6 ways to help your new puppy from his first night to his first few weeks
These 6 things will help your new puppy settle into his new home quickly, from surviving the first night through to thriving in the first few weeks.
- Puppy Blues – the first night and how to manage crying
- A New Home – establishing a safe environment, using a crate and pen
- Family Time – building a relationship through play and reward
- Changing Food – starting with the right nutrition
- New Routines – setting feeding, bedtime, training and other schedules
- Building a Support Network – finding a vet, puppy school and early socialising
1. New Puppy Blues
The first night at home for your new puppy will most likely feel a little scary and he may cry or whimper. In fact, this may happen for a few weeks.
It’s important to note that it is normal for a puppy to cry. It’s how they communicate their needs, just like a baby. It will take some time for you to interpret his body language and different noises. Any fur-parent will tell you, it’s amazing when you start to understand each other.
Why do puppies cry?
There are many reasons why your puppy will cry during the first couple of weeks. The big one is obviously the feeling of immediate loss, he has just left his home, parents and brother and sisters. Who wouldn’t cry!
This sense of fear and separation anxiety can be overwhelming for your puppy, so try to have him close to you for the first couple of weeks and reassure him that he’s not alone.
Your new puppies first night
Expect that he will need to go to the bathroom during the night and that he is unlikely to sleep through for a while. Unfortunately, his little bladder isn’t big enough to hold-on for that many hours.
- Crate placement: for the first few nights having the comfort of knowing you are close is important. Try placing his crate either in your bedroom or in a hallway with an open door.
- Relief before bed: make sure he has a little play and is tired. Ensure that he goes to the toilet before being placed in the crate for sleep. Praise him when he does a wee, so he knows that he has done something good.
- Comfort: having a soft blanket and a soft toy to snuggle into will help replicate the feeling of sleeping with his brothers and sisters.
- Pheromones: when puppy is with his mum, she releases calming natural chemicals that communicate with her pups. You can buy Pheromone diffuser products for dogs that will help replicate this same calming feeling and help with separation anxiety.
- Ticking Clock: some fur-parents have had success by wrapping a ticking clock in blankets and then putting it inside a pillowcase to provide a re-assuring heartbeat sound.
- Settling: when you first put puppy to bed, he might cry. As long as all his other needs have been met, this crying is part of self-settling and should be ignored. Think of it as his way of getting ready to go to sleep, so you don’t want to stimulate him by providing attention (see below – careful not to reward crying)
- Waking: when puppy wakes in the middle of the night it is most likely because nature is calling. Don’t talk to him, don’t turn on lights. Just take him to go potty and after he has finished place him back in his crate.
- Morning: make a big deal of seeing him in the morning. Straight to potty, but with lots of conversation, praise and pats. Let him know this is play time.
Careful not to reward crying
Whilst crying is normal, you need to be careful not to reward crying with attention and create a bad habit. Always check to ensure that puppies needs are met – that he is not hungry or thirsty, doesn’t need to go to the toilet, is not afraid, lonely or bored and is not in pain or sick (see this Pet MD article for more details).
As long as puppy has had all his needs met, then ignoring bad behaviour is usually the answer. In puppies young mind, attention of any kind (even scalding) will be seen as an interaction. And for a puppy seeking attention, any interaction is a reward. These tips on controlled crying techniques may be helpful. But remember to reward good behaviour with lots of conversation, praise, eye contact and interaction even if puppy is in his crate.
2. Getting to know a new home
To introduce your puppy to his new home, start by making sure you have a controlled environment. It is important for not only his safety but also to start learning the house rules.
Even if you are thinking that as an adult dog he will spend a lot of time outside, it’s a good idea to start puppy off inside for a couple of weeks (particularly until his vaccinations and his immune system has built up – your vet can guide you).
Starting with safe places
A confined space is a must. Why? You can’t have him wandering around your home as you’ll have to watch him all the time. You might be working or have errands and chores to do and puppies can get up to mischief very quickly!
Like a baby’s cot, you need a safe place for puppy where you are in complete control of what objects he has access to and that you know what’s in there won’t harm him.
A Crate or Cage
A crate is a perfectly sized sleeping space – It’s meant to be a cosy space not a Furbubba mansion. It should be big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around and comfortably lie down. Puppy may have been used to sleeping with his mum and siblings, so having a soft cuddly toy or blanket in his crate can help make it feel cosy and create comfort. However, watch out that puppy doesn’t chew toys, bedding or blankets so much that pieces break off and can be swallowed. Check daily.
Puppy Play Pen
Beyond the crate, a safe play area is a must. Setup a puppy play pen which is a big enough space for not only his crate but also has an area to walk around and play with some toys, access to food, water and potty-training pads (if you are using them).
The ultimate position for a pen will be a space with sight-lines around the house. Try moving his crate or pen around the house so your puppy can see you preparing dinner in the kitchen or helping the kids do homework
Exploring the house
Time outside of the pen should be fully supervised for the first month or so. Introduce him to the places he can go and monitor his exploration. There will no doubt be things that you didn’t even realise were a problem and his mischief radar will be on overdrive seeking out things to sniff, chew and climb on.
For those times when you can’t fully supervise puppy and need to be hands-free, a good hack is to attach his lead your belt, or in his crate and moved around the house.
As puppy grows and learns the rules, you will start to expand the boundaries. At this stage many people use baby gates to close off certain rooms, exits and stairs. Some pens can be separated and used like baby gates (just remember that puppy might jump on them, so they have to be secure).
Sleeping outside at night
After a while you might decide that your puppy should sleep somewhere else, like outside. Before you do the big night-move, get him used to sleeping in the new area by setting up his crate and pen in that area during the day. That way it won’t be such a big move for him. He might cry the first couple of nights as he won’t understand why he’s not inside with you.
When he does, just go in and see if he needs water, or to go potty, but don’t pick him up, talk to him or play with him, no matter how tempting that is.
Remember, it’s not play time. Just let him know that you’re around and then leave. He might keep on crying for a while, but he will eventually learn that he gets no attention during the night, and every night the crying will get less and less. It’s not easy but it’s the price of change and re-training your puppy.
Favourite day spots
As your puppy grows and develops, you may notice that he has a favourite spot where he likes to get away from everyone, where he falls asleep in a sunny spot. Or somewhere that’s out of the way enough that he can still see you and what’s going on in the house. That’s usually a great spot to put a day bed as he gets older and he leaves his crate.
3. A new family to bond with
It’s not just about your new puppies first night, the first few weeks will be full of so many new experiences that it is good to limit the number of strangers that interact with your puppy and really focus his efforts on getting to know his new family.
Building individual relationships through one-on-one time is an important part of bonding with each family member. This time can be spent playing, grooming, cuddling or training.
The only way that you will build a trusted bond is by spending time together and really enjoying each other’s company. If your puppy feels genuine affection, he will know that he is important to you. Ultimately, your attention is puppies biggest reward.
It’s all about body language
Tuning in to puppy’s body language will really help. You’re not going to become a dog whisperer overnight but you will start to notice different behaviours and sounds that align with how your puppy is feeling.
Watch how freely he wags his tail when happy, or a low tail between the legs if he is scared, pricked ear and titled head when alert, half-closed eyes when enjoying a scratch or a play bow when he is ready for fun.
If you have young children in the family, teach them the signals of when puppy is happy to be cuddled versus uncomfortable and feeling smothered.
At the same time that you are learning puppy speak, he is also learning human body language, the tone and pitch of your voice, your hand and body actions. So, start with basic training early, use consistent words to give directions and use treats to gain and reward eye contact.
Pay close attention and you’ll be speaking each other’s language before you know it.
Taking the lead
Ok, now for the controversial question – do you need to show your puppy who’s the top dog in the household? Some trainers believe that leadership and pack hierarchy is still an important concept in obedience training.
Others say that the alpha dog theory has been debunked and that there is no place for dominance in training.
As with anything, there is always a middle ground. For example, teaching your puppy not to go through a door first, may just be about good manners and not knocking other people over, rather than a dominance practice of showing them they are not the alpha in the family. Or taking advantage of quick repetitive training moments, such as waiting for a command before eating.
The aim is to strike a healthy balance of doing things on puppy’s terms and on your terms. And if you want some further reading on this topic, check out these resources:
- Dog pack hierarchy – dominance and submission explained
- Pack leadership and alpha dominance – what does it really mean?
4. Changing Food – Starting with the right nutrition
One of the most important things to know (and ask in advance) is what type of food your puppy is currently on, and how often he is eating. You want to make the transition from breeder or shelter to your home as easy as possible, and familiar food and feeding times will play a huge role in making your puppy feel settled.
What should puppies eat?
Puppies have specific nutritional needs to support their bone, muscle and organ development. So, a specially formulated puppy food (often with water added to the kibble) is much better than adult dog food and people food. In fact, there are many people foods that your dog should never eat.
If you want to change the type of food you are feeding puppy, it’s good to do a slow transition over a week or two. Start with the food that the breeder or shelter was using and then mix a small amount of your new food in at each meal, gradually increasing the mix to more of the new food each time. Watch for any changes like diarrhoea and skin irritations – and always speak to your vet if you are worried.
Once puppy has reached approximately 90% of their expected adult weight, they can switch from a growth diet to an adult dog diet suitable for maintenance. The timeframe for this is different depending on the breed – your vet will guide you.
Treats aren’t food
Remember reward-based training isn’t just about treats, it’s about praise. Puppies should be getting most of their calories from specially formulated food, not treats. The ASPCA recommends that no more than 5% of their calories come from treats. Otherwise, your puppy will be full and not getting the right nutrition.
How often should puppies eat?
- Puppies 8 to 12 weeks old need three to four meals a day
- Between 3 to 6 months this decreases to two or three meals a day
- And 6 to 12 months reduced to two meals a day
- After his first birthday, one meal a day is usually enough
How much should puppies eat?
How much your puppy should eat at each meal can differ depending on the breed size and weight of your dog. Plus different brands have different calorie levels, so it is important to look at the feeding guidelines provided by your food manufacturer on their packet.
We like this Purina Puppy Feeding Chart as it provides daily quantities in cups. The Nom Nom Now calculator is also helpful – it calculates the amount of calories per day and suggests that you look at the manufacturers packaging to find the equivalent grams or cups.
Use this AKC Breed Weight Chart can help determine the correct weight of your breed.
A final few tips. Always have plenty of fresh water available. Leave puppy in peace while he is eating. And remove uneaten food after about 20 minutes (not only will puppy prefer fresh food, but it helps you better manage the amount your puppy is eating at each session and reduces the chance of bugs, flys and ants).
5. Settling into a new routine
Knowing what routine you want, and how you want your puppy to behave in your house with you, starts by planning ahead before he arrives. But as with all the best-laid plans – now that puppy is home, you may have to adjust to meet his needs.
In general, a consistent routine will help your new puppy adjust and feel safe. Build in plenty of sleep time, and short amounts of play/exploration, training, exercise, socialisation, feeding and alone time.
Sleep time, nap time, and more sleep time
Your new little furry friend can go from hyperdrive to deep sleep in a matter of minutes. When you see that energy change, guide him to his bed so that he can take a nap. You might be surprised how often you find puppy curled up somewhere having a little sleep at all hours of the day. Sometimes he will fall asleep while he is in the middle of playing!
Your puppy will sleep between 15-20 hours a day. When really young he may not be able to last more than an hour without a nap. And these day-time sleeps could be anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours long.
At night your new puppy may sleep between 6 – 10 hours. But don’t expect him to sleep through on the first night or even the first couple of weeks as he is likely to be unsettled. Many people report their puppy sleeping through the night at around age 16 weeks.
Try to establish a night sleep routine with a specific time to have dinner, a walk, a little grooming, a potty trip and then into his bed. Aim for no more talking or eye contact until your desired morning time. See the tips above about not rewarding crying.
Short bursts of training
First commands such as sit, stay and come are important to start with from day one. Use rewards and keep training sessions short and fun.
Training rewards don’t have to be food based – verbal and physical praise is the best kind of reward. Stick to one command per session, using consistent wording and hand signals. Reward when your puppy responds in the correct way to the command.
Whilst puppy is small, you can take inside walks on the leash and then progress to the garden. Don’t fight against the sensory sensations of a first garden outing. First allow exploration time – say 10 minutes discovering and sniffing. Then separate a 5-minute on-leash training session where you reward puppy for walking by your side and focussing on your instructions, not just his environment.
Play not mischief
Puppy’s love to play – aim for around 20 minutes a day. Toys are a great starting point. Try only having one or two toys out at a time and rotate them, so that puppy doesn’t get bored. If all the toys are out all the time he might lose interest and start looking for mischief elsewhere. Try building in some training when giving a new toy. Encourage him to sit and wait before going for it.
In addition to toys think about games like hide and seek – which is a great way to explore a new environment. Or a treasure hunt where he has to find a treat. Or how can you go past the classic fetch (with a size appropriate toy of course)!
Some time alone
Teach him that part of his new life includes being left alone for short periods of time – or not having constant access to you. Do this from the first day you bring him home. Use his crate or pen to separate him from you and the family at least once every day, for example at times when you are eating. In the beginning, he should still be able to see you, to not feel isolated. It’s not about sleep time, it is about being awake and alone, so that puppy can learn to occupy himself.
6. Building a support network
There are a few connections you need to make to ensure you have the right support now and in the future for new puppy.
- Vet: Firstly, you want to find a vet. They will be your partner in keeping your puppy happy and healthy throughout his whole life.
- Puppy School: Most vets have a puppy school, which is not only great for early socialisation, but it also helps familiarise your puppy to the smells, people and environment in a positive way. After graduating from puppy school, you might want to join your local obedience training classes. This is a great way for young dogs to learn good socialisation skills.
- Neighbours: Another key part of your support network will be your neighbours. Introduce your puppy to them so that they all know where he belongs and if he ever does go roaming, he’s likely to run into a friendly face. It also helps establish open communication with your neighbours so that if your puppy develops bad habits, like barking while no-one is home, they are more likely to speak to you about it than let it escalate.
- Groomer: Depending on your breed and how much you want to do yourself, you may also need a local groomer for regular puppy pampering!
- Pet Sitters: Lastly, you will need to build relationships with some family and friends, or a kennel who can look after puppy if you are away on a holiday. Having short visits while he is young and you are with him, can help reduce anxiety when you do go away.
The most important time of all for your new puppy is not just the first night, but the first few months. All it takes is love, understanding, and plenty of patience. Before you know it, you will be settled in together and your new puppy will be owning the place – like a boss!
We would love to hear about your new puppy. Share your story, send us some pictures, give us your tips.