Preparation is everything when you have a life as chaotic as mine. Two kids under 4, a husband, Marley and George the horse (in no particular order of favouritism!) takes serious planning to ensure all boxes are ticked and I have happy, well fed faces all around!
So that’s exactly what I did when I knew my little routine was going to be sent into orbit with the arrival of an 8 week old puppy. You may think I should be taking this all in my stride given my profession, but you have to remember I have had a succession of poorly behaved canines to sort out, including my own and it doesn’t matter whether you know what you’re doing or not, when professional life crosses over into personal, it’s enough to test the patience and sanity of any individual. Plus I very much live by the rule of ‘planning for the worst and it can only get better’!
As a result my neurosis took me through a check list of considerations that I thought I would share with you…
Firstly what to buy aside from a few retrieval and reward toys plus lots of articles of scent work – I didn’t really have anything of Marley’s worth sharing plus that wouldn’t have got Marley and Hogan off to a good start. It’s always best the puppy has new toys!! When Marley was a puppy and I tried to play with him he would happily bypass the toy and land on me instead as that was far more fun, so I was looking forward to a whole new world of play!
So off I went onto Amazon (I have no time for actual shopping). I started with the key things I advise my clients to buy, a few of which are shown below. I’m a little late with my blog so you will notice some of the bits have already been put to good use as Hogan has now arrived with us. He is also currently sprawled out in the bed I bought, in his crate, along with additional vet bed and he is wearing his collar and tag. You can guess that I won’t be waking him to take it off for a photo!!
Here is the check list of necessities for consideration and purchase, that I think are required before your puppy arrives:
- Suitable sized crate – large enough to ensure your puppy has a bed at one end and somewhere away from the bed to pee if they need to, plus and area for water and feed bowls.
- Feed and water bowls – a couple of each. I have made the mistake of not getting ones with rubber bottoms! This will shortly be rectified as I’m sure Hogan is fed up of chasing his dinner around or having me hold the bowl. All good for allowing me to have a positive presence around food with him for the moment.
- Vetbed – this is absorbent, comfy bedding used initially in the veterinary profession as it is so user friendly and resilient and washes up really well. I bought a roll which has given me a bed for the house, one for the office and one for the car, Plus an extra-large bit for Marley! It will act as a consistent point of contact for wherever Hogan goes.
- Nylabone – you can see the bone shaped Nylabone in the picture, they are durable and safe for puppies plus you can put them in the fridge or freezer and they make great teethers. Something you will be glad of to redirect your puppy off of your furniture when his teeth are giving him hell!
- KONG – Kongs and more Kongs. I love a Kong and tell all my clients to get one, each one of mine gets filled with a few tasty natural treats, a couple of spoons of natural yoghurt and then frozen. Again great for helping with teething plus also any boredom issues if the puppy has to endure some time alone. I went a bit over board and have 4 in all different sizes you maybe don’t need this many but certainly get 2!
- Puppy Collar, Tag and Lead – this is essential early learning. My breeder ‘Derrie’ had already associated the puppies to stimulus around their necks as they all wore coloured identification, ‘felt’ collars. It was an easy transition for me. One came off and the other went on. Although his id tag is a little large, he isn’t phased by it and it won’t be long before he grows into it, plus it is a legal obligation of dog ownership.
You will also regularly see Hogan wearing his lead as it drags behind him, again its important he doesn’t see the lead as negative at this early stage so I just attach it and distract him with food and toys, periodically picking it up, calling him towards me and rewarding. I don’t want a battle with a lead once he is fully vaccinated and ready to take on the big outside world for real!
- Toys – there are a huge variety of dog toys on the market, it really is your preference whether you want with or without squeaks, fluffy, rope, or balls. I chose one from each area to find out which Hogan prefers, the evil one that I am, I will then hijack his favourite and make it mine so it will act as a wonderful reward during training. That way I won’t always have to reward with treats!
- Food – Hogan has been given a great start food wise, while in my profession I steer clear of dry food, I was happy that Derrie had used reputable one and more importantly she had already introduced raw. I will ultimately be feeding Hogan on Natural Instinct raw food once he has settled, which is user friendly, delivered to my door, offers the best in balanced ‘natural‘ nutrition and has a great team of people acting as support staff for any questions. Plus I have extensive experience of the food from visiting the factory and also using it to help in the rehabilitation of client’s dogs.
- Treats – Hogan, being a Labrador will probably eat anything that looks remotely edible and receive it happily if it comes from me, however my treats still need to be natural so again I’ll be using natural instinct frozen white bait, left- over meat from our fridge, and may be the odd bit of mild cheddar. All of these will be associated with my positive verbal command, which is a simple ‘good’. All being well the ‘good’ will suffice eventually!
- Newspaper – I am old school and love newspaper for keeping puppy mess (spilled water, pee and poo) under control, it’s usually ‘free’ from everyone’s recycling bin (not literally though), absorbent, easy to dispose of and it’s great for giving you something to read when your cleaning up at 2 am!
An essential part of my ability to manage and juggle my life is my diary! It is an absolute must that you consider your new puppy, if you work then take time off for the first week or so but remember not to spend every moment allowing your puppy to follow you around. If you will be leaving the house at 8am normally then set your puppy up to cope with that and have short periods of detachment at key times throughout the day. You can then gradually lengthen the time. Your puppy has no concept of time, they learn through association so do this correctly, make it fun and they will cope in your absence.
For me, I am lucky enough to be able to ensure my work and family commitments fit with the needs of my animals but finding spare time in my day would always be a tricky one. My day now starts at 5.50am instead of 7am, sounds awful but I’m loving it. Quality time with my boys, house under control before the kiddies surface and quiet time to myself, how hard was that. However, come winter it may not be so much fun, hence getting a puppy in the summer months was an absolute must for me.
I have also factored in all Hogans socialisation with the dogs and areas I visit. Social exposure as early as possible is so important and I have decide to make safe judgement calls on getting Hogan outside. All the dogs you will see him socialising with on my social media sites are fully vaccinated, wormed and de-fleaed plus they are known to me. The outdoor environments you will see are all privately owned land, plus I never allow him out of my sight or any prolonged sniffing/digging or playing around near rivers, ponds, lakes etc.
He has now had his first vaccination and he will be covered by maternal immunity until 12 weeks so he does also have a level of protection.
Over the coming weeks I have planned for him to be exposed to my normal routine, visit as many of the places I go as possible, engage with adults and children appropriately, and observe wildlife, livestock and horses with positive rewards.
The critical learning period is until 12 weeks, after this point all dogs naturally become more cautious and or reactive, this will also be when he is fully vaccinated and would normally be exposed. I want it all under his belt by then! This is my informed decision, I have to advise that you make your own judgement on this and are guided by your vets recommendation as your environment and lifestyle maybe very different to mine. Just keep in mind there are other ways to socialise correctly, at home with family and friends and their vaccinated dogs etc.
Picking our Puppy Up from the Breeder
Hogan was a 2 hour drive away and so an early start was important to make sure we had the bulk of the day to settle him into our home before we all went off to bed!
It would be the first time he was separated from his mum and other siblings so a level of distress was to be expected. It was also his first journey in the car so I was holding my breath in the hope he wouldn’t be car sick. Many puppies are and this would have given him a poor early learning experience. Knowing the car would be a significant part of his life as my dogs come everywhere with me, this was a really worry.
Derrie had prepared an amazing puppy pack full of toys, poo bags, a towel, blanket and folder containing the health screens, KC documents, Insurance details, routines and breeder contract. Plus a wonderful DVD of the pups early life together.
This was a lovely thing to do and not something I expected. Just another reason to confirm I had picked the perfect breeder!
Although I had a rough idea of how he would travel I didn’t actually decide what I would do when until the last minute. I did however take along Marley. I felt it would be a good opportunity for the dogs to meet in the car, separated by the crate. I could then give them bot something nice to chew on to create a positive start for them both without too much involvement from the rest of the family!
While James and our eldest daughter (aged 4) came with us I did leave our little boy (aged 2) with my mum. I was keen to ensure the environment was straight forward and easy to manage as and although the kids are great can never truly predict the behaviour of a 2 year old!!
The Journey Home
So my final plan was to have Hogan on my lap (passenger) for the first part of the journey to allow so bonding and make him feel a little more secure. The second part of the journey I decided to put my own emotions on one side and cut to the chase, he would travel in the crate next to Marley.
I knew this would take some work if I was to ensure I associated the crate positively and didn’t frighten him by going ‘cold turkey’. This would be his first experience away from his mum and siblings so it was important to do it right.
The crying and whining as we left Derrie’s had me slightly worried even though I expected it. Dogs are however amazing and within 10 minutes or so he had settled down and was busy snoozing on my lap.
A pit stop at the motor way service station allowed an opportunity to introduce the crate and Marley.
Arming myself with food and a ‘stuffed Kong’, I used a quite, matter of fact attitude and just placed him in the crate, leaving the door open but with me sitting at the opening, munching my lunch. Marley happily tucked into his raw bone and despite the odd grumble things went to plan!
Conditioning to the Crate
Everything you read will tell you to condition the crate at home, let the puppy make its own decision to choose to enter and take your time. It won’t be the first time I have used my gut instinct over correct advice but I felt the opportunity to acquaint with Marley was more valuable than the crate. I would risk putting the work in here later on.
So with a continuous supply of food, food and more food I took my time exposing Hogan to a series of body language cues and hand signals to teach him how to enter the crate and what behaviour ultimately got the door to come open. The truly lovely thing about an 8 week old puppy is the speed they learn, within minutes he was sitting happily at the crate door waiting for the instruction to approach. You only have a short window to teach them as their attention span is pretty much zero, but if you get it right, it’s the most exciting and rewarding thing to watch.
I felt like I was watching one of my babies say their first world, accept the word would have been something like ‘ambiguous’! I have trained a lot of dogs and puppies but every time I work with one I am in ore and even more so when it’s one of my own.
Despite all the positive during the break I was fully aware of the carnage that was likely to occur once I removed myself and the second leg of our journey began, and I wasn’t wrong.
My cute ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ puppy began making the most horrendous noise, kind of a cross between the screech of a hyena and the howl of a wolf, I had sat in the back of the car in order to record the events of the journey so his behaviour is all on film.
I’m sure you all want to know what I did to rectify this and the answer is NOTHING! I just quietly filmed him until he stopped and as soon as he came up for air I dropped in a bit of chicken. This carried on for around 30 minutes on and off but eventually he calmed down and fell asleep.
I would have some serious work to do on the crate for the rest of the day but it was worth it to see Marley and him relaxed and sleeping in the back of the car right next to each other for the rest of the journey.
Entering the House
It is always best to let the dogs nose take it somewhere as this will help them work out their surroundings and feel more comfortable that they know what they are walking into. That said its advisable to have as much ammunition as you can to help you out, plus every puppy is different and if you have a nervous or timid one then I would get advice on how to do this first.
It was quite clear already to me that I had a fairly self-assured, non-bolshy but ‘together’ puppy. With that in mind and armed with more chicken, I removed him from the car, put him down on our drive and let him follow the chicken with his nose all the way into our house. On entering he got the chicken and then we took him straight to our kitchen to allow him to have a good sniff around.
It is not advisable to allow your puppy the run of your home, make it clear where the boundaries lie from the start and you will set a good bench mark for them to develop successfully.
- Developing a relaxed relationship with us and Marley
- Early learning for structure, routine and discipline
- Crate conditioning
- Appropriate socialisation
- Manners around food
- Retrieval and vocal training commands
- Dealing with challenging instinctive behaviours: jumping up/ mouthing etc
- Controlling vocalisation
- Management around children and the arrival of friends and family
- … and lots more
All of this will be documented via a series of professionally filmed videos which will begin this week. These will be available via my new venture PuppyCoach.com which will be launched next summer.
In the meantime I’ll keep Hogans blog going via the website and my FaceBook account, thanks for sticking with me