Getting a new puppy is an overwhelming experience, even when you have done your homework beforehand! Alex Smith started Sociable Dogs to give people confidence and reassurance with their dogs. She runs classes to help people understand their companions, to live and work with them successfully and prevent problems from getting out of control. Alex dispels some myths for us surrounding new puppy ownership...
1. There is a wealth of information online about how to prepare for a new puppy, but what would be your top piece of advice every new dog owner should know before bringing a puppy home to join their family?
Read as much as you can, but make sure you are focussing on the 'right' sort of information – look for reward-based training, ignore anything that tells you to shout at, punish or ignore a crying puppy on its first nights at home. The best thing for a new puppy is to let them sleep in your bedroom for the first few nights, in a cardboard box or crate – letting them 'cry it out' can lead to major separation issues as they get older.
2. They say that the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life is the most important, what should new owners be aware of during that time?
Get them out to see the world! Take your puppy out as soon as possible, they can be carried if they are not yet fully vaccinated. Their brains are like little sponges before 16 weeks and they will learn a HUGE amount in a short time. This vital window of time will let them understand the world better as they grow older. Some vets advise not taking the puppy anywhere before they are fully vaccinated but this is extremely detrimental to a puppy's ability to cope with new things after 16 weeks, and is the biggest cause of reactivity and fear related issues in older dogs.
3. How can people best puppy-proof their homes in preparation for bringing home their new addition?
Make sure you pick up off the floor anything you don't want chewed, played with or peed on, or is dangerous – electric wires, rugs, logs by the fire, ornaments, food kept on low shelves in the kitchen etc. Install baby gates to restrict access to certain rooms to keep the puppy confined if you need to. Consider a play pen for the same reason if your house is more open plan. Make sure the puppy can't escape from the garden – you are going to be spending a lot of time out there and won't want to be putting the puppy on a lead all the time!
4. What are the top five things you would recommend that new owners purchase?
• A play pen or baby gate
• A deep-sided bed to put in a crate or use in the car (with a harness)
• A lot of big soft toys – the bigger the better – to encourage safe play with the owner and help protect them from the sharp teeth! Charity shop toys, with glass eyes removed are perfect
• A really good book – 'The Perfect Puppy' by Gwen bailey is my go-to text for all new owners
• Chew toys that you can put food in – Kongs in all their many guises are great
5. How can owners tell the difference between the behaviour that the puppy will outgrow and more serious behavioural issues?
Most owners are surprised and concerned about puppy biting – this is entirely normal and not something to worry about, even though it hurts. With time the puppy will learn not to do it. You only need to worry or seek help if the puppy is:
• Growling with intent (wrinkled nose/ bared teeth) when approached if eating or in possession of some sort of 'treasure' – growling during play is usually normal and fine