Puppy Panic! It’s surprisingly common, but it will pass! Trainer and behaviourist Carol Price advises on how to cope.
With spring arriving, people’s thoughts often turn to the joys of getting a puppy, imagining how wonderful and exciting it will be to welcome a new pet into their homes, who they will then raise to be an exemplary dog. That is the ideal we all begin with anyway. It’s just that the reality can often be quite different.
People won’t always tell you about the more testing aspects of getting a new puppy, especially during the early weeks or months — the upheaval, exhaustion, and fatigue, and the darker feelings that you have made some big mistake or are getting everything wrong.
This overwhelming early sense of puppy panic is a far more common phenomenon among new owners than you might think, but always much easier to get through with the right mixture of reassurance and practical advice. So here is my 10 point guide to making the arrival and rearing of any new puppy that much easier to deal with.
1. Early wobbles
First, be aware of how normal it can be during the earliest weeks or months of getting a puppy — and after the initial euphoria of his arrival has worn off — to sometimes have feelings of doubt or panic about the huge new responsibility you have just taken on, because puppies can be destructive, exhausting, extremely energetic, and also throw your whole former cosier household routine upside down.
You may find yourself mopping or sweeping various accidents or messes off the floors at midnight, your washing machine will constantly be on, and it will no longer be possible to peacefully watch ‘EastEnders’ without some whiny fluffball in the kitchen furiously demanding your attention.
Just realising how common it is to have such early panics and doubts, mostly due to chronic exhaustion, can really help. What you also need to know is that all these feelings pass with time, as both you and your new dog adapt to each other, so just accept them for what they are and ride them out.
2. Understand the vital importance of damage limitation
Too many people make owning a puppy harder than it should be by letting them have the whole run of their home from
day one. Remember, puppies can never know the true value or importance of anything you own, including your new designer shoes, antique hall table, and the Playstation console controller. But the greater access you give them to precious furnishings or belongings of yours, which they may then wee or poo on, or chew and trash, the more this will undermine your growing relationship with your new dog, because it may inevitably result in some anger, resentment, or upset on your part.
It is far better to keep puppies in their own, limited quarters to begin with, using a crate and a larger penned area for example in the kitchen, and/or separating the puppy from the rest of the house with a dog gate. Choose anywhere where the floor is easy to clean and the pup cannot trash, chew, or poo and wee on anything valuable. This simple measure alone should be enough to greatly reduce your stress.
Use playpens and gates to restrict your pup’s access to more valuable furnishings or belongings.
3. Take the same approach to your garden
Give your puppy his own limited play area and toileting place in the garden. Put his favourite toys and chew items in it when he is outside, then fence off any other garden areas or plants you do not want him to have access to. Having his own fenced-in garden area will also keep your puppy safer, and maybe also cleaner!
Taking your puppy out regularly and consistently will help avoid toileting accidents in the home.
4. Take toilet training seriously
A number one reason why puppies fail to master toilet control earlier, or more reliably, is down to less scrupulous early training, such as not taking a puppy outside religiously every half hour, or immediately after a sleep, play session, or meal to relieve himself. Then instantly putting a command to what he is doing correctly — like ‘Be clean!’ — and praising, then rewarding him with a very tasty treat. If you do not go out with your puppy as outlined, to keep repeating and reinforcing this training, even when it is dark and in all weathers, he will continue to have more accidents indoors, or go on believing that going to the toilet indoors is OK for want of any better guidance.
Start teaching simple training exercises at home.
5. Begin training your puppy into good habits as early as possible
This needs to happen before he has a chance to learn worse ones — and then find these more rewarding instead. Just teaching him simple exercises at home from day one — like sit, down, wait, watch me, back, and give — with lots of rewards and in the context of a play session will make owning him that much easier and more of a pleasure. So much valuable early learning time is lost or wasted in puppies through owners believing it is too soon to teach them anything, when in fact puppies can be taught so many things from even six to eight weeks old.
6. Have regular time out from your puppy
It is important for puppies to have regular down times during the day when they must sleep and rest. But just as important is for owners to have regular breaks from the demands of a puppy. So get your puppy used to set rest times during the day or evening in his own quarters, when you can also rest yourself, or catch up with different chores or errands. The more routine you make these rest times daily, the more likely it is that your puppy will settle down more quickly each time.
Too much stimulation can lead to your pup expecting it all the time.
7. Beware the perils of over-stimulation
One of the most common problems I see in young puppies, especially from more energetic or active breeds, is chronic over-stimulation. In other words, owners often think they have to constantly indulge their puppies in exciting games or interactions in order to tire them out. Usually, the reverse is true, in that the more you mentally and physically stimulate young dogs, the harder they will find it to wind down again when you want them to rest. You can also encourage a growing expectation in a young dog that he should be stimulated all the time.
So whenever you are approaching a set rest period, or bedtime, it is far better to remove all sources of external activity and excitement from your dog at least 15 minutes beforehand, and keep your voice and body language quiet. The quieter your puppy’s external environment becomes, the more likely it is that he will wind down and settle.
Be prepared for some damage.
8. Expectation management
One of the worst things you can do to any puppy is to allow him to do something one day, such as jump on the furniture, come into a certain room with you, or have food off your plate, that you won’t allow him to do the next. It simply causes confusion and frustration, as well as a sense in your growing dog that your initial ‘no’ can be turned into a ‘yes’ if he makes enough of a protest. So, whatever rules you decide on early on about what your dog can
or cannot do, stick to them relentlessly and consistently.
9. GROUP Training may not be for you
Many owners enrol their new puppies in group training classes out of a sense that this is what they should do, rather than on the basis of whether they are the best learning environment for their particular dog. For while some group training classes work really well for some young dogs, others may find them far more challenging or stressful. As
a result they may bark, whine, play up, or generally find it harder to concentrate. Unfortunately, this can then give dog and owner alike a negative view of the whole training process, or make owners feel their dog is a ‘failure’ on this front. Really all they need is a more one-to-one learning approach instead, getting a good trainer to work with them and their dog in a far less distracting environment to begin with. Then, later, they can build up more surrounding distractions for their dog to cope with, which he will do far better.
Puppies are gorgeous — but they’re hard work too.
10. Stop chasing perfection
Despite what you might read online, or in any book, nobody has a perfect puppy, it is a totally mythical creature. All we ever have is the puppy we have got, warts and all. Your puppy may not get everything right all the time, and nor will you. Yet somehow as soon as you accept this, life already becomes that much easier, because so much pressure is taken off your relationship. The world is full of dogs who drove their owners mad as puppies, yet somehow grew — with the right amount of care, love, and training — into adult companions they now cannot imagine living without. So, if right now you are living through an early bout of puppy panic, just hold that thought in your mind.
Puppies are gorgeous — but they’re hard work too.