After showcasing the preparation I put in place for the arrival of Bertha on social media and having spoken to many puppy owners and soon to be puppy owners, it is clear that many of you are confused as to exactly what you should be doing in the lead up to the arrival of your furry bundle of joy! As a result, I have put together a guide as to what training you might want to undertake (yes, you can start this even before your pup’s arrival!) with them prior to them travelling home with you. Remember, they have so far been living with their mother and possibly multiple siblings. Being taken from this environment by you to what will be your ‘strange’ home, complete with new smells, sounds, people and possibly other animals, can be confusing for a puppy and we need to help them to understand that this is a positive experience and, additionally, make this experience and the travelling to your home as stress free as possible.
Read on for some useful tips!
VISIT YOUR PUPPY ON MORE THAN ONE OCCASION
If possible, I would advise that you visit your puppy at least 3-4 times before planning to bring them home. We visited Bertha at 3 weeks old, 6 weeks old, and 7 weeks old, before taking her home at 8 weeks old. We also visited the day before we took her home, spending a couple of hours with her and introducing her to the car (more on this later!) so that she felt more confident leaving with us when we arrived to collect her. This may not always be possible for a new owner, depending on the distance you need to travel, but make a plan with your breeder for visiting and try to stick to it.
The more you visit and interact with your puppy, the more familiar your new addition will be with you and the less of a stranger you will become. When visiting your puppy, it is important to do this calmly, allowing him or her to come up to you and interact with you at their own pace. Some puppies will need more time than others to feel confident with people they are less familiar with than others. As with all exposure and training, it is important to work at your puppy’s pace and allow them to gain their confidence without feeling overwhelmed. You might want to consider taking a couple of puppy toys with you and a few tasty treats to help you to make friends and build their confidence in you.
INTRODUCE YOUR PUPPY TO SMELLS THEY MIGHT FIND IN THEIR NEW HOME
I’m not talking about taking a lasagne with you on your visit as this is what they might smell you cooking up of a midweek, but instead think about other animals or people they might encounter in your home that can’t attend with you. Taking a towel you have rubbed on your cat or other dog, for example, can introduce them to these new scents, making these more familiar when they arrive in their new home – and vice versa! Remember, a dog’s nose possesses up to three hundred million olfactory (smelling) receptors, where as we humans only have approximately six million. Furthermore, the aspect of a dog’s brain that is responsible for analysing smells is approximately forty times greater than our own. That’s a lot of smelling power!!
BUY A TRAVEL CARRY CASE OR CRATE & INTRODUCE YOUR PUPPY TO THIS
It is important to ensure that your puppy is safe and secure when travelling home with you for the first time as well as for any future journeys you might make together. You will, for example, need to visit the vets within the first week for their first vaccinations. For the first journey home, I would encourage new owners to start as they mean to go on, having their puppy in a secure carry case or crate in the car. This is not only necessary for safety (you wouldn’t hold a baby in your arms when travelling in a car!) but also to get your puppy used to travelling in this way and to build their confidence travelling in your vehicle. You may of course not be intending to travel in a vehicle with you puppy but instead need to take them on public transport. Consider your transport needs and chose your carry case or crate appropriately.
I would advise purchasing a suitable carry case or crate as soon as possible so that you can introduce this to your puppy. You could start by simply placing this on the ground at the breeders and encouraging them to explore inside it. Some tasty treats scattered on the floor of the crate or case will help you with this! Once your puppy has shown they are confident in the carry case/crate, you can then start to briefly close the entrance, praising your puppy for accepting behaviour of this. Next, you should progress to either picking up the carry case with your puppy inside if you are travelling by public transport, or placing the crate on the back seat of your car and then placing your puppy into the crate if this is your chosen method of transport (more on this below).
MORE ON INTRODUCING YOUR PUPPY TO THE CAR
If you are intending to travel by car it is a good idea to allow your puppy to sit on the back seat and explore this environment, allowing them to get used to this new environment, before then placing them in the travel crate or carry case.
Consider next the sounds of the car, start by softly introducing the radio. I often use Classic FM or Smooth FM, which both play soothing music and can encourage your puppy to settle. Again, positively reinforce calm and accepting behaviour through verbally praising your puppy and offering a tasty reward.
Once your puppy is comfortable with this, you can progress onto introducing the sound of the engine. Turn the car on but do not attempt to drive anywhere at this stage. Repeat the same process of positively reinforcing calm and accepting behaviour.
Finally, when you are confident that your puppy is happy in this new environment and feeling confident themselves, you can progress onto taking a short drive around the block. As before, positive reinforcement is key to ensuring that your puppy starts to understand that being in the car is a relaxing experience and not one to be fearful of.
As always, it is important to work at your puppy’s pace, some will gain their confidence quickly in this new environment, others will take a little more time. Avoid going to quickly and overwhelming your puppy and try to work at this over time when visiting before making the jump to taking you puppy home. Most breeders will be absolutely fine with you taking this responsible approach and welcome this exposure and gentle training.
The time has come to take your puppy home. What is the best way to approach this? If possible, I would advise spending some time with your puppy prior to travelling home with them. It is best for them to be a little tired to encourage them to sleep on the journey rather than worry about where they are going. Spend some time playing with your puppy and try to make sure that they have toileted (both a number 1 and 2 if possible) prior to commencing your journey, especially if you’ve got a little way to travel. You might also want to wait at least a few hours after they have eaten so as to try and avoid any car sickness, which can make the experience unpleasant and stressful for the puppy.
If possible, I would also advise making the journey home earlier in the day rather than later so that when you get to the other end, their new forever home, they have some time to explore their new surroundings and settle in before bedtime. This mental and physical stimulation (think of all the new experiences, smells and introductions!) will also help to tire them out, encouraging them to sleep well in their new home without their mother or siblings, which can be a very alien experience to begin with. On this day, try to limit your puppy’s exposure upon arriving home, perhaps picking one room and an outside area for them to become accustomed to so as not to overwhelm them. You want to build your puppy’s confidence slowly so keeping all of the family calm and collected will also help you in this scenario and allow the puppy to find their feet.