Getting Settled In - Your Puppy's First Week Home

For those who have just brought your new puppy home, this lecture is for you! Puppies need some time to get settled into their new homes, get acquainted with human and pet family members, and become accustomed to their new routine.

I find that often, we are really eager to get our puppies started on socialization - and forget that everything in their life is already really new to them during this stage. Before you start taking your puppy out and about, we want to make sure that he or she is comfortable in their new home first! Puppies are hard wired to have a 'home base' and going from one home to the next—cold turkey—isn't really something we can avoid, but we can make it a bit easier by giving the puppy some time to adjust, and develop their new comfort zone in their new home base, before expecting them to deal with more and more new things.

Consider the puppy's first week with your family as 'orientation' week. During this week, the priority is to help the puppy get settled in and become accustomed to their new world, family and routines. This week does not require any road trips or excessive adventuring (perhaps you'll need a trip to the vet for a required checkup, shots or meet and necessary trips like this shouldn't be avoided—but you can definitely avoid extra or frivolous adventuring during this time).

What we want to establish during this orientation week are things like: Who are the puppies' family members? Who will do the puppy feeding and what time do meals occur? When is it time for bed and time to wake up? Where will puppy sleep and where will they be during the day? Who are the other pet members of the family and which ones can the puppy interact with, and which might need some separation for now? Which doors lead to the outdoors for potty business? How often does puppy need to potty? What are some of the regular sounds and smells in the neighborhood?

Now, you may have gotten your puppy from an amazing breeder, who has already been taking your puppy on road trips, or having socialization parties, and providing lots of enrichment and challenges. Those puppies have had a great headstart in life for sure! But (and this is a big but) those puppies had a 'home base' that they were already familiar with, familiar people that could comfort them and support them, and access to their mother or other familiar supportive dogs. All of these things will change and need to be re-established in the puppiy's new home. Puppies who've had a lot of great experiences often do adjust quickly, but they do still need a chance to adjust. The good news is that by taking a week to reorient your puppy, you aren't actually losing socialization opportunities—everything is new for them in your new home! They have a lot to explore and become accustomed to. Really consider the world through your puppies eyes: you might have known you were getting a puppy and were excited and preparing for them for a while but.... you and the move came as a total surprise to the puppy!

What NOT to Do Your Puppy's First Week Home

Things we want to avoid during orientation week are:

  • Overwhelming the puppy. This might mean limiting visitors (yeah, I know everyone is excited to meet your puppy, but let's let them get settled in and feeling safe at home first before the puppy parties begin!) It may also mean that you'll need to stagger introductions to your existing pets, so they don't flood and overwhelm your puppy all at once. It's okay if they can't all be free roaming together from the first moment the puppy arrives. In fact, it's better that they don't.
  • Big Scares—if there are situations or things you know might be scary for the first time, let's take extra precautions to make sure that doesn't happen. If you have an older dog who hates puppies, they don't need to meet directly this week, so plan for how you will keep them separated while still meeting each dog's needs. Maybe your older dogs erupt into horrible barking when the UPS guy shows up on Thursdays—you can crate them this week or have the puppy outside playing this time so he's not overly startled by the unexpected (to him) eruption. If there's a fireworks show in your neighborhood, plan how you'll prevent a scary surprise there. You're not likely going to be able to predict every possible scary thing but, often, there are things that we know happen routinely, that we as humans (or our older dogs) are accustomed to, that could be scary for a little one in a new situation; so for those things, be proactive and a bit protective so that your puppy doesn't have to experience those. 

What TO Do Your Puppy's First Week Home

Things we want to DO during orientation week are:

  • Establish yourself as your puppy's best friend, caregiver and role model. Provide the things they need, provide security and comfort, and do your best to set up your situation so that you are a person they can trust.
  • Study your puppy's body language. Are you able to easily spot when they are happy, excited, or concerned?
  • Ease into your long term routine. For example, if you took the week off of work to help your little puppy settle in, start showing them right away the elements of what their daily life will look like when you go back to work so that you don't have to have a sudden change. I.e. if they will need to nap in their crate for a few hours in the morning, start working up to that in smaller doses now; if you need to feed them breakfast at 5:30 on work days, start doing that.
  • Find out what sort of things your puppy LIKES! Does he or she have a treat that he loves much better than any others? Are there treats he won't eat? What kind of toys is he interested in? Is it something specific about a shape or texture that he seems to like? Does he have a favorite napping spot or potty spot? Start to watch for these trends in preferences as they can be really helpful in getting to know your little one!
  • Begin training patterns that will help your puppy communicate with you (we'll cover these specifics in class!)
  • Add small socialization challenges into home space familiar areas once your puppy has had a few days to settle in. This includes things like:
    • playing recordings of noises that they will likely hear in their future life, at a low level, while you are doing something fun in a space that is familiar and safe. Treats and or play are a great way to make new experiences positive and it's okay if your puppy ignores or doesn't notice the new thing right away. In other words, if you play dump truck noises at a low level to your puppy, and he doesn't seem to notice, that's fine! We aren't trying to startle him and those are the exact type of noises we want him to ignore in the future. You can still pair any new and potentially startling noise with something positive so that you are helping to shape a good emotional response, rather than waiting to see what your puppy decides.
    • Introduce your puppy to some new surfaces, in their familiar space. Start with easy things like a furry blanket or cardboard. Progress to things like a tarp, butcher paper that makes crinkly noises, piles of toys—you can get creative!
    • Play dress up! Once you are your puppy's bestie, you can help them get used to people wearing hats or large coats, using an umbrella, using a cane or walker—and it's really helpful if those first exposures are with you or a family member. 
Here is a youtube play list I have made that includes several different types of noises that I want my puppies to be comfortable with. I play this in the background at a very low level at first (it runs for hours!) and it's good general background noise. You may want to make yourself a play list of videos that have noises your puppy will want to be familiar with or you can use this one!

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