Getting a new puppy is one of the most exciting things for adults and children alike. The puppy smell is intoxicating and they shower you with love and kisses. When I got my first puppy I became his adoptive mother – he wanted to be with me all the time and it’s hard to resist those big puppy eyes.
However, it is so important that when settling in your new puppy to teach them to spend time by themselves. For the first few nights it is normal if they get upset when you leave them. Remember, until now, they have always had the company of their brothers and sisters so being alone in a new environment is very strange for them.
It often helps if you can get a fabric item like a blanket that has been in with the litter for a while and smells of them to comfort your new pup. Crates are great to settle a puppy by making it a positive place, or more commonly referred to as a “safe space”. To make a safe space you need to teach your puppy that the crate is a good place. If your pup is a little anxious it can help to put a blanket or sheet over the crate to make it dark and cosy. In the crate you should have a bed, smelly fabric, water and a Kong or similar food enrichment.
The Kong should have a natural digestible string with a big knot on the end of it (you will see why soon) and with their food and smelly treats such as white meat, liver or little bits of cheese. Make it stick together by adding some wet food to it. Show your pup the smelly Kong until they’re really interested in it, put it in the crate and shut the door ( with puppy still outside). Tie the end of the string to the crate and let your pup in. He now has a choice to make – do i stay inside the crate and eat this yummy food or not? After a few minutes, all dogs make the same decision and decide to stay in. Do not shut the door until your dog is settled and into the Kong as the point of this exercise is to teach him the crate is a positive place where good things happen. Crate training is also very useful for toilet and chew training which I will talk about in a separate post.
You can also teach your dog a “in” and “out” command of the crate by :
- Chuck treat in the crate and as the dog goes in say the command “in”
- Shut crate for 10 seconds then open
- As dog comes out ( or if you have to lure him out with treat ) say “out” and reward with a treat
Do this exercise 5-10 times then try to say “in” and wait for the dog to go in and reward with 3 treats. Over time extend the duration you have the door shut whilst using the Kong with food in to prevent your pup from getting bored, walk away and do not give him attention. Extend the period of time he is left alone in 5-minute increments until you hit 30 minutes, then 15 min increments until you hit 60 minutes, then 30-minute increments.
Puppies thrive on routine so they can predict what happens in a day from waking up to bedtime. And I’m not just talking about when they go to the toilet, but also your daily routine impacts them. If one day you don’t leave the house but the next puppy is left alone for 8 hours because you go to work, they will start to get distressed and separation anxiety problems or restlessness can arise. Walks and playtime should be on a schedule as much as possible. On days you cannot give them the midday walk think about asking a friend or a hiring a dog sitter/ walker. Stress at a young age can have major impacts on brain development and behaviour, which often don’t show until dogs hit puberty between 5-8 months.
A big part of our training technique at Bark & Birch is that dogs must earn what they want – food, attention, toys. With this is in mind, use your dogs daily food allowance for training whether that be in a kong for crate training or obedience training ( to be talked about in a later blog post).
To settle a puppy in, routine and independence is key.