Puppy Prep Course
A complimentary guide to help you navigate the first few weeks with your puppy.
It's no secret... we have a passion for puppies. There is something so special about puppies joining our lives. These little blank slates are so full of potential, and we've made it our mission to help families raise their perfect puppy.
It isn't always easy. If this is your first time raising a puppy, there is a lot to learn! But don't worry, we all started somewhere and we're here to help. The goal of this course is to prepare you for the first few weeks with your puppy and make sure that you have the information you need to make great choices, reduce your stress, and give your puppy the best start possible.
This guide is intended to compliment our Harmony School day training program. Be sure to reach out to chat with one of our Professional Trainers about in-person training options.
Setting Up for Success:
Confinement, Potty, and Independence Training
Congratulations on your new puppy! We’re so excited for the journey you’re about to begin together. Bringing a puppy home can be a bit overwhelming, and thoroughly preparing for your new family member can help reduce stress and frustration and allow you to fully enjoy every moment!
In your first week with your new puppy, it will be important to set a schedule, get started with potty training, and help your puppy adjust and get comfortable with their new environment. When your puppy arrives, they will be full of curiosity about their new environment, and we want to do all that we can to make sure that they adjust to this new home in a safe and stress-free way. The main way that we will set puppies up to be successful in their new home is by employing management. Management is a term used to describe the steps that we take to manage the puppy’s access to its surroundings.
Controlling what your puppy has access to and when is important for their safety and your sanity! Puppies are infinitely curious at this age, and they explore their surroundings with all of their senses… but mostly their mouths! Management will help save you the frustration of chewed shoes, but will also help protect your puppy from ingesting or chewing on something that is potentially harmful.
Planning for successful management begins before your puppy comes home. In order to set your puppy up to be successful in their new environment, we’ll need to prepare them an area where they’re surrounded by opportunities to make good choices. Limiting opportunities to make undesirable choices is tremendously important at this age because your puppy is incredibly impressionable. At this age their brain is a sponge that is soaking up information, and they’ll retain this information for a lifetime. Many choices, such as chewing on shoes or getting into the garbage, can be self-rewarding and allowing your puppy to make those awesome positive associations will make those habits much more difficult to change later on. We can avoid allowing our puppies to develop undesirable habits early on by limiting their access to the house and providing them with supervised, appropriate interactions with the world around them. When we show a puppy the right way to interact with the world around them, we reduce the need for correction. By managing their environment and interactions, we are able to provide them with positive reinforcement of their behaviors and are able to fully enjoy all of the relationship-building benefits that come along with this form of early training.
Preparing the Puppy Area
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a studio apartment or a home, most spaces can accommodate a puppy area to help manage the new addition to your family. The puppy area consists of two main parts: The crate and the attached play area.
Your puppy’s crate can be thought of as their bedroom or den. It is intended to be a safe, happy space that your puppy can truly settle and relax in. Even if you do not plan to use a crate throughout your puppy’s life, it is incredibly important that your puppy receive confinement and crate training. At some point in their life, your puppy will need to travel, be groomed, or visit the veterinarian. It is unfair to your puppy to not provide them with the experience and training they need to be comfortable in these situations. Adding stress to these already stressful circumstances will make the experience much more traumatic for your puppy. As our goal is to teach them to interact with the world around them in a positive and confident way, we owe it to our puppies to give them these early, positive crate and confinement experiences.
The Crate: Your Puppy’s Bedroom
Crates are used primarily to mimic the den environment that dogs naturally seek. We use this instinct to our advantage, as dogs will naturally avoid soiling the area that they are to sleep in. When we provide puppies with a safe, clean crate and keep the crate experience positive, they will be more inclined to see the crate as their special room. Our main goal when introducing a crate is to keep it positive and set your puppy up to succeed. The steps for crate training will be outlined later in this course, and for now you just need to focus on keeping the crate positive and providing puppies with an opportunity to enter and exit the crate as needed so that good choices can be made.
Crates come in many types, shapes, and sizes. What you use will ultimately depend on your puppy’s size and how you’d like to integrate the crate into your home in the future.
Wire Crate: The most common type of crate used is a foldable wire crate. These crates can typically be purchased with a divider, which allows you to create a small, safe space for your young puppy. As your puppy grows up, you can move the divider to provide them with more room so that you don’t need to purchase additional crates throughout their life.
We recommend a quality wire crate such as the Midwest iCrate.
You might also use a matching dog bed to make the crate more comfortable.
And a crate cover to help provide a sense of security and privacy.
Other crates, such as hard plastic VariKennels, will also make excellent crates for all life stages. Just be sure that there are points to attach your play pen area to the crate if other anchors are not available in your home.
We do not recommend the use of soft, fabric crates at this age. They can be chewed or clawed through, and can be choking or safety hazards for a young puppy.
The Pen: Your Puppy’s Living Room
In order to minimize negative associations with the crate, we need to add a second living space where puppies can have their other needs met. For example, we aim to keep the crate clean and to preserve a puppy’s instinct to not soil their sleeping quarters by offering a living area outside of the crate with a potty pad or other appropriate spot to potty. This enables puppies to make good choices about where to potty and reduces accidents in the crate. The additional living area is also important for puppy “time outs” or other occasions where your puppy will need to be confined to an area for their safety or to eat, rest, and reset their puppy brain for a bit when they become over-stimulated.
When a puppy needs a time out, we want to avoid locking them inside of the crate. Instead, it is ideal to provide them with a relaxing environment where they can play by themselves and self-sooth. This is achieved by providing them with an area around the crate where they have access to toys, chews, and other puppy-safe forms of enrichment. The crate will be inside or connected to the play pen, so puppy gets the option of entering the crate as they want. Your puppy's pen should be in an easy-to-clean space and free of any items or furniture you don’t want your puppy to chew on. You’ll want this space fully enclosed and anchored so that the puppy can’t push the pen area over. If you use a wire exercise pen, make sure it's either securely attached to your dog's crate or set up securely against a wall and other anchor points so your puppy can't knock it over and escape.
Your puppy’s pen should be an enjoyable area where they can relax and play. A big part of entertaining puppy in their pen and making sure that their time spent alone is engaging, enjoyable, and not stressful is providing them with chews and toys that they can focus on to take their minds off of being separate from you.
One of the main treat dispensers we use for this is a Kong. The Kongs are super durable rubber toys that can be filled with treats. They're challenging to get treats out of, so they tend to be something a puppy will spend a LOT of time engaged with. As the puppy gets older, you can freeze the contents of the Kong to make it last even longer. Kong and similar food dispensing toys are wonderful as they can be used without supervision and you can customize what you put inside of it. You want the treats inside to be primarily soft, and the options are endless. Most will stick to some peanut butter, yogurt, and/or wet puppy food all mashed together into one tasty treat. This mash is then spread inside of the toy and the puppy will work to lick it out. The Kongs are dishwasher safe, and most trainers will have 3-4 ready to go to rotate (frozen or refrigerated) as needed.
Kong food dispensing toys are available in a large variety of sizes, and the medium version is great for puppies of most large or medium-sized breeds.
If you have a small breed, you can start with a small or extra-small version.
The Toppl toy is a great, puppy-safe alternative as well.
Treats and chews, such as Bully Sticks and Hooves provide puppies with engaging, tasty treats to focus on.
Putting it All Together
As seen in the video below, Squish has his own section of the house to keep him safe and calm while he learns the rules about interacting with his new family members. The pen is secured around his main crate, and the door to the crate is left open. Squish will stay in this pen when not under direct supervision so that he does not have the opportunity to learn unwanted behaviors. His pen area has a potty pad so that he has an appropriate place to potty if needed. At this age, accidents will happen an we cannot predict every need for pottying, so we provide an appropriate alternative for him in case he needs to potty but can’t let us know. By putting all of these management tools together, we are setting our puppies up to succeed by limiting their choices to options that are safe and appropriate. As we continue management of their surroundings while they grow, we can help them to continue to reinforce these positive behaviors until they become habits.
Next in our Puppy Prep Course we’ll dive into the topic of Crate Training and how to train your puppy to love their crate for a lifetime.
Access to our Puppy Prep Course is complimentary. To access the rest of the Puppy Prep program, please register through the link below to join us and receive free, instant access to our Member’s Only area. When you sign up, be sure to enter Puppy Prep when asked how you found us so that you can receive access to additional free puppy training resources as they are released!