Pup Out of Water: Creating a Safe and Enriching Environment for Your New Puppy

By Rhea Northcut CPDT-KA ABCDT

Anyone who has recently had a pup knows how much work puppies can be and how they can get into a lot of trouble. The problem with puppies (and dogs) living in our house is it is not their natural environment. Because of this, we have to teach them how we would like them to behave in the house – what’s appropriate to chew on, where is the place to eliminate, what rooms are off-limits (if any), etc.


Before bringing a puppy home (or now if you already have a puppy), look around your house for puppy temptations. Walk on hands and knees and really look for anything that looks like a tempting item to chew on – which is pretty much everything. That corner behind the recliner that houses a rack of magazines or a box of cables you haven’t found a place for, find a place for it.  Now. Out of reach of the puppy. Think baby-proofing. Everything from floor level to about 3-4 feet up should be moved up higher or to a room that will be blocked off from the pup’s access.


Think about acquiring gates or pens to cordon off each room from the next. This will allow you to keep your house-training puppy in the same room as you and prevent them from wandering off and pottying away from watchful eyes or chewing on inappropriate items. We really need to be able to keep an eye on our puppies while they are still learning.   This helps us recognize those telltale bathroom signs (sniffing, circling, squatting) and hopefully get them outside before we have an accident.

RESEARCH YOUR PLANTS: Remove what is not safe

Many household plants are toxic for our pets. Be sure to research each plant you have in your house – even if you think it’s out of reach (puppies are resourceful). Some very common household toxic plants include Lillies, Tulips, Chrysanthemums, Rhododendron, and even Aloe Vera.  There are many other toxic plants as well. Be cautious. Potted plants are very tempting for pups to dig in and chew on, and the potting soil itself can even have harmful chemicals in it. All toxic plants would preferably be removed from the home altogether, as accidents happen. Puppies slip through places sometimes and gain access even when we did not intend for it.


There will be times when you will not be able to have all eyes on your puppy. Every now and then, moms and dads need a break or simply need to take a shower without getting out to a puppy chewing on the tv cord or peeing on the nice rug. Having an exercise pen for these times will be monumental to your sanity as a puppy owner. It’s also a great place for your pup to learn to entertain himself and be okay with being left along. 

An exercise pen equipped with a potty area, a bed, and some toys will be much more comfortable for our pups than spending a lot of time in a crate. However, if you have a large puppy who has already figured out how to climb or jump out of an ex-pen, an appropriately sized crate may be a decent option as well. Kennel the pup with something to chew on while they are confined (like a bone or food-stuffed toy), so being in the crate is a fun experience. Try not to leave them in a crate for more than a couple hours at a time. Remember, puppies can only hold their bladder for about an hour for each month in age (a three-month puppy is going to need to pee by the three-hour mark – assuming they emptied right before going in). However, most dogs will hold it while in a crate, so this is typically a safe setup for when they are alone. If you’d like more information on best way to housetrain your pup, get our free ebook, Four Steps to House Training Success


Within your zones, even if you pick up everything off the floor, you will likely have cords of some kind in at least some of your rooms in your home. Best case scenario is your puppy has zero access to these kinds of things. You can wrap a baby or puppy play pen around your entertainment center to completely remove access (these are useful during the holidays for saving your Christmas tree and gifts under the tree from those sharp puppy teeth), or if that’s not a reasonable option for you, you could also get cord wraps/tubes to encase your cords. Puppy will still probably want to put teeth on these but it might buy you some time to notice them before they make it to the cords themselves.


Now that we have made your home safe for your puppy, we need to make it interesting, fun, and enriching. Dogs live in our homes, which are not typical environments for canines in the wild. They are closed off from getting to run, chase, hunt, and chew as needed, so we need to recreate as much of this natural behavior as we can in an appropriate way, so they don’t take out that energy on your sofa, dining room table, or your ankles! 

For puppies, and young dogs, we need a variety of toys that are always accessible for when they get that frequent itch to play. Having a bone, bully stick, cow ear, or something similar will give them that productive chewing dogs love to do. In addition to toys and tasty chews, you might also consider different surfaces for your puppy to interact with. During their critical socialization period (8-16 weeks), be sure to help them to acclimate to the many different surfaces they may come across in adulthood by laying out pans, boxes, exercise pens laid flat on the floor, and/or noisy surfaces to walk on so they get used to the noise and the feel of different surfaces under their feet. This part of socialization is often overlooked, causing many dogs to be unsure about unfamiliar footing. Most people know to get their dogs around other people and dogs, but most don’t realize that surfaces and inanimate objects matter as well.

If you want to get really jazzy, you can add things to climb in your house or backyard. For puppies, keep these surfaces low so you don’t risk an injury or learned fear if they were to slip off. Options for enrichment objects could be tunnels, low platforms, steps, stairs, low tires/hoops, a pool with water or ice or plastic balls for noise and sensory enrichment, or food dispensing objects they have to manipulate to get the food out. 

Preparing your home for your puppy will make it a much safer place for you new family member. And, putting some creativity and effort into your puppy’s enrichment will make him a happier pup and easier to live with. I highly encourage you to take our Online Enrichment Seminar for more ideas on ways to incorporate enrichment into your pup’s life.