One of the benefits of adopting a young puppy is that they are incredibly quick to bond. Most reputable breeders send their pups home at around 8-10 weeks. This is a critical age in a puppy’s development (for more details, see our blog post on the behavioral stages of a dog) and happens to be the very best time for the pup to receive his new family!
It is part of the overall socialization period that most dog experts identify as weeks 4-12 in a puppies’ life. What and how your pup is exposed to at this age may make all the difference in his level of emotional stability and comfort with new experiences later in life.
In particular, the 8-10 week period is the first “fear period” that your pup goes through. This is simply a phase where your pup is more sensitive to new experiences and may react to the world with more fear and cautiousness than he was previously. This short-lived increase in fear in domesticated dogs lines up with the time that most wolf pups and other wild canines are breaking out of their dens and really exploring the world for the first time.
While it may seem counterintuitive to disrupt your pup’s perfect little home (in his whelping box surrounded by his littermates) right at the start of a developmental leap associated with fear and anxiety, there is actually no better timing when it comes to bonding and setting the basis for future training.
It is at this age we notice that our pups are both tentative and fearful, but also have an increased drive for exploration and are willing to venture further away from the “nest.”
Puppies Bond Quickly With Humans
Dogs are incredibly social, relational animals with a strong pack mentality. They are strongly bonded to their littermates but are predisposed to bond quickly to any human or dog that they see as a stable pack leader or playmate.
We often have owners that feel sad about their new pup’s predicament or ask us “Don’t you feel so bad separating the from their siblings/mom?” When looking at the bigger picture, the answer is no! Sure, in the short run, your pup will feel a bit of discomfort not sleeping in a big pile of fluff next to his siblings like he has grown accustomed, too, but this separation is necessary to achieve his true purpose in life: being your ultimate companion.
Your pup has bonded with his current family of littermates, but he is now ready to bond to his true family. Your little dood is coming to your home with its completely new and foreign sights and smells while in the midst of already feeling a bit unsettled from a developmental perspective. These factors combine to make him all the more ready and eager to connect with a new family and pack!
Considering the dog’s social predisposition and his developmental stage at 8-10 weeks, Mother Nature has already set you up for great success when it comes to bonding with the new little guy. In order to get your puppy to trust you, your job is simple: be patient, gentle and consistent!
How to Gain Your Puppy's Trust
If your pup startles easily and/or seems to react fearfully to you at times in the first few days, do not worry. This is very normal based on how much change he/she has been through recently. Simply spending time around your pup and engaging him in play is the way to his little puppy heart! Some firm but gentle corrections are appropriate in the first week you have your pup home, but avoid any harsh punishments (yelling, forceful handling, etc.) as your very young pup is still learning to trust you and adapt to his new environment.
Giving your pup a few predictable things he can count on is helpful as he is learning to navigate his big new world. First, keeping your pup in a smaller, confined area of your home is often recommended during the first couple weeks both to make house training easier as well as keeping things less overwhelming for your pup. If he is limited to just a couple rooms of your house, he will be able to explore them adequately and have more focus when it comes to bonding and trusting his new puppy parents.
Secondly, having a loose schedule every day is another way you can help your pup ease into his new home. We offer an example of a typical puppy schedule here. Again, keeping things consistent and predictable helps to ease your pup’s anxiety during his “fear period” and helps him to see you as a predictable, stable pack leader that he can count on to keep him safe and well cared for!
Training Your Puppy Helps Build a Relationship & Trust
As far as training, don’t go too hard too fast just yet. Every pup is different so you can gauge where your pup is at based on how settled he seems in his new environment before really cracking down on your training efforts. Doodle pups are known for their smarts, though, so we do find that your pup can learn a basic command or two (such as “sit” and “down”) within the first week. Many of our pups know to “sit” even before they leave us for their new homes.
While you don’t want to overwhelm your pup with a complicated list of rules and commands just yet, it does help set the stage for future training if you start with one simple command and use it often. Most doodle pups can learn “sit” very easily and you can use this command often to start shaping behavior. Learning one or two commands very early does help your pup to begin to recognize the pattern of looking to you for direction.
Teaching your pup “sit” and repeating this command several times throughout the day (i.e. requiring a “sit” before putting on his leash or giving him his food bowl) gets your pup in the habit of waiting and listening to you. In just a short few days, he is learning that you are a
clear, consistent voice to listen to and focus on even as he is adapting to a new, wild world!
Typically by the end of the first week at his new home, a pup is quite acclimated to his new people. He still has much to learn when it comes to socialization, manners, etc. but he has already given his heart to his new family. And once a pup gives you that, he will never take it back. He is ready and eager to learn and grow with you and look to you for direction.
As you can see puppies bond with people rather quickly and there are concrete steps you can take to earn their trust.
Jenna and the JLDD Team