Find a penny
pick it up
or you'll have to
Heimlich pup

I can feel his eyes on my back
as I sit at the computer.

There's a pup in the house.
We've asked the devil in for tea…

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.

Arthur as a pupHead them off at the pass…

Arm yourself!
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 to town.

Shopping spree
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 adulthood.

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!
Kiddie Gates
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 be!)
Puppy Pen
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 peace.
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!

Duncan with a glove he should not have
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 time forgiving.
  • Teach the "Leave it!" command.
    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 them.
  • 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.

Potty Parties!
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 another "party".

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.

Get a Crate!!! 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.

More benefits…

  • 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…

Baby Talk
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 talking!

Play to learn…
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.

Puppy School
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!

High Society
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.

Vet 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!

Other Pets
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.

First night
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".

Growing Pains
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
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