Getting a puppy is exciting, but gorgeous as they are, all puppies become dogs - who are not so cute or easy to manage when they misbehave - so it's important to get things right from the beginning to ensure you don't face behavioural issues later.
The most critical time in a pup's development is the formative period (one to four months of age), when they are most ripe for learning. During this time, the pup's flight or fight nervous system isn't fully developed, which means the puppy is almost always in a learning state, non-fearful, and ripe for picking up new behaviours and adjusting to new situations.
Be prepared for your puppy's arrival by setting up their crate and puppy pen, getting the right training tools like collars, leads and toys (not made of household materials so you don't teach them to ruin your cushions and slippers!) and working out your house training regime.
So what should you do in the first eight weeks after you bring your new puppy home?
Set up their safe space
When you first arrive home, adjust your pup to wearing a collar and a long-line lead which offers only a little resistance, so they don't get frightened. Walk them around the property to sniff and get their bearings. Make sure you take them to their toileting area first, especially if they've had a long car ride home. Try to choose a toilet area away from the house.
When you come inside, do a walk-around of the main living area that your pup will spend most time in, then put them in a crate. A crate is a den-like space for a dog – small, warm and enclosed – and it makes them feel safe and secure. The crate should contain a soft, comfortable bed space and a water bowl, with any spare space covered in newspaper.
When used properly, the crate will be a haven for your dog. It is also an important tool for house training and separation anxiety for puppies.
Introductions to the family
Bring your pup into a quiet household - so they can get used to their new situation before being introduced to the rest of the family. This prevents your puppy from getting overwhelmed. This is especially important if you have children, as kids can be unpredictable and scary to a dog in a new situation.
Introduce family members one at a time, making sure each person exhibits non-threatening behaviour by crouching down and not looking the dog directly in the eye.
Your pup may be immediately comfortable with the whole family, but every dog is different, so start gently just in case. Introduce your pup, also, to the cat and any other dogs carefully. The first introduction sets the tone for the long-term relationship.
Bond with them
When you get a puppy, you take on the role of the pup's mentor. A mentor relationship isn't just about providing a loving bond (although of course that is essential!) it's also about providing guidance, setting boundaries and helping your dog navigate his or her way through this foreign human world.
Many behavioural issues stem from a poorly established bond between dog and mentor, so it's worth putting in the time and effort to establish and maintain a sound, loving relationship.
Make plenty of time for contact with your pup so he/she gets used to looking to you for guidance. Be patient, kind and consistent, as dogs are highly receptive to human cues. In my experience, the best way to build a strong bond with your dog is by Joining Up – see www.dogzen.co.nz for more information.
Socialise, socialise, socialise
You MUST socialise your puppy with lots of different people of all ages, races and gender (including young children) as well as other dogs, and other animal species such as cats, chickens, livestock.
Don't do this and you risk raising a mal-socialised dog that grows up protective and wary of strangers, which can lead to fear-based issues, serious aggression or unacceptable prey drive.
Even though this time conflicts with your puppy's vaccination period, you still need to find ways to socialise in a safe manner because if your puppy is isolated, they will likely be malsocialised and have issues later on.
Start training from day one
From the moment you bring your pup into your home, you should begin positive reinforcement training – rewarding your puppy for behaviour you want to see.
It's tempting to let your new pup do whatever it wants in the first few days because you want to lavish it with love, but it's easier and less stressful for everyone if you make the house rules and boundaries clear from the get-go. If you don't want your dog to sleep on your bed, never let them on your bed as a pup. If you don't want your dog to jump on you or anyone else, don't reward your pup for jumping on you by patting them when they do. If you want your adult dog to go and lie quietly on its mat, reward your puppy when it does this.
Using a clicker to click and reward positive behaviour will make training heaps faster and more effective - I highly recommend you get one! You can also use the clicker to teach your pup all of the essential basic commands, such as come, heel, stay, sit, down and wait. Training is a great way of bonding with your pup, too!