Pet ownership currently stands at 68 percent of all U.S. households with 48 percent of those pets being dogs, according a national pet owners survey by APPA. The benefits of bringing home a puppy are clear — companionship, affection, security, even stress relief — but the challenges that follow are often overlooked. Sleepless nights, carpet clean-ups, damage to furniture, pet-sitting arrangements…these are the types of scenarios you need to prepare for.
I brought home a Bernedoodle last April, and he has changed my life in countless ways. Even still, bringing him home made me nervous and I wanted to make sure that I created good habits early on. I did hours of research, talked to professionals, and planned meticulously. Here are four things I learned that made the transition easier (and more enjoyable!) for us both.
Create a bedtime ritual
Puppies are used to sleeping a lot at shelters and breeders. So, when I brought my puppy home, like a toddler, I let him take short naps but tried to keep him awake as much as possible so that he would sleep through the night. What’s more, puppies usually sleep snuggled up with their mothers and siblings before being rehomed. In order to recreate this feeling, I bought a stuffed animal that comes with hand warmers and a beating heart. I even found one that had his coloring: the Smart Pet Love Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid Toy ($35). Let your puppy smell it initially, but then use it only at nighttime, so they associate it with sleeping. Also helpful: Ask the breeder or shelter if you can take an old blanket with you before you leave, as the scent of their first home will make them much more comfortable when sleeping. Finally, take away food and water around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. each night (clearing it first with the vet) to limit how many times you need to go out.
Teach them to walk on a leash
Much like children, puppies need to acclimate to the brand-new world around them. While this may seem instinctual, walking on a leash isn’t exactly second-nature. Some may have more luck in this department, but my dog is nine months old and we still need two hands on the leash to walk him. Using training treats to get them to walk in the direction you want helps a lot, and having your puppy walk around at home with the leash allows them to become more comfortable being attached to it.
Break bad habits early on
Accidents, chewing, and mess making are normal puppy behaviors. However, it is up to you to make sure these types of behaviors stop. Simple commands like “no biting,” “no barking,” and simply “no” will go a long way when used continuously. Another piece of valuable advice that helped with training my puppy is remembering that dogs cannot reason with time. That means that if they have an accident and you fail to catch them in the act and punish them afterwards, your dog will not comprehend what they did wrong. This confusion can also lead to distrust.
When your dog has an accident or makes a mess and you catch them while it’s happening, scold them immediately and take them outside. If you discover it later, it’s best to move on. Puppies learn faster when they can associate correction with the act itself and will also harbor less fear towards humans.
Don’t overlook the benefits of daycare
I hesitated on the idea of daycare since I’m a helicopter parent and like knowing who my dog is with and what he’s doing at all times. However, in the early stages, it’s best to make sure they are releasing as much energy as possible — for their sake and yours. I found that taking my dog to daycare once a week sufficed, though this will vary. Not only is it great exercise, but your dog will learn how to be around other dogs and become comfortable with other people, too.