Getting a new pet is one of the most exciting – and, if you’re like me, one of the most anxiety-inducing – times in your life. It’s not like having a baby, of course, but in some ways it’s almost harder because puppies can’t wear diapers, if you know what I’m saying. Having a pet is a big commitment – one that can span an average of 15 years – so it’s important that you’re as prepared as possible before bringing your new furry friend home. We got a gorgeous little Westie called Milo just after Christmas, and while he’s been the biggest joy of our lives, we would have been much more stressed out had we not extensively prepared ourselves before adding him to the family.
Below are some things to keep in mind before getting your dog and after, when he’s adjusting to his new forever home. Of course, you may do things differently and find that it works perfectly for you – this is NOT a must-do list, rather a list of what we found worked for us and has resulted in an incredibly happy, healthy, fully house, crate and trick-trained puppy at only 4 months old.
1. Consistency is key. This is the most important rule of them all, and one that you should repeat to yourself over and over again, particularly during the more trying moments of getting your puppy house trained, crate trained, whatever. You may get tired of getting up every 10 minutes to take him outside, or it might break your heart to hear him crying his heart out in the kitchen all night because he’s in his bed on his own, but giving in “just this once” sends the message that bad behaviour gets your dog attention and, most likely, his own way. Re-enforcing bad behaviour can be incredibly difficult to undo.
2. You make the rules. Dogs are pack animals, and each pack has a leader. It’s incredibly important that you take this position and maintain it. Letting your dog dominate you (whether by taking your food, demanding your attention, becoming aggressive, etc.) is a recipe for disaster, especially if you have a feisty breed.
3. House training doesn’t happen overnight. This goes hand in hand with #1 – the best way to get your puppy in the habit of doing its business outside rather than on your carpet or bed is to continually take him to an area where you’d like him to go. Puppies typically need to use the bathroom after eating, sleeping or playing – and the younger they are, the more they need to go in between. It can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting, but you will eventually see results if you stay the course. Oh, and when your dog does have an accident, don’t rub his nose in it – it’s an outdated method that is cruel and won’t get you what you’re after.
4. Crate training can be particularly helpful with housebreaking and when it comes to leaving your dog overnight. We crate trained Milo from the day we brought him home, and while we experienced two nights of howling and sobbing, we remained strong and did not go to him when this happened. After those two nights, he never did it again. Better yet, he knows when it’s bedtime now and actually runs in the kitchen and hops in his bed himself! It’s cosy and secure and he knows it’s his, which is helpful.
Milo has only ever had two accidents in his crate, and that was in the first week of being here. Since then, not a single one. The crate you choose for your dog should have plenty of air (we have a black metal one that we lay a towel over for extra warmth/comfort) and should be big enough for him to stand up in but not move around too much. Dogs hate to pee/poop anywhere near where they sleep and will do anything to keep it from happening, there teaching them that they can hold it. Note: small puppies will become extremely distressed if left for too long and forced to relieve themselves in their crates. You should still be giving them bathroom breaks until they’re about 4 months old, at least (your experience may vary – Milo was an early bloomer and could hold it from the time he was about 8 weeks).
Another thing that can help if you’re crate training is to leave music playing. We put a chill album on the iPad and leave it on repeat on the kitchen counter overnight, which soothes him. He was listening to the Ed Sheeran album for ages, but now he’s moved on to Jessie Ware. A comfort item, such as a blanket from his mother or an item of clothing you’ve worn (which has your scent) will work wonders, and you should also include a small toy for him to occupy himself with in case he wakes up in the middle of the night.
5. Get him used to being left alone. One of the hardest things to do when you get an adorable new puppy is put him down, especially if he’s particularly cuddly. We found it so difficult with Milo not to be holding him all the time, and still do! Plus, since I work from home, he wasn’t used to spending any time on his own, either. This can become extremely problematic when you DO need to leave the house for any period, and it can cause your dog to develop severe separation anxiety if not dealt with at a young age.
When you leave the house, start out at an hour or so and gradually work your way up. Again, your pup should be left with ample water (even when not house trained – this is the chance you’ll have to take) and food if you will be gone past his feeding times, plus toys to entertain him, a soft bed to lie on and music playing, as it mimics the noise of their daily lives. Even when you are home, you should allow your puppy to have supervised playtime that’s on his own and doesn’t require your direct engagement. This will teach him to entertain himself and not become destructive simply because he isn’t receiving your attention at the moment.