Just as humans do, animals bond with and have an affinity towards their family. They prefer the safety and comfort of their family’s company and dislike separation from them. When we bring a puppy into our home, it is important to keep in mind that this baby animal has spent all of her life surrounded by the warm bodies of her mother and siblings. When we move this puppy into our home, we are actually separating her from her family, so it should be no surprise that there will be some initial anxiety and grief on the puppy’s part. Separation anxiety is a normal part of acclimating to a new home and family, and gentle patience is called for.
Think of it this way: From an evolutionary point of view -- that is, all of the traits that began when dogs were still wild and continue because they have helped to keep the dog species alive -- a vulnerable puppy that is separated from his family is at risk of being attacked and killed by predators. In order to discourage his mother from leaving him for long periods, he cries and carries on, resulting in her staying close in order to keep him quiet and therefore ensuring his survival.
It is this natural instinct that still prompts puppies to whine, howl, squeal and demonstrate restlessness when they are separated from their families. For the first few days, or weeks, it is natural for a puppy to have trouble falling asleep in her new environment, because it is natural for the puppy to feel vulnerable and afraid as she adjusts to the absence of her canine brood. Day one in the new home will be the most frightful for the puppy, and the most challenging for you to lay the groundwork for your relationship with your puppy.
On this first night, the puppy is going to feel his new aloneness most keenly. A lot of people will respond to the whines and squeals of a puppy by placing them far from earshot, such as in a basement or garage. Or, the puppy may be placed in a cage to keep him from escaping and scratching at doors. In such a situation his sense of insecurity increases and he will whine and squeal as loudly as he can, perhaps until dawn.
Of course, by putting him in the basement we have temporarily avoided the disturbance caused by the puppy so that we can get some sleep, but most veterinarians advise against this practice, saying that the intense anxiety caused by this practice could result in behavioral problems for the dog as he grows.
Security, Not Coddling
So the question is where to make a spot for your puppy to sleep during her first days in your home. The first thing to consider is making a place where the puppy will not feel isolated. This can be a challenge, of course. Some people feel comfortable keeping their dogs in the bedroom on a dog bed or designated blanket on the floor. This can be good for giving the puppy a much needed sense of security. However, it’s probably best if you do not take the puppy into bed with you.
Despite this, there are those who feel very comfortable with taking their pets into their beds and allowing them to sleep there every night. In fact, this practice has its own practical applications: dogs are a wonderful source of warmth on frigid winter nights. (Haven’t you ever wondered where the old idiom “three dog night” came from?) They have already made up their minds about where their dog will sleep and are not the ones we are speaking to here.
Not everyone wants a dog in their bed all the time, and if you are not sure whether you will or not, it is best not to. If you do take the puppy into your bed just to comfort him, it can lead to some behavioral problems later if you should decide that you do not want the dog in your bed every night after all.
Using a Crate
The best compromise can be setting a crate up in the bedroom or just outside of the open bedroom door. This way, the puppy can hear your sleeping sounds and you can verbally comfort her from close by. One other thing to consider about crating the puppy in those early nights is that puppies are unlikely to urinate where they sleep, so you can be sure that the puppy will not get up in the night and urinate on the floors.
And speaking of “going,” before going to bed, take the puppy outside so that she can relieve herself. Getting into the habit of walking before bed has another advantage besides keeping the puppy from needing to urinate during the night: she will also get tired out and will be more likely to sleep soundly and less likely to disturb you as you sleep.
Again, remember that the puppy is not used to being alone in a crate. He will feel anxious and uncomfortable and is likely to make a lot of noise. It is best to ignore the puppy’s whines as much as possible. If you pay too much attention he will learn that this is a good method for getting you to come to pet him.
When Nature Calls
If the puppy does whine excessively, it is reasonable to take the puppy gently by the scruff (back) of the neck , and without getting agitated, tell him in a low voice, “No, go to sleep.” Repeat this several times and as the days pass into weeks he will learn to obey you. In the morning, take him outside to relieve himself.
Along with going out before bed, going out first thing in the morning should also become a habitual morning ritual. Puppies will typically relieve themselves in small amounts several times before they have finished an outing. Once he is finished, praise him with a pat and perhaps a small training treat and say a few praising words to let him know he has done the right thing.
One of the most important messages you can send to your puppy in those first days is that she is cared for and wanted, just as you would show those feelings toward a human child. This increases the chances that your puppy will attach to you in a healthy and confident way, without anxiety, and will grow to be a friendly, affectionate, loyal and obedient dog.
Image: Aidras [is playing catch-ip!] / via Flickr