Those first few days with your puppy…..

Setting the foundations for a happy puppy!

I’m coping (just about) during the first few days….Mohawk is on day three and we’re all figuring things out. Here are some things we have been working on……

1) Toilet Training
The pressure is off with this. It’s really not a race and there’s no ‘normal’ for when pups get this nailed. Stress from relocating and adjusting to a new home will make him drink more and thus wee more. I must have got him outside about 20 times on day one (11.30am onwards), including twice in the night. We only had one accident inside that day and one poo overnight, but the weather was good. Yesterday the weather was awful. He coped well in the wind and rain but was very excited in the garden, and even though he had about 10 wees outside, he also had about 5 wees inside and 2 poos inside! I’m not fretting about this, he’s young, his bladder is very small and there’s still loads of time. Plus, the layout of my house makes it tricky as he’s in the lounge and my house is long- he has to walk up the lounge, through the kitchen and through the porch to get outside. When he’s having a zoomy (1.5-2 hours of Turbo Raccoon mode) is when he gets caught out- and it’s very hard to get to him in time. When he has an accident I just leave him to it, so not to scare him mid toilet, and then clean it up (giving him something to do so he’s out the way).

2) Building Independance
Mohawk has LOADS to do in his pen, and items are rotated so he doesn’t get bored. I often sit on the other side of the pen, so he has my company but is learning to occupy himself and that his pen is a fun and safe place- rather than a prison he wants to escape all the time. He hasn’t been left alone at all, bar me being in sight in the next room. If he cries for more than a few seconds or appears to escalate, I immediatly go to him. Or, he can follow me around. This allows him to feel secure, never practising distress at being contained or alone. When he can cope with me out of sight in the kitchen, then I’ll start to work on a little longer out of sight- working towards leaving the house (filming to check he’s ok!).
I am sleeping next to his pen on an airbed, alarm set for wee trips but I wake and take him out if he rises before the alarm. I don’t talk to him much for his night wee, and when I settle him back to bed I just rest my hand by the bars so he has my contact for help him settle. He then just goes straight to sleep. I’ll start to move the airbed a little further away tonight, just a couple of metres. Then maybe in the next room after a week or so, when he starts to develop a good routine.

I’ve not played with Mo excessively, partially because he’s busy adapting to so much and because I don’t want my dogs to get FOMO- I’m trying to keep the house calm. But also because I don’t want him to rely solely on me for mental stimulation! I’ve strongly promoted independant activities from the moment he was in the house. This won’t go on for too long, as he’s already showing signs of coping more with space between us. I have ZERO doubt that I will build up a good bond with him despite this slow start to physical contact (cuddles and strokes). I am in no rush to have him focus on me (to help keep him under control on walks and for work etc). Having had 5 rescue dogs I know all too well, they can bond with you at any age! My priority is being able to have a shower upstairs without my puppy getting distressed downstairs (and of course to get some of my leisure time back, such as climbing!) and I aim to hit that goal ASAP!

3) Coping with Containment
The pen is there to keep him safe from the dogs and cats, as there are times they want to be left alone and at present their interactions need constant supervision. Making the pen as large as possible is key to him coping- when he has the zoomies he moves around ALOT, and a small pen or crate would likely causing him huge frustration. His pen divides a large room in two, I recommend your puppy also has as much space in their ‘down time’ area as possible. I think now, more than ever, one reason for confinement anxiety and frustration is dogs is they are contained in too small areas as well as being socially excluded (contained too far away from the action).

As well as not enough space, I think some containment areas don’t provide enough alternatives for activities and sleeping places. Mohawk rarely sleeps on a bed. Thick coated dogs may prefer colder surfaces (sometimes, not always) to help regulate their body temperature. He also stretches out and sometimes likes to squish between the bed and pen wall. At 5am both nights he’s got up to have a little chew on his antler. As he’s not whining- I’ve just left him to it and after 5-10 mins he settles back down. Crates (and some pens) are rarely big enough to provide these choices…..perhaps this is why some dogs appear to dislike them so much?

After observing his overall behaviour, we have ditched the smaller pen planned for when he has a chew/bone (to keep him safe from the dogs) and will stick to the large pen until he’s fully integrated with the gang.

Now the dogs are coping better with him, Mo is getting more time out of the pen. This is key to him relaxing in other areas of the house. Keeping dogs away from certain rooms leads to increased arousal and explorative behaviour when they finally get access- I’d reccommend getting your puppy use to areas of the home now while they are small and can do less damage!
Plus, you get to swiftly fine tune your puppy proofing- definitely an ongoing work in progress here! I started with the obvious dangerous things, then moved stuff out the way as it became apparent he found it too interesting.
I preferred this way, giving him the chance to interact with my unusual house layout, than stripping everything back bare and introducing it as novel items some point down the line.

4) Cuddles and Affection
It may suprise you, but he’s not getting a huge amount! Not through my choice, but through his! He’s busy adjusting, he’s got stuff to do and chew and three adult dogs to get use to. He is certainly bonding to me, but he doesn’t yet want to be on my lap having cuddles and only wants strokes sometimes. I only pick him up if I have to. I recognise when stroking him will lead to mouthing, and as a result- am backing off swiftly when I see early signs (rolling the head back with mouth open, sudden head swish movements towards the hand).

Of course I want to stroke my puppy! But I don’t want to provoke hard mouting. Mouthing is the number one complaint we get from puppy owners and I think recognising early signs is key to reducing it.

5) Routine (managing the zoomies)
This is tough, as we have an existing routine in place for three adult dogs who need their walks. I’ve had to make a choice between leaving Mo home with Nick or Anette (my housemate) and him potentially struggling seeing me and the dogs leave OR take him on the walk in his papoose/backpack.

I opted for the latter as he was so confident by the end of his first day, I felt he could likely cope. However, Turbo Raccoon mode kicks in for 1-2 hours at 7.30am and he then hasn’t had enough sleep before his outing. He enjoyed his outing, but started to whine for the last 15 mins as he’s so tired. So, as of tomorrow we are bringing the dog’s morning walk forward if he hasn’t fallen asleep by 7.30am in the hope he’s less tired by the end of the walk. Following his outing he falls asleep for 2-3 hours- my time to get stuff done 😂

If he seems awake enough in the afternoon I’ll do a short training session. He then stays at home for the afternoon walk which gives me and the dogs a little special time together- ensuring I can still work on their training but he learns to be without them too! Mohawk sparks up again 5-6pm and during this time has another Turbo Raccoon (TR) mode for 1-1.5 hours again. This time is spent calmly giving him endless stimulation and chew activities, then disengaging (sitting on the other side of the pen) to try and help not overstimulate him further. If I see a subsidising of TR I do a little bit of training, but I time this with when he is calm enough to be able to focus and succeed.

Our first training exercises were conditioning his name, recall and calm focus around food. Nothing major!

I try not to get stressed and battle against the zoomies. I’m aware in the evening it’s because he’s tired (so I get him to chew, lick and sniff lots- which helps calm him down) and in the morning it’s because he’s fresh after a long sleep at night. Trying to stay calm and help him work his way out the process is key. Here’s hoping I can maintain this! haha!

Obviously, this is just day 3! So the routine will likely change rapidly and I’ll adjust accordingly. But analysing and adapting is key to him getting enough rest, not being overstimulated and also maintaining the welfare of my existing gang!

6) Picking up items, tugging clothing and towells
If he picks something up I quickly establish is it safe or valuable? If it’s safe and not vaulable I leave him to explore with his mouth- that’s what puppies do. If it is not safe and is valuable I buy off him with treats. Training drop for picking things up and tugging starts today!

7) Socialisation
After watching how Mohawk was taking in his world and appearing to cope on day 1 and the early morning of day 2….I opted to take him on a walk with the gang on day 2. I also needed to take advantage of having my partner there before we parted ways for a couple of days over Christmas. The two of us helped eachother and doing this will hopefully help me cope better on my own when he’s not there. On these days I’ll be walking places I intend to not see many people, so all I have to do is focus on Mo and the dogs, rather than dodging people/dogs etc.

Walk 1 Mo was taken in a papoose. It soon became clear it was far too small for him! So today he went out in a backpack, which I think will work for 2 weeks until he’s too big for that too! So I need to find a bigger, comfortable backpack! We chose a route to try and avoid as many dogs/people as possible and when we’ve seen people or dogs we’ve given a wide berth.

When briefly chatting (to a total of 2 people on both walks) we’ve stood right back, so he’s not overwhelmed (as he cannot show avoidance when in the backpack) and can observe from a safe distance. Encounters have been kept brief. Social distancing aside, no one will be allowed to stroke him when he’s in his backpack as he cannot communicate whether he wants the interaction (as he’s trapped).

For most puppies, I’d suspect (and tend to advise) going out this soon after them being brough home is too much. However, Mo has exceptional confidence (steady gait, forward ears, highly held tail) and recovers from set backs swiftly (tail drops, ears back for a second or two- then reverts to normal and carries on!). He also has the dogs to socially learn from and certainly looks to them for information on situations. However, I am closely monitoring his confidence levels and am looking for maintaining or increasing of confidence. If I see any decline at all, he’ll be given some time out for a few days and then we’ll try again.