1. Find the Right Breeder
Where else should we start this list but with the Breeder. A good Breeder gives your pet the best start possible, both in terms of general health and future behaviour. Don't rush this stage as genetics and early litter interactions will set them on the right, or wrong, path.
From a behaviour point of view, a good breeder will have mum and pups in the house. The pups will then naturally be getting used to the many sights and sounds of a normal household. Some may even have started toilet training the puppies before you get them. A good breeder will also make sure you jump through lots of hoops, as they should want their puppies go to the most suitable homes. Don't feel insulted if you feel like you're being interrogated - it's a good sign.
Potential "puppy farm" puppies should be avoided at all costs due to health issues, welfare of parents and likely behavioural problems. Report any at-risk puppies you meet, and check out CARIAD’s website for further information - https://cariadcampaign.wordpress.com/buying-a-puppy/
2. Send the Breeder a Furry Present
Pick-up day is exciting for us, but it’s a big scary event for a small puppy. They suddenly leave everything that’s familiar and head off to their new home. Make the transition easier by giving your breeder something soft that can be put in with the litter a week or two before you pick your puppy up. This way they have something that smells both familiar and reassuring to help them through all the changes. If you send a blanket, you then have something they can lie on during their first journey and that can be added to their crate.
3. Call a Friend
Help reduce the puppy’s anxiety around the car journey home by taking a friend. That way the puppy can sit in their transport crate and your friend can sit beside them giving them attention and treats as needed. If you've also done our No.9 suggestion, then your puppy can sit on the scented blanket to help reduce the contrast of leaving everything that they've ever known. And people love a new puppy so we find it’s not hard to provide willing friends to offer their services!
4. Crates & Play Pens
Investing in a crate or a play Pen before the puppy arrives is a great way to help early training whilst allowing the puppy to be amongst everyone. It keeps the puppy safe whilst also keeping owners sane and reducing opportunities for the puppy to get into trouble.
We don’t find the traditional approach of letting puppies cry on the first few nights is helpful as they can just become anxious or frustrated. We suggest either popping the crate beside you at bedtime, and reaching down when they wake up, or sleeping downstairs with the crate. As the puppy’s confidence grows, you can slowly move the crate (or yourself) away and, if done gradually enough, the puppy will cope fine.
Crates shouldn't be overused though and aim to train actively so the puppy can have as much freedom as possible. You want to crack on with toilet training and a “leave” cue so that the crate becomes obsolete in the first few months - Too much restriction can bring its own problems. Also remember that many puppies’ will not toilet in their crate at night, however large it is. If they hold their urine in too long, they risk infections so, in the early days, make sure you set your alarm during the night to give them a pee break.
5. DAP Diffuser
We think these are great! Research has shown that the Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) can help calm dogs, particularly helping them to settle in to a new home. Not surprising as the pheromone is naturally released by the nursing bitch to tell her pups to stay in the den where it’s safe. We recommend getting the plug-in diffuser and placing it right against the puppy’s new crate – you might need to use an extension cable if the crate isn't near a plug. Make sure you also plug it in the day before the puppy arrives so that any new plastic smell has gone.
6. Puppy Classes
Well we think this is one of the most important top ten – but we would, wouldn't we! Do your research early on the best local puppy classes in your area, because like schools, you might even need to book before your puppy arrives. The first four months of a puppy’s life is hugely important and a good class will set you both up for a long and happy future together. It will give the puppy the chance to interact safely around other puppies and learn basic skills that you can then build on.
Look for classes that use positive, science-based training and that understand that every puppy is different and might need tailored support. Classes should be small, all puppies should be a similar age, and trainers should be as supportive to the owners as they are to the puppies – because in reality we are teaching you, not them. There are some training bodies you can look out for, such as IMDT, APDT, PPG, APBC and others, but standards do vary. We’d love you to come to us, but if you aren't near to Widget’s Farm, do your research and get your puppy enrolled in a great class as soon as you can.
7. Collars and Leads?
Often one of the first things new owners reach for is a shiny new collar and lead. However, in the early days your puppy probably won’t be needing a collar as you’ll still be carrying them to reduce disease risk. And when you do start letting your puppy walk outside your home, they won’t be loose lead trained and a collar might risk pressure on their delicate necks. Ideally get a soft harness ready for them which will ensure their necks are safe during the normal puppy pulling stage. Also avoid retractable leads which, amongst other problems, can teach the puppy to pull (as there’s always pressure).
As puppies grow so quickly, it's always painful to have to invest in items that you know are going to be too small soon. We think it would be a great idea if there was a harness loan system. Then you could rent small, good-quality harnesses, for whilst they’re still growing, and the harness manufacturer has a captive audience for when you are ready for a full grown harness. Just an idea…
8. Toys and Activity Feeders
You can never have enough toys ready to go for when the little nippy furball comes home. Dogs love variety so have tuggy ones, chewy ones, one that squeak, wobble, roll and all sorts – provide and animate lots of toys, and you will reduce the chance they use your hand for pouncing games. And you don’t have to spend a lot of money; old socks make great tuggies, and finished cereal boxes are crying out to be ripped apart to find hidden treats.
Why not go a step further and provide all food through activity feeders and training sessions. Kongs are a particular favourite of ours and can be bought online, in pet shops and many vets. You can get the classic kong in a puppy variety where the rubber is softer and more satisfying for little mouths. We always have stuffed kongs ready for our puppies and use them is so many ways – to encourage settling in bed, to give them a job whilst we’re having our dinner, to help them get used to the car and also get used to being left on their own. You can just stuff kongs with their normal food or find interesting tips on www.kongstuffing.com
9. A Good Book
Let’s be honest, you’re not going to get much time to read once the puppy arrives so get it done beforehand. There are some great books out there, such as Helen Zulch’s Lifeskills for Puppies. Get reading beforehand and you’ll be surprised what gems of wisdom come to you as you need them. And unlike google and your neighbour, you can be confident that this advice is correct!
Helen's book can be bought at: www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Skills-Puppies-foundation-relationship/dp/1845844467
10. Agree some Rules
Last but not least, set your puppy up for success by agreeing the expectations as a family before they even come home - and keep consistent! Puppies are small and cuddly, but do you want your cute little Great Dane on the sofa when he's full grown? If not, then don't make more work for yourselves later and confuse the dog in the process. Also little Labrador bundles love grabbing an animated arm during play, but this soon becomes painful once they reach 30kg.
So, think of novel ways to meet the pups needs without creating bad habits. If you want puppy cuddles then maybe invest in a beanbag for the floor. This allows you to be comfortable, and your puppy to get the cuddles without getting used to being on the sofa. With regards rough play, teach the family to notice when the puppy needs a game, and then always encourage the puppy onto grabbing and chasing toys rather than your limbs. We might sound like killjoys but you'll thank us in the long run!