Puppies and School Holidays
8th January 2018
In this article, we want to talk about the effect school holidays can have on puppies. In the same way that school holidays are a break in routine for your children, they can create a break in routine for your puppy. However, whilst your children understand that after the break they will return to school and resume their weekly routine, puppies quickly develop a new set of expectations and behaviours based on the changes in their environment, and this can create difficulties and setbacks in your training.
Most people choose to acquire their new puppy during holidays as they have time to spend bonding with the new addition to the family, focusing on toilet training and coping with disturbed sleep. This is an excellent plan, and one we would recommend. The new owners’ efforts are rewarded as the puppy starts to grasp the concept that toileting is done outside, that he sleeps in his own bed, and eats from his own bowl. He learns that his bed or crate is a safe place to sleep undisturbed. We should also mention that it's very important to emphasise to children that they should never approach the puppy in his bed, especially when he is sleeping. At this point, all is going to plan – you have learnt to clear up without fuss the little toilet accidents, and your puppy is beginning to sleep through the night.
After the holidays, you return to work and the children return to school. Your puppy must now adapt to a different routine of where he eats and exercises, first thing in the morning, and then spends a few hours alone in the house until someone returns to him. This routine will become his life for the following 10 weeks. It is simple, consistent, quiet and calm.
Then school holidays will come again; only this time your puppy is a little older and spending less time sleeping during the day. He is bigger, more mobile, more excitable. He runs around the house and garden all day playing with your children and their friends. He’s not being fed and walked at 6.30am, because the family is having a lie-in, and his early-morning toilet is much later than normal, so he may have an accident. During the day, he’s no longer sure where he should toilet because the back door is always open and he can just go in and out whenever he wants to. He doesn’t have to ask to go out, and nobody is there to praise him when he ‘performs’.
Like a toddler, he will play when he should be sleeping; he may become overtired and start to display some unwanted behaviour such as mouthing, nipping, or being destructive. The children may have taken it upon themselves to ‘train’ him and to reprimand him for bad behaviour- this is not a good idea.
This is often the point at which we are called in to help with a puppy whose owners believe is becoming 'aggressive', who mouths constantly, steals food out of the children’s hands, barks when left, chews the skirting boards, and toilets around the house (to name but a few).
If any of the above resonates with you, please don’t beat yourself up about it. Having a new puppy is hard work and, particularly if it is your first puppy, you will make mistakes and learn as you go along. Our aim is to help you put right the problems and help you to avoid repeating the mistakes. Something that we repeat continually is the importance of being consistent. So, go back to where you started, look at things from your puppy’s point of view and make sure that his feeding times, walks, training times and toilet activities are carried out or supervised by a responsible adult and that all members of the family are fully on board with your “puppy ground rules”.
Be mindful of the amount of time you allow your children and their friends to play with the puppy and don’t be afraid to wade in and remove the puppy if you feel that the time limit has been reached. Then place your puppy in his safe place to go and sleep, undisturbed. He will thank you for it, and your life will be far less frenetic too! Also, although it can be difficult dealing with children and a puppy, do try to keep your eye out for the toilet signs and get the puppy into the garden so that you can praise and reward him, thereby remaining consistent with your toilet rules.
With just a little forethought and planning (and maybe sacrificing the lie-in), school holidays don’t need to become a nightmare for you and your puppy. There are lots of benefits for your puppy having time with the family, maybe trips out to the beach or countryside. Plan carefully and selectively, and guard your ground rules against the potential for chaos.
We’ve produced an article about consistency called “Could You Be Confusing Your Dog” which you will also find by clicking here. There you will find more tips on how to avoid being the unwitting creator of unwanted behavioural issues from your dog or puppy.
To help your pup adjust to being home alone when you do go back to school or work after the holidays click the link to read through our ‘Back to School Tips for Families with Dogs’