We got our home visit scheduled the day after we met the pups. The rescue worker in our area didn't know about our weekend trip, and seemed put out when he called to schedule, but very quickly and kindly agreed to come by late Wednesday night. It was a laid back visit. We discussed our plan to start crate training immediately (my brother-in-law is a huge crate enthusiast, and we are very happy he introduced us to the world of crates). The rescue worker seemed skeptical. "Her file says she hates being crated."
Arya hadn't really been in a crate much yet, as far as I knew. Foster mom fenced the dogs in the kitchen when she left the house, and they hated being left alone. But Arya's feelings on crates were yet to be decided, and we knew it was our job to help her develop some positive feelings ASAP.
On the advice of my brother-in-law, I went with the wire iCrate, our first puppy purchase (more on start-up supplies to come). We ordered pretty much everything on Amazon, while away in Boston for the weekend. Weather was murky in Maryland on Monday morning, but our flight made it in on time. We headed home, unpacked our puppy supplies, and made it to the foster mom's home by 1pm to pick Arya up. She ran up to us when we got there. A little bit of paperwork, many thanks to foster mom, and we were puppy parents. Lee scooped her up, and we headed to the car.
Lee remembered bringing Shelby home in a box. She had been a ball of energy, and I think he assumed Arya would try running around the car, so we brought a little file box with a blanket in it. Arya froze when he tried to put her into it. She quickly wound up in Lee's lap.
She was scared, and trembled the first few miles. But she soon calmed down. We made a quick stop to grab the last couple supplies we needed--dog bowls and some Nature's Miracle. Lee stayed in the car and put her collar on for the first time. Near the end of the drive home, she had perked up considerably.
We got home a little after 2pm. My plan had been to take Arya to our proposed "outside spot," and perfectly initiate our housetraining agenda from the get-go. Nothin doin. It was sleety, and freezing. She sat outside trembling for 5-10 minutes before I scrapped this plan. More on housetraining later. We brought her inside.
The afternoon was spent letting Arya explore. First our apartment. Then her crate. Later on...some toys! We immediately introduced her crate cue ("Winterfell." Because we are those people). We gave her ample treats for getting inside her crate. And we fed her dinner in her crate that night (and every meal since). She wasn't fluent on her crate cue by any means that first day. But she quickly caught on to the fact that the crate was a neat place where good things happen. And she eagerly, frequently got inside her crate that first day (whether or not we were cueing her...a key sign that she didn't quite get it yet, but she was on the right track).
That first afternoon, the crate officially became a happy place. We'd had a choice between picking Arya up at 1pm or 8pm. And I'm really glad we got her in the afternoon and had the time to expose her to some happy crate experiences before her first evening with us.
Happy crate exposure was the first good choice we made as new puppy parents. The second good choice--by far the decision I'm most proud of so far--was how we handled sleeping arrangements. I was especially worried about how sleeping would go because foster mom had told us that the puppies and dogs all slept happily in a big pile at her place. Arya was especially close to one brother, Carlos, and they loved to cuddle. (I apologized to Carlos profusely when we picked Arya up). Foster mom told us there would likely be a lot of crying that first night.
We planned to keep Arya crated in our room at night. My husband and some friends and family joked about how quickly I'd cave and pull Arya into bed. Now, I am a softy. But I am also a scientist. I wanted a happy, healthy, well-structured life for this puppy. And I knew that bed sleeping probably wouldn't facilitate this. I worried about accidents in the bed. More importantly, I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep if I was worrying about her falling out of bed or wandering around the bedroom unsupervised. Maybe someday, after a good routine is in place, we'll pull her into bed on a lazy Saturday morning, but it was never part of the plan for our first night. (In the meantime, I get plenty of naps with her on the couch during the day).
I wanted to temper routine with puppy comfort--she was going to be stressed and missing her siblings. I also didn't want to reinforce any whining. I knew that if she started whining, I'd probably want to get down on the floor and sleep next to her. So I just planned to do that. That way, I wouldn't reinforce whining. And I'd help her feel at home her first night. This is actually really similar to what my husband's family did with Shelby. Shelby slept in the garage. The first night, Lee brought a sleeping bag and slept out there with her. Put the sleep system you want in place, but feel free to build in a little extra comfort BEFORE whining starts, especially if you know you're likely to cave. This is best puppy tip I can give. If I'd gotten down on the floor AFTER whining started, I think I'd be a very sleepy lady today.
At bedtime, we cued her to get into her crate in our bedroom, next to our bed--one "Winterfell" and she was in. And then I settled down with a pillow and a blanket that I'd left right next to her crate on the floor. She whimpered for literally 2 seconds, then fell asleep. For 7 hours.
Second night, I slept on the floor but backed up a few feet toward the bed. Third night, I got into bed. She never whimpered for more than a couple minutes. When she stopped, I'd softly say "Good girl, quiet. Now sleep." And whimpering quickly died down. The worst night was actually the 4th night. Lee was puttering around in the bedroom and the light was on for a little bit and she was riled up. But she stopped whimpering after 6 minutes. She's never whimpered longer than this at night, and it's rare that she does it at all (daytime is a different story). We take her outside right before bed so we know she's not asking to go out if there is a little whimpering. In those first couple weeks, when we had no control over bathroom time, we went to bed soon after her selected bathroom time around 10 or 11pm, with a little bit of time built in for winding down.
Puppy lessons from day one/night one; if you're going to crate train, start building happy crate memories the second you get your puppy home. And if you think you're going to cave and give a puppy extra comfort if it whines the first night, PLAN TO GIVE THAT EXTRA COMFORT FROM THE START, and then gradually ease the puppy into your actual longterm sleep arrangement. I did this by sleeping right next to the crate, and then backing up toward the bed over the next two nights. This will look different depending on your plan. You could start the puppy in your room and gradually move the puppy outside your room if that is your goal. The most important thing is: make a plan for the night and stick with it. Your puppy won't learn that whining is a way to get things, and you will be a much better rested puppy parent.