Updated: Jul 14, 2021
When we first bring a puppy into our lives, many of us are unprepared for just how difficult the first few months can be. Raising a puppy can be incredibly hard and exhausting. They are really just babies when they arrive at your home. Babies who have spent every single second of their lives so far with their mother and/or siblings and who are now expected to spend time alone whenever you have to leave the house for work, shopping or other reasons.
Avoid comparing your puppy to other dogs you have had or known. Remember that older dogs have had a lot of time to learn, and puppies are still at the beginning of their journey into learning about the world and your expectations.
The best thing you can do for your puppy in the first few weeks after bringing them home is to spend as much time with them as possible, and let them just have some time to settle into their new home and learn to trust their new family.
Once they have settled in, it is important that they are exposed to many positive experiences in order to help them grow up into a happy, social, confident, well-adjusted dog.
Remember that each individual dog is a product of their genetics, early socialization experiences, the way they are raised, and their environment. All of these factors will play a part in the personality of your puppy when they are grown, and whether they are happy, confident, social dogs, or fearful, reactive dogs as adults.
If possible, take your puppy everywhere you can; from cafes to parks and family events. Let them become accustomed to being around lots of different people, lots of other dogs and animals, and lots of children of different ages, as well as lots of different environments, ground surfaces, and sounds including things like trucks, motorcycles, lawnmowers and other common items that they will be exposed to and hear in their daily life.
Keep in mind that until they receive all their puppy vaccinations, they will be at risk of contracting canine viruses, so do not let them on grass, sand and similar substances or expose them to potentially unvaccinated dogs. You can still take them out into the world, but carry them or use a pram.
Let them play with dogs you know by visiting friends in their home and garden, as long as you are assured that their dog is fully vaccinated and friendly and tolerant towards puppies.
Puppies learn bite inhibition from other dogs, so having patient older canine friends is extremely beneficial for them.
Puppies can sometimes be annoying to older dogs because they have not yet fully learned to read body language and warning signals, and will continue to play and jump all over other dogs even after they have been warned not to. It is okay for a patient older dog to correct the puppy with a mild snap when they are being inappropriate, and most older dogs will generally teach puppies polite dog behaviour by simply walking away when the puppy is being inappropriate. Puppies soon realize that when they are not polite, the fun stops, and this is how they learn how to interact and play politely and appropriately.
This technique of walking away and ending a play session is also useful when your puppy is being inappropriate or playing too rough with you. When they bite you or start being too rough, get up and walk away, leave them for a few minutes then come back and try again, repeating as many times as necessary. Your puppy will soon learn to associate that rough play means the end of fun, and gentle play keeps the fun going.
On the other hand, exposing your puppy to a dog who bullies them or is unnecessarily mean will only cause trauma and make it harder for your puppy to trust other dogs in the future, so choose your puppy’s first canine friends wisely. They are still learning, and a bad or frightening experience during this critical period can cause them to grow up into fearful, reactive dogs.
Another important factor to keep in mind when letting your puppy play with older dogs is that their bones and joints are not fully formed, so they are at risk of injury in rough play. This may be completely unintentional on the part of the other dog, such as bowling into the puppy accidentally while doing Zoomies and knocking the puppy over.
Never push your puppy past their comfort zone and keep play sessions short. Too much uncontrolled play will make your puppy overstimulated and exhausted. It may also create a puppy who thinks that every dog they see is a playmate which can lead to frustration when out on walks or at training sessions when they are kept on leash and not allowed to play with the other dogs. This frustration can even potentially cause aggression and reactivity towards other dogs in the future.
If your puppy seems frightened by their playmate, allow them to sit on your lap and just observe, speaking to them calmly in a soft voice. Keep pushy or obnoxious dogs away if your puppy feels frightened or uncomfortable. It is critical that your puppy has only positive experiences and does not become overwhelmed in order to help build their confidence and resilience.
Mental and physical stimulation is essential to keep your puppy healthy and happy. Boredom leads to destructive behaviour such as chewing on and destroying household items. Make sure you play with and interact with your puppy often, and start short training sessions with them right away. 5-minute sessions are sufficient during the first few months. It is important to keep the sessions fun and positive and stop before your puppy becomes bored or frustrated.
Provide your puppy with lots of environmental enrichment and games and activities that help them learn, problem-solve and build confidence. Take your puppy along to Puppy Classes as early as possible, and Group Training Classes after that. Spend time teaching them exactly what you expect from them, keeping in mind that they are dogs with instinctual needs, and it is your job to ensure these needs are met.
And always remember that the difficult puppy biting, chewing, toilet training, whining and crying phase will be over before you know it, and if you can remain patient and consistent through the first few months, you will have a wonderful companion for many many years.
If you would like to learn more about how to manage common puppy problems and socialise your puppy to the world, please read Sniff Play Bark – Your Essential Guide to a Happier Dog.