While preventing your puppy getting into trouble is essential, it’s also an idea to teach him some good habits. A few things you need to tackle from day one, both good and bad, are: house-training (teaching the puppy where to relieve himself), chewing, play-biting (biting your hands or feet during play) and jumping up at people.
House Training a Puppy
House-training can be challenging because you are dealing with an animal that can’t control his bladder and intestines until five to seven months of age. However, if training is effective, your puppy can learn to relieve himself in the right place even if he can’t always control himself. There are times when your puppy is most likely to seek relief. These are:
- As soon as he wakes in the morning
- About five to fifteen minutes after drinking water
- About ten to twenty-five minutes after eating
- During a vigorous play session
- After waking from a nap
As you can see, the puppy needs to go often and you may not be around to take him to your chosen spot on every occasion. Therefore, accidents will happen. Have more than one toilet area – puppy-training pads are a good choice. People make many mistakes when house-training a puppy, frequently because what they think they’re teaching isn’t what the puppy is learning. For example, you may think if you take your puppy to the spot soiled with urine or faeces and say “No!” or smack him, he’ll learn not to soil that place again. No such luck.
What your puppy is learning is that your presence, coupled with the presence of urine or faeces, leads to punishment. To avoid future punishment, the puppy may begin to relieve himself on absorbent surfaces such as carpets, in secluded places, but seldom in front of you. Don’t be surprised, then, if when you take your puppy outdoors, you spend a long time there with him, nothing happens, and then he relieves himself out of your sight as soon as you are back in the house.
The ideal solution is to take the puppy to one of your chosen spots during those times when he’s most likely to need to relieve himself. As soon as he finishes, praise him or offer him a food treat. And here, I should stress that something like a small piece of lean ham, or a carrot is preferable to a fatty tidbit. By all means use tempting treats, but keep things within reason otherwise you will end up with a well-trained but overweight companion! Reward him only when he’s finished, otherwise he may interrupt the process to focus on the treat.
If you catch him in the act of relieving himself in the wrong place, pick him up gently but quickly, say nothing, and take him to the right spot. If you see urine or faeces even a minute after it has occurred, just wash the soiled area and say nothing. Bleach and ammonia-based cleaning products may attract rather than deter your puppy, because some of their components are similar to the components in urine. Wash the soiled areas with an enzymatic cleaner, such as ‘Simple Solution’ Natural Cleaner, and then apply an odour-neutralising product, such as ‘Simple Solution’ Natural Stain and Odour Eliminator. Both enzymatic cleaner and odour-neutralising products can be found in pet stores. If you can’t find an odour-neutralising product, vinegar will do. Use one part vinegar to two parts water; pour a few drops on the washed area and wipe with paper.
What if your puppy relieves himself on the puppy training pad but there’s nobody around to reward him immediately? Take him to the training pad, gently get him to smell the soiled area, then praise lavishly and give the treat. The puppy will learn that urine or faeces on the training pad leads to a treat, even if he relieved himself quite a while before you noticed it.
Dogs typically don’t soil their sleeping areas or when confined, so the cage is a useful tool in the house-training process. I recommend a cage, but you may prefer a playpen. However, caging your puppy for longer than two to three hours isn’t advisable. Cage-train your puppy before using the cage as a house-training aid. Begin by allowing the puppy to investigate the cage, at will. Leave the cage door wide open so that the puppy doesn’t run the risk of having it shut on him during his exploits. Let him take a few steps towards the cage, sniff it and go inside if he chooses. Reward him for investigating the cage without being fearful of it.
Once the puppy has investigated the cage, encourage him to go inside. Do this by placing a food treat inside the cage, but near the front. Allow the puppy to get the food treat and toss another treat a bit further in and allow the puppy to get that one, too. Gradually toss the food treats farther until you are tossing them right into the back of the cage. At this point, toss four or five treats at once so that they scatter and the puppy needs to stay longer inside the cage to get them. Proceed by closing the cage door, with the puppy inside it, and open it a few seconds later.
Gradually increase the time during which the puppy remains inside with the door closed. When you increase the time, place a chew-toy inside the cage so the puppy has something to keep him entertained. This cage-training process is important because under no circumstances should your puppy think of the cage as a place of punishment.
Your puppy may also soil the floor because he doesn’t have time to reach his toilet area. Have some puppy training pads scattered around so he can easily access them.
Teaching a Puppy Not to Chew
Just as toddlers go through a stage of picking up all sorts of objects and putting them in their mouth, puppies also explore their surroundings in this way. Furthermore, they need to chew and tear. Unless taught what can and can’t be chewed, everything is a chew toy – it makes no difference to your puppy if he chews on a rubber bone or your Persian carpet.
Your life will be simpler and the puppy will learn faster if you keep personal items out of reach, and have plenty of toys scattered around. This way, if your puppy starts chewing something he shouldn’t, you can redirect his attention to one of his toys. But be careful . . . if your puppy gets hold of your shoe, starts chewing, and you give him a toy in the hope that he’ll let go of the shoe, you’re rewarding him with a toy for having chewed on your shoe. It’s better to interrupt the shoe-chewing with a sound such as a hand clap, make a pause of about three seconds, and then give the puppy a toy. That three second pause is long enough for him to learn he’s not being rewarded for having chewed on your shoe.
Teaching the ‘Drop It’ Command
As for safety, it’s fine if your puppy gets hold of your shoe, or a cushion. But what if he gets hold of something dangerous? Many owners forcefully remove objects from their puppy’s mouth, which is understandable. But if you constantly do this, you risk your puppy gulping the object down, or threatening you, before you have a chance to take it away So, it’s useful to teach your puppy a ‘drop it’ command. Teach this using a game called object exchange. Have five or so toys lined up on a table, or somewhere out of the puppy’s reach.
Choose toys that range from least to most preferred. Offer the puppy the least preferred toy. As soon as he mouths it, say ‘drop it’ and immediately take the toy out of his mouth. Offer him a more preferred toy and let him play with that for a while. Then say ‘drop it’ again; immediately take the toy out of his mouth. Offer him the toy next in the order of most preferred. Carry on playing until you work your way up to his favourite toy. When the time comes for you to give him his favourite toy, end the game. Let him play with that toy until he’s had enough of it.
Then put all five toys away and bring them out again only for your next training session. At first, expect your puppy to offer some resistance when you say ‘drop it’ and take the toy out of his mouth. He doesn’t understand any human language, so it may take him a while to understand that ‘drop it’ means ‘spit out what’s in your mouth’. But over time he’ll understand, especially if you always end the training session with a strong reward – a food treat, or his favourite toy.
Once your puppy understands the ‘drop it’ command, use objects other than toys to continue training – for example, a hat, a book, a shoe, a sock. It’s not advisable to reward your puppy with a sock for having dropped the shoe, or with a shoe for having dropped the hat. Instead, reward him with one of his favourite toys or a food treat every time he complies with the ‘drop it’ command.
Once the puppy is reliable with the ‘drop it’ command, no matter what object he has spat out and where, gradually fade out the rewards until you no longer need to use them. While training your puppy to ‘drop it’, have him on a lead. This is to stop him running off with an object in his mouth, a game most dogs relish! Some objects (bones and poop, for example) are irresistible and your training efforts may fall flat on their face. In these situations, open your puppy’s mouth and remove the object, especially if it’s a dangerous one.
Training Your Puppy Not to Bite
Chewing objects is one thing, but play-biting – the puppy biting your hands or feet while you play with him or caress him – requires a different approach.
Puppies play with what they have – paws and teeth. So it’s to be expected, although not desirable, to have the puppy nip your hands while playing with you or while being patted. Those needle-sharp teeth hurt, so the sooner you teach him not to nip, the better. In my experience, the easiest way to teach the puppy not to nip is to make a sound that will startle him. Don’t scream or shout, or he may think you’re a gigantic squeaky toy, but you can say ‘ouch’ and immediately remove your hands from his reach. Stand up, fold your arms, or walk out of the room for about half a minute if you have to. Come back to him and as soon as he shows no interest in your hands, or licks them instead of biting, continue playing or patting him. If you and everyone else who have contact with the puppy are consistent, he will learn much faster. The lesson is: whenever teeth touch human skin, the game’s over. If your puppy is obsessed with biting your feet, walking out of the room for half a minute is your best bet – if feet get bitten, you disappear. If feet are left alone, you stay.
Puppy Training to Prevent Jumping Up
You may think it’s cute to have your puppy jump up at you to say hello, but there will be many times when you don’t want him jumping up, at you, or your friends. Being dressed to go out to dinner and having the puppy jump up with muddy paws is one of those times! Your puppy will learn faster if you and everyone else act consistently. He will learn that he doesn’t have to jump up at people in order to be greeted. You can teach him this by lowering your body towards him and patting him before he jumps.
This will help discourage jumping because you’ll be greeting one another while he has all four paws on the ground. As you stand up, he may jump up at you. If he does, say nothing, and don’t push him away. Simply turn your back on him and stand still. Once he has all his paws on the ground again, pat him again. Over time, he’ll learn that jumping up on people results in being ignored. Keeping his paws on the ground results in being greeted and patted. Teaching puppies to sit in order to be greeted is also a good idea. This is because it’s physically impossible for a puppy to be sitting and jumping up at people at the same time.
If you don’t have the patience to teach your puppy to sit to be greeted (getting a young puppy to remain sitting while he’s excited takes a lot of work), get him distracted from jumping at you. After lowering your body and patting the puppy before he jumps, quickly get a toy and toss it for him to fetch, or play a game of tug (retrievers being the exception). That way, you’ll be getting your puppy thinking about games you approve of rather than the jumping up habit you’re aiming to stop.