“I’m ready to adopt and I want a clean slate!”

Oh-oh. You know what that means, don’t you? I want a puppy. Because as we all know, puppies are a clean slate, nothing horrible and difficult to fix has been written on there yet.

Well, a little bit of rain on that parade – there is going to be a little bit written on the slate already. Genes write on your slate – I know, but there it is. Not everything written on the ol’ slate is necessarily a problem of course, but don’t be in denial here – there are breed quirks, Mum and Dad quirks and things that might have happened growing up with Mum and the fam. But yes, your average 10-week-old pup hasn’t been around long enough to be traumatised by being chained up, being left to run around the neighbourhood, being beaten or abandoned or wrecked by someone (generally speaking).

So here’s the thing – you see the puppy with its litter mates and it has recently been fed and it’s a sunny day and it’s all soft and sleepy and quiet and snuggly. And so you don’t read a puppy manual (or even a warning blog) but you get that puppy and you take it home and … Armageddon!!! And then, looking a little worse for wear, sleepless, bitten and traumatised yourself, you take the puppy back to the shelter and say “Sorry, it just didn’t work out” and ta dah! A puppy with bad stuff written on the slate. In the twinkling of an eye.

Am I warning you off from getting a semi-clean slate of awesomeness for your family? Do I just want to keep all the puppies for myself and give them away when they’re adult dogs? No and no (well, a little bit yes for the second one, because they are really cute). Getting a puppy is a great thing – for you and for them, but you need to know what you’re in for so you’re ready, braced and tooled up for puppy-loving success and ultimately, a dog you would never part with for any money at the end of it all. You only want good stuff on the slate – not to hand that “clean” slate back to someone else so they have to rub the permanent marker stuff off it again.

So the things to think about are these (loving, caring and adoring are being taken for granted):

  • Puppies were part of a litter of puppies before you took one of them home:
  • Puppies are not toilet-trained:
  • Puppies chew a lot:
  • Puppies are not respectful of other pets, children, furniture or your limbs:
  • Puppies are full of seemingly tireless energy (though actually they explode about and then crash into deep sleep, like toddlers):
  • Puppies don’t know anything:
  • Puppies are small and vulnerable – never hit a puppy, never rub their noses in poo, no abuse.

That’s enough to be going on with. This blog cannot be a book on puppy training. You will need to get some of those and do some googling and talking to HUHA shift leaders and the like BEFORE you take the puppy home if you want to make this work, but here are a couple of tips nevertheless.

Puppies (the “clean” slate sort you’re after) were part of a group – they ran about and played with others and slept in a big puppy huddle. Then you took one of them home. Your puppy now has no littermates to play with and no warm, squishy puppy mountain to sleep on. They’ll still play all the time but now you and the furniture and your children and other pets will take the brunt. You have to think about this – they’ll need toys, they’ll need your attention and involvement, they’ll need mental stimulation. Other family members and pets will need protecting from their prolonged and sometimes manic interest; your children will need to know how to be respectful and kind towards a puppy. Playing is entertainment and a chance for puppies to learn boundaries – you can stimulate their little minds, become the centre of their world and provide guidance while they play. But two don’ts – don’t play tug toy games (they learn to play and communicate with their mouths and when they’re doing that as an adult dog, it is very hard to retrain them and keep them from euthanasia) and don’t hit them (never).

In the early stages, they may wake in the night – this could be because they’re cold and not used to sleeping without their warm, cuddly mates. Make sure they have a soft bed with lots of blankets and maybe a hot water bottle (if they’re not likely to chew it). Make sure that they have been to the toilet before going to bed and that you have had a little play with them in the evening (to tire them a bit).

With toilet training there are two times they generally always need to go:

— when they’ve just woken up;

— when they’ve just eaten.

This is useful because it’s at these times that you can get to them before they’ve pee-ed or poo-ed and take them out and train them. So you should use a word (I use “quickly”) and that is the word you use when you want them to go to the toilet. As they mindlessly pee outside because that’s where you’ve taken them, use your word and praise them a lot (maybe treats). If they poo or pee inside, just clean it up (and that’s all, no further comment is necessary or constructive). If you’re using a crate, put newspaper by the door and they’ll generally pee on that. Gradually move the newspaper towards the outside door and then, outside. Make that connection.

Crates, baby gates and play-pens – these are great tools for those times when you need to keep temporary control over the situation and to keep your puppy safe and feeling safe. A crate is probably the most expensive piece of equipment you’ll buy for your dog but it is so worth it (and they can be resold). This can be your puppy’s safe place – where it can sleep and get away from the kids; this keeps them in a safe zone so you can put the dinner on knowing your puppy is sleeping and safe while you’re busy. You can put the crate in a the general living area so your puppy can see everyone and is still part of the family but isn’t getting under everyone’s feet and driving everyone crazy. You can take the puppy to friends’ houses when you have a crate and keep them safe in there while visiting (so they don’t get left at home all the time). Baby gates confine puppies to certain rooms and play pens are good for filling with toys and giving legs, arms and furniture a break (but the puppy still gets some fun time). It’s not expected that your puppy gets crated, gated or penned 24/7. These are just tools for you to use at the appropriate times of the day.

The only other thing to mention is the huge benefit of puppy socialisation and your basic obedience classes. Don’t get a puppy if you or someone invested can’t be there most of the time. They need attention, training, feeding and happiness or they are going to go wrong. Do your homework – there is plenty of advice out there.

Puppies are great, they’re for heroes, they’re for life but they’re not for everyone. Make sure you will be a great author and write a fabulous happy-ending story on that puppy’s little slate. You will be rewarded a thousand times.