My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Bringing Your Puppy Home: The First Few Days


Such an exciting day – so much unknown, so much change for both of you! Unless your puppy has already had some crating and alone time (and way too few have) he’s in for a shock. He never has known that being alone was possible or that anywhere “away from home” even existed. You’re the best thing to ever happen to him, but he doesn’t know that yet. Here’s what you can do to help him:

Picking Him Up

  • Usually, your pup will bond most strongly to whoever brings him home. So if you want your puppy to be attached to your children, have your kids go with you. If this is going to be your dog, you need to be there if at all possible.
  • Missing this step is not a crisis, but it is such an easy way to start to connect with your new dog that you should try to use this unique moment if you can.
  • Your new puppy can ride home in the back seat on a passenger’s lap or in a crate but not loose in the car (and it’s not the day to introduce a doggy seatbelt). If you’re on your own, then crate him –for his safety and yours. If you’re in the front passenger seat with your pup, turn off the airbag, if possible.
  • If his crate fits on the front seat and you can buckle it into place securely, feel free – if the passenger side airbag can be turned off or isn’t strong enough to damage the crate you have. Only you can determine this.
  • Expect him to bark and cry a bit, that is normal. Sometimes covering the crate helps or giving him some delicious chew toy– but not always. Don’t be angry – his whole world has changed and he needs time to get to know you and adjust.
  • Bring along extra towels, paper towels, plastic bags, newspapers, and a pet odor neutralizer. Hopefully, you won’t need the cleaning supplies, but if you do, you’ll be glad you brought them along.
  • If your new pup is coming home on someone’s lap, then a properly fitted, wide, flat collar or harness attached to a flat leash should go on before you get in the car. “Properly fitted” means cannot slip off over his head. It can be tempting to fit the collar loosely so as not to upset your puppy, but that can lead to paws and jaws getting caught in the slack as well as the collar coming off entirely. Fit the collar so a finger can get under it easily but it cannot come off over his head. Is the collar a bit too large and cannot be adjusted any smaller? Then unclip it, twist one end completely around once or twice then try again. That shortens the collar and is is a short-term solution that works.
  • And yes, keep the leash on because puppies are squirmy and holding the leash can mean the difference between a scary moment and a safe one. Also, bring along a chewy – rawhide sticks or retriever roll rawhides make good in-car projects. You can hold the rawhide as your pup works on it.
  • Crating your new buddy? Then leave this flat collar on in the crate; you’ll want to have a good hold of him when you open the crate door.
  • Your puppy may get car sick on the way home. Watch for nose pointing toward the floor, wrinkled lips, and drooling. Heaving is usually not too far behind. Laying a towel below the puppy can make cleanup easier. Again, covering the crate may help, and go easy on your turns and stops.
  • If you must stop for a walk on the way home, go to unused areas. Your puppy is probably not fully vaccinated yet, so stay away from the pet rest areas, where many dogs have been. Instead, carry him (if you can) to a more remote end of the rest area and set him down there. Carry him back. And please, pick up after your pup. We all need to scoop, but with a new pup, who may well be carrying a parasite or two, it is especially important.
  • Lastly, come straight home. This is not the time to leave your puppy in the car if you can help it or to stop off for a visit with friends. Keep things calm and simple, he’s already having a stressful day.

When You Get Home

  • He probably has to go to the bathroom. Walk him around the outside area you’ve chosen for his bathroom or put him in the inside area with papers and give him some time. He’ll be distracted at first, but usually, nature calls quite quickly.
  • Put your other pets away and have human family members sit down to watch the puppy explore. They can praise him calmly if the puppy comes to them, but otherwise, just watch for a few minutes. Children can frighten the puppy if they charge up to him excitedly. Explain to them that being calm and gentle is the best way to make friends.
  • Some puppies may race around the house in overdrive, others will curl up underneath something and watch their new world wide-eyed. Imagine if you were suddenly whisked away to a world you had no idea existed, adopted by beings you’d never met before, living in a place with machines and landscape you neither understand nor could previously imagine.
  • Some puppies from shelter facilities (or who have been flown to you in cargo) may arrive stressed and sleep-deprived, so don’t be surprised if they fall into a deep slumber that first night, giving you a blessedly quiet evening. Enjoy it – tomorrow when they are all rested they may well discover their lungs.
  • Don’t be in a hurry to introduce your new puppy to your other pets. There’s plenty of time for them to learn to get along, and it’s always better to take introductions slowly so that all involved have time to adjust to each other. Crates, baby gates, and exercise pens are all helpful for giving pets the opportunity to see and smell each other without being in each other’s space.

Mistakes Happen

  • It is common, normal, and rather expected for your puppy to have an accident or two the first few days. You’re both learning about each other.
  • Get him out as often as you can – every half hour or so when he is out of confinement.
  • Go out with him – wait for him to go then praise and reward after he’s finished.
  • Puppies under sixteen weeks have little muscle control. Most can’t help it when they go, so please don’t be angry.
  • What is a disaster – and this is too common, especially with toy breed owners – is allowing mistakes to happen routinely – daily – without adjusting your schedule to prevent them. That’s setting the groundwork for a decade of poopy rugs and frustrated family.
  • Keeping a schedule of when your puppy eats and when he pees and poops can be a big help for preventing accidents and getting you on the road to successful housebreaking. This will help you get to know and anticipate when your puppy needs to go out so that you can create success and rewardable moments, which will in turn bond your puppy more happily and closely to you.

Following these simple guidelines for your first days with your new puppy will go a long way toward building a strong, trusting relationship that will bring both you and your puppy joy for many years.

by Sarah Wilson,


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