IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'Pawternity' leave: How to make the most of the first week with your new puppy

New puppy parent? Here's how to set the groundwork for a relationship that will make you both happy for years to come.
Image: Woman with puppy
If you've brought home a young dog, now is your chance to get them used to all the types of people, sights, sounds and smells they may encounter in their lives.Georgijevic / Getty Images

So you're bringing home a bundle of joy — a four legged, barking, furry bundle that is — and your employer offers the fabulous perk of “pawternity leave” — wait, what? Yes, a few pet-friendly companies looking to take it to the next level are going beyond “bring your dog to work day.”

On a mission to to stand out in a competitive marketplace as they recruit top employees, companies like New York City-based mParticle are offering paid leave for employees bringing home a new pet. Yes, there's still an awful lot of room for improvement in paid parental leave for actual children in this country — but before you discount this notion, consider that the most common reason people relinquish their dogs to shelters is for “pet problems,” including problematic behaviors. How many of these could stay with their new families if they got off on the right foot, err, paw?

That first week with a new dog is so important, in fact, that Louisville, Kentucky, based dog trainer Tyler Ohlmann of Rosie Dane Dog Training recommends that his clients take the week off to focus on training it. Ohlmann has trained some 2,000 dogs, including my own Cassius Thunderpaws — and we started the day after Cash came home.

While the first week at home is a great time to bond with your pet, there's no more more critical time to set the groundwork for a companionship that will make you both happy for years to come. And that starts with helping the new pup learn good behavior. We had the good fortune to use his advice when Cash was just eight weeks old and nine pounds … and you can believe we appreciate his wisdom now that Cash is 90 pounds.

Whether you're the lucky dog who gets pawternity leave, are working from home or taking a vacation, Ohlmann has tips for how to spend that first week at home with your new pup. And there's a tie for the top two; the most important thing in those first couple weeks is house training and crate training and “neither go easily if you just throw the dog in the crate and leave for work for eight hours,” he said.

Start with house training

When dogs have housetraining issues, most likely “that's the situation they found themselves in,” he said. The owner brings home this dog, then they “close the door and 'bye!' and they come home and there are accidents and it spirals out of control quickly.”

“A puppy can only hold their bladder for their age in months plus one in hours,” he explained. So for an eight week old puppy, “they're going to have to go to bathroom every three hours and that doesn't include after they eat, drink, play and wake up,” he said. “If you're gone to work you're missing all these opportunities to show them where to go to bathroom. … [but] if you do it right you can have the dog house trained in a week.”

How's that? Take the dog out on a leash using the same door each time to the designated spot; don't let them frolic or play; use your word, like 'hurry up,' or 'do your business' while they're going; and tell them how great they are, he explained. If they don't go within a couple minutes, bring them back in, put them in the crate where they won't want to soil, and try again in 15 minutes.

Get a crate (even if you don't want to)

Not everybody wants to use a crate, Ohlmann said. “People often to their detriment take the approach they want the dog to live a life of a freedom and that is a terrible idea, just as terrible as letting your baby crawl around the back yard.”

Here's the thing. “The crate is their room. It serves as a babysitter,” he said. “You let a puppy run around willy-nilly and bad behaviors become bad habits,” he said.

We've all seen the social media posts of friends with new puppies (or grown dogs, for that matter) that eat slippers (or furniture!), turn mail into confetti and generally wreak havoc. “The puppy is destined to go chew on something,” Ohlmann said. If they're in their crate (with an approved toy) that something won't be your shoe.

Pawternity leave comes in handy here because introducing them to a crate is “always better as a gradual process,” he said. His recommendation? Start with 30 seconds in the crate, going back a little later for five minutes, then 15 and 30 “so it's not baptism by fire.”

As we know from all those pictures of shoes-turned-chew-toys, an unsupervised dog is going to practice bad habits, Ohlmann said. Unfortunately it's not always just funny Facebook photos. Nine times out of 10, he said, those bad behaviors are “why a dog ends up at a shelter.”

Let sleeping dogs lie? Nope.

That first week is prime time to help the dog learn what works to get your attention. Is it going to be barking and acting out, or is it going to be calm, chill behavior? Every time our big boy sits or lies down — as opposed to jumping and barking — when he wants something I mentally thank his trainer for teaching us this concept.

What we need to understand about animal behavior, Ohlmann said, is “dogs do what works. They only do something if it gets them what they want. Action leads to memory leads to the desire to either repeat the original action or refrain from it. That model plays out with puppies every waking moment. They look at something and think, 'what happens if I bark, what happens if I paw, what happens if I jump, what happens if I wag, what happens if I stare at this thing?'”

If they get what they want, he said, “they're going to repeat that in the future. Most bossy behavior is learned when puppies bark and people turn to say 'what do you want?' The puppy learns 'if I want attention I bark,' and you end up with annoying, obnoxious dogs.”

What's more, when a dog is being quiet — and good — his people often tiptoe around so as to not disturb him, Ohlmann said. “What happens is you're encouraging bad behavior and discouraging good because the dog wakes up and says, 'that didn't get me jack,' so it starts barking and running around and getting underfoot.”

It boils down to this, he said. “You simply wait till the dog is displaying behavior you want then you give them what they want.” Lying down quietly? Pet and praise them. Barking annoyingly? (Unless it's to go outside to do their business), ignore them, he said. “Wait them out. All dogs change strategies when the first one's not working for them.” And remember. “Our attention is the number one resource for dogs. Most of us give it up way too freely.”

Bring on the puppy party

If you've brought home a young dog, now is your chance to get them used to all the types of people, sights, sounds, and smells they may encounter in their lives. “The real puppy imprinting takes place before 14 to 16 weeks, with females maturing faster than males,” Ohlmann said. “If they haven't seen it or experienced it by then it is like an alien to them.”

So pups need lots of socialization at this age. “They should meet 100 different people in their first month,” Ohlmann said. “More often than not if a puppy is afraid of people it's men, and many dogs who end up kid averse never saw kids,” so half those people should be men and 25 should be children. “Throw puppy parties,” during pawternity leave, he said. “Invite friends over to meet the new puppy.” (I would add now is a good time to train your friends to not reward your dog for bad behavior). Turn up the sound now too, Ohlmann said. He uses a desensitizing soundtrack with his boarding and training clients to expose them to fireworks, slamming doors, kids laughing, sirens and all the sounds that can cause issues for dogs not exposed to them early.

Get them used to the vaccuum cleaner (or Roomba!) now, and the Dremel for nail trims, he went on. And take them out in public to dog-friendly places like hardware stores. Do avoid dog parks and other places where a young dog awaiting vaccinations could be exposed to harmful viruses and bacteria, though, Ohlmann cautioned. And let them play in a kiddie pool full of water so you don't end up with a dog that's a scaredy-cat when it comes to water.

Dial back the cuddle time

Ohlmann had one last tip that may not be popular. “You've got this time, don't waste it cuddling,” he said. “You will be cuddling the rest of their life. You'll have every evening going forward to snuggle on the couch. For now treat it as a project and investment. It's going to pay off a lot more than having a snuggle buddy when you can have a dog that's reliable and responsible and even tempered.”

Ok, I still cuddled plenty with Cash that first week so I don't have room to talk. But dedicating time when he was so young to house and crate training, socialization, and teaching him how to get what he wants nicely has made life happier and easier for all of us.


Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.