How to introduce your puppy to their new home

How many times have you imagined bringing your new puppy home? Have you pictured them running through the front door and zooming around your entire house, smelling every single nook and cranny as they excitedly explore their new home? This may sound like a happy picture in our human mind, but this is actually one of the worst ways to introduce a new puppy to their forever home.

Puppy’s brains are like sponges – constantly absorbing and processing new information to learn from their environment and those in it. So if their first experience in your home is one of over-excitement, that is what they will immediately learn the house represents and it will be incredibly difficult to create calm with your puppy inside your home moving forward. It is very easy to create excitement with dogs, especially puppies, but it is much more difficult to create calm. It is for this reason that you should ensure your puppy’s introduction to your home is a very calm, controlled experience that is led by you. This will start your puppy on the right (calm) foot in your home and in your life, making each day moving forward that much easier.

When bringing your puppy from the car and to your home, I once again suggest walking them in on leash as long as they are already used to this tool. If possible, take your new puppy for a short walk down the street or around the block to introduce them to their new environment and to give them some physical exercise to help work through any anxiety or excitement they may be feeling being in a new place.

Once you are at your front door, have your puppy sit and wait calmly as you open the door. Do NOT let your puppy rush into the house ahead of you – a pack leader always leads through doorways no matter what. It may take some time for your puppy to be calm, but be patient! Wait calmly inside the door and allow your puppy to work through their anxiety and excitement on their own, possibly giving them a quick but firm correction if the excitement becomes too much. Once they are siting politely outside of the doorway and they give you eye contact, then invite them to cross the threshold CALMLY. If they rush into the house, repeat the exercise until they get it right. Repeat this same process for every single doorway and threshold in your home. I know it may sound tedious, but skipping these seemly minute but very important details could lead to an overexcited or anxious puppy. As I mentioned earlier your puppy is constantly learning from you, so if you set clear boundaries, limitations, and expectations inside the home from the start they will already have respect for you and view you as their leader.

Once inside your home, the theme of ‘calm’ continues! Keep your puppy on leash as you lead them through your home to their designated puppy area that you set up for them in advance. Your puppy is allowed to be curious and sniff around as they walk through their new home, but they should never lead you anywhere. Once you reach their assigned puppy area, lead them into it and allow them to calmly explore, still keeping them on leash and keeping any excitement to a minimum. Once they are in a calm relaxed state, drop the leash and allow them to explore on their own. I highly suggest leaving a leash on your puppy at all times as this allows you to easily interrupt any unwanted behaviours and will help them get used to this new tool. However, make sure to supervise your puppy constantly when they are wearing the leash to be sure they don’t choke themselves.

By this point you’re probably dying to love up on your new puppy; you’ve been waiting weeks for this after all! Once your puppy is relaxed and settled in their new home and play area, feel free to give them lots of CALM affection. As I mentioned earlier, it is very easy to create excitement with a puppy so when you do give them some affection, make sure it’s slow and relaxed and please do your best not to use a high pitched ‘baby’ voice when you speak to them! Remember, you get what you pet! So as long as your puppy is relaxed and not anxious or excited, cuddles and belly rubs are always welcome.

Introducing your puppy to your home is an incredibly important process that cannot be rushed, so be sure to set aside lots of time so you don’t feel pressure to speed things along. I myself took the entire day off work which allowed me to remain calm and patient throughout the entire introduction process. To give you an idea of what your puppy’s first experience in your home should look like, here’s a little story about Sprout’s first day home.

As I previously mentioned, Sprout did not come to me leash trained. As such, I brought her inside the front door still in her travel crate rather than on leash. We live on a very bust street and I wanted to make her first experience with the leash was a very calm one, so I decided to wait until we were inside to introduce her to the tool.

Once inside, I opened up the door to her crate and allowed her to exit on her own terms by sitting on the floor about two feet away and encouraging her with sound to come out. Once she was out of her crate, I shut the door so she couldn’t run back in should she become afraid and try to escape her new surroundings. Next I put her slip over her head, being careful not to apply any pressure. I sat on the floor silently beside her, allowing her to get used to the feeling of the leash around her neck as well as to check out her new surroundings with her nose and eyes. She tried to climb into my lap a few times, but I gently pushed her off and back onto the floor – this is a form of insecurity, and had I allowed her into my lap and began petting her I would have actually nurtured that insecure response. Once she was relaxed, I began to move down the hallway. This is where we hit our first major roadblock.

Sprout put on the brakes, refusing to follow me down the hallway and fighting the tension that was now on the leash. I did not panic – I remained silent, calm, and confident while she worked through this new challenge on her own. I relaxed the leash and waited for her to be calm again before adding a very light bit of pressure to coax her forwards while using my voice to also call her in. Still she fought the leash, and still I remained calm. It took us about ten minutes to make it down the hallway, but eventually once I added pressure and called her name she moved forwards with me rather than fighting against me. Success! It may seem small, yes, but this was actually an incredibly important moment in our relationship. It taught her that I may sometimes ask her to do things that scare her or make her unsure, but that I will always help her through those situations through calm, confident leadership. This simple exercise did a LOT to build her trust in me as her leader, and the rest of the house tour was a breeze!

So remember, while this is a very exciting day for you, it is also a very scary one for your new puppy. As much as you will want to immediately shower them with affection and give them the run of the house, do your best to remain calm and confident in leading them into and through your home. Your puppy will be looking to you for leadership, be sure you are able to give it to them!

Until next week,

Claire

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The drive home with your new pup

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The big day has finally arrived! After all of your research and preparations, it’s finally time to bring your new puppy home. This day is going to be filled with a lot of emotions – both positive and negative – for you and your puppy. Therefore it is important to do your best to maintain the calm, confident energy of a pack leader despite the excitement you are sure to be feeing. As I mentioned in my last post, this will likely be one of the most stressful days of your puppy’s life but it is important not to let this ‘weaken’ your energy by feeling sorry for your puppy. The absolute worst thing you can do is to coddle a fearful, timid, unsure puppy because this will only reinforce their nervousness. The best thing you can do for them on this day and every day going forward is to take control of every situation the way a true pack leader would – calmly and confidently. If it helps, think of your new puppy as a child – you wouldn’t add to a panicked child’s fear by reinforcing it but would instead calmly help them face whatever is creating their negative experience by leading them through it with confidence.

After leaving the only true calm, confident influence they have ever known (their mother), your puppy will immediately look for another person to take over this leadership role. That being said, if their humans fail to do so, the puppy will assume this position themselves and this is what leads to a wild puppy and behavioral issues later in life. So yes, it is perfectly acceptable to be excited about bringing your new puppy home, but please for the sake of your puppy do not allow this excited energy to dominate you on this day especially. Go for a run in the morning, or do a quick meditation in your car before going into the breeder’s home; whatever it takes to help you enter a calm assertive pack leader mindset. Most of us would do anything for our dogs, and in this particular situation your dog needs you to put your own needs and feelings aside to become the leader they need on this difficult day.

The first major challenge your puppy will likely face after leaving the breeder will be simply getting to your car. If your puppy is already leash trained, I recommend walking your puppy to the car rather than carrying them as this will allow them to gain some confidence by leaving their home on their own as opposed to being forced to leave in your arms. Sprout was not yet leash trained, and I knew I wanted to spend much more time getting her accustomed to the leash than the short walk to the car would allow, so I broke my own rule and carried her to the car. In my mind leaving her home was already stressful enough, and I didn’t want to overwhelm her by adding the extra pressure of a new tool (the leash) to the process.

The next step is actually getting your puppy into the car. I highly recommend having a travel carrier ready in the car for your puppy to stay in during the trip home. Even if your puppy is not yet crate trained, the travel crate will provide some security to your puppy (more on this later, but dogs actually find comfort in the den-like feeling of a crate) and is also the safest way to travel with your puppy. Once you reach the car, do not force your puppy into it as this can create a negative association with the vehicle for your puppy from the start. Instead, open the door and allow them to sniff inside and be curious about the new object. Once they have explored it a little from the outside, place their front paws up on the inside of the open door, and invite them to jump in themselves. Once again, this gives your puppy some confidence in that they were able to enter this new environment on their own and will also build their trust in you by allowing them to explore on their own terms. Sprout was just under 10lbs when she came home, and wasn’t quite tall enough to pull herself into the car on her own. As such, once she began leaning into the car and trying to move in herself, I gave her bum the little push she needed to get all the way in. Help your puppy when they need it, but do not rescue them! Allow them to do new things on their own to build their confidence, but always lead them into and through these new situations calmly and confidently (are you sensing a theme here?).

Once your puppy is in the car, lead them to their travel crate using scent or sound. Do NOT force them into their crate – the decision to enter this new object must once again be their own in order to build a positive association with the crate. I brought a pizzle with me when picking up Sprout, and so once she was on the back car seat where her open crate was, I got her attention using the scent of the pizzle by putting it under her nose, then led her into the crate by placing the treat at the back of it. The exercise does not end here though! Don’t close the crate door as soon as your puppy is inside – this is the fastest way to create fear and anxiety around the crate! Instead, sit beside the crate as your puppy explores, and calmly correct them with your hand if they try to get out of it. Wait until they lie down and relax inside the crate before shutting the door. This may take some time, so be patient! If you close the crate door on an anxious puppy, the association for them with that crate will always be one of anxiety, and that anxiousness will only intensify the longer they are left inside it.

Now that your puppy is calm and secure inside their crate, it’s time to start the car and head home! But your work isn’t done here. You need to be prepared for the very likely possibility that your puppy will cry and scream in the crate on your drive home, even after all of the work you have just put into ensuring they were calm before leaving. If this happens, don’t panic! This is a natural reaction for your puppy to have, and you panicking with them will only make things worse. As humans, our instinct is to immediately coddle a crying puppy either with touch or sound, telling them “it’s okay baby, good girl!” in a very high pitch, unstable voice. But while this compassion is what makes us human, it is actually the worst thing we can do for our now very nervous puppy. Resist the urge to use baby talk with your anxious puppy or to pull the car over and cuddle them, because once again this will only reinforce their behaviour. Always remember, you get what you pet! To you, you’re telling your puppy that everything will be okay and you are here for them, but the message your puppy is actually getting is “you’re right to be anxious, the car is very scary, I approve of the way you are behaving right now”. Instead, either ignore your puppy if their whining is at a low level, or correct them with a calm, assertive ‘tsst’ to disagree with their anxious behaviour. It may seem harsh to correct an anxious puppy, but they are actually looking for someone to take control of this stressful situation and tell them how they are supposed to deal with it; they are looking for a leader. That’s you!

By now you’ve probably realized that bringing a puppy home isn’t as simple as throwing them in the car and walking them into your house – every single step is important and cannot be rushed. This doesn’t mean that you need to be anxious about doing every single thing right, but it does mean that you need to do your absolute best to remain calm and confident throughout your puppy’s entire journey home, and every day afterwards. This is why I have taken an entire post to discuss just the car ride home; it may seem like a very straightforward event but if not done properly it can start off your puppy’s life with you on the wrong foot. So remember to take your time, check your energy, and be the leader your puppy needs (not the coddling ‘puppy parent’ you likely want to be!).

Until next week,

Claire