by Justine Williams, Founder of Our Family Dog Project
Every year, thousands of people in the UK get a puppy – which is not surprising given the many great reasons there are for sharing your life with a dog. However, what is often not realised is just how much of a major life adjustment having a puppy can be. Justine Williams shares three things you should know if you are thinking of getting a dog.
Dogs need company
New puppy parents soon discover that their pup doesn’t want to leave their side. Even a trip to the toilet is unlikely to be a solo experience in the early weeks, and popping out to the shops requires some serious planning.
The reason for this is that dogs are social animals and they need company. This means that, if you work or spend a lot of time away from the home and are thinking of getting a puppy, their need for company needs to be carefully thought through.
The good news is that there are plenty of options available for working dog owners in the form of doggy day care, dog sitters and dog walkers that you can use once your puppy has been fully vaccinated – at around 12 weeks of age. In the early weeks, however, you may need to ask friends and family to help out with puppy sitting so that your puppy isn’t left alone – you will probably have lots of willing volunteers!
You may have heard of separation anxiety. This occurs in dogs who become anxious when left alone. Dogs with separation anxiety can be destructive in the house, go to the toilet and howl and bark when left alone. It often results from dogs being left alone too soon and for long periods of time. The advice from dog welfare experts is that adult dogs can be left for up to four hours, but to build up to this time gradually. This will require lots of time and patience from you and plenty of praise and treats for your dog to help them learn to be left alone in a positive way.
In the first year however the advice is to not leave a puppy alone for very long at all. The more time you can spend helping your puppy to feel happy and secure, the less likely they are to develop separation related problems. Read this helpful advice from the RSPCA about training dogs to be left alone.
Puppies don’t sleep through the night
Many new puppy owners are surprised to learn that puppies don’t sleep through the night. There are two reasons for this. First, puppies are just like babies. They need to learn to sleep through the night; and it takes time to establish a night time routine. Second, puppies have very small bladders and need to pee – and poo – often, including during the night. This means that for the first few weeks you will need to set your alarm a few times during the night to take your puppy out.
You may have come across varying advice about whether to comfort or let a puppy cry at night. The expert view from dog welfarists is that comfort is the best solution. Many new puppy owners find it helpful to let their puppy sleep in their bedroom with them in the early weeks, or you can set up a bed downstairs just until your puppy is feeling more secure and they are dry at night.
The bottom line is that you should expect a few weeks of broken sleep with a new puppy – and lie-ins will become a thing of the past. Your alarm clock may now come in the form of a wet nose and wagging tail to wake you up.
Toilet training takes time
Everyone knows that you need to toilet train a puppy. But what some people aren’t prepared for is how long it can take. Despite what you may have read online, you can’t toilet train a puppy in 7 days. The rule of thumb is that by the time puppies are six months old they should be house trained with no accidents in the house day or night. That said, it’s not uncommon for puppies to regress with their toilet training. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, you’ll find yourself standing on a wet patch on the carpet or discover a surprise poo.
You can help your puppy with their toilet training by:
- learning to spot the signs that they need to go, e.g. sniffing, circling and crouching
- having a consistent routine, e.g. taking them outside as soon as they wake up, have had something to eat, following playtime and last thing at night
- using praise and reward when they go to the toilet outside
If your dog has an accident, don’t punish them or rub their nose in it. They won’t understand what they have done wrong. Instead, clean it up and give them praise when they go in the right place outside. Read these great toilet training tips from other dog owners.
In summary, if you’ve set your heart on getting a puppy, be prepared to take the ‘ruff’ with the smooth. And that means lots of hard work and sleepless nights before you can reap the wonderful rewards of life with a dog.
Justine Williams is the founder of Our Family Dog, a social enterprise providing advice and support to new dog owners in the UK.