A puppy gets into mischief when left out of a kennel.

How to Puppy-Proof Your House

Coming up with an action plan before bringing the new addition to your family home will protect your pup as well as save you many headaches

It’s a widely accepted fact that puppies have evolved to be adorable to ensure their survival. If it weren’t for their innocent eyes and floppy ears, their antics would get them immediately and permanently kicked out of our homes. The truth is, puppies are adorable and full of promising potential, so we endure the chaos of their early months with a hopeful eye toward a calm and enjoyable future with a well-behaved dog.

When it comes time to welcome a new puppy into your life, your first step should be to puppy-proof your house. This is important for the pup’s safety as well as your sanity. Putting a puppy-proofing plan in place—and communicating the plan with all family members—should be done well before the arrival of the new bundle of joy.

Plan to keep the pup confined whenever unsupervised

Few things can find trouble faster than a new puppy. For that reason, it’s important to keep the pup safely and securely confined whenever she is not under direct supervision.

Crate training your puppy is an important step in house training, but it’s also critical for her safety and her comfort. She’ll learn that the kennel is her special place to relax. In exchange, you get the peace of mind from knowing that she can’t get into trouble while you are focused on other things.

Approach crate training in a fun, playful manner and you’ll soon have a puppy that loves hanging out in her own space. Never use it for punishment and always end crate time with a fun play session.

Reduce the area that the pup can access

Even when the pup is out of the kennel and enjoying supervised playtime, she shouldn’t have access to the entire house until she’s older (if ever). Use baby gates or strategically-placed furniture to block off access to areas where the puppy shouldn’t go. Not only does this make it easier to supervise the puppy, but it also makes it more convenient for you to successfully maintain a puppy-proofed space.

Reducing the accessible floor space will also help with house training. Being den-dwelling creatures, dogs—even very young ones—are naturally inclined to separate toilet areas from living areas. It’s not uncommon for a puppy to wander off into another room that she has designated as a toilet space. If you keep her confined to a single room with no private or hidden areas, you’ll have an easier time teaching her that the yard is the appropriate place in which to relieve herself.

As you select the puppy-permitted space, consider how easy it is to access the yard from this room. Plan to make more than a few sprints toward the door while holding a pup who has to go now. Are you running up or down a flight of stairs or leaping over obstacles? If so, you might want to rethink the designated play area. The goal is to make the early house training process as simple and painless as possible for both you and the dog.

If it fits in the mouth, it will get eaten or chewed

Once you’ve designated space for the puppy and have accepted that she’ll only be out when under direct supervision, it’s time to survey the room from a puppy’s point of view. Drop down to your hands and knees, look around, and ask yourself, “What fits in a puppy’s mouth?”

Remove any obvious items that can be stored elsewhere. Don’t keep shoes or other similar items in this puppy space, as they invite chewing with the tantalizing scent of the pup’s new family.

Chair legs and couch corners are other possible targets for puppy teeth. Have a supply of chew toys on hand so that you can trade your pup whenever undesirable chewing or mouthing starts. If the puppy shows too much interest in a furniture leg, you should immediately offer her an acceptable chew toy to teach her to “chew this, not that.” Accompany the trade with lots of praise.

Assess the space for any toxic items and ensure they are completely unreachable

Common culprits for canine poisoning are human food, medications, cleaning supplies, and houseplants. Ideally, none of these items will be in the puppy-proofed area of your home. But just in case your puppy escapes the safe zone and ventures into another area of your house, it’s best to familiarize yourself with common household items that can be dangerously toxic for your dog.

The ASPCA offers a 24-hour animal poison control hotline at (888) 426-4435 if you have reason to believe your puppy has gotten into a toxin, but it goes without saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

While you’re surveying for toxic items, don’t forget about the plants found in your yard, too. Many popular ornamental plants are poisonous for dogs; don’t expect your pup to know what’s safe for her to chew. Lilies, tulips, daffodils, rhododendrons, and chrysanthemums all make the list of common yard toxins for dogs.

Prevent access to stairs or other jumping-off places

Puppies are playful and often engage in rough-and-tumble play with their littermates or their new family. They also go through periods of little-to-no fear, which can be unsafe if their sense of adventure exceeds their sense of danger.

A growing puppy’s skeletal system can be fragile and is susceptible to injury that may not even present itself until later in life. It’s your responsibility to protect your new pup from anything that can damage her joints or her developing structure. For example, it’s not recommended to allow young puppies access to stairs, because too much climbing and falling is risky for their elbows and shoulders. Instead, carry your pup up and down the stairs until they are fully grown and their joints have matured. Use a baby gate to prevent your pup from reaching a staircase.

If you plan to allow your dog onto furniture, make sure you don’t allow the puppy to jump off of the couch or chair. Protect their joints by lifting them on and off the furniture safely.

Plan ahead, be alert, and have fun

It may seem overwhelming to prepare for your pup’s arrival and to plan for all the things that might go wrong. Remember that once the puppy arrives, she’ll be getting all the love and attention… so any preparations you can do ahead of time will save you some stress and anxiety once the moment arrives.

Make sure the entire family is aware of the importance of keeping the puppy zone safe and free from dangerous items. Don’t leave shoes where the puppy can find them, don’t leave food or drinks on the coffee table, and don’t allow unsupervised access to the yard. If everyone stays vigilant, you can ensure that your pup will remain safe and your possessions remain intact.

Above all, a puppy-proofed home means that you can focus on playing with and training your new pup from the moment she arrives at home. The challenging puppy months may seem insurmountable, but time flies by quickly; before long, you’ll have a mature dog who has been taught to obey house rules and conditioned to be an excellent companion at home.

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