Welcome Home
By Tom Hayes 

"Rocky, an English Pointer pup, quickly
 adjusting to his new home and new toys"

We started with the simple commands and we tried to always be consistent. We limited the list of commands to: Heel, Come, Sit or Whoa for pointers. Later we added Stay, Ok, and Down. We put the puppy on a leash and started walking it with some gentle discipline from the day we brought it into our lives.

This was very gentle but always with a purpose and always consistent and as I said, when the kids “trained” the dog, we supervised to be sure we were all on the same page.

We tried to have two or three brief- sometimes lasting only 3 to 5 minute – sessions a day. We let the puppy explore on its leash but when it would pull, we backed up. In just a couple of sessions, puppy learned to walk on a slack leash. It is important to note, however, that every day also included two or three sessions of off-leash play where the dog was encouraged to explore and go where its nose and whimsy took it without correction or commands. We had a big open field near the house which provided a perfect adventure for these romps.

Puppies chew stuff. Period. They need to have objects that are OK to chew on. We also have the responsibility to put valuable items we don’t want chewed on out of reach so puppy is not tempted or worse yet, so puppy does not get “in trouble” for doing what puppies do. Which is chew.

This is one of those open wounds I mentioned. In our house, someone would leave something “valuable” in puppy reach and sure as the dickens, puppy would get it. For some reason I always got the blame for “YOUR Dog ate _____”. In the case of the latest dog, the chew list included 1) a brand new pair of high dollar running shoes of my wife’s, 2) a boat seat that I casually left sitting on the floor of the garage after cleaning out the boat, 3) a folder of airline tickets and lodging vouchers for our Ireland vacation, 4) a brand new cell phone in its shipping package (the last two items were technically left in puppy reach by the UPS driver – but WE failed to provide a table to set deliveries on so doggie could not get them), 5) the New wiring out from under my boat trailer, 6) three kennel cushions (one at a time), and worst of all 7) numerous plants and shrubs in my wife’s rock garden.

This went on for the first 5 months we had the dog home. I thought at one point I would have to take the dog and relocate. My wife can be real funny that way when the dog targets her stuff. The same woman shows ZERO sympathy when the dog ate my stuff.

Housebreaking is another shared experience, although I was solely responsible for cleaning up the accidents – as in, “YOUR DOG S - - T on the basement floor AGAIN!!!”

We have learned that getting through to the pup on matters of housebreaking is quite simple but does require attention – and timing. I think puppies are taught by their mothers not to mess the nest once they are big enough to navigate out of the whelping box. At least that is how it seemed to me based on the 1.0 litter we have had. 

When we are not immediately around to watch the puppy, we keep it in a kennel crate with a piece of old carpet laid on the floor. The all-wire crates are just fine, although as I will comment later, our dogs are travelers and we prefer the molded plastic crates. The molded plastic crate can get hotter than the open wire mesh crates so placing it in a cool spot with moving air is best.

I specifically recommend covering the floor with old carpet instead of a fancy fluffy doggie pillow for three reasons:
  1. Old carpet is cheap - this is important when you get to #2 and #3, below.
  2. The puppy will have accidents and it is easier to just replace the flooring with another piece of old carpet than a fluffy pillow while carpet square number one is cleaned and drying.
  3. Puppies Chew. Our first puppy was the one who taught me about the use of carpet instead of a pillow, chewed up a brand new fluffy Foo-Foo Pillow. 

"Autumn's new big sister, Summer, has quickly excepted her at her new home in Tennessee".

Following on from that then, it is important to recognize that dogs are a lot like us. When we get up from a nap or a night’s sleep what is one of the first things we do? Go to the bathroom. Guess what? So do dogs. There is nothing wrong with waking up puppy once in a while and taking it outside to do its business. The other time the pooch seems to be going to get the urge is shortly after eating. This can be stimulated by some exercise – light exercise – following meal time. Just a walk around the yard seems to have worked for us.

Scolding or worse yet spanking a pup that has had a lapse in its housebreaking is just not something to be done. The dog has no idea what it did wrong. It was just being an ignorant dog and the training must continue. It is a matter of the dog learning the rules, not being punished for not understanding the rules.

With small children in the house, supervised play is in order. Not only is the puppy learning to be a member of the new people-pack, the kids must learn a set of do’s and don’ts in playing. We see older dogs who patiently tolerate kid’s sometimes rough play, but a young puppy does not yet know how it fits in and must not be allowed to be mistreated by unknowing playmates. It takes a few days at the minimum, and perhaps even up to a couple of weeks before kids and puppy can be trusted together without being under a watchful adult eye.

As to the matter of feeding, again consistency is in order. It is best to feed the dog in the same place using the same bowl at the same time of day for a couple of weeks. I even go further in that I think the same person or persons should do the feeding. Now from time to time, the duty will have to be delegated, but feeding time is far more than just providing food. In the wild, feeding time is also bonding time with the other members of the pack and I believe that it imprints the dog as to who is Alpha to be the provider of the food. Feeding and the ritual is all part of the reinforcement to the dog that the human is in charge. I will confess that I have no evidence that taking turns dispensing the food for the first couple of weeks is detrimental, since we have never done it that way at our house. 

The first night home is a great time to get the business of kenneling off to the start you want to live with. The first couple of nights, the puppy WILL howl and cry and protest being alone for the first time in its life. As hard as it is to ignore the crying, I think it is best to tough it out. Providing the pup a place of its own to “nest” is important. 

As hunting dogs, mine have to be good travelers and giving them a portable kennel “nest” is a vital part of their future comfort. The kennel box becomes their home away from home as well as their home at home. I suspect having a comfortable enclosure might take them back to their instincts as hole- dwellers. Outright House Pet dogs might not need this as much as traveling hunters, but teaching the dog to be “at home” in a kennel box pays dividends later in life, too. It gives us a place to put the dog that it is comfortable for it when a houseful of company comes and we do not want the dog underfoot.

When bringing the newcomer into the "pack" it pays to be cautious in introducing the new dog to the one or ones already there. The first few days be content if the existing dog(s) are indifferent to the newcomer. Supervised togetherness is in order just to be sure there is not some hidden hostility mingled in with the jealousy. It is important to demonstrate that the newcomer is accepted by the pack leader and other (human) members. It is also important to lavish plenty of attention on the existing dog(s) so they get the picture that the pack is still intact, just one more member is added. Group play with all the dogs and kids and the Alpha (you) is one good way to have some fun and reward the dogs for being a part of the pack as well as demonstrating that the newcomer is by YOUR definition now part of the pack.

Bringing home a new puppy certainly is not the same impact as bringing home a new human baby, but it is not something to be undertaken without forethought. With good fortune, the dog will become a part of the family for the next 10-15 years and it will be a better life for the dog and it’s people to think things through and be ready to act when you Welcome Home the new puppy.