New puppy – will I ever sleep again?

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I stumbled across this article two months after I really needed it and I simply had to share it! I am sure many new puppy owners share the same experience of sleepless nights when they first bring their puppy home. And while this article may not necessarily make things easy from day one, simply knowing why your puppy is crying seems to me to be half the battle and makes the sleeplessness easier to handle. In fact, the same goes for pretty much any aspect your puppy’s behaviour. Knowing why puppy does what puppy does can make managing their behaviour and making them feel safe and loved so much easier.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of the Cockapoo Owners Club (UK)

Let sleeping dogs lie… but never let puppy dogs cry!

In the wild, a puppy would stay with their mum for about 9 months. So when we take them home at 8 or 9 weeks, they really are still infants in need of a mother. Our job is to become that mother- to care for them emotionally and physically and to create an environment that allows them to grow and flourish, and most importantly, to feel safe.

This is a big commitment, requires compromise and sacrifices, and there are going to be times when it is difficult. But the benefits you will reap from making sure your puppy’s needs are met and that they grow up feeling happy and safe make it so worthwhile.

Don’t let them cry it out

For many years, the advice doled out to new puppy parents was to bring their puppy home, put them to bed that night (often in a cage in another part of the house), and then to ignore their cries. This, we were told, would avoid ‘rewarding’ their ‘attention seeking’ behaviour and lead to a puppy who could cope with being left alone. The same advice was given to parents of human children for many years, and today many people still adhere to it, for both canine and human babies.

But guess what?

It has been shown that the effects of not responding to infants (human or canine) does the reverse of teaching independence- allowing a baby to repeatedly become distressed in this way is damaging to their ability to establish secure attachments in the long term, and is more likely to lead to clingy, demanding children, with a deep sense of insecurity which can stay with them for the rest of their lives.

In my capacity as a dog trainer, babies are of limited interest to me! But science has taught us that mammalian brains all work pretty similarly. A lot of research done on mammalian brains has been done on rats (sorry rats!), and we know from this research that there is a period in the ‘infant’ stage of life where the caregiving that an animal receives has a life-long impact on how prone they are to being anxious. Rats whose mothers were nurturing and caring in their early days (which translates to longer periods in larger mammals who develop more slowly) had the genes for controlling anxiety turned on, whereas those who had ‘low-nurturing’ mothers never had these genes turned on, and suffered from anxiety for the rest of their lives. This is something which seems to be true across the board.

We also know that when an animal becomes excessively stressed, the body’s response becomes destructive, negatively impacting the brain, emotions, the digestive system, the immune system. Excessive stress is simply not good for us.

And, we know that when a puppy cries, their mum always responds. This all makes perfect sense from an evolutionary perspective. Crying young alert predators to the presence of vulnerable, tasty youngsters! Dogs always do a very good job of rearing puppies, so we could do a lot worse than following their example.

So what should we do?

Dogs are social sleepers – they find safety in company, and without it, struggle to get the deep sleep they need. The ideal situation is to have your puppy sleep with a member of the family. Most puppies sleep longer and sounder when they are with you, so you might find the night is not as broken as you’d expect.

If you have a carpeted room and are worried about your puppy sneaking off to the corner for a wee (or worse!) during the night, a simple solution is to block off the parts of your room that you can, and cover the rest with a waterproof bedsheet- these usually have non-slippery cotton on top and a waterproof backing.

If you don’t want your dog in your room forever, as the puppy gets older you can gradually move their bed further and further from yours. Having their bed just outside your door with a dog gate rather than a shut door can be a good interim arrangement.

If they can’t be in the bedroom, camping downstairs with them for the first while can be helpful. You can then work on gradually increasing the time they are left downstairs.

Know when they’re tired

Puppies need a lot of sleep- upwards on 20 hours a day! But dogs are polyphasic sleepers- they sleep in multiple blocks throughout the day and night.

People often worry about their puppies sleeping too much during the day, and wonder how this will affect their sleep at night. But they need so much sleep that this is highly unlikely to be the case. In fact, depriving your puppy of sleep can have the reverse effect! Puppies who are over-tired can become hyperactive and restless and find it difficult to go to sleep at night. So if they’re resting during the day, don’t worry- it might help you get a better night’s sleep.

Here are some signs that your puppy may be tired or over-tired:

• Yawning;
• Eyes closing whilst sitting up;
• Red eyes (I once had a pom-chi in puppy class whose eyes used to actually get puffy when he was tired);
• Hyper-activity;
• Excessive nipping;
• Restlessness or not knowing what to do with themselves;
• Vocalisations (barking, whining)
• Grumpiness (snappiness).

If it’s too early for you to go to bed, if everyone just sits down calmly and leaves the puppy be, they will probably lie down and go to sleep. Offering them a food-based chew can help relax them.

Early starts

Dogs are naturally crepuscular, which means their most active times of the day can be dawn or dusk (many people report their puppies having a mad half hour morning and evening, and this is the reason). Over time, they adjust to our rhythm of life, but this is something they learn over time, not immediately. Be patient if your puppy is rising at 5.30 and ready to face the day!

Letting them out for a wee, and then encouraging them back to bed with a food-based chew can gain you an extra half hour of sleep!

Alternatively, scattering some of their breakfast in the garden can serve the dual purpose of tiring them out in a calm way by engaging their brains as they sniff around for the treats, and filling their tummies! Sniffing also lowers the pulse-rate and as such is a calming activity. You might well find they’re ready for another nap after the exertion. This is also a good exercise to do in the evening before bed.

Getting ready for bed

Keep everything calm and quiet before bedtime so your puppy is getting into the right frame of mind to sleep. Remember that adrenaline can stay in the system for 6 hours, so keeping them calm as much of the time as possible is actually a good idea!
Let them out for a toilet trip before bed.

Don’t withhold water- puppies can become easily dehydrated and need access to water at all times. If you are concerned about toilet training, offering them a wet food can mean that they get most of their required fluids with their meals and are less likely to graze on water throughout the day and night, making it easier to predict when they need to go.
If your puppy is struggling to settle, a calm nose game in the evening can help them get into a calmer frame of mind.

Get the night time routine right, and you can rest assured that you’re increasing your odds of raising a happy, stress-free puppy with a secure attachment, and hopefully getting a better night’s sleep yourself in the process!

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How to prepare for a new puppy!

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So your new arrival is imminent. Exciting times! But before you go and pick up your precious bundle of joy, you need to make sure you are prepared.

Preparing will involve a shopping list, but how much you spend is entirely up to you. Pretty much anything you need to buy for your new puppy falls into camps – basic or high end. And for many of the things you need, basic will do just fine.

Food and water bowls. Go for heavy bowls or stainless steel with non-slip bottoms. Anything lighter or plastic will get chewed or even carried around, so best to avoid those.

A bed. Your puppy is going to want somewhere warm and cosy to curl up, especially given that they will spend up to 18 hours asleep to begin with.Image result for dog in dog bed

Familiar smells. Before you bring puppy home, check with the breeder that they will supply you with something that smells of puppy’s mum. This is really important for those first few days when your puppy is acclimatising to their new family. The familiar smell of their mother will give them comfort and make them feel safe.

ID tag. It is the law that all dogs wear an ID tag on their collar detailing their owner’s surname and contact phone number. Don’t be tempted to put their name on the tag, as this makes them easier to steal.

Microchipping. Microchipping is also well worth the investment. It is a simple procedure whereby your vet will insert a small chip into your dog. The chip will hold all details about your dog including your name, address and telephone number. This means that if your dog were to go missing and was handed in, its chip can be scanned and you are far more likely to be reunited with your pet.

Toys. For puppies, mental stimulation is as important as physical activity (in fact, perhaps more so). While young puppies sleep for most of the day, when they are awake they will want to play – both with you and with toys. There is an endless supply of toys on the market designed with your puppy’s enjoyment and safety in mind. Which leads me onto my next item..

Chew toys. Puppies love to chew. It’s a basic instinct and also very soothing for them when they are teething. What’s more, they will chew pretty much anything, which can prove to be destructive on your furniture, carpets and other belongings. Make sure you have a supply of chewy toys that it is ok for them to gnaw at – you will be glad you did.Image result for dog chewing toy

Grooming. You might want to take your puppy to a trained professional for their first groom. Clipping a wriggling puppy’s claws can be quite daunting, so we would recommend having it done by a groomer until your puppy is used to it. However you might want to equip yourself with a brush and some dog-friendly shampoo for when your puppy comes in mucky from a walk.

A crate. Many dog owners swear by crates and we think they are pretty good too. A crate can be used for transporting and for sleeping. Dogs will gradually associate their crate with being a safe place to snuggle and get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. What’s more, in the early days they can be used to begin the process of toilet-training as dogs prefer not to poo or wee in their own bed.

Puppy food. When you first bring your puppy home, you will want to continue feeding them whatever they have been fed by their breeder. Everything will be new for them, so they will find some familiarity a comfort. After that, it’s up to you to do your research and decide what food is best for your dog. Opinions vary widely over different diets, so it really is your choice, but do make sure you are feeding them good quality food that has clearly labelled contents so you know what they are eating.

Image result for puppy eatingLead and collar. You won’t be taking your puppy out for walks for a few weeks until they have been fully immunised. However, you can get them used to wearing a collar and being on a lead almost as soon as they come home. There are hundreds of collars and leads on the market – the choice is yours – but do bear their comfort and safety in mind when making your choice, not just how stylish it is!

Poo bags. You’d be surprised at how many ‘preparing for a puppy’ checklists forget to add poo bags! These are an essential you are going to need from day one and throughout your dog’s life, so make sure you have a good stock of these. There are many different kinds on the market, but we would recommend going for strong and environmentally friendly bags.

Choosing a vet. While your puppy may not need to visit the vet until they are ready for their first immunisations, you will still want to choose a vet before you bring your puppy home. Ask friends and neighbours for recommendations and perhaps even visit a couple before making your final choice.

Pet insurance. Once you have chosen your vet, you can ask them for their advice on pet insurance. They will almost certainly have an insurer they recommend, but they should also offer you advice on shopping around and the kind of insurance you should be looking for.

So, it looks like you’re all set to bring your fur baby home!

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How to choose a puppy or kitten

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Choosing to own a puppy or cat has to begin with making sure that everyone who lives in your house is on board. If one of you is not keen, the chances are that it is not going to be a happy experience, so it might be wise to shelve the idea for now.

It is also important in the case of buying a puppy, that at least one of you is around for some of the time on weekdays. Dogs are pack animals and will become anxious and unhappy if left on their own for long periods of time on a regular basis.

So assuming you have a full house of thumbs ups, it might be worth doing a bit of research into costs before you make a final decision. These costs can include:

  • Initial purchase price which can vary between breeds and pedigrees
  • Vaccinations – cats and dogs need to be vaccinated before they can go outside to avoid catching nasty diseases
  • Spaying and neutering should you decide to take this route
  • Ongoing costs of food, flea treatment and worming
  • Insurance – an absolute must to avoid expensive vet bills should your pet have an accident or develop a long term illness.

Once you have done your research and you are still keen to take the plunge, the following pointers should be taken into account. Some of these are more applicable to dogs than cats, but either way you want to make sure you are buying from a reputable breeder rather than a ‘breeding farm’.

Pointer 1 – Make sure you are confident that the person selling puppies or kittens is a responsible breeder. Ask questions such as ‘Can I meet the mother and father’, ‘Has the puppy been fully socialised?’ Ask to see photos so you can see the surroundings that they have been born into. Of course visiting is imperative and will give you a much better feel for the breeder as well.

Pointer 2 – If a puppy or kitten is being sold as a pedigree, ask to see the paper work of the parents first.

Pointer 3 – Don’t buy from a pet shop. While smaller animals might be well-cared for, larger animals may have come from trade farms and may have health and behavioural issues as a result. What’s more, you don’t want to be supporting this kind of cruel practice.

Pointer 4 – When you go to choose a puppy, be careful that your heart does not rule your head. Choose neither the timid runt of the litter, nor the gung-ho over-confident puppy. Both are likely to have behavioural issues and while these can be overcome an experienced trainer, it’s better to opt for the well-rounded middle pup if you have the choice.

Pointer 5 – Experts advise against buying two puppies at the same time, even if they are from the same litter. However cats will thrive with company, especially if you are out at work all day.

Pointer 6 – Make sure you research different breeds before making a choice. Both cats and dogs have very different temperaments and needs depending on their breed. This is more noticeable with dogs, some of whom need a lot more space and exercise than other and there are certainly differences in ease of training too.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Of course read around, but don’t become overwhelmed. Yes, it’s an important decision and yes there are certain rules you really must follow, but common sense and some research around should see you making the right choice for you.

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Bringing home Ivy

Picking up Ivy - with mum and breeder.jpgDylan and Ivy, with breeder Louise and Ivy’s mummy.

The day has arrived! Dylan and I are the chosen ones. At 11am one Saturday morning the two of us head off to pick up our new bundle of joy. We are beyond excited and more than a little nervous. Will she like us? Will she cry? How’s her mum going to feel? Will she pee in the car? When will she first eat? You get the picture!

I should point out at this stage that none of us have ever owned a dog. Yes, we had done a lot of research and reading around. Yes, we have lots of friends who have dogs. And yes, we feel well and truly prepared. But as anyone who has ever brought home an 8 week old puppy will know – we did not know what was about to hit us!

We turned up at the farm and were met by the lovely breeder Louise. We stayed for coffee while she gave us some tips, the best one being “Don’t overthink it!“. A bit late for that, but as I was about to learn, there really is no point in overthinking because you just don’t know what you’re going to get. Yes, certain breeds have particular traits, but every puppy is different and every puppy develops at a different rate. Fooling yourself into thinking that you can be totally in control is simply not worth it.

Once we had everything we needed, including some food Ivy was used to eating, we got in the car and drove off. It’s hard to describe the feeling. I think ‘vulnerable’ probably does the job. We suddenly felt so protective of this little bundle of fluff who was not only being separated from her mum, but also her three siblings. And she was now 100% dependent on us. Gulp!

When we got her home, we put her into the garden and she did her first wee! That’s potty training nailed then… NOT!!

She had a lot of visitors on the first day. On the one hand I was a little nervous it might be too much for her, but on the other, the most prominent advice for those first few days and weeks was making sure she was well socialised. Well, we definitely ticked that box.

And so, the sun set on our first day with Ivy and our first night loomed.

I had set up her crate in the sitting room for the first night and put a pen around it so she could go in and out to pee and poo, but not roam. My plan was to ‘sleep’ on the sofa to keep her company (I shall just wait for the laughter to die down before I proceed). I turned out the light and the crying commenced. Poor little Ivy was not happy. To be fair, she settled after about 20 minutes, but every time she needed to go to the toilet, it began again.

Suffice to say, not a lot of sleep was had and by 6 in the morning I was sitting in the garden with a cup of tea wrapped in a blanket while she pottered around. I sat there thinking that there’s something very special about being up and outside so early in the morning while everyone else is asleep. Not so special that I wouldn’t have rather been tucked up in bed catching up on some sleep, but watching Ivy diddle around our garden did make me truly happy.

And so the first 24 hours had passed. Ivy seemed happy and our confidence was already growing. This was going to be a breeze!

Breaking down barriers

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Everyone we know is getting a dog. E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E! I love it – I get the cuddles and licks and the adoring looks and tail wagging and dog walking… all without the responsibility. AND I don’t have to pick up their poo! Win-win!

“It’s fine picking up their poo”, says my friend Ems. “It’s like changing your own baby’s nappy.. it doesn’t bother you.”  Yeah, right!

I love animals. I’m constantly reposting videos of a cute row of ducklings following mother duck, the cat who’s adopted a mouse, the handsome dude who has rescued a baby deer (I am just looking at the baby deer, honest!). My husband has got used to me asking: “Can I have a baby elephant for Christmas?” or “I want an aardvark for my birthday!”. He knows it’s tongue in cheek, but plays along and responds with a very firm “NO!”.

But, this summer we were sat on the beach when a couple walked past with a gorgeous little puppy. As I melted into the sand, I turned to my husband and said “Can we get a puppy?”, fully expecting the usual resounding “No.”  But instead he said, “Sure. Why not?” Me: “What, really?” Him: “Yes, really!”

Squeeeeaaaal! We’re getting a puppy!