Finally! Your new friend is coming home! Let's see what we can do to get him settled quickly and smoothly.
The Forty-Ninth-Day Myth
Some people believe that a puppy must come home at exactly seven weeks of age or he will never bond to his new family. Not true. That idea is based on research that showed that puppies need to have contact with people beginning no later than the seventh week or they will never be able to bond well with human beings. As long as the pup is handled and played with and socialized by his breeder and her family and friends, it doesn't matter if he is older than seven weeks when he comes home to his new family. He will have no problem bonding to you when he's a bit older.
Puppies go through several fear imprint periods, usually at about 8 weeks, 5 to 6 months, and 18 months. It's important to keep their experiences positive during those periods.
Seven weeks is definitely the youngest a puppy should leave its littermates and mama. It's not necessarily the best time. From 8 to 10 weeks of age, puppies go through their first fear imprint period.
It's important to avoid exposing puppies to potentially frightening or painful experiences during this period, because the effects can be long-lasting. It's usually best not to move a puppy to a new home during this time, and some breeders keep their pups until they're at least 12 weeks old.
Ask the breeder how she handles the pups during the critical 7- to 12-week period. Ideally, she will spend time with each puppy every day, and each puppy will spend time away from his littermates. Potty training should begin during this time, if not sooner. Seven-week-old puppies can learn simple commands, such as Sit, Down, Stand, and Come, and they can begin to learn to walk politely on a leash. Socialization during this time is critical to your dog's social and emotional development. If you want a well-adjusted pup, do not get one that hasn't been handled during the seventh and eighth weeks, and don't take one home at this age if you can't spend lots of time with him.
Your puppy is likely to cry during the first few nights in his new home. Remember, dogs are social animals. When they live in packs, they sleep close to one another. Your new baby probably slept with his siblings. Then suddenly here he is, alone in a strange place and a strange pack. He cries for attention and reassurance. If possible, make it a little easier on your puppy and your family by setting your puppy's crate up in your bedroom at night. Your puppy will be much more secure knowing you're close by. You'll be able to take him outside to potty when you hear him stirring in the middle of the night, and that will speed up the housebreaking process.
To get your puppy ready for bed, give him a good playtime and then a potty trip shortly before putting him to bed. If you let him sleep for three hours before bedtime, he'll be all rested and ready to play when you're ready to sleep. If your puppy whines or barks in his crate, and you're sure he doesn't need to potty (remember—puppies have small bladders and need to go often), try ignoring him. If he gets no response, he'll learn that noisy behavior gets him nowhere, and he'll quiet down. You want your pup to know he's safe and you're close by, but now it's time to sleep. If he wakes up in a few hours and cries, he probably needs to go. Carry him from his crate to his potty area—don't expect him to hold it and walk. Then put him back to bed. If he cries, ignore him again. Remember, he's a baby. Have you ever heard of a baby that didn't keep his parents up for a few nights?
How long can your puppy wait between potty breaks? A formula that works fairly well is to add one to your puppy's age in months. If he's three months old, he can probably wait four hours. But eight hours is about the limit. (Can you go all day without a potty break?)
If for some reason your puppy can't sleep in your bedroom, put an old sweatshirt that you haven't laundered since you last wore it in his crate. Your scent on the shirt will reassure him that you're nearby. A ticking clock near the crate or a radio on low may help soothe him as well. Expect some crying the first few nights, and if you aren't able to hear him when he wakes up, expect a few accidents in the crate as well.
A dominance hierarchy is a social system in which an alpha is socially dominant, and each animal in the group occupies a specific rank. Among dogs, dominance, not age, sex, or even size, determines who is alpha. A territorial animal marks a certain area as his own. Among dogs, a pack will mark its territory by urinating around the perimeter, and members of the pack will defend their territory from intruders. When your dog barks at the mail carrier, he's protecting the territory you and he own.
When dogs live in groups, they organize themselves into a dominance hierarchy in which an alpha dog or bitch is in charge, and every other dog in the group occupies a specific rank. This hierarchy helps reduce conflict within the pack. Dogs are also territorial. If you already have a dog, your home is his territory, and he may want to defend it against an intruder—your new puppy or dog. You can do several things, though, to reduce friction.
Find a neutral location away from your house and yard for the first encounter so that territory won't be an issue. If you have more than one dog, introduce them to the new dog one at a time so the newcomer won't be intimidated. Don't choose a place that you often take your dog—he may view that as his territory, too. Both dogs should be on a leash. Have one person handle your resident dog and another handle the newcomer. Let the dogs sniff each other a bit, and talk to them quietly. Take the dogs for a walk and let them sniff and investigate each other at intervals. Continue with the “happy talk.”