We get it! No matter how cute the little rascals are, puppy-wrangling can be exhausting. Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier on both of you. Here’s a hint: routines and well-chosen toys are your friends.
Adopting a puppy can bring a much-needed source of joy and unconditional love into your life, but it can also bring anxiety, exhaustion and frustration (often called the “Puppy Blues”).
The cycle of cleaning up messes and constantly removing household objects from those tiny teeth can become overwhelming, particularly if you’re also working from home during this time. As much as we love our pups, sometimes they just drive us up the wall.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed after bringing home a puppy (especially when you’re running on little sleep!), but you don’t have to struggle through this juggling act alone. Here are six strategies for coping and managing life at home with an energetic pup.
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1. Create an exercise routine.
Although the ball of fur zooming around your living room each morning may seem like the Energizer Bunny, the good news is that puppy energy comes in short (yet invigorating) bursts. If you can give your pup a way to release that zeal, it’s likely she’ll be ready for a rest afterward.
If going for a walk doesn’t fit into your day, there are plenty of other ways to exercise your puppy. Play a few rounds of fetch, or engage your puppy in chasing a toy around the living room. You can even set up a treasure hunt by hiding small treats around the room and tossing a few across the floor to get her attention.
Dogs thrive on routine, so try to exercise your pup at the same times each day—even better, schedule playtime for the hours when she naturally gets the “zoomies.”
2. Enforce naptime.
They say dogs are our best friends, but naps may soon be competing for the top slot as your new best friend.
You may feel like your day is tossed around at the whims of your puppy’s mood. Instead of following when your pup seems sleepy or playful, you can (and should!) put her down for a nap, as you would a human child.
As toddlers become cranky when they’re low on sleep, puppies may act up when they’re overtired; the “acting up” often takes the form of biting, chewing, barking or whining. Despite their daily bursts of energy, puppies actually need a lot of downtime; it’s healthy for them to sleep more than 17 hours a day.
Dog trainer Sarah Hodgson recommends that puppies younger than 18 weeks old should get a two- to three-hour nap twice a day. After your morning playtime and again after lunch, try putting your pup in her crate with a chew or other toy for some downtime. She may be restless the first few times, but if you’re consistent, she’ll settle into the routine and learn to self-soothe.
3. Provide toys for mental stimulation.
Any time you put your pup down for a nap, or when she’s simply hanging out with you in the house, make sure she has access to toys that provide mental stimulation.
Although physical exercise is important, dogs also need mental exercise. A bored puppy will find a way to occupy herself, often by nipping, digging or barking for attention from her favorite person (hint: that’s you).
Interactive games are an excellent way to give your pup’s brain a workout by having her solve puzzles in order to access a treat or fun toy. Chew toys, which are not only mentally stimulating, but can also reduce stress and anxiety, are another good option. When your pup is occupied with a great chew toy, that means she’s not chewing your favorite book or the leg of your coffee table.
4. Ask a friend to puppysit.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a short break from your pup to refill your own cup.
The great thing about puppies is that they’re a lot of fun to be around, especially for those who haven’t spent the morning scrubbing a pee-stain out of a favorite rug. Many people will jump at the chance to spend quality time with an adorable puppy.
Ask a trusted friend or relative to watch your puppy for an afternoon, or even a full day. This will not only allow you to be “off the clock” from puppy duty, but can also contribute to your pup’s socialization by helping her learn to be comfortable with different people. Take some time to refresh so you can bring your best self to your puppy when she comes back from her play date.
When you catch your puppy being calm, reward her with food. Reinforcing calm behavior is a great training technique for raising a well-mannered dog.
A popular method for this is called capturing calmness. Keep some training treats nearby during the day. Whenever you notice your puppy lying down calmly—quietly chewing a toy or simply relaxing—silently walk over to her and place a treat at her feet.
The first few times, she may get up and act excited when she receives the treat. That’s okay, because you’ve successfully rewarded the calm behavior. Simply walk away without reacting. By repeating this technique over time, you can help your pup build a positive emotional association with relaxation.
When you create a calm environment by giving your dog a routine she can count on, toys for mental stimulation and removing stressful triggers, she’ll find it easier to relax.
6. Give yourself a mantra.
Following training advice and sticking to a routine for exercise and downtime can make puppyhood smoother, but you’ll still have moments when you’re just plain tired of cleaning up random puddles or fending off those sharp teeth.
For those times, come up with a mantra that you can repeat to yourself as a way of calming your emotions and reminding your brain that this is a temporary phase of life. Perhaps a phrase like “I can do this,” or “The puppy phase shall pass,” or “This is just one moment.”
The next time you’re ready to bury your face in your pillow, take a deep breath. Crate your puppy for five minutes while you compose yourself. Repeat your mantra.
As you and your puppy build a bond, you’ll settle into your own shared routine and life together will get a lot easier. Soon, you won’t be able to imagine your daily schedule without your pup in it.