I have been fortunate to have two (soon to be three) very rewarding careers. In my first career I trained animals, all kinds of animals: sea lions, wolves, birds of prey, cats big and not so big, even a porcupine. I also taught dog obedience classes. It was a great career when I was younger, and didn’t have a mortgage and retirement to think about. The twenties and early thirties are great for that, but eventually the realities closed in, and I had to leave a career I loved for one that was a little more lucrative. I also hated where I was living, but that is a whole ‘nother story. However, for close to ten years I was up to my elbows in animal hair, dead fish, dirt, dust, water and…animal doo-doo, lots of it. I loved every second of it, and I was pretty good at it too.
People often to ask me, ‘can you train my dog?’ To which I answer, ‘yes, but that’s not what’s important.’ What is important is this: Can YOU train your dog? It takes more time, and more patience than you would think.
House training a dog is often a make it or breaks it for a pet owner. No one wants a dog that constantly makes a mess in the house. Poor house training is a top reason for relinquishing a dog to a shelter.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a dog owner say things like: “He’s doing it on purpose.” “She’s knows she’s not supposed to make a mess in the house, but she does it anyway.” “I found a spot of pee on the carpet and he looked so guilty, he knew he’d done wrong.” All those nickels added up, would mean I could quit my day job, I’d be rich already.
Your dog does not know he’s not supposed to urinate or defecate in your house, he just knows that the pee and the poop in the house is bad. Read that one more time. Now, let me try it another way. She doesn’t connect the action (urination, defecation) to the product (pee,poop) once the action is done and over with. This is why it is so essential to catch your dog in the act, because once the physical, bodily action is over and done with, the dog doesn’t understand why you’re yelling at him and holding him over the results. All she knows is you are very angry about that mess on the carpet.
Let me give you two scenarios.
You come home and smell it. There’s the evidence in a cold little puddle. Fifi is in the other room and you find her, drag her over to the wet spot and tell her “BAD DOG!” several times, very loudly. Your neighbors wonder who you’re screaming at, again. You pick her up and throw Fifi out into the back yard, telling her “Do it out there, not in here!” Griping angrily you clean it up and eventually let Fifi back in after being outside for several hours.
Yes, Fifi ‘knows’ it’s her pee, she can smell that it’s hers. What she doesn’t ‘know’ is where she’s supposed to pee, that part hasn’t been made clear to her or she wouldn’t be having accidents. What she does know is that when Mom or Dad comes home, she is going to be in big trouble. So when you walk through the door, and Fifi is hiding, or cowering and ‘looks guilty’ yes, she ‘knows’ she’s going to get in trouble, and that you’re going to hold her over her cold, stinky pee, scream and yell and throw her out. You haven’t paired the action with the proper location, you’ve paired the results with being punished. Fifi doesn’t know urination is bad, but she does know the puddle of pee will cause her big problems. This is often why owners say their dog will ‘hide’ where they urinate.
Scenario Two. Your puppy, Rex, has been doing well with house training, but he still has accidents when no one’s watching him closely. So you keep Rex close, and watch him like a hawk. Soon enough he squats and starts to ‘go.’ You growl “NO!” loudly and scoop Rex up and carry him outside. Placing him on the grass, you begin to speak soothingly and tell Rex “Here’s where you go potty, here’s a good boy.” Soon enough, Rex resumes his interrupted action and you praise him wildly. “What a good dog you are! What a smart boy!” Rex wiggles with giddy puppy enthusiasm and you leave him outside with a toy to distract him while you go inside to clean up his accident.
It is appropriate to scold a dog when you catch her in the act; you are telling the dog the action is incorrect in that particular place. The next step then, is that you have to follow it up with praising the dog for eliminating where you want her to; generally this is outside. Many owners skip this step, and this just leads to further confusion on the part of the dog.
A puppy is like a baby, very cute and precious little sense. Because they grow so quickly, many dog owners make the mistake of trusting the dog too soon. It takes a minimum of one year for a puppy to be considered reliably house trained. I don’t care how good she is, I don’t care how well she’s done and how few accidents, you cannot give a puppy under one year of age freedom of the house without supervision. You are setting yourselves up to fail.
What can you do? Be prepared to watch your puppy like a hawk for that first year. Plan to take your puppy out every 15 to 30 minutes to give them the opportunity to ‘go’ if they are in the house and romping around. Plan ahead and have a crate ready for when you cannot be paying attention every second. The good news is, puppies need lots of play and lots of sleep. You can safely crate your puppy for a few hours and not have to worry about finding little surprises later on. This gives you and your puppy a break, and you a chance to get things done without a little ball of fur scampering around your feet.
Doesn’t that sound like a lot of work? It is! But it is also a ton of fun. After all, who doesn’t love spending time playing with puppies? It pays off in the long run too.
My husband and I got a yellow Lab puppy four years ago. She is a darling dog, and very much Daddy’s girl. My husband and I do not have fights, but we came closer that first year of our Lab’s life than at any other time in our marriage. He had never raised a puppy in his adult life, and I was atypically inflexible in considering his suggestions; we were going to do it my way! Who’s the animal trainer? Naturally, that did not go over well with him. Fortunately for our continued happiness, the Lab is now 100% reliable in the house and he has quite generously admitted, “You were right to be so strict with raising her.” Music to my ears!
What are your puppy raising adventures? What dogs do you share your life with? I can’t imagine not having at least one in my life.