living room, family room, and other places where the puppy may spend time.
- Tuck or tape all electrical cords and cables away, out of the puppy’s sight.
- Pick up all trash cans or put them inside cupboards. Or, use heavy, covered trash cans.
- In the kitchen, put away all cleaners, waxes, bug sprays, and insect traps behind latched doors.
- In the bathroom, put away all medicines, vitamins, makeup, hair products, and cleaning products.
- In the rest of the house, pick up or put away pens and pencils, electronics chargers, iPads, and electronic equipment you don’t want to risk having devoured.
- Check the doors, door latches, and screens to all outside doors. Make sure the dog can’t push his way outside.
It’s important that you’ve decided the boundaries where the dog will be free to roam, which should be severely restricted when they’re a puppy to prevent accidents. He should be in the room with you where you can supervise him; when you can’t watch him, he goes in his crate or to a safe place outside. You can close off his access to the rest of the house by closing doors, putting up baby gates across hallways, or using X-pens to restrict access to specific areas of rooms. By supervising him closely, you can stop problem behaviors before they happen and teach him what you want him to do. Teaching him what to do is much easier than trying to correct bad habits later. This restricted access will help your house training efforts significantly, too.
Puppy-Proofing Your Yard
Your yard can be a source of danger for your new puppy. Identify first where your puppy will be allowed to go. If your backyard is fenced and he is allowed to go outside alone, you will need to make sure that the entire yard is safe. If you have a dog run, then only that area needs to be secure right now, although eventually you will need to puppy-proof the entire backyard. If your front yard is not fenced in, he will only be allowed out there on leash with you, so puppy-proofing is not as critical.
Puppy-Proofing Your Yard Steps
- Make sure that the children pick up their toys when they are through playing. Many kids’ toys are easily chewed.
- Put away any lawn furniture after use, especially those items that are easily destroyed, such as those with webbing or cushions.
- Make sure that wires or cables (television cables, ground or border lighting wires, or wires to sprinkler system controls) are protected from puppy teeth.
- Gardening tools and supplies should be in a latched cupboard or out of reach.
- Fence off special gardens or favorite areas. A temporary fence can protect these areas from puppy teeth and paws.
- Check your yard plants that are poisonous to dogs and remove them.
- Remove, and do not use again, any snail, slug, or rodent poisons.
You also want to make sure that your fence is very secure. Puppies can fit through amazingly small spaces—between boards or between the ground and the bottom of a fence. Newly adopted older puppies or young adults who have no idea where they are can be escape artists, too, especially when worried. These dogs can go through a fence (breaking weak or broken boards), dig under a fence, or go over a fence. If you’re bringing home a small dog (say, under 20 pounds), the fence should be at least 4 feet tall. If you bring home a dog between 20 and 30 pounds, the fence should be at least 5 feet tall. For larger dogs, the fence ideally should be 6 feet tall.
So take a look at your fence, checking a wooden fence board by board and a chain-link fence section by section. Replace or repair weakened boards or sections. Fill in holes under the fence, making sure that digging out won’t be easy. Move trash cans or other stored items away from the fence so that a determined dog can’t use them to climb up and over.
Underground pet fencing has become more popular, especially in communities that restrict fencing or in rural areas where regular fencing may be financially restrictive. This fencing consists of a buried wire that produces a radio signal. The dog wears a collar that senses the radio signal and the dog receives a stimulus from the collar when he ventures too close to the wire. If you would like to use this type of fencing, make sure you and your dog both receive professional training as to its correct use. When misused, the dog can become very confused.
Many poisonous plants are commonly found in our yards, either naturally or used in landscaping. Here are some of the most common. If you’re concerned about a specific plant that is not on this list, take a piece of it to your local garden center and speak to a horticulturist.
Trees and bushes
- Avocado (leaves)
- English ivy
- Poison ivy
- Poison oak
- Poison sumac
- Cherry (seeds)
- Horse chestnut
- Common privet
- Peach (seeds)
- Bird of paradise
- Christmas cactus
Bulbs, tubers, and fungi
- Calla lily
- Morning glory
- Lily of the valley
- Sweet pea
- Many mushrooms
- Potato (foliage)
Weeds and herbs
- Tomato (foliage)
- Jimson weed
Make The Garage Safe
Many dog owners also allow their dogs access to the garage from the backyard. This can give the dog shelter in bad weather, especially if no one is at home. If you plan on doing this, you will need to make sure that the garage is safe.
Since you are not going to want your dog dashing in and out when the garage door opens, especially when a car is going in or out, you will want to section off a portion of the garage. You can use an X-pen, fence sections, or even pieces of lattice. Simply divide the areas where you want the puppy to be able to access and those that will be off-limits.
In the area where the dog will be allowed, put away anything that can be chewed—cardboard storage boxes, shelves with food (such as in a pantry), cleaners, insect sprays, rodent traps, laundry soaps, tools, automotive parts (especially antifreeze)—behind latched doors or up out of reach. Don’t assume that something will not be chewed because it doesn’t appear to be attractive to a dog; dogs have chewed on some amazing things!
Planning Your Puppy’s Living Arrangements
Where is your new dog going to sleep? Ideally, you want to place his crate in your bedroom right next to your bed. There, he can hear and smell you and won’t feel so lonely. You’ll be able to hear him, too, when he needs to go outside during the night. Do not isolate the puppy by placing his crate in the garage or laundry room; he will be scared and lonely and will cry all night long. Instead, let him be close to you.
Decide where your puppy will eat. If you have a very busy household, you might want to feed him in his crate, or in a quiet corner of the kitchen. Do you want him to have a water bowl in the same place? You also can put a water bowl in the bathroom if the puppy will have access to the bathroom. He will need a larger, spill-proof water bowl outside, too.
Where does your family spend a lot of time in the mornings or evenings—the dining room, living room, or family room? Put a basket of the puppy’s toys on the floor in that room so that he can find them easily. Close doors and set up baby gates so that the puppy won’t be able to sneak off into other rooms and get into trouble. Double-check your puppy-proofing. Okay, you’re ready!
What Age To Bring Your Puppy Home
If you’re getting your puppy from a breeder, the breeder will tell you when your puppy is ready to come home. Most big-breed puppies are ready between 8 and 10 weeks of age. Many toy breeds are older, even 12 to 14 weeks old. Don’t take home a puppy younger than 7 weeks; he needs time to spend with his mom and littermates. Their interactions are important for his mental health later.
If you’re adopting a dog from a rescue group or a shelter, you probably will be able to coordinate times and days that will work best for both of you. Ideally, schedule his homecoming for a day when you will have a couple of days off to spend with him. This way, he can get to know you and the rest of the family, and he can learn his way around the house and yard.
Don’t bring a young puppy home and then leave again immediately. A very young puppy left alone suddenly will cry and scream, and could make himself sick. An older puppy or dog who feels abandoned in a strange place might try to escape from the crate or yard, even to the point of harming himself. However, if you can spend the next couple of days with him, he should then have enough confidence and security to spend some time alone.
What To Expect The First Few Days
The first few days after you bring home your puppy are going to be tough, no doubt about it. Your puppy or dog is going to have no idea where he is and who you are. A puppy is going to miss his mom and littermates, and an older puppy or dog is going to feel alone and scared. Therefore, it’s important to keep things calm and quiet. This is not the time to invite the neighbors in to see your new friend; that can wait. Right now Fido (to use a generic name) needs to get to know you and your family.
Show Fido where his toys are and play a little, but don’t get him so excited that he’s growling and biting. Calm is the key right now. Petting and cuddling should be calm and gentle, and playtime fun but not too rough. He needs to learn to trust you and your family members; if things are too rough, he could become scared and fearful, or he may feel that he has to fight back. You want to build trust, cooperation, and compliance with your new dog, not a sense of having to fight you.
Fido also needs to learn his way around, especially where to go to relieve himself. For the first few days, you can pick up your puppy to take him outside, especially if he’s tiny, but as soon as possible, encourage him to walk to the door to go outside. He needs to learn where to go and will not learn it by being carried. Outside, take him to the area where you would like him to relieve himself. Don’t play with him right now; just be quiet. When he relieves himself, praise him— “Good boy to go potty!”—using, of course, the phrase you wish to use. Some people say “Get busy!” or “Find a spot,” both of which are fine. When he’s awake, he will need to go outside hourly at first and after waking up from a nap, after eating, and after playtimes. Newly adopted older pup- pies and dogs will be able to control themselves longer much more rapidly than a baby puppy, but in the beginning, get him outside often, too, to prevent potential problems.
After your puppy has relieved himself, let him wander around for a little while. He’s going to want to explore, and as he does, you can see if you’ve missed anything in your puppy-proofing of the backyard. After he’s explored a little, get him to exercise: encourage him to follow you, praising him when he does, or gently toss a ball or dog toy for him to chase. See chapter 7 for more house training information, including house training problems.
When he’s ready for a nap, put Fido back in his crate. Toss a biscuit in ahead of him and then when he’s in, close the door and walk away. Don’t let him out if he’s barking or crying. Teach him that he comes out when he’s calm and quiet, when you are ready to let him out. He can spend a couple of hours in the crate a couple times during the day and all night. At night, he may cry and howl; don’t give in and bring him up into your bed! That’s setting a bad precedent. Instead, give him a warm towel, a stuffed toy, or a ticking clock to make him feel less alone.
Bonding with your new puppy
One of the things that makes a relationship with a dog so unique is the bond that develops. A dog and owner who are bonded with each other have a genuine concern for each other’s well being and happiness. Although people can bond with other animals, particularly horses and cats, those bonds are not usually as strong as the bonds we develop with dogs. That bond is what causes a police dog to give his life for his partner, or what causes a family dog to stay inside a smoke-filled house barking wildly to wake his owners when he easily could have run outside. Although some people do own dogs without developing a bond with the dog, that relationship is never what it could have been.
The ideal age for bonding is between 8 and 12 weeks of age, and this bonding takes time. As you handle your new dog, petting, brushing, and playing gently with him, he learns to trust you. You also get to know him; you learn what he likes and doesn’t like, and you learn what his reactions are to new situations.
If you have adopted an older puppy or adult dog, he can still bond with you even if he had bonded with his previous owners. Once a dog has bonded with someone, he can bond again. The difficulty arises when a dog who has never made a connection with people is adopted. Whether or not he can ever bond depends on many things, including his history with people and how he’s been treated, his breed and its tendency to bond (or not), and his individual personality. Be patient, consistent, and kind in your handling of this dog, and give him time.
The ability to bond with people is shared by all dog breeds, but the bond’s strength can vary. Some breeds tend to bond more strongly to just one person, while other breeds will bond with the entire family. Still other breeds, when well-socialized, will bond with everyone they spend time with. As a general rule, the breeds developed to work with people, taking directions on a daily basis, bond more strongly than those breeds developed to work alone, making their own decisions.
Socializing and Sensory Exposure
Socialization is the process of introducing your puppy to the world around him. With the ideal age of socialization occurring between 10 and 16 weeks of age, that means you must make the time to do this during this period. Socialization should continue through puppyhood and into adulthood. If you adopt an older puppy or dog, that dog should be introduced to the sights and sounds of your home and neighborhood. After all, it’s his home and neighborhood now, too.
It’s very important to keep the socialization process fun and upbeat. Even if the puppy is startled by something, he shouldn’t be consoled; the puppy could mistake that consoling as praise for being worried. Instead, jolly him! For example, if he’s worried about a flapping trash bag, tell him in a happy tone of voice, “Oh, don’t be silly! Come on, brave boy!” as you reach out and touch the trash bag. After he sees you can touch it and no harm befalls you, let him walk up to it.
Your puppy should meet people of all ages, sizes, shapes, colors, and ethnic backgrounds. He needs to find out that people come in wide variety. As you introduce your puppy to people, you must also protect him. Do not let people treat him roughly, even if they are only doing so in play.
You must set the rules as to how he is handled, even if it means that you have to step in and tell someone, “Sorry, we don’t play those games. Please be gentle.”
“Sorry, we don’t play those games. Please be gentle.”
Don’t let crowds of people swarm your puppy, either. When you introduce him to your neighbors, have one or two at a time pet him. If a crowd develops, pick up your puppy and move away. You can explain that a crowd is frightening and ask them to approach the puppy one at a time. Keep in mind that although your dog may be your protector when he’s grown up, right now you are his protector.
During socialization, introduce your puppy to normal sounds. Normal household sights and sounds:
- A trash bag being shaken out and placed in a trash can
- A vacuum cleaner turned on and moving around the house
- A broom and mop being used
- A garbage disposal turned on
- A trash compactor turned on
- A metal pan lid dropped to the floor
- The washing machine and dryer
Normal outdoor sounds:
- A car engine nearby
- A motorcycle driving by
- The lawnmower
- A weed whacker and leaf blower being used
- The garbage truck coming down the street
- A bicycle and a tricycle, as well as other kids’ toy
Your puppy should also meet other animals. He can meet healthy, well-vaccinated, friendly adult dogs, and he should meet a dog-friendly cat. Rabbits, ferrets, goats, cows, sheep, horses, and tortoises can also be a part of his socialization.
Your veterinarian may tell you to keep your puppy at home until he has had all his vaccinations. She’s telling you this out of fear that your puppy may catch a contagious disease. Yet, this book is telling you to socialize your dog; obviously, there is a conflict. Most puppies have good immunities after two full sets of vaccinations, and most of the threat of disease comes from unvaccinated dogs. So, as you take your dog out in public to introduce him to the world, avoid unknown dogs. Let him be friendly only with those dogs you know are well vaccinated and appear healthy. When you’re out in public, do not let your puppy sniff other dogs’ feces or urine. Be careful and protect your puppy, yet let him see the world, too.
This concludes are our comprehensive guide on everything you need to do before bringing home your new puppy and then what to do upon arrival. Our next chapter covers living with your dog, establishing your status as the leader, and introducing the new puppy to your family.