We bought food bowls, borrowed a crate and dusted off baby gates. But soon after we adopted our 13-week-old puppy, we discovered the house really wasn't ready.
Clove, a Labrador retriever mix, chewed wires we thought were hidden and investigated stairs we thought she'd ignore. She rummaged through deep plastic bins holding smelly shin guards and plucked snow-soaked mittens from our warm radiators. Within a week of her arrival, we had to block off power strips, reorganize our mudroom, devise a new plan for drying winter gear and gate the staircase.
"It's a lot like having an infant in the household," said Pamela Barlow, animal behavior counselor at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' adoption center in New York City.
Barlow says puppies need constant supervision and a safe environment to explore. She cautions against confining them so much that they don't get outside experiences. It is hard to go back and socialize puppies if owners miss the window of opportunity to do so.
Puppies are drawn to things they can chew on and are stimulated by things that move, said Dr. Carlo Siracusa, director of the Penn Vet Behavior Service at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Many times we think that we should protect our home from a new puppy," Siracusa said, because the puppy could potentially cause damage. But more important is the opposite: making sure that puppies are safe in their new home.
Most essential is to create a safe haven -- a place where the puppy can rest and sleep when there is too much excitement or stimulation, such as when kids have friends visiting, Siracusa says.
For the Sullivan family of South Orange, N.J., a crate has proved to be more useful for keeping their puppy, Angus, safe than his exercise pen has. Angus, a Bichon Frise-poodle mix now 5 months old, learned how to get out of the pen the first day, said Elie Sullivan. She keeps the door of his crate, located in her sons' room, open.
"He'll go in there and have a nap," she said as Angus, as soft as a skein of cashmere, cuddled in her lap.
Sullivan blocked stairs, moved low baskets into closets and bought tall hampers to prevent Angus from raiding the laundry.
"I like my house," she said. "I didn't want it torn up."
She also ensured that her house plants are safe for dogs.
Alexis Shield was prepared with puppy gear and house-training research before bringing home Teddy, an Australian Labradoodle, when he was 9 weeks old. Thanks to her planning and consistency with Teddy, she has been amazed at how fast he learned.
What she didn't expect, says Shield, who lives in a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., was how hard it would be to prepare her three young sons and supervise them with the puppy.
She has Teddy's crate in the kitchen, a safe place for him amid the household hubbub. Initially, Shield would occasionally put Teddy in the crate when she needed to do something and couldn't watch him; now a bit older, he's just in the crate when she leaves the house and at night, when he sleeps.
Puppy-behavior experts recommend these steps to protect your puppy at home:
-- Gate off rooms where you don't want your puppy to roam. For instance, one of Barlow's clients is an artist with a studio in her house. The artist gated off the studio so the puppy couldn't run around the easels, paint and chemicals.
-- Let puppies earn their freedom. Give them one space or room at a time. That way, owners can actively supervise them and limit any bad behavior.
-- Create a safe confinement area -- a crate or exercise pen, for instance -- where the puppy can stay when you are not home. There should be enough space for a sleeping area and a potty area when puppies are very young. Also essential are a non-spill water bowl and safe, enriching toys. Toys that are not safe for this area when you are gone include tennis balls, rope toys, toys that are shorter than about double the length of the puppy's snout, and stuffed toys that have glass or plastic eyes and noses, Barlow said.
-- Tape loose electrical cords. Use outlet covers.
-- Store cleaning chemicals out of reach. Use baby latches on cabinet doors if needed.
-- Move breakables and valuables out of the puppy's reach. Roll up new or valuable rugs until the puppy is house-trained.
In your yard:
-- Do not leave a puppy unsupervised, and be sure to fence in your yard before letting the puppy off leash.
-- Fence off the garden.
-- Use pet-safe gardening products, and be sure any lawn service you use does the same.
-- Store grill utensils out of the puppy's reach.
-- Make sure a swimming pool is fenced.
-- Check the ASPCA's list of poisonous plants.
-- As soon as puppies are old enough, start training them, especially the "drop it" and "leave it" commands.