Congratulations on the new addition to your family! We all want the perfect little pup who will housetrain quickly, sit on command, and look adorable on Instagram and YouTube.
Last time we talked about getting to know your puppy, appropriate handling, and fostering confidence in your first few weeks home together. Here are a few more tips to help you raise your best puppy ever.
First things first. All puppies need to poop and pee in the right place as soon as possible. Successful housetraining can be encouraged through direct supervision and immediate reward for eliminating in the proper place. Research supports the idea that puppies housetrain more quickly when positive methods are used.
We need to remember that it takes time for bladder control to develop in puppies. Let’s define bladder control as the ability to hold urine for six to eight hours at a time; this tends to be present in most dogs by the time they are 16- to 20-weeks old. Confining your pup to a crate or small pen helps to encourage this control.
Every time there is a pause in activity-your puppy wakes up from a nap, she comes out of her crate, or after she finishes eating-take her to your preferred spot for elimination. Once she starts to pee, mark the action verbally. Use words like “good pooper” (our words for Maisey), “hurry up”, or the timeless “go pee”. Praise her verbally and offer a treat as soon as she is finished.
Yes, you will going in and out with your puppy EVERY time she goes outside. The commitment is worth it if you want a dog that is housetrained early in your relationship.
It is our job to reward the good times and ignore the accidents. We do NOT punish or yell at puppies when we find urine or stool on the floor. How many of you would whack an eighteen-month-old human toddler on the nose with a newspaper for peeing in her diaper? Ridiculous, right?
Please understand: Dogs don’t feel guilty when they pee in the wrong place. They simply needed to pee. We, their people, make them feel guilty through our body language and tone of voice. This concept is really important, so I’m going to repeat my example from our last blog.
Pretend we can we read a dog’s mind. You come home to pee on the floor and your puppy sleeping on his bed in the living room. You wake him up by yelling at him for making a mess in the house. Here’s what he’s thinking. “Wow, my human is angry. I better not let her catch me sleeping on my bed again. I’ll go lick her hand and see if I can make her feel better so we can play.” That’s it. There is no connection between the pee on the floor, getting yelled at, and your dog’s guilty look and hand-licking. Trust me on this one.
Manners and Good Habits
Puppies learn acceptable manners from an early age when we shape and praise good habits and actions. Teach desirable behaviours and alternatives to unwanted ones in small steps. For example, offer your puppy a well-liked chew toy instead of your hands to discourage nipping. Trade toys for food and vice versa to show your puppy that trading one thing results in getting something better. Eventually, you can add an “out” or “leave it” command.
When successful interactions are reinforced with tidbits of yummy food, verbal praise, and physical petting, your pup will be motivated to repeat the same good behaviour next time. Cooked chicken morsels or treats half the size of your thumbnail work well to maintain interest when teaching new skills and behaviours. We don’t want roly-poly chubby puppies; ask your veterinary staff how many treats your dog should be getting on a daily basis.
My favourite game for young puppies is hand targeting or target training. In target training, we encourage young puppies to look to us for behavioural cues and direction. I start by teaching a puppy to touch or nudge the palm of my hand in exchange for a treat. While many trainers use clickers, I simply use a verbal marker like, “touch”. Check out Victoria Stilwell’s video on target training at https://positively.com/dog-behavior/basic-cues/hand-target-training for a great example of this method. The puppy learns to look to his owner for guidance and develops focus on the task at hand. With shaping the behaviour we can teach them to follow us at the heel or ring a bell to go outside for a pee.
Confident, friendly dogs make great companions; however, meeting new people and unfamiliar pets can be stressful for some puppies. People from different households may smell differently or have louder voices than your puppy is accustomed. Unexpected hugs by children can cause a puppy to be fearful around fast-moving mini-humans. Slow introductions with gentle handling and treat rewards will reinforce that people and animal strangers are a good thing.
Formal puppy classes are a great way for puppies to learn the body language of dogs with different facial features and body types. Puppies initially learn from their mothers and siblings who look and act as they do. Happy-go-lucky retrievers can be intimidating to shy Chihuahuas when initiating play. Border Collies and Pugs definitely “speak” different languages! Small dogs especially may react to overwhelming situations by avoiding other dogs or exhibiting aggressive behaviours. With patience and your trainer’s ability to guide new experiences, your puppy will be multilingual in no time!
One Last Thought
Dogs don’t know that us humans think we’re in charge. We need to prove how smart we are and how quick we are with treats and praise when things are going well. A good trainer uses positive and consistent training methods to teach you and your dog the best approaches for communicating with each other and the world around you.
Whether your puppy is destined to be a search and rescue canine or a child’s best friend, understanding these key concepts about this sensitive period in his life will help you build a solid foundation for an amazing relationship and life together.
See you next time in the waiting room!