It is amazing to me how similar a new puppy is to a new baby. You don't realize how much they've grown until you look back at pictures. You feel miserable with the sleepless nights until suddenly you realize you're getting more sleep again and you're not quite sure when that happened. You think you're totally screwing everything up but it all works out ok after all.
We're finally coming out of that new puppy blurry haze and I want to share the early mistakes we made so that maybe I can help someone else introducing their new puppy to the family have a smoother transition. (Didn't know we have a new puppy? You can meet Daisy here.)
Our girls never knew a day without Gino in their lives. He was already 5 years old by the time the Peanut came along so the most vivid memories they have of him are from his senior years. Saying goodbye to him was the hardest thing ever.
Newsflash Dahle Family: A senior dog and a puppy are two very different things!
I knew this. Tim knew this. I think our kids knew it on some level, but when everyone's favorite moments were quiet snuggly cuddles with a senior dog, it can be a rude awakening to have a live ankle biting whipper snapper arrive on the scene.
We did our best to prepare the kids before we brought Daisy home. We talked about being gentle with her, not startling her, and being patient with potty training. In all that prep, we were worried about the kids hurting the puppy. Not the other way around.
5 ways to prepare young kids for a new puppy:
Practice gentle pats:
We had some things right. It is good to start with reminding kids how to properly pet a puppy when they are in the "getting to know you" phase of things. No sudden movements, offer up the back of your hand for sniffing before going in for the pet. Use slow and gentle strokes on the back of the head or back. No tugging on ears, poking eyes, grabbing fur, etc. Even older kids could use these helpful reminders.
Warn them about how a puppy "plays":
This is the part our kids were most unprepared for. Just like a human baby, puppies learn about the world with their mouth. Unfortunately for our skin, their mouths come stocked with razor sharp puppy teeth. Daisy naturally wanted to play with our girls but that almost always looked like her chasing them down to nip at their ankles, pounce on their hands and arms, and dive at their chest or face. No surface was safe if they were within her reach.
Our girls would enter the kitchen (where we've restricted the puppy's access to our home) eager to pet her or play with her only to then feel like they were being immediately "attacked" by the little creature they wanted to love so much. This caused much fear in Little Pea (age 5) who refused to come in the kitchen after a few days and many tears from the Peanut (age 8) who was just hoping for a little snuggle time.
I really regret not preparing them for this initial stage better. They were both so excited about our new puppy and there was a significant amount of disillusion in that first week. BUT, we explained how this phase is temporary. Puppies do eventually calm down and learn to play more gently with their people. It's already improved after just one week as we taught her appropriate use of her mouth.
Mom Tip: Makes sure your kids have something to give the puppy to chew on instead of their hands when they try to play together. We've had great luck with these puppy-friendly nylabones.
Practice saying a firm and confident "No!" without yelling or giggling:
This is actually a great life lesson for my girls: How to say "No!" firmly and mean it. Tim and I try to intercede when the puppy gets too rough, but the girls need to learn to stand up for themselves and put the puppy in her place. I wish we would have started practicing this before the puppy was here to avoid confusion with their half-hearted, high pitched squeal "no".
When the puppy gets too nippy, the girls are learning to say NO and put her back in her crate for a quiet calming down period. We don't hit or punish the puppy in any way but we also don't tolerate her biting the kids or their clothing.
Prepare their bedrooms for sound proofing:
Puppies, much like babies, do not sleep through the night and tend to make a lot of noise in the transition period in their new homes. Both of our girls prefer to sleep with their doors open and were fearful of closing them to prevent the puppy's cries from waking them up.
Our solution? We run a fan for white noise in each girl's room and then shut their doors after they have fallen asleep before we go to bed. Had I thought of this hurdle, we would have practiced sleeping with shut doors weeks ago.
Talk about the impact on your family's routines and schedule:
House training is a LOT of work. It requires an insane amount of attention and consistency. New puppies also require a significant amount of attention to get their energy out, give them the affection they need, and have them happily adjust to their new home.
This might mean your child will have to wait while you feed or clean up after the puppy. It might mean that they will be expected to spend time playing with the puppy instead of playing basketball in the driveway. It might mean your older child will have to learn to wipe up pee from the kitchen floor. All things that have happened in the last week in our home and things I wish we would have chatted with the girls about beforehand.
Chat with your kids about your expectations for their role and responsibilities for your puppy's care taking. Talk about how your own responsibilities for the puppy might affect your children's schedules. A great book to read with your child or to give them as preparation before puppy arrives is Puppy Training for Kids: Teaching Children the Responsibilities and Joys of Puppy Care, Training, and Companionship. It outlines everything the puppy needs to be healthy and happy and gives great age-appropriate tips for children to be involved in that care.
Having everyone on the same page before the new puppy arrives is definitely a less stressful way to handle things and will ensure a smoother transition with your newest family member!