By Nick Honor and Reproduced with the kind permission of Dog World Magazine: For many years, I have been lucky enough to run specialist puppy classes and have had the pleasure of working with numerous puppies of different breeds, shapes and sizes. During this time, there is not a lot that I have not been asked and it is lovely to hear people actively wanting to do their very best for their new charge. But there is one question I am asked on a regular basis and unfortunately, in my opinion, I am generally asked it a little too late – ‘when I left my puppy on the first night she cried and cried all night and should I let my puppy just cry? I have been told not to go down to her, it sounds terrible and she has cried every night for the last three nights. I could not bear it any longer and have now let her upstairs with me and she sleeps like a baby.’
Now, it is still widely believed that you should leave a puppy and let it cry it out and woe-be-tide you if you go down to see puppy as it is thought that if you do, you are making a rod for your own back. But it is my view that this is not the advice we should be giving new puppy guardians, instead ask yourself why is the puppy crying and howling in the first place?
Times are changing and people are looking at emotions in dogs and other non-human species and as dogs have similar brain structures to humans, it is widely believed that dogs experience emotions too. How these are labelled is open to interpretation, but I think we are all more than happy to agree that dogs experience a number of base/simple emotions, such as fear or joy. This is a vast and rapidly evolving area of study and if you want to know more about the research into emotions, you will need to do no more than carry out an internet search for Jaak Panksepp or Joseph E LeDoux.
Why is knowing about emotions relevant to us and our puppy’s first nights in their new home? Let’s imagine what it’s like for most well-reared puppies. Up until the point of being taken from their home, their world is probably very small and feels very safe; there will be puppy, mum, maybe dad and brothers and sisters, they will probably have seen a few human beings and be surrounded with familiar sights, smells and sounds. They would never have been left on their own, always having their canine and human family around them for company and care.
Then one day without warning, they find themselves suddenly taken from everything they have ever known and just as suddenly, find themselves in some strange environment, but it’s okay, they are surrounded by humans that are giving them lots of comfort and they hardly notice that their world has changed dramatically. Then, they are placed in a crate, in a room that they do not know and abandoned on their own. It’s dark and unfamiliar, they have no idea what’s going on and so they cry in the hope that somebody will hear them, but nobody comes. They cry on and off for hours, then sleep because they are exhausted. If they are lucky, somebody hears them and comes to see them, but then leaves again and so they cry longer and harder to see if they can get them to return, if they are unlucky, nobody comes until the morning and wakes them from exhaustion.
Now try to imagine how emotionally stressful this experience would be for you!
It is even possible and has been put forward that this early emotional trauma could lead to separation issues (fear of being alone) later down the line. Not for all dogs, I grant you, as there are plenty that go on to not develop separation issues, but for some, this early trauma could be the start.
For all, these first nights will be unsettling to one degree or another, so if this sounds like a horrible way to start your puppy off in their new home, how could you make it less traumatic?
Firstly, think differently – what is wrong with giving your new puppy time to settle into their new home without feeling abandoned? Remember they have no idea we are coming back when we leave them. Let’s instead desensitise them to us going out of sight. Take some time off work so that you can focus on making puppy’s transition to your home as stress-free as possible – let’s face it, it’s a bit like having a toddler in the house and you may want some nap time!
During your time together in the first few days, why not spend time crate training puppy, teach them you will be gone for gradually longer and longer periods, give them food stuffed toys to help wear them out and give you some time to leave and come back.
Crate training will help you with house training as well and so it’s a win/win situation. A competent trainer will be able to help you with both.
Do this in conjunction with gradually leaving them overnight. You can do this in several ways and my favourites are either spending a few nights sleeping downstairs near to your puppy and over several nights gradually move further and further away, so that puppy does not feel abandoned, or allow the puppy to be near to you while you sleep – you could use a crate for confinement and this could be gradually moved further from your room.
Wherever you want puppy to sleep, start by making the sleeping area really comfortable and cosy. Make sure it’s warm and you could even look to use some familiar smelling bedding that you brought with them or something that smells of you.
I was quite fortunate in that I have always had other dogs in the home who were puppy-friendly and the puppies I have had were quite happy to be snuggled up near my other dogs and settled quickly into their new home.
Whatever method you choose, let puppy gain some confidence and find their feet over a few days, give them a chance to learn that their new home is a safe place and even though they may be left on their own, you will be coming back and will not have abandoned them.
There are several ‘calming products’ on the market which may help support puppy through the first few nights, some use aromatherapy and others use pheromones, which may help them settle.
Over the coming weeks, gradually prepare puppy for longer absences, it may feel like a lot of work, but believe me, in comparison to working with a dog who has separation issues, a few weeks on prevention is time very well spent.
I know there will be plenty who do not agree with me and will continue to carry on with the old way of leaving the puppy to tough it out, but what are we really toughing them out for?
If for no other reason than by taking a more humane approach you could be helping to prevent separation issues later down the line, then this has got to be worth the investment in time. As a bonus, you will also get a better night’s sleep and not annoy your neighbours.
Would you risk your life to save your dog? I have had this discussion on several occasions and the answers are wide and varied, but unfortunately, we know this is the time of year that for some, may become a real decision with very real safety considerations and the potential for life-threatening consequences.
Sadly, we are likely to see tragic news articles about dog owners who enter water or who have gone onto ice to help their pet who is in distress and have got themselves into trouble. Thankfully, at this point in my life (and I hope to keep it this way!) I can only imagine what it would be like to see your beloved companion struggling after entering water or even worse, falling through ice, and the decisions you will suddenly find yourselves faced with.
But water does not have to be frozen to present a significant risk to life – cold water can impact on you and your dog’s physical capabilities. Being a strong swimmer in a swimming pool does not equate to you being able to swim well in cold water. Cold water carries heat away from the body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature.
For human beings without specialist protective clothing, in water between 0.3 to 4.5C you can lose dexterity in under three minutes, exhaustion and unconsciousness in 15-30 minutes and your expected time of survival is 30-90 minutes, assuming you can still breathe.
In water between 4.5 to 10C (the vast majority of inland water in the winter) you can lose dexterity in under five minutes, exhaustion and unconsciousness in 30-60 minutes and your expected time of survival is one to three hours.
This basically means in under five minutes, you may not be able to grab and hold onto anything passed to you and you will require physical rescue.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said: “In the last ten years, over 20 people have drowned after falling through ice into water, while many others have had to be rescued and revived. Looking at past incidents it appears that the individuals most at risk are young children and males of any age. “However, over 50 per cent of ice related drowning involved an attempted rescue of another person or a dog. “In many instances, the dog managed to scramble ashore unaided while the owner did not and it is therefore prudent not to throw sticks or balls for dogs near frozen water, if they do get into trouble, do not attempt to rescue them by venturing onto the ice!”
It does amaze me how much access we give our dogs to large bodies of water, such as reservoirs, lakes and ponds and the myriad of waters-ways we have, without truly understanding the dangers that lurk beneath the surface of the water.
Would we consider letting our children run around water unsupervised, especially in the winter? I’m sure we would not be throwing them into water to get them to swim or throwing items for them to retrieve, but we will regularly do this with our dogs!
Don’t be fooled by benign looking brooks that just about flow in the summer – because of the increased winter rainfall, these can be raging torrents in the winter and we can expect our local ponds, rivers and lakes to be significantly deeper than you would expect.
However, it’s not always human actions that put our dogs at risk with water and ice – they can do it all by themselves. Dogs will wander onto frozen lakes and rivers for a number of reasons, not least it looks solid and there is often an interesting array of water birds stood on it – you can’t blame the dog for being interested in the opportunity for a chase!
So, what can you do to help prevent finding yourself in this situation?
The easiest thing is to keep your dog on a lead – when on a lead, it does not really matter how well trained your dog is or isn’t, it cannot get into trouble. Instead of a lead, you may consider using a long training line, if you do put a line on your dog, make sure that it is a floating line that remains on the surface, as a line that sinks presents a significant risk, should it get snagged. If you were to try and retrieve your dog by pulling it in, you are very likely to pull them under and drown them.
Now some of you will be saying, I must let my dog off the lead, he needs the exercise, so if this is you and you want to let them run, why not avoid walking your dog during cold snaps in areas where there are known water hazards?
If you live on a boat or have no choice but to be around water, why not consider a life jacket for your dog too? Should they fall into water or through ice, the extra time and assistance this provides may well be enough for the emergency services to attend and carry out a rescue for you.
Make sure your dog is wearing a collar or harness as should they need to be hooked or pulled to assist getting them out of the water, a rescuer will need something to hook onto or grab.
If you do decide that you are going to enter the water, I would strongly caution you not to, but if you do, firstly contact the emergency services and tell them exactly where you are. If they cannot find you, they cannot help you.
As dog owners are generally outdoor people, what should you do if you come across somebody who is in water or on or through ice? What can you do without putting yourself at risk?
Call for assistance from the emergency services.
Do not attempt to go out onto the ice yourself.
Instruct the casualty to keep still to maintain heat and energy.
Try to find something that will extend your reach, such as a spare dog lead, pole, branch or item of clothing.Throw this or reach out to the casualty with it. Then, making sure you are stable on the bank, by lying down or getting someone to hold onto you, attempt to pull the person to the shore.
If you live in areas with lots of water hazards, why not carry a throw line with you for this purpose, it could even just be in your vehicle.
If you cannot find something with which to perform a reach or throw rescue, try to find something that will float to throw or push out to them. This will help to keep the casualty afloat until assistance arrives.
Throughout your rescue KEEP OFF THE ICE, continue to reassure the casualty and keep them talking until help arrives.
If the rescue is successful, the casualty will need to be kept warm and treated for shock. All casualties should be taken to hospital even if they appear to be unaffected by their ordeal.
Remember there is a significant chance that your dog will get out on its own!
So, if we go back to the opening paragraph – would you risk your life for a dog? Well, when it comes to water and ice, there is no need if you keep your dog on a lead!