First Time Puppy Owner: Start Off On the Right Paw
Updated on November 15, 2020
What First Time Puppy Owners Need To Know
Very often, by the time a first time puppy owner calls me for help they’re super frustrated and don’t even realize that they've already created some really bad habits with their pup(s).
Luckily, most of these habits can be easily avoided if you follow some of my simple first time puppy owner tips for success.
Most bad habits can be easily avoided if you follow some of my simple first time puppy owner tips!
It's pretty easy to make crucial mistakes when you have a sweet, adorable puppy staring you down. It's almost as if that puppy knows how to use their cuteness to get their way, am I right?
Let’s face it… no one wants to discipline a cuddly little puppy. So how do you get your fur baby to understand and obey the rules of the house?
Tips for First Time Puppy Owners
Let me share some of my best tips for new puppy owners that will help you transition this furry companion into your home with ease… and, most importantly, success! After all, prevention is faster and far more effective and affordable than using correction to undo mistakes and bad habits you (accidentally) created.
It's Never Too Early to Start Training
First, it is never too early to start training your dog. You do not have to wait weeks or months to teach your dog manners and cues like “sit”, “down,” or “leave it”.
Typically, we start training the day we pick up and bring home our 8-10 week old puppies. Yes, you read that right…the day of adoption!
It all starts with the car ride home (where the first mistake typically begins). Most people want to bring their new dog home on their lap. They want to love it, hold it, and snuggle it the whole way home.
When you do this, you're actually missing out on one of the most important car ride/ training sessions there is!
For the initial car ride home, your puppy should be placed in the crate. Here’s why. Petting, snuggling, and talking to your puppy when he/she is already anxious can be overstimulating.
When in a crate, the car ride typically lulls puppies to sleep, making their first experience away from their littermates and mother not only a pleasant one but a relaxing one. And more importantly, their first experience in the crate becomes a positive experience.
You want the first experience in the crate to be very positive since that is where they will sleep their first night away from their former family (Do not bring your new puppy into bed with you the first night). In addition, the crate is like a car seat we use for infants and toddlers. It's designed to keep your puppy safe in the event you have to stop fast or are in an accident.
Use the Crate
A crate is designed to:
- Provide a safe, secure place for puppies when you’re unable to supervise them
- Minimize stimulation to reduce anxiety and help calm and relax your pup
Just like toddlers, puppies are curious and always on the go, exploring their environment. And just like toddlers, a new puppy can get into trouble exploring without supervision.
When we need a safe place for toddlers to play or sleep, we put them in pack-n-plays and cribs. When we need a safe place for puppies to play or sleep, we put them in crates.
It is not cruel to put a dog in a crate. Dogs naturally try to seek out a safe, quiet place to rest or go when they feel unsafe, anxious, or overwhelmed. Proper crate training makes your puppy’s crate that safe, quiet place they want to use without any hesitation.
To your new puppy, your home is a huge new place they naturally want to explore. It’s also a place where an inexperienced and untrained puppy can get into trouble or, worse, it may be harboring hidden dangers that aren’t readily apparent to you or your puppy.
That’s why it’s best to restrict access to new areas of your home by blocking off rooms and using a crate to confine your puppy to places you know are safe.
Also, until your new dog learns all the guidelines for other areas of your home, it’s best to restrict access until you can supervise and train your puppy on the rules for these areas. In addition, using a crate is immensely helpful in potty training your dog.
No New Puppies In Bed With You
That first night home for your new dog can be overwhelming, so you want to make sure it goes smoothly. Don't fall into the temptation of bringing your dog into bed with you.
The bed and other furniture in your house are expensive belongings you want everyone to respect… even that adorable new puppy.
Think about it. Your puppy wasn’t allowed to nurse any time it wanted. Momma dog decided when mealtime was, and your puppy had to show up or go hungry. That’s one of the ways your puppy learned to pay attention and respect her doggy mom.
In the same way, your puppy now needs to understand the rules to earn access to the coveted couch or bed. That comes with training.
I am not a trainer that says “no furniture.” Instead, I promote introducing new privileges after you have taught your puppy the appropriate behaviors – like how to potty in an outdoor potty spot and how to chew on chew toys.
Puppy Proof Your Home
When I get to the house, I usually see that they have all sorts of enticing household items out at the puppy's level, just begging to be chewed on, tugged at, and torn apart.
It’s important to understand that your puppy isn’t intentionally getting into mischief. Your puppy is simply following his/her inquisitive and playful nature with the things you’ve left in his/her environment.
Puppy-proofing your home is a quick, easy, and effective way to reduce opportunities for your puppy to get into trouble and frustration for you.
When you puppy-proof your home, it’s best to get down at your puppy’s eye level so you can see potential temptations and remove them. Make sure anything and everything that can be chewed is picked up and put away. This includes electrical cords, knick-knacks, important papers, electronics, and every piece of clothing (including shoes!) you can think of.
DO NOT leave anything out that you don't want to be destroyed. Even though your 8-week-old puppy might not be too active when first brought into your home, I guarantee in the coming weeks, their energy level and curiosity will increase immensely!
This is also why we restrict access to all but one room at a time. When the dog has learned how to go potty outside and is only chewing on their appropriate toys, we can introduce additional spaces. Remember, one room at a time, don't overwhelm your new dog with access to the entire home all at once.
Be Firm and Fair
Without your guidance and structure, your puppy is left to his/her own devices… following rules that were great for his/her dog family, but not so great for your home.
Instead, it’s much better to start by providing some simple guidelines for your puppy to follow and being more firm and consistent with the rules… especially in the beginning. This ensures your new puppy quickly learns the rules of your home and what they should and shouldn't be doing.
Many people mistakenly think they don't need to set any rules for their sweet innocent 8-week-old puppy, but when that puppy hits the 3-month or the 6-month mark, and they are starting to get a little more independent and pushy, the owners start to panic.
I always try to teach my students that whatever cute but naughty behavior they allow now is only going to be 10 times worse by the time the dog hits the 6-month mark. That's the most common age of dogs who are brought to shelters because their owners couldn't handle the rowdy, unruly, naughty behaviors.
Why? Because these owners didn't start training their dogs from day one, or they were very lax with rules from the get-go, and they didn’t realize how big a problem they were creating for themselves and their puppies down the road.
Here’s what to do instead… Set rules and start training right from the beginning. Be firm and consistent, so your puppy quickly learns the positive behaviors you want.
And you’ll find it’s much easier to start teaching these rules from the beginning rather than to try to establish rules after you already allowed your dog to do something you now don't want them to do.
You Can Only Go Forward
The last tip for first time puppy owners is… Avoid the temptation to overcompensate for your puppy’s past living situation if you adopted your puppy from a rescue.
You can only go forward with a dog, you cannot take what happened to them in the past and try to “make it up” to them by pampering your new pup or limiting the rules for them.
Dogs live in the now, and although they may have had a rough go to start with, limiting their rules or structure now will actually do them more harm than good.
Mistreatment often results when an owner is frustrated and angry with a dog’s behavior. By providing firm and fair guidance and teaching them right from wrong, you can provide the structure and security your rescued pup needs to thrive in your home with you.
You need to teach them how to be successful in a loving home environment. And that requires you to provide the right guidance, consistency, and exercise. Otherwise, the dog will always be in a state of worry or confusion. (Make sure to seek out the professional help of an Animal Behaviorist (not just a trainer) when you're working with a dog that has fear, aggression, guarding or any other behavioral issues arising from their past situations.)
If you want to start off on the right paw, make sure to follow these seven tips for first time puppy owners, so your puppy grows into the dog of your dreams:
1) Start training early
2) Bring your new dog home in a crate, not on your lap
3) Restrict puppy’s access to one area at a time and use a crate when you’re unable to supervise your pup to keep your dog safe and especially while you're working on potty training
4) Privileges, like sleeping in bed with you or being up on the furniture, must be earned
5) Don't forget to puppy proof your home and remove all temptations from your new dog's line of sight (and mouth!)
6) Set ground rules and guidelines from the beginning, and be firm and fair when you correct your pup
7) Don't throw rules out the window just because your rescued dog had a rough start. They are with you now and need your help to create the structure they need to feel safe, secure, and confident (this includes rules, training, and tons of praise for jobs well done… and treats since they probably received little to none previously)
Bringing home a new dog, whether a puppy or an adult dog, is one of the most rewarding experiences. Setting yourself and your dog up for success from the beginning will be even more rewarding as your dog grows and matures. Make sure to follow these and our other training tips found on our blog to help you train your dream dog!
What are you hoping for when you bring your new dog home for the first time?
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.