How To… introduce a puppy to new things.

As you may or may not already know, we recently got a puppy. Well, by recently I mean two months ago. And those two months have been pretty awesome, but also a bit of a trial, as all puppies are. However, between our shared knowledge of dogs Jon and I managed to completely calm her about new things in a matter of weeks. So this is how we went about doing it.

1: Noises.

Dogs don’t like new or loud noises. Even grown dogs get stressed by things like fireworks. But when you live on a junction with fields everywhere, there are plenty of loud sounds. Clattering, banging, large engines, fast bikes, sheep being transported… She couldn’t really afford to be scared of all of them. But she was.

The way we diffused this was by making sure she didn’t have an excuse to panic when we were in the patio. We kept calm ourselves, after all, she won’t die of being a bit scared. If she was running and playing, we would encourage her to keep playing. If she ran inside we would call her out and pet her and comfort her. If she stayed out we would give her repeat praise until the noise had gone on its merry way. This way she slowly learned not to run from these sounds. They still startle her, but she no longer barks, urinates in fear or runs away.

2: Other dogs.

I find it very odd when a dog is not good with other dogs. It’s often because of poor socialization as a puppy. If you had a puppy that lunged at every person who walked in the house, would you hide it away and let it continue the aggression, or would you punish it for violence and slowly socialize it? Just as we make sure our pets are fine with other humans, we need to make sure they are fine with other dogs.

Lamu is encouraged to meet other dogs when the owner says they are friendly. For small dogs we let them communicate on the same level. For large dogs, we first hold her up as they sniff her, then place her on the ground if they don’t get too excited. She knows she can hide behind us, but gets plenty of gentle praise for positive interactions.

3: Other pets.

We also had Wallace the cat. Wallace is a very sociable cat and needs a lot of physical attention, fuss and love. Which meant he saw the new arrival as a challenge. On the cat front, we had to make sure his needs were met: food, shelter, attention, freedom. He became very outdoorsy and avoided the dog at first, but as he grew familiar he became comfortable with being in a room with her and eventually with sitting together on the sofa.

On the puppy front, she was obviously too boistrous for a cat. To balance this we introduced them both on the floor in an open area, holding her and letting him decide how close he wanted to get. After a few encounters she realized he didn’t like too much fuss and submitted to him, which is fine as they now don’t interfere with each other’s lives too much.

4: Hoovers and loud appliances.

Like loud noises outside the house, except these are inside. Within five minutes Lamu went from being nervous about the hoover to being fine with it.

Step one was introducing her to it, letting her sniff around it and inspect it.

Step two was moving the head of the hoover without putting it on.

Step three was putting it on with a warning (“go”) and then turning it off after a few seconds, repeating until she was used to it.

Step four was letting her get near when it was on.

Step five was combining movement and sound for short bursts of hoovering.

Step six was hoovering properly.

During the proper hoover session she urinated in panic, but quickly calmed down and watched it after that. She was given a treat for following as I hoovered and watching me put the hoover away.

This whole process may need to be repeated the first five times you hoover around your puppy.

5: Collars and leads.

Third attempt at collar training. Already comfortable in it.

Third attempt at collar training. Already comfortable in it.

I suggest starting with the collar first and introducing the lead properly later. Get your puppy still in the calmest way possible (I found that restraining was too upsetting, but lightly controlling her with my arms as I buckled the collar was easier for both of us) and slip the collar on and into the right position. Immediately feed her a treat and praise her. Leave it on and distract her from it by playing or cuddling for an hour or two. Then, remove it and give her another treat and praise.

The third attempt she stopped trying to remove it and just kept wearing it. It was a bit itchy, but other than that she didn’t mess with it. She even napped in it.

The one thing I would advise is not to leave puppies unattended in full collars as they aren’t collar-aware yet and may get it caught and hurt themselves.

For lead training, start with just passive lead use. Attach it to the collar when the puppy will be mostly carried or sitting down, like at the vet or in the car. Build walking by using treats and toys to tempt the puppy forwards whilst wearing the lead. Eventually it won’t bother them and the walking training can begin.

6: Enclosed spaces.

Pups may often need to be enclosed for car trips, visitors, vet trips or bedtime, to prevent mischief. But puppies also hate being left alone in enclosed spaces. We used crate training to keep her calm when it was bedtime, house-break her and make sure she was fine with a crate for when we need to contain her as an adult.

You need to start by introducing the puppy to the space. Let them walk around in it, in and out, sniff it and roll on the ground. This will make it more familiar when the time comes as well as get their scent on it. The bedding should be nylon so it can’t be damaged and can be wiped clean.

Encourage them in and out of it and to think of it as a nice space by putting treats in it and keeping the door open. Practice closing the door and then feeding treats through the bars for further reinforcement. Also plenty of praise for calm, quiet behaviour.

When the time comes, make sure the crate is pleasant. A dog-safe hot water bottle and an item of your clothing will ease the puppy’s nerves a little. Make sure they have made their ablutions (gone to the toilet) before putting them in. Encourage them in like it’s just training, close the door and feed a treat. Then cover the main entrance for nights and moving. Plenty of praise for good behaviour.

For night-times, after a certain time do not check on the puppy. The first few nights it may be distressed, but reacting to the noise will reward the puppy. Instead, make sure the puppy is well around 10-20 minutes in and then leave it. It should be calmer by the fourth or fifth night.

7: Get em early.

The crucial part to all of this is that it must happen when the puppy is young. The longer you wait or the more you drag out the training, the longer it will take to calm your puppy down. If you introduce new things within a week of getting the puppy then you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

And that’s how we got Lamu calmed down and settled into her new home. It helped that she was a very young (8 weeks), fairly confident puppy already, but this advice applies to most puppies in their new homes.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!