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,