No matter how much advice you get or how much reading you do, it’s tough to know exactly what goes into being a first-time puppy parent until you’re in the middle of it. You’ll quickly discover that there’s more responsibility, more challenges, and thankfully, more love to make up for the tough parts of raising a new puppy.
You might not have known it when you surrendered to those big brown eyes, but raising a happy, healthy puppy is a full-time job. You’ve probably done your homework and purchased the necessary supplies like a dog crate, leash, collar and dog food, but do you have the right mindset to deal with the following surprises? Here are some key changes for bringing home your first puppy:
Your schedule is about to get a serious overhaul. You’ll be waking up for potty trips in the middle of the night, rising earlier than you want to (even on the weekends), and juggling everything on your daily calendar in ways you never thought possible. In the first few months, you’ll have plenty of veterinary appointments and possibly training classes to attend with your new pooch. Managing your new schedule won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
How to handle it:
Try sticking to a schedule and setting potty breaks and feeding at regular times every day. If you need to, manage vet visits and training classes on a traditional calendar or a scheduling app so you don’t miss important appointments.
Your life will consist of non-stop supervising. New puppies need a ton of supervision during the first few months, which means that you’re on duty 24-7 until your puppy understands where to potty and what to chew (and NOT to chew!). This can be incredibly taxing, particularly if you have young children who also need supervision in order to get through the day.
How to handle it:
You can ease the stress of the transition by getting cooperation from everyone in the household and assigning responsibilities like walks and play time to various family members to get them actively involved in the puppy’s care from the very beginning. If you need help watching your puppy, consider doggie daycare or bringing a qualified pet sitter into your home, so you can have a break.
Your puppy will constantly bite and nip. It’s hard understand what’s going on when your silly, adorable little pup turns into a piranha and decides to treat your hand like a chew toy. After a while the painful nipping and biting starts to feel like your puppy has a vendetta against you, because every time you try to interact with him he comes at you with his teeth. It’s challenging for new puppy parents to believe that this type of teething is a normal part of development, and it doesn’t mean that your puppy is vicious, or that he hates you. Puppies explore the world with their mouths, particularly when it comes to playing, so it’s up to us to teach pups that we don’t like teeth on skin. But pain-based, outdated training techniques like bopping the pup under the chin or clamping his mouth shut might make him come back at you harder.
How to handle it:
The best way to deal with nonstop nipping is to mark the moment when your pup clamps down hard on you with a shrill “ouch!”, and then withdraw your attention for about twenty seconds (you might have to get up and walk away). This is social isolation, one of the most power punishments in puppydom. If your timing is good and you’re consistent, your puppy’s nipping will quickly decrease.
Your puppy learns from every interaction. Most new puppy parents understand that at some point they’re going to have to go through basic training with their new best friend. But what many puppy parents don’t know is that everything you do with your puppy is a potential lesson—good or bad. Puppies are little sponges, taking in and processing everything about the world around them. If a pup gets a loving pat every time he jumps up on you, he’s going to quickly learn that jumping up on you is a good thing. If he discovers that you put his dog food down when he barks at you, demand barking is going to remain in his repertoire.
How to fix it:
Household manners encompasses more than just sit, down, stay and come, so it’s important to start teaching your new puppy how to be a polite member of the household from the very first day. Acknowledging the behaviors you like, such as waiting quietly without jumping or barking, and ignoring behaviors that you don’t, like nipping for attention, will help your puppy understand what “works” in our world.
You will love your new puppy unconditionally. Some first time puppy parents are first time dog people, meaning they’ve never lived with a dog as a member of the family. These newbies think they understand what “puppy love” is like, but the feelings brought on by their new dog usually catch them off guard. This new baby in the household, utterly dependent on you for everything and equally devoted to you, taps into a primal caregiving gene. First timers express shock at how quickly the new addition feels like a part of the family, and disbelief at just how much they love the little one. Dogs, and puppies in particular, have mastered the art of spellbinding their people, and it doesn’t take long for first timers to fall deeply and hopelessly in love with their occasionally nippy—but always adorable—furry best friends.
No fix necessary.
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.