Must-Read Survival Hacks For Newbie Puppy Parents — How To Thrive With Your New Best Friend
Bringing home a new puppy is truly one of the most exciting things that will ever happen to you. This furry little bundle of joy will be your best friend, your baby, and your favorite cuddle partner all rolled into one. Raising a dog is pretty much one step below having an actual human child, and the amount of love you'll have for it will feel just as strong.
But before you set up your puppy's Instagram page, you might want to brace yourself. Like an actual human child, taking care of a new puppy is HARD work. In the next six months, you'll face the emotional gauntlet. Your stress levels will skyrocket. The things you'll worry about will multiply. And don't think you'll be able to find solace in a good night's sleep. Nope. Nope. Nope.
But don't panic. Every hard, stressful moment will be balanced out with feelings of joy, triumph, and overwhelming love for this perfect little creature that came into your life.
To help you (and the pup!) get through those first few months together in one piece, we've created the ultimate survival guide for nervous, new puppy parents just like you.
1) Emotionally Detach Yourself From Your Possessions
Do this as soon as humanly possible. This will save you a lot of grief down the road. No matter how much you "prepare" before bringing your puppy home or how soon you start training classes, the puppy will destroy some of your stuff at some point. Just accept that fact from the get-go so you don't lose it down the line when you find your favorite pair of sunglasses/shoes/family heirloom ripped to pieces on your bedroom floor. And speaking of floors, let go of the desire to have clean ones. When you have a puppy, something gross will happen to/on your floors at least once a week. Puppies have very sensitive little tummies, so expect to deal with some digestive issues (hint: feeding your pup mild, chicken-based puppy food will help alleviate this).
So, new puppy parent — it's time to get in touch with your inner zen monk and release all attachments you have to your worldly possessions.
2) Thoroughly Research The Breed Ahead Of Time
Before you bring your new pup home, do your homework! Read as much as you can about that breed. Are they prone to health issues? Behavior issues? What are the typical developmental stages? How much do they need to eat every day? What's their temperament?
If you're adopting from a shelter or rescue and the breed is unknown, or mixed, get as much info as you can from the shelter staff or foster parent. Don't go into puppy parenthood blind. You should have a good idea of your new pup's habits, triggers, and temperament. Otherwise, you'll have to learn them the hard way — through trial and error!
3) Figure Out Your Schedule Ahead Of Time
This is probably the #1 mistake people make when they get a new puppy. No matter how excited you are to bring home your fur baby, figure out your schedule in advance. Puppies need A LOT of time and attention, or they could develop behavior issues down the line (separation anxiety, destructive chewing, etc.). Who's going to be with the puppy while you're at work all day? You can't just leave a little pup home alone for nine hours! How are you going to make time to let him out to go to the bathroom, walk him, feed him, and train him?
Expect for your new puppy to take up most of your time in the very beginning. And if you aren't in a place where you can really put that solid bonding time in right now, then you really should wait until you're more available. Don't go out and get a dog when you know you have dinner plans later that night or work the next day.
Your new pup needs to trust you and bond with you. Leaving them home alone unattended for long stretches of time is not fair to your new puppy, so wait until you can really commit your time to puppy parenthood.
4) Plan Ahead And Set The Stage
Before a woman gives birth, she goes through a "nesting" period. This is a stage that is characterized by the overwhelming desire to get the house ready for a baby. Give yourself time to go through your own "nesting" phase before bringing home your new puppy. Make sure you've bought everything you could possibly need well ahead of time, and get the environment ready in advance. When shopping for new puppy supplies, here's a basic list of things you'll need:
- Wet and dry puppy food (preferably grain-free, and the first ingredient should be a protein, not a starch. Check the label!)
- Leash and collar with ID tags (Get the ID tags made ahead of time at any pet store)
- Comfy dog bed
- Food and water bowls
- A mat to put under the food and water bowls (Your floors will thank you)
- Puppy shampoo (This sounds bougie, but human soap and shampoo is too harsh for dog skin and could cause major skin problems for your dog. So, your lil pup needs his own special dog shampoo)
- A ridiculous amount of toys (Since you don't know what toys your puppy likes yet, just get one of everything)
- Some soft, snuggly blankets (Trust me, you'll want your puppy to have his own designated blanket)
- Whatever supplies you'll need for potty training (This will totally depend on how you choose to potty train your pup. Puppy pads, poop bags, floor cleaner, etc.)
- A flea comb (Even though some flea meds say they're safe for puppies, I wouldn't treat your puppy with heavy duty flea medicine yet. If you're worried about fleas, brush your puppy with a flea comb)
- Puppy training treats
Aside from getting all the puppy stuff you'll need, now is also the time when you should make important decisions about how you're going to raise your new friend.
Ask yourself these important questions:
- How am I going to potty train him?
- When do I want to start training, and what training style will I use?
- Will I hire a trainer, or will I do the training on my own?
- Will I crate train?
- Will I let my puppy sleep in the bed with me?
- If you have other animals: How will I introduce my current pets to the new puppy?
5) BE PATIENT!
After you bring your new puppy home, expect there to be an adjustment period. While you're super excited to finally have your new friend home with you, your puppy might need some time to adjust to his surroundings. Think about it. This little fur ball was just taken away from the only home he's ever known, probably separated from his mom and siblings for the first time ever, and now he's in a new place with a stranger. That's terrifying!
Give your furry friend a break and don't expect too much right away. That poor little muffin has been though a lot! Even if you're dying to show your fur baby off to the world, don't overwhelm him with trips to your friend's house and long walks right away. Spend the first few days at home together, and let him get adjusted to his new surroundings.
How To Handle Common Puppy Problems Like A Pro
Every pup has his own distinct little personality and will present you with different challenges, joys, and adventures. While there is no one-size-fits all magic wand for dealing with the challenges of being a puppy parent, there is one universal and basic best practice that every dog owner should follow:
Don't Use Negative Reinforcement As A Training Technique
The vast majority of animal trainers agree — positive reinforcement and reward systems produce the best results when you're training an animal, and puppies are certainly no exception! Some people think that the best way to discipline a puppy is through spanking, swatting, or yelling because you need to establish yourself as a strong, alpha leader of the pack that doesn't put up with any nonsense.
Fortunately, most modern day animal trainers have abandoned this horrible philosophy. No matter how frustrated, angry, or irritated your new puppy makes you, it's never OK to hit him.
Not only is spanking a puppy just a generally awful thing to do, it's also an ineffective way to train him. If you want your dog to stop doing a certain bad habit, negative reinforcement is the wrong way to go.
The Humane Way To Handle Nipping
Let's say your new pup has developed a bad habit of nipping your hands when you're playing with him. This is something almost every pup does, regardless of breed. Most owners think the solution is to spank him every time he nips their hand. You may think the dog is learning that biting is bad, so he should stop doing it. But that's not what's going on at all.
Puppies nip during playtime because that's how they play and learn boundaries with other dogs. When he nips, your puppy thinks that he's bonding and playing with you, but then you hit him, which only makes the poor little guy confused and afraid of you. This could make your new pup withdrawn, or even rebellious, leading to a vicious cycle of more bad behavior and more hitting. Instead of growing into a confident, happy dog, the puppy will become fearful and shy because he won't understand why you're hurting him.
If you want your new pup to stop nipping, think like a fellow puppy. When he nips you, yelp loudly like a dog and hide your hand behind your back. This tells your puppy, "Ouch, you hurt me!" Your puppy doesn't want to hurt you, so eventually he'll learn what appropriate playtime boundaries are and stop nipping. Isn't that so much better than smacking the little one with a rolled up newspaper? We think so!
The Polite Way To Potty Train
If your new pup had an accident on your $4,000 dollar Persian rug, here's the worst possible way to handle it: Scream at him. Spank him. Rub his nose in his own pee, and throw him outside. You've probably seen at least one other dog owner do this, but not only will it scare the crap out your poor puppy, it won't teach him anything about where he's supposed to go instead.
Dogs live in the moment. Your puppy won't connect this bizarre punishment with something he did in the past. You may think you're "teaching" him where he's supposed to go, but in reality all he's learning is that you're a scary, unpredictable animal that shouldn't be trusted.
Instead, supervise your pup carefully while he's playing in the house. When you catch him in the act of going to the bathroom, distract him. Usually a firm "NO!" does the trick. This should break his attention just long enough for you to be able to scoop him up and take him to the designated potty area (outdoors, a puppy pad, etc.).
Once you've got him in the right spot, encourage him to go potty, and when he does, praise him like he just found the cure for cancer. Immediately give him treats, pets, and tell him "Good boy!" in your happiest, friendliest voice. Before you know it, your pup will associate going potty in the right spot with treats and happiness, and the behavior will just become automatic. If you're diligent and consistent, you can potty train a puppy in as little as 1-2 weeks this way. Some pups may even catch on sooner.
Consistency is key! During the early stages of potty training, you must be able to watch your pup constantly because it only works if you catch him in the act.
Be patient! Some breeds catch on faster than others, but with consistent reward, any dog can be properly potty trained.
Pay attention! Soon you'll be able to read your puppy's body language, and you'll know when he has to go to the bathroom. So, ideally, you can take him outside before he has an accident.
You Can Do This
Being a brand new puppy parent can be overwhelming. But remember, you don't need to be a dog whisperer to survive the first six months with your new four-legged friend. Anyone — including YOU! — can raise a pup that's happy, healthy, and well-behaved. All it takes is consistent, positive reinforcement and lots of love. Reward good behavior. Think like a dog, and use existing doggy social etiquette to convey a message. And give lots and lots of belly rubs! You want your pup to follow your lead because he loves you, trusts you, and wants to please you. You don’t want a pup who's forced to obey you because he's scared, confused, and afraid of being punished.
How have you used positive reinforcement when raising your fluffy friend? Let us know in the comments. Happy puppy parenting!