Now, I love puppies - really I do. But I know (do I ever) how they can
tax your sanity and make the smartest person feel like a fool. That's their
job. All I can do is share with you some tips and strategies I've learned
in the span of 16 years and 5 puppies (hence the jumbo size of this article).
Feel free to benefit from my misery.
Each pup is a new learning experience. Non-dog-owned friends are always
remarking that each of our dogs is so "different", so "individual".
Well of course they are. It's a clever survival strategy. If every dog
was the same, we'd know what to expect and WE would rule the world! But,
this is not the case. In the early days, though, there is a recurring theme:
Eat, Drink, Pee, Poop, Chew. When you have a pup in your house, these are
the words you live by. There are no other events. This is your life.
them off at the pass…
Once your home is puppy infested (yes, even one qualifies
as an infestation) you are at a disadvantage. Read the puppy manuals before
you bring puppy home. You will not have time later. The puppy will eat
them. There are many excellent books on puppy rearing and a ton of information
is available on the Internet (see the links at the end of this article).
Knowledge is power. You'll need every edge you can get when puppy comes
Buy the collar, leash, crate, dishes, toys, etc. before the
furball touches down. Not only will you be ready for anything, but you
will also get a small preview of the cost involved in bringing a pup to
The shopping list:
(I like the soft nylon variety for puppies. They're lightweight and
the pups accept them readily. I like bright colors because puppies have
a tendency to slip out of their collars. Bright colors help make it easy
to see if your pup is missing his collar (and therefore, ID tag!)
Again, a soft lightweight nylon leash to start. Puppy will chew it
up, so don't spend a bundle. If you are going to puppy school, they will
most likely want you to have a 6 foot leather leash as well.
Even if you haven't named your pup, you can have a tag made up with
your name and phone number.
Do it NOW, before your pup wiggles under the fence and disappears!
More about that later in this article. You need this, trust me!
To keep puppy from plunging down the basement stairs or getting into
areas you don't want him in. I use accordion style wooden gates screwed
into the walls (great for restraining older dogs too!), but you can try
the pressure mounted plastic types (these would probably work fine for
smaller pups, but you'll be amazed and how strong a charging puppy can
The doggie equivalent of a playpen. A safe place to let your pup bounce
around, indoors or out.
Breeders often use them. I've never bothered but you might find it useful
to set one up in the basement or the yard and buy yourself a few moments
You will need these immediately! If they are not provided - in
abundance - puppy will improvise with items found around the house. Try
Nylabones, sterilized natural bones, rawhide, Kongs,
or Booda Bones. Squeaky toys and Chewman toys (or any other durable soft
toy) round out the toy box. Always supervise pups when they play
with ANY toy. Know what your pup will do with a toy before you leave them
unattended together. The only things I trust alone with a young pup are
Nylabones and Kongs - and even then only after I have tried them
out under supervision first. All these items are readily available at your
local pet shop or on-line pet supply.
Food & Puppy Treats
Use what your breeder or vet recommends.
Food and water dishes in appropriate sizes (puppies will crawl right
in if the dish is too big!). Choose heavy bottoms and easy to clean materials.
Safeguard your home!
Crawl around your home and identify potential hazards from
a pups-eye-view. Anything that hangs down will be pulled down. Towels,
toilet paper, whatever…Then it will be ingested (see below) or it will
knock the perpetrator senseless, or worse. Electrical cords are favorite
targets for sabotage. If they can't be chewed, they can be used to pull
lamps, etc. onto the floor. Block them off, tuck them away. Anticipate
trouble. Prove you are smarter than the infant furball!
The fun begins...
Rules of engagement.
- Anything that can be ingested -
WILL be ingested.
Or, an attempt will be made. Ask your vet to show you how
to dislodge objects caught in the pups mouth or throat. Watch your pup
for signs of distress - pawing at the mouth, bleeding from the mouth, drooling,
gagging, etc. Even if you know a pup is teething - check anyway! One of
my readers took her pup to the vet after she was unable to determine the
source of blood. Her vet found a length of string had become wrapped tight
around the very back of the pup's tongue! The damage required stitches
and the vet told her the entire tongue might have been lost if she had
not acted as quickly as she did. When in doubt, call your vet!!!
- Puppies wolf food.
They tend (as do many adult dogs) to swallow things whole.
Not everything is designed for this. I heard a tragic story about a grown
Cocker who choked to death on a hunk of processed cheese. The sight of
a pup trying to consume a large piece of food may be comical, but it can
also be dangerous!
- No loose change please!
Puppies love coins - a wonderful choking hazard. Tristan
found $10.01 in coins and bills by the time he was a year old. His largest
haul was a $5.00 bill he found somehow. Fortunately, he liked to show off
his finds and always trotted over to us with his prize. (At least we think
he did…Maybe there's a Swiss bank account we know nothing about…)
- Bottles in your kitchen, bath or
garage have a magnetic appeal to puppies.
Lock them out of reach. Puppy teeth can chew into a plastic
bottle quicker than you think. The neighbor's bull terrier once unscrewed
the cap off a quart of motor oil with his teeth. Assume everything you
have is toxic. You won't be far wrong. Remove temptation and save money
on vet bills.
- Pack away anything that snags.
Puppy nails are tiny. You'll be amazed at the damage they
can do. Save yourself and the pup some grief. Wear washable items when
handling the pup. They run through things we find unsavory. Some get tense
and pee on you. Then there's drool, vomit, puppy food slime - you get the
idea. You are a napkin for a while. Dress accordingly.
- Cover your furniture.
Puppy will want to be on the couch with you. Whether you
let him or not makes no difference. He will try. With razor claws, trying
is worse than success. Puppy claws can leave marks you will have a hard
- Teach the "Leave it!"
Start the first day. Set something down and tell the pup
to "leave it". Yank them back if they go for it and repeat the
command. Sound firm and sound serious but don't yell. Use praise and treats
to reward success. This command may buy you a few precious seconds, even
if your pup hasn't completely mastered the idea.
- Check the yard.
A fenced yard will not always contain a pup. Some shimmy
through impossibly tight spaces. Some bound over a 4 foot fence with youthful
exuberance. Supervise your pup even when he's outside. Get to know his
style before you relax and assume he's safely contained. Pups are a bit
stupid and they'll usually give away their secrets if you keep an eye on
- ID, please…
Strap a collar and ID tag on pup as soon as you get him home.
You can order an ID tag in advance with your name, address and phone (including
area code!), then order another later with pup's name on it. They're cheap
insurance in case pup does find that hole in your fence. You might also
want to talk to your vet about the new microchip technology. Both Duncan
and Emma scan like groceries on a conveyor belt!
- Use a Leash!!!
When pup is out of his fenced yard, a leash may be the only
thing that keeps him from becoming another sad statistic. Puppies ricochet
left and right like the balls in a pinball machine. They will be sitting
at your side one minute and running in traffic the next.
- High Places
Puppies will run right over the edge of your deck, porch
or what have you. Most will bounce and learn. But be aware they have no
sense of height and protect them accordingly.
Your life now revolves around bodily functions.
Housebreaking takes about 2,000 years.
Well at least it feels that way…
A professional trainer clued me in to the absolutely best way to housebreak
a pup. It requires work on your part, but it's less work than cleaning
up accidents for months! She calls them "Potty Parties" and you
are always invited! After feeding, after playtime, after napping, after
ANYTHING, snap that leash on your furkid and take him outside (I carry
mine out to avoid spills). They say that if you pick the same spot your
dog will grow up to use that as his only potty area. Cockers must not have
read the manuals because mine abandon my "chosen spot" the minute
they hit puberty. Still, I hear others have succeeded and it sure makes
for cleaner shoes all around. Now, tell your pup to do the deed. Pick any
words you like (preferably something that will not accidentally be repeated
in normal conversation) - I use the embarrassing, but endearing "Potty
One" and "Potty Two". You can't miss. Pups do little else
- he's bound to hit one or both. When a "Potty One/ Potty Two"
has been completed, you praise in your happiest voice "Good Puppy,
Potty One OUTSIDE!". Make It an EVENT! Potty one is easy - puppies
always have a few drops in reserve. Success is ensured. For Potty Two,
you'll need to watch and learn your pup's bowel habits. Most pups can reliably
produce after eating, or first thing in the morning or after heavy play.
These are what we call "opportunities for SUCCESS!". Your job
(silly as it may seem) is to stand there in your PJs at the crack of dawn
and say "Potty Two" in your perkiest voice until the deed is
done and the "party" can begin. Your neighbors will never get
over it. You will. Once the desired deed (or two) is achieved, puppy has
earned ½ hour of supervised "free time" outside his crate.
(This offer not valid in the middle of the night. For nighttime, you want
junior to understand that a quick pee is the only thing he gets
if he whines.) Warning, young pups can, and do, piddle at the drop of a
hat. If the play is intense, you might want to break at 15 minutes for
The goal is to teach the pup what you want (potty outside!), not just
what you don't want (potty on carpet!). Praise, treats and playtime rewards
are mighty motivators puppies. The leash removes distractions. Without
the leash the pup wanders off and maybe empties or maybe forgets and eats
a plant instead. When they come inside, they tend to remember that they
had to go…On the leash, there is little to do but please you so they can
get their reward. You'll be surprised at how fast they learn. Now, we all
get lazy and the appeal of standing in the rain at 6AM wears thin. If you
can stick with it for even a few weeks, you will see results. The longer
you trot yourself out with the pup, the faster the housebreaking will be.
You decide - would your rather be outdoors chanting "potty, potty",
or indoors on your knees cleaning up the potty, potty. When the inevitable
accident occurs, show your displeasure in a limited way (a sharp NO or
UH,UH will suffice) and you whisk the pup outside. (You must catch him
in the act or this is useless). Fix your gaze on the little offender and
firmly give your chosen potty command. Wait for success. Praise the success.
If the pup is too empty to produce, put him in his crate and try again
every 1/2 hour until you have a reason to party. Never rub a pup's nose
in the mess or scream or spank. It does no good to just teach them WRONG.
Teaching them RIGHT is more productive. I have also found that using a
crate (kennel, cage, whatever you like to call it) is vital to quick success.
Remember you must be consistent and you must be aware that it takes
time and diligence. My furkids are usually housebroken in two or three
months (I normally bring pups home at 8-10 weeks). I've heard some people
say their dogs got the message in just days or weeks. Some take nearly
a year. Some are never quite reliable. It depends on the dog and the owner
and, sometimes, the luck of the draw.
your key to salvation...
I've raised 2 pups without a crate and three with. In my
opinion, crate training is indispensable. Your life will be easier, your
pup will be safer, your home will be cleaner, your possessions will be
intact. My first two pups slept on our bed. They also wet on our bed. While
we were at work, they were confined to one room in our house. They ate
the bed, the door, the woodwork. Then we installed kiddie gates and left
them in the kitchen. Earnest's toy went under the gate. Earnest couldn't
follow. Earnest clawed through a new linoleum floor. The 99 cent dog toy
had just cost us thousands of dollars. They chewed cords, got into trash,
ate shoes. They were despicable. It was not their fault. It was my stubborn
refusal to "jail" my beloved pups. Instead, I risked their lives
and my sanity every day I left the house. Even worse, when they had to
be caged by the vet or groomer, they were frantic.
Tristan was our first experiment in crate training. Every night he was
given a biscuit and sent into his "house" (I couldn't bear to
call it a crate or cage!). He felt secure and the crate was small enough
that he thought twice about messing in it. In the morning, he romped with
the other dogs until it was time for me to go to work and then he went
back into his house with a few indestructible toys. I was free to live
my life without worry. Homecomings were not filled with dread (on either
side). He was safe. The house was intact. Let the fun begin!
Crate training also reduces housebreaking time and the amount of time
you spend on your knees with paper towels.
Pups are reluctant to soil their den, so they learn to control their bladder
and bowels faster. Any accidents that do occur (and they will, I guarantee)
are not setting a dangerous precedent for puppy soiling your carpeting
or using a corner of the kitchen for a toilet. Puppies learn by association.
If they get into the habit of regarding a particular area of your home
as their personal toilet, it can be time consuming to change their mind.
An added bonus is that puppies are usually either sleeping or chewing on
a safe toy while in their crate. You will learn soon enough that puppy
activity is followed (nearly immediately) by "potty emergencies".
If you control the activity level, you can also control the need for "potty
time" - to a certain extent.
The crate provides a safe playpen for when you must leave the house,
or when company comes, or when you just need to eat in peace! I use a small
sleeping crate in the bedroom and a larger playpen-sized crate for daytime.
Do not leave anything in the crate that can be shredded or destroyed and
choked on. When you feel your dog is trustworthy, begin weaning them off
the crate - leaving him "alone" (you can be just outside the
door the first few times) in the house ½ hour at a time. Most destruction
is caused by insecurity, so gradually work your dog up to the point where
they feel comfortable alone in the house while you are away. Leave the
crate open, so your dog can return to a familiar "den" if he
feels stressed. Emma was crated till she was well over a year old, but
when we weaned her off, all we lost was one magazine. She was old enough
to handle being alone without eating our shoes! Crate training also establishes
some wonderful habits. In the crate, there's nothing to do but chew toys
or sleep. When you leave the house, your pup falls into the pattern of
doing one or the other. As you remove the crate from the equation, those
habits remain. You have set the pattern for how your dog will behave when
you are not home. You and your dog will know when the time is right. Some
dogs will always need to be crated when you are away - for their safety
and your peace of mind.
Bear in mind that crating is not a substitute for training and affection.
It's a tool. Opinions vary, but I feel no young puppy (under 4 months)
should spend more than 2 or 3 hours at a time in his crate. They need interaction
and affection and frequent potty breaks. No older pup or adult dog
should be left in a crate more than 8 hours for the same reasons. Remember,
dogs naturally sleep a lot. They will play with chew toys or sleep in their
crate, but they need to be active family members the rest of the time.
For puppies, keep the crate in the center of activity so they feel part
of the action.
Choosing a crate
My advice is to buy the best quality you can afford. My pups
have always preferred the open feeling of wire cages rather than the plastic
travel kennel style. Look for a sturdy collapsible style that is easy to
carry when folded. We found out the hard way that some don't have handles!
We take along our large fold-up wire crate when we travel and it has made
life so much easier. I have found that painted cages tend to chip, so I
avoid them. Buy a crate large enough to fit your dog when he is full grown.
The absolute minimum should allow room for the dog to stand up completely
and turn around easily. I think bigger is better from a comfort standpoint
so we have pretty huge cages for the Cockers.
Look for smooth edges on the cage and tray. Check for signs that the
cage is constructed with the dog's safety in mind. Are the wires finished
smoothly? Are there any parts that could scratch, cut or catch a collar
or fur? Is the latch secure? Does the cage fold easily yet feel sturdy
when it is assembled?
Introducing the crate.
All our pups have come from breeders who use crates and playpens,
so we've had little trouble getting the pups to adjust. They will squawk
at first. If you know they've been potty and aren't hungry or hurt, ignore
it. They'll get the idea. Say "in your house" and toss in a treat.
They will follow. I like to feed the puppies in their crate too. It helps
you keep track of what and how much they are eating. It also offers yet
another incentive to think warm happy thoughts about being crated. It's
a good idea to remove your pup's collar when he is crated. Occasionally
a rambunctious pup (or even a grown dog) will catch his collar on a part
of the crate and strangle.
Furnishing the crate
I like to set up crates for puppies with a newspaper area and
a sleeping area. Conventional wisdom suggests that puppies should have
only a tiny space to discourage them from soiling their crates. In my experience,
size makes no difference. If they have to go, they go. I think it's nicer
for them not to be sitting in it once they do. (If your dog is an incorrigible
crate soiler, try reducing the floor space with boxes or plastic milk crates
or a divider - anything your pup won't eat or get caught on - for
a while). For the sleeping area, I use old towels or that dandy fake sheepskin
fabric you can get in most major pet stores. Monitor the crate. If your
pup starts eating the paper, remove it. If he shreds the towel, try the
"sheepskin". I've never had a pup or dog eat the fake sheepskin,
but some just might. Get a heavy water dish. Pups like to drag them around.
They also like to wade in them, so keep it small. I leave a 1/3 full water
dish in the crate if I'm going to be gone more than a few hours. I like
to leave toys in the crate but they must be indestructible. I've used sterilized
natural bones large enough that they can't get stuck in the dog's mouth
and tough enough not to splinter. Several manufacturers now make a completely
consumable cornstarch bone (one type is Booda Velvets). I use these in
crates as long as they are a bit large for the dog. "Kong" toys
are another almost indestructible choice and have the advantage of being
hollow so treats can be stuffed inside. Basically, anything hard, and large
is a good bet. Nylabones are wonderfully durable and safe. Don't use anything that can be shredded, dismantled or torn
to bits and choked on. My rule is to road test each toy under supervision
before leaving a dog alone with it.
- Dogs accustomed to crates are more relaxed when they must be crated
by your groomer or vet.
- Hotels/motels/cabins are more likely to allow you to bring your dog
if you tell them you are also bringing along a crate.
- If your dog is ever sick and needs to be quarantined away from your
other pets, you'll already have a portable "hospital room". Clean
up and sanitation are much easier.
- Feeding in the crate allows you to monitor dogs on special food even
if you have other dogs in the house.
- The crate becomes a "safe" place. You may find your dog goes
there on his own when fearful or stressed or tired. They're a great place
for over-excited pups and young dogs to "chill out".
- You are in charge. If your dog does not behave, they can be crated.
When Emma would act up, all I had to say is "do you want to go in
your house?". She knew her freedom was in peril. While you should
never use the crate as a punishment, I do feel pups can come to understand
that free time is a privilege that they earn with good behavior. There
are also times, particularly with pups and teenage dogs, when you just
need your life back. There is no reason to invite company over and not
enjoy it because you are constantly monitoring your pup. Sometimes absence
does make the heart grow fonder…
Talk to your pup… How do human
babies learn English? They relate speech to objects and actions because
people talk to them. Dogs can do the same on a surprising level. Keep a
running dialog going. "Upstairs", "Outside", "Inside",
"Dinner", "Treat". Tell the pup what's going on in
your language and he'll pick up enough to amaze you. (We had to start spelling
CAR to avoid canine excitement on a grand scale every time one was mentioned.
Then they learned what C…A…R…was). 99% of training is communication. Start
Everything is play for puppies. Take advantage of their natural
desire to please. You can use treats and praise to teach SIT and COME to
even the tiniest puppies. Put them on a leash the first day and take them
for "mini walks" in your yard. Teach them to STAY inside as you
go out the door. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how much early training
can be achieved.
Misery loves company…
I used to think puppy class was for wimps who were too lazy
to read a book and work with their pup. Then came Emma. Suddenly, I was
eager to throw cash at anyone who would help me gain control of this beast.
This speck was laughing at me. This was war. In war, you need allies…
Puppy school is useful on a number of levels. The part I appreciate
most is being in a room with 20 other helpless fools who are desperately
trying to gain control over infant dogs. There's always a dog worse than
yours! Emma ("the Evil") was the darling of her puppy class.
She performed like a little angel. I liked to work her next to "Franco"
a Jack Russell Terrier who only sat if two trainers and his owner held
him down. Emma looked like Lassie in comparison. She loved to go to school
and I loved having a nice puppy - if only for an hour. Life was good. Oh,
and we learned some great stuff too…
Now, puppy class is not just for delinquents like our darling Emma.
Shy pups gain confidence. Confident pups gain some humility. All pups get
vital socialization with other dogs and people in unfamiliar surroundings.
Plus, like any school, you, as the trainer, become motivated by an outside
force. As with any school, that force is fear of total humiliation. You
WILL work your pup. If you don't, some saintly pup and his hardworking
master are going to show you up for the failure you really are. You will
be exposed. To avoid this, you will do as many repetitions as your instructor
tells you. You will practice heeling in blizzards. You will do your homework.
And…you will succeed!
Puppy school is not the only way to socialize your pup. Once
he has had his complete set of vaccinations (ask your vet when it's safe)
show your furball the town. Take the little beastie to the pet shop with
you. Many allow dogs inside. Let him shop and be admired. Pet shops are
like Disneyland for puppies. Take him to meet your relatives, friends and
neighbors. Gradually introduce the pup to people of all sizes, colors and
ages. Parks are a great place to make friends. Happy experiences early
on will make your dog a solid citizen when he's grown.
DO NOT LET CHILDREN (YOURS OR ANYONE ELSE'S) HARASS YOUR
PUP. Now this seems like common sense advice but the world is full of dogs
who dislike kids so you may draw your own conclusions. Older children should
be instructed on the proper way to handle and play with a pup. Young children
should never be allowed near a pup without supervision. Rough handling,
loud noises and jerky sudden movements are alarming to your pup. Toddlers
attempting to throw a toy for the pup will usually throw a toy at the pup.
A firm hug can feel like a death grip. Puppies are often too dumb to hide,
they keep coming back for more. If you're not careful you can end up with
a dog who is skittish around children or worse. Teach and supervise. You'll
be doing both your dog and your kids a favor. Many, many children are bitten
by dogs each year. Help lower those statistics by educating your children
on the proper way to behave around dogs. Your puppy should view children
as playmates and not adversaries.
On the other hand, keep an eye out for signs that your pup is trying
to dominate your children. Growling, mounting and other dominant behaviors
must be taken seriously or they can lead to serious trouble.
Care…JUST DO IT!
One of the first places your pup should visit is the vet's
office. If this is your first pup, be sure to ask questions about what
is needed and when. If you've raised a pup before, ask anyway. If it's
been a while, you might need to know about Heartworm preventative, Lyme
Disease vaccines and more. Prevention is always cheaper than treatment!
If you are adding a pup to an existing pack, proceed with
care. Introduce the pup to your other dogs with everyone on leashes, preferably
in neutral territory (not in your house or yard). Cautiously allow
more and more interaction in different areas of your home and yard until
you are all comfortable with the situation. Take a few days if necessary.
Make it clear to the older dogs that the pup is under your protection.
Arthur terrorized Tristan for the first day, then accepted him. When we
brought Emma home, Arthur tried to sneak up when I was holding her and
grab her leg. I gave him three warnings, then I bopped him on the nose
and sent him sneezing off across the room. Emma was grudgingly accepted
a few moments later. As pack leader, you make the rules about who joins
the pack. As a fair and benevolent leader you must also make certain the
pup does not abuse or irritate the older dogs. Equally important - each
day, while pup is napping in his crate, groom, cuddle and play with your
older dog(s). Let them know you still love them. Remember, make the addition
of puppy a celebration with treats and play and fun for everyone.
Pup will wail. Tuck him into his crate with a safe, soft
dog toy and ignore him. He'll feel more secure in your room. He will also
keep you awake. Think how you would feel. You are ripped from your family
where you all sleep cuddled together each night. You've had a hard day
- full of surprises - and now you are all alone in the dark and you have
no idea if there's another living soul in the house. If he persists, tell
him "quiet" or "settle" in a firm but not loud voice.
I find that just clearing my throat or yawning will reassure the youngster
that he is not alone. Wait him out. He will sleep. Really. Depending on
the age of the pup, he will need to go out at least once in the night for
a potty break. Do not expect a full night's sleep for a while.
*If you feel really evil about this, you can put the crate beside your
bed and dangle a hand near it. With the last two pups, I have actually
put the crate ON the bed (this requires a small crate and an understanding
spouse) for the first night only. When the pup started to cry, I
lightly thumped the crate and said "settle". When they quieted
because they were distracted by the thump, I praised them in a soothing
voice. After less than an hour, the little dears fell asleep. By the next
evening, I could just say "settle".
Check with your vet or books on puppy rearing to learn when the various
stages of development - both physical and mental - take place. Pups go
through teething, fearful periods, exploration, sexual maturity and a multitude
of other phases that effect their behavior. You need to know what to expect
so you can help guide your pup through these changes with patient understanding.
Otherwise, you may need tranquilizers. You need to know that potty training
can take weeks - or months - depending on a number of factors. I recently
heard from a woman who was concerned that her 6 week old puppy was not
having much potty training success! A six week old puppy has almost no
bowel or bladder control. A twelve week old has more. A four month old
has quite a bit. Plan accordingly! Give that teething pup more chew toys
and save your shoes. Take that 8 week old pup out every ½ hour to
avoid stains on your carpet. Know what you're up against.
Before you know it, your darling
pup will be an adolescent.
May God help you then...
Need more help with crate training, housebreaking hints,
problem solving, etc? Visit
Dog Training Basics
- This is the trainer I use and she's great! Lots of
free advice on her web site and she does consultations for local clients too!
Copyright 1998 - 2007 Elizabeth Cusulas
Tale Waggers - Stories for Dog People
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction without written permission is expressly forbidden