So you’ve gotten your starter supplies and you’re ready to bring Puppy home. Let’s go through the important steps to getting Puppy all settled in. I really believe that if you set up a good foundation with these things from the very beginning, you will save yourself a lot of trouble down the line.
I’ve included a lot of videos in this part that feature Cesar Millan. Some people don’t like him or agree with his training techniques, but I’ve had success using some of his advice, and sometimes his techniques are very similar to Chance’s trainer’s techniques, so until Matt Beisner at THE ZEN DOG offers videos, you’ll just have to settle for the Dog Whisperer. I am not getting any compensation from either Cesar Millan or Matt Beisner–I just really love both of them.
OK, first things first…
Going To The Bathroom
Pick a Potty Spot
On the drive home, think about where you’re going to want Puppy to go potty. A young dog can only hold his urine for as many hours as he is months old–a four-month-old puppy can only hold it for four hours, etc. So if your dog is very young, you’ll be taking him there rather frequently. You’ll also be going out there all hours of the day, so pick a spot that is relatively safe for both of you, and maybe a little protected from the elements and distractions like passers-by.
Don’t Start with Wee-Wee Pads
If you live somewhere where it’s a hassle to go outside every time your dog needs to go, it can be tempting to train your dog to use wee-wee pads. I have not been in this situation, but I have heard that this can be confusing for Puppy, and that makes a lot of sense to me. It’s probably a lot easier for a dog to understand “YOU CANNOT POTTY INSIDE” than “you can potty inside only on this square of tissue-fabric, but you better not potty on any other square of fabric.” But I do have friends who use them with success, so it’s totally your call. But personally, I’d recommend finding an outdoor spot FIRST, and then later try wee-wee pad training if you decide that works for you.
Use a Potty Command
As soon as you get out of the car, Puppy will (hopefully) have to potty, so grab one of those rolls of poop bags and take him directly to the spot you would like him to use as a bathroom. I found it helpful to choose a “go to the bathroom” phrase and turn it into a command–I use “let’s go potty” with Chance. From the beginning, I stood there with him and just said over and over again “let’s go potty,” then praised him a lot when he did. Now he’s pretty good at going on command. Pick something that you feel comfortable saying in public, because it is a VERY useful command to have when you’re traveling.
Be Patient…For a While…Then Try a Different Spot
Some dogs are very picky about where they go, and it’s possible that Puppy decided his favorite surface to potty on at the shelter and you’re gonna have to figure it out by trial and error (for example, Chance will pee on grass but he will absolutely not poop on it). If you stand there with him for seriously ten minutes and nothing happens, try a different surface–if you’re on grass, move to dirt, or even concrete. Sometimes shelter dogs are used to going on concrete because that’s what they’re used to (sadface, right?). I cannot stress how important the waiting game is here. It will feel like a LIFETIME standing there with your dog for ten minutes, but if you cave too early you’ll have lost your chance at your first-choice spot being the go-to potty spot. Just try to wait him out.
Clean Up and Disposal
Don’t laugh–I wish someone had explained this to me.
First, urine. If Puppy pees on grass, it will “burn” and cause those unsightly brown spots. There are remedies–supposedly some pills you can give your dog, or you can actually paint the grass. If Puppy pees in the same dirt area over time, apparently it can retain the smell (I have my doubts about this but my very angry neighbor insisted this was the case with Chance). If Puppy pees in bark dust/chips, like in a garden area, eventually there will be flies. I have no solutions for you–I’m just giving you a heads-up. The only thing that really helps is diluting the pee with water right after Puppy goes, if you happen to have a watering can or hose near Puppy’s potty spot.
Second, poop. It’s just super gross. Especially if you adopted a puppy from a rescue or shelter, because he’s probably got something called giardia (more on that later) and it causes pretty disgusting diarrhea. If your Puppy has diarrhea…if you’re like a really good person you can try picking it up with a poop bag, but really you might just wanna let that one seep into the ground.
*A note on diarrhea: if you’re ahead of the game and have an appointment with a vet scheduled in the next 24 hours, go ahead and pick up that diarrhea and bring it to the vet with you–they’ll need a fecal sample to do a giardia test.
If he’s pooping more solid poops, pick it up with the bag: open the bag, put the bag on your hand like a glove so the opening is up around your wrist, use your now-gloved hand to grasp the poop pile, then use your OTHER hand to roll the opening back down over your hand grasping the poop so the pile is neatly bagged, hold your breath, and tie a knot.
YOU MUST DISPOSE OF THE POOP BAG IN THE TRASH. It is not recyclable, nor is it yard waste that can go in the green bin (maybe this is just a Los Angeles County thing). I recommend NOT bringing that bag into your house. Even knotted shut, it will make whatever trash can it’s in smell like dog poop. If there’s not an outdoor trash bin or dumpster you can easily access, I suggest buying an airtight trash can or other receptacle for poop only. I bought one on Amazon and put it outside my apartment; every couple of weeks I remove the bag and walk that down to the dumpster in my complex.
OK! So now, with any luck, Puppy has successfully relieved himself and you have bagged and disposed of it. Hopefully you already read this article on how to introduce Puppy to his new home, so head on in and let’s unpack!
My goal with the next few steps is to help you “set Puppy up for success,” as our trainer puts it. Assume that Puppy doesn’t understand the difference between right and wrong, and it’s up to you to help Puppy always make the right choice in his new home.
Set Up Puppy’s Crate
Pick a Crate Spot
For at least the first few days, I would recommend keeping Puppy in his crate unless you’re directly supervising him. The most important reason is because you want to be damn sure he’s housebroken (and if he’s NOT housebroken, check out this article from the AKC on how to do that). Pick a spot for his crate to be when you’re not in bed (we’ll get to nighttime in a second). You want it be a high-traffic area where people hang out for awhile, like a family/living room or an office. Assemble it, put the crate pad inside, and cover all but the door with a blanket or sheet (dogs love cave-like dens–it makes them feel secure).
Introduce Puppy to His Crate
Check out the video above, which is a good demonstration on how you should introduce your dog to the crate, and how you should act around him while he’s in there. Especially if you got Puppy from a rescue or shelter, you have no idea what his attitude is towards crates and you need to stay as calm as possible. Once you introduce him to the crate, sit there with him and let him get accustomed to it. This is his very own space and you want him to feel like he can retreat there to feel safe. NEVER EVER USE THE CRATE TO DISCIPLINE YOUR DOG. You do not want him to associate it with punishment. If you treat it like his special spot, there’s a better chance he will too.
Give Puppy His Toys
Put the toys in the crate with Puppy, shut the door, and let him play with them while you sit right there. Hopefully this will achieve a positive association with the crate.
A NOTE ON TOYS: Do not give your dog human items as toys. It confuses him. You cannot expect Puppy to understand that THIS pair of jeans is okay to shred, but THIS pair is off-limits. One of the biggest joys in Chance’s life is shredding towels–he must have done this a lot at the rescue. I know this, because on the very first day, I put a towel on the ground for him to lay on, and he immediately erupted in a frenzy of snapping and scratching and shredding. It was hilarious. But I felt like it would be pretty silly of me to expect Chance to comprehend the difference between a rag-towel that was ok to shred, a good bath towel that fell on the floor, or even a rug. I took it away from him, and have not allowed him to even look too long at towels, clothing, shoes, bags, etc., and there has only been ONE instance of him destroying a piece of my clothing.
Decide Where Puppy Will Sleep
For the first week, I moved Chance’s crate from the living room (where he stayed during the day) to the bedroom at night. I knew I wanted him to sleep near me but I wasn’t sure I wanted him to sleep in the bed (especially since there’s the whole housebreaking uncertainty). I would recommend you do the same thing, only because it was so successful for us. Down the line, you can decide whether your dog doesn’t need a crate at all, needs a crate only in the bedroom, or maybe you don’t even want your dog to sleep in the bedroom and the one crate in the living room is enough. But for now? I would recommend moving the crate from the living room to the bedroom so Puppy isn’t alone.
Cover the Crate at Night (And When You Need a Break)
When Puppy goes to sleep at night, use the sheet to cover the crate completely.
How To “Discipline” Puppy
Use the “Tsch” or “Eh-eh” Sound
SERIOUSLY I AM NOT A DOG TRAINER, I’m just telling you what worked for me and what I recommend you use for the next few days while you decide what training route you want to go down. Dogs are remarkably malleable and you’ll be able to do teach him a different sound or noise or word or whatever. You can hear the “tsch” sound Cesar Millan makes on any episode of any of his shows, or you can watch the video above. If that comes easy for you, awesome. It didn’t for me. So I used a very harsh, grating “eh-eh” noise. Try them both out loud. You will feel like a complete idiot. But you will be able to accomplish at least one of them.
The point of using one of these sounds is that neither sounds like human language. Puppy does not understand the essential meaning of “no.” He only understands whatever intention you’re putting behind the noise. So don’t confuse him by letting loose with a string of English that is trying to convey several nuanced “I am displeased” thoughts. Communicate “I am displeased” with one simple “tsch” or “eh-eh,” firmly and directly.
One of the big decisions you have to make is what training philosophy you will follow. One popular training method, called “positive” training, involves NEVER correcting your dog, ONLY rewarding for the right behaviors. Under this philosophy, using a “no” sound isn’t ok. But other training methods suggest “corrections” that are much more intense than a “no” sound.
Before I knew ANY of this, I implemented the “no” sound to great success, and I honestly don’t think it’s traumatized Chance at all. I used it when I caught him chewing on anything that wasn’t a dog toy—one loud “EH-EH-EH-EH!!!!!!” and he dropped what he was doing and looked at me. Then I immediately replaced whatever he was chewing on with an appropriate toy; when he started chewing on THAT instead, he got lots of praise.
To this day, a loud “EH-EH-EH” will usually stop him in his tracks. It’s quite useful. It may not be right for you, but it really worked for us.
DO NOT RUB HIS NOSE IN HIS OWN SHIT
This goes for every mistake, including poop. This is an old-school “method” that DOES NOT WORK. Dogs completely lack the ability to connect your displeasure with an act they committed in the past–they are not that smart. If Puppy poops on the rug and you didn’t witness it, there is no way for you to go back in time and discipline. YOU MUST CATCH YOUR DOG IN THE ACT OF WRONGDOING FOR HIM TO CONNECT THE DISCIPLINE TO THE ACT. This is why I recommend the crate unless you are directly supervising.
If you catch him in the act of chewing on your shoe, deliver a loud sharp “TSCH” or “EH-EH,” firmly take the shoe away from him (boldly claim it as yours, because it is), and replace it with one of the chew toys you just bought him (because that is his to chew on). But if you simply come across your mangled sneaker in the hallway, and Puppy is in the kitchen, you will only do more damage by going and getting him, dragging him to the “scene of the crime,” and then punishing him. Puppy thinks he’s getting punished for following you from the kitchen to the hallway. See how that can be confusing? You’re going to just have to throw out that sneaker and take out your anger on something else. But you now have an opportunity to create a teachable moment! I recommend leaving a shoe out while you are directly supervising Puppy–let him sniff it, but if he so much as LICKS it, let loose with a loud sharp “TSCH” or “EH-EH” and take it away from him.
The Questionable “Training” Technique That Totally Worked for Me
OK, a lot of people are going to have a problem with this one, but it worked so well for me on a problem that was literally driving me to the end of my rope that I’m including it. At the time that I found it and tried it, I had NO idea this could be a controversial tactic. It was just one more option the internet, in its infinite wisdom, yielded up to me in my time of need.
THIS MAY NOT BE RIGHT FOR YOU. Chance was in no way harmed by this technique, and it worked SO WELL that I don’t know any dog that’s better at being left home alone than my dog. So maybe it will be right for you. But if you think you’re at all interested in that “positive training” methodology I outlined above, you’ll probably want to try EVERYTHING ELSE first.
So. When I had to leave Chance home alone, my plan was to put him in the kitchen (I will get to this in Chapter Three). Only problem–as soon as he couldn’t see me anymore, he started whining…which escalated into barking…which turned into an attempt to either carve his name into the kitchen door, or dig his way through it. I read countless articles on separation anxiety, how to stop barking, how to discourage scratching–nothing was working and I was sleep-deprived and freaking out and there was no way I was going to let him “cry it out” for two weeks or more.
In one of these Google rabbit-holes, I stumbled across the bag-of-change-from-God trick. No idea how to find the article again. But it totally works!
Fill a couple Ziploc baggies with coins–about a handful in each bag. Put Puppy in whatever situation makes him whine/bark/scream/cry–in his crate (with the blanket covering it completely), in the kitchen, whatever. You just need to be able to convince him you’re not there. Wait for him to start crying. Then–and this is INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT–you have to figure out a way to magically launch the bag of change at a wall very near Puppy without him seeing you and without hitting him. The idea is that you want to create a very loud, very sudden noise that is very near Puppy, as though God himself was raining down Judgment.
The first time I did this to Chance, I nailed the doorway of the kitchen–he was on the other side of the baby-gate I had erected in the doorway, and TO THIS DAY I have never seen him move so fast. He BOLTED away from the door. A second later, I heard him starting to cry again from farther in the kitchen, so I nailed the doorway with a second bag.
I waited a second (just a second) to make sure he was silent, then I walked up to the gate like no big deal. I looked inside the kitchen, and he was in his bed. And I said, “OH GOOD BOYYYY CHAAAAANCE!!!” And I went into the kitchen and cuddled him and loved him, and let him out of the kitchen. I had to do this maybe five times over a month, and maybe four times while he was in his crate. Complete and total success.
Now, when I’m gone, he spends the entire time napping in his bed in the kitchen without making a peep (I know because I watch him like a creeper using a puppycam—link at the end of the chapter). Sometimes he gets up, stretches, wanders over to the gate for a sniff, has a drink of water, then settles back down for more napping—so I know he isn’t traumatized. He also recognizes my heading-out ritual, and OF HIS OWN VOLITION heads to the kitchen when it’s time for me to leave. The bag-of-change-from-God trick hasn’t turned him into a terrified ball of anxiety! But….it may do that to YOUR dog, as many people will likely argue, so use at your own discretion.
Follow a Feeding Ritual
Remember–the dog food you prepare belongs to you until you magnanimously give it to Puppy. Your dog has no right to jump on you, paw at you, or nip at you to get at his dinner. How bad Puppy wants to eat his dinner may be INCREDIBLY ADORABLE, but trust me…you don’t want to encourage this behavior. It can lead to food aggression–that thing you’ve seen on “The Dog Whisperer” where a snarling hound attacks any hand that comes near its food bowl.
The ritual is simple–check out the video above to get an idea. Put Puppy in a sit or down position, at least four feet away from where you’re going to put the food bowl down. Calmly walk to the food bowl spot and put the bowl on the ground. The goal is to get Puppy to stay in the sit/down position you put him in until you say “ok” and release him to go eat. If Puppy doesn’t understand this yet (or hasn’t been trained to sit/down/stay), calmly use your body and energy to block Puppy from the food bowl. Just keep doing this until Puppy sits or lies down and is calmly awaiting your signal to go eat. You do not want feeding time to be a frenzy of excitement and fighting to get to the food. Puppy needs to respect that you control the food and he needs to be given permission to eat it.
Follow the instructions on the back of the bag, which will give you a suggested range of how much food to give based on your dog’s age, or weight if Puppy isn’t really a puppy anymore. Give the lower end of the suggested range–these amounts are frequently inflated more than Puppy really needs. Try feeding just dry kibble first. If Puppy isn’t interested, then attempt to entice him by plopping a scoop of the wet food you bought on top and mixing it in. If that STILL doesn’t work, grate some cheese on top or mix in some peanut butter–these are two high-value people-food treats that usually will convince a dog to eat. You don’t want to do this EVERY meal, but in these first few days, Puppy may be thrown off by the major changes and you definitely want him to eat.
If Puppy is six months or older, you probably only need to feed twice per day. If he’s younger, it’s more complicated. No matter how old he is, you should read this article to better understand feeding schedules and how to avoid making your dog obese (which is really easy and REALLY dangerous).
Taking Puppy For A Walk
The Walk Is Serious Business
Again–I AM NOT A DOG TRAINER. I just want to give you general guidelines to get you through the first few days, in order to buy you some time to make major decisions on things like training methods, exercise routines, etc.
But I really do think you should start walks off on the right foot (heh heh). There should be a difference between “taking Puppy for a walk so he can potty” and “taking Puppy for a walk.” As my trainer says, the point of a walk is for the relationship between you and Puppy, not for pottying or even really for exercise (although Puppy really does need to get exercise, because if he doesn’t that will manifest in all sorts of behavioral problems). For right now, I would recommend you try to keep Puppy right next to you or slightly behind you while you walk at a steady pace.
I wouldn’t let Puppy stop and sniff things (unless you make it very clear that YOU want to stop and are allowing him to sniff), and I definitely wouldn’t risk letting him interact with other dogs on walks right away. Just tell other owners, “sorry, I just adopted him, I don’t know what he’s like with other dogs,” and keep on walking. Check out this article, “6 Tips for Mastering the Dog Walk”–it might be helpful.
Don’t Overdo It
I got Chance when he was four months old, and he had so much energy that I thought he needed hour-long walks right away. That was…not right. Thankfully my vet set me straight before I took him on a hike…
I would recommend 15-30 minutes, twice a day, until you can see a vet and get some better instructions on how often and how vigorously Puppy should be walked.
Don’t Panic If It Doesn’t Work
The first few days I had Chance, he walked so beautifully on the leash I was convinced he had already done obedience classes. On Day 4 or 5, he decided he didn’t want to go past the gate of my complex. Literally just threw on the brakes and wouldn’t go one more step. I was terrified I broke him (ok I kinda probably did, because I had been taking him on hour-long walks).
After a couple weeks, though, I hired Matt Beisner from THE ZEN DOG, and he came to my place and magically solved the problem. This is a problem that was totally specific to Chance–you may encounter something totally different, like maybe Puppy drags you down the street at a breakneck pace. Don’t get discouraged. Just try to get through these first few days until you can get your ducks in a row. Walk Puppy as best you can, because if it’s not working eventually it will. I swear.
Getting Through The Night
It’s Like You Have an Infant
If Puppy is very young, you’ll have to get up every few hours throughout the night to take him out to potty. Set an alarm, and remember that this is temporary. By the time he’s 7 months old, he’ll be able to get through the whole night.
If All Else Fails…Drug Him
Puppy may cry all night. If you want to bring Puppy into your bed to keep him from crying, that’s totally up to you, but I wouldn’t. If Puppy is older than four months and you’re totally desperate, you can dose him with Benedryl. Don’t feel bad about doing this–you need sleep if you’re going to adequately care for Puppy, and it’s totally safe.
So you guys should be pretty settled in by now, yeah? Do you feel completely overwhelmed? It’s ok. You’re doing fine. You just completed Day One! I recommend one more glass of wine while Puppy chews on his Nylabone in his crate, then head to sleep. If you don’t have to leave Puppy alone tomorrow. If you do have to leave him alone tomorrow…maybe stay up and read Part Three really quick….