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potty training

Preparing for a new puppy


You’ve done your homework, decided the time is right to get a puppy, and chosen the right puppy.  Now it’s time to prepare yourself and your house for the new arrival.  Yup, just like you would get ready for your new baby! Prepare a safe place for your puppy.You’ll likely want a crate for sleeping and an exercise pen (X-pen) or baby gate to create a safe containment area on an easy clean surface.  I suggest having the crate in your bedroom at night and the pen near your main living area.  If you don’t have an appropriate floor surface available, get a remnant of vinyl flooring from your home center or carpet store to use under your X-pen.  You will use the X-pen as a long-term confinement area for times when you can’t watch the puppy for a few hours.  You can use the crate at night, and for short periods like taking a shower or talking on the phone.  Rid yourself of the mindset that a crate is punishment; by using it properly, it will instead become your dog’s favorite safe haven.

Puppy-proof your house.Any areas where your puppy will be permitted access should be thoroughly examined from puppy eye level for potential hazards.  Remember your puppy is a baby, your baby, and you must keep that in mind and act accordingly (just like having a human baby, isn’t it?)  Remove, contain, or block access to power cords or loose cables.  Remove breakables.  Clear off the coffee table.  Put up any papers, books, remotes, or other items that could be chewed.  Remove throw rugs and loose pillows.  Pin up or tie back draperies if needed.  Get your children in the habit of picking up their things and closing their bedroom doors.  Having done all that, I still recommend that your puppy should never be outside of his pen or crate without direct supervision until he has learned proper potty and chewing habits.

Puppy-proof your yard and garage. There may be even more potential puppy dangers outside than in your house.  If your yard contains any potentially poisonous plants you’ll want to remove them or block your puppy’s access to them.  Use fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides sparingly and cautiously.  Garages often hold many substances which are poisonous to dogs; spilled antifreeze is a classic example.  If your dog gets a foreign substance on their paws, they will instinctively want to lick it off.  Never leave your puppy in the yard unsupervised.  They can be injured or stolen, and unmonitored they can develop bad habits like barking and digging.  You need to teach your puppy how to act in the yard as well as in the house.  Make sure your fence is secure so your pup can run and play safely.  If you don’t have a fence, you’ll need a long line (20-30’ heavy cord) to allow your pup more freedom while still maintaining safe control of him.

Plan a puppy schedule.You should take your puppy out to potty every time he wakes up, eats, drinks, plays, and about every hour or two in between if possible.  Until the pup is 4-5 months old, he will need to eat 3 times a day.  Choose a two hour window for morning, evening, and mid-day feedings; do not get lazy and simply leave a food bowl down all day long.  You’ll also want to schedule several training and play sessions each day.  Puppies have short attention spans, so keep these sessions to less than 5 minutes for the first month or so, but try to have a short “lesson” every hour or two.

Have some resources handy.You’re sure to have questions daily so get yourself some good dog books.  If you have kids, I suggest this one:  Living With Kids and Dogs… Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar.  Other good references are After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar, and Positive Puppy Training Works by Joel Walton.  You can also join my Start Puppy Training list on Yahoo.  Check your area for positive puppy kindergarten classes as you will want to enroll as soon as possible.

When the big day arrives for the pup to come home with you, use these Tips For Success to get off to a good start.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Bringing Home A Puppy - Tips For Success

puppy dog hold flowers in forefoots
puppy dog hold flowers in forefoots

The big day is finally here!  You want to be prepared and get off to a good start right away with your new puppy.  Here are some tips to make things go smoothly. The ride home If you have a helper to drive, the drive isn’t too long, and the puppy is tired and/or calm you can try holding the puppy on your lap.  Otherwise you’ll need a crate or at least a cardboard box to contain the puppy.  If you use a box, put some plastic under it just in case.  Place a thick towel at the bottom of the crate or box to give the pup good footing and to catch any accidents.  If your trip will take more than an hour, plan to make a potty stop (or two) along the way.  I would avoid highway rest areas as they are frequented by lots of dogs and your puppy doesn’t have full immunity yet.  If possible, opt for a quiet grassy area instead. Be sure your puppy is wearing identification and has a secure collar or harness.

At the house Your first order of business should always be a potty trip outside.  You want to start a good habit right away.  So choose the door you will regularly use for potty trips and consistently take the pup out that door.  Consistency is everything when training!  Don’t ever forget that.  If your puppy has already been trained to potty pads, read Potty Pad Training for Puppies.  If you have family and kids waiting to meet the puppy arrange for everyone to sit down in a circle (outdoors if possible) with your pup in the middle.  Each person can have a few tiny morsels of something yummy to feed the pup, but allow the puppy to decide to go and visit each person.  That means the kids have to wait patiently and not overwhelm it.  After 15-20 minutes of this the pup will need another potty break and then a rest period.  You can sit with him in your long-term confinement area (see Preparing for Puppy), but try to remain calm and detached so the pup will settle and rest.  As much as the kids will want to play with the puppy non-stop, they will have to learn that puppies get tired and need naps - just like young babies do.   Teaching both the pup and the kids self-control will be one of your biggest challenges.  Be calm, patient, and consistent with them all.

The first night If your pup has not been introduced to the crate by his breeder, be prepared for a good deal of fussing and crying.  Make sure to take the pup out to potty before bedtime.  I have found that many pups do best if you engage in a bit of lullaby and cuddle time before bed.  Your goal is to quiet and relax the puppy, so soften the lights, turn off the TV, and relax yourself.  When the puppy is sleepy, slip him into his prepared crate near your bed.  Continue to sit with him until he falls asleep, then softly secure the door closed.  Be prepared for him to wake up crying in a couple of hours.  If possible, set your alarm and get the pup up and out for a potty trip before he wakes up.  Afterwards, calmly put him back into his crate and sit near him, without interacting with him, until he settles again.  You may also want to make a “sock puppy” as a sleeping buddy for your new puppy.

Setting the tone It takes about three weeks for a dog to settle into a new home.  During this time you are dealing with a small creature that doesn’t speak your language or understand your rules or expectations.  Therefore you must be extra patient in showing him what is expected while also being careful to set him up to succeed.  This generally means restricting his freedom to safe areas and watching him like a hawk.  The biggest mistake people make with a new puppy or dog is allowing them too much freedom too soon.  While your goal may be for the pup to have free run of your house, it can take months before that’s reasonable, possible, or recommended.  Set realistic expectations for your puppy.  They are not adult dogs in small bodies any more than kids are adults in small bodies.  I don’t expect puppies to have the mind/body awareness necessary for true house training until they are at least 12 weeks old (longer for the toy breeds).  Until that time, their success at being clean in the house is entirely up to you.  The more you are able to be calm, confident and consistent, the faster your pup will learn how to act in your home.


Reward behavior you like. Every interaction you have with your puppy is a learning opportunity.  If you make a point of telling the puppy all the good things he is doing you will be giving him attention (something all puppies crave) for the things you like.  Adding a tiny morsel of something yummy further rewards and reinforces his good behavior.

Ignore or prevent behavior you don’t like. This is the point of all that puppy-proofing.  It helps prevent your puppy from practicing unwanted behaviors.  If you calmly redirect your pup to an appropriate chew item when he’s investigating his world, he will develop good chew toy habits.  Remember he can’t think like we do.  Don’t give him an old shoe to chew on, thinking he will understand the difference between that and your new Ferragamos or Jimmy Chus.  Avoid getting yourself into the “no” habit.  Saying “no” is just another form of attention for the pup, and he may learn to be “naughty” just for the attention.  That’s why it’s important to be proactive and focus on, emphasize, and reward his good behavior, rather than being reactive to his bad behavior.

Be proactive. Puppies are curious and busy.  If we make a point of directing them into activities we like, we can avoid the common pitfall of chasing after them telling them “no” all the time.   Make it a habit to keep your pup busy and actively engaged in something rather than overlooking his good behavior and waiting for him to make a mistake.  Puppies are little learning sponges, so take advantage of this tendency and start teaching him right away.  Puppy classes are great for this and for the important social experiences (for the puppy, not you).

Be clear and consistent. While puppies learn quickly, we can help them by being very clear about what the house “rules” are and being very consistent in our responses to their behavior.  You will confuse him terribly and make your job much harder if you sometimes allow him to jump on you and other times get upset when he jumps on you.  So decide as a family what is and isn’t acceptable in your house and stick with it.  Along with this you will all need to use the same cues (words) to tell him what you want.  If one person says “down” to mean “lay on the floor” and another uses “down” to mean “get off the couch”, your puppy will be thoroughly confused in no time.  Dogs can learn lots of cue words but each word can only have one meaning.  It may help to make a list of the words you want to teach and what each word means.

Arm yourself with resources I encourage you to enroll your puppy in a positive puppy kindergarten as soon as possible.  This will help you learn how to communicate with your puppy and give your puppy some much needed social experiences.  If you haven’t done so already, get a couple of good books like The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller or How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar.  Then join my Start Puppy Training list at Yahoo for help and support.

Puppies are adorable, exciting, and fun, but they can also be challenging, exhausting, and messy.  Don’t be discouraged; the time you invest in teaching your puppy good manners and proper habits will pay off for years to come as you enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship with the well-mannered adult dog your puppy will have become.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Potty Pad Training for Puppies

Years ago we called it 'paper training'.  While some people still use paper, we now have a variety of absorbant pads with a moisture proof backing.  They go by a variety of names including 'potty pads' and 'wee wee pads'.  The purpose is the same, a designated toilet spot for your dog.  The potty pads are superior to paper (usually newspaper) for several reasons; they are more absorbent, won't get newsprint on your dog's feet, and you won't have your pup peeing on the Sunday edition you left on the floor by accident. There are situations where having your dog trained to use a potty pad can be a good thing:  You live in an urban area with regular inclement weather.  You have health or mobility issues that make regular trips outdoors difficult.  You live in a high rise apartment so a trip to the street takes several minutes.  You travel frequently with your dog.  You work odd hours and aren't always able to let your dog out at reasonable intervals.Unfortunately, potty pad training may cause you more problems than it solves.  For many puppies, being permitted (and expected) to use potty pads in the house tells them that it is okay to potty in the house.  This is very confusing to many dogs.  The pads are most often used for smaller breed dogs and many of these breeds have a reputation for being difficult to house train.  Perhaps the potty pads are part of the problem.  Even if the pup is regularly using the pads, if the location of the pad remains the same, the pup may associate 'toilet area' with the location and not just the pad.  So you move the pad and the pup keeps peeing the old spot.

Once the puppy is no longer tiny, or the weather outside has improved, or the owner is tired of picking up dirty pads, they decide they now want the pup to eliminate only outside.  This is where things can get ugly.  The person has changed the rules on the pup and the puppy gets very confused.  The pup won't potty outside, waits to come inside and pees on the floor, the owner gets more and more frustrated, and the pup runs the risk of being sent off to the shelter.  It's NOT the puppy's fault that her humans changed their mind.

If your long term plan is for the dog to only eliminate outside, then I suggest skipping the pads and going straight to work teaching the pup to potty outside... in all kinds of weather.  If your life is such that having the potty pad option available for the pup is a good idea, then your training will be a little more involved and require extra patience and persistence.  You CAN teach the pup to use the pads and to go outside, but you may need some help from a positive trainer.

If your pup already uses pads and you would like to eliminate them, you need a 4-6 week plan for gradually phasing out the pads and teaching the pup the new routine.  This starts by moving the pads a few inches toward the outside door each day.  When the pad is beside the door, you introduce the bell at the door so the pup can signal you that she needs to go out.  Then the pad gets moved to just outside the door and you make extra efforts to supervise and take her to the door on a  regular schedule.  Ask the pup to ring the bell to gain access to her pad.  Give lots of praise and encouragement at this stage because the pup is making a leap of faith.  When she starts ringing the bell on her own to ask you to open the door, you can move on to the next stage.  Start moving the pads farther from the door on the outside until they end up in the location you want your dog to potty.  Then slowly reduce the size of the pad until the pad 'disappears' and your pup is now going potty in the yard without any pads.

Congratulations!  Your puppy has now learned to ask to go outside and the pads are gone.  Since she originally learned to use the pads, you should still be able to use them in a pinch (illness, travel, weather), but your pup is now house trained :-)