Updated: Oct 28, 2019
Congratulations! You just brought home your new best friend!
Integrating a new puppy into your life is such a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also make you question your sanity, if you are not equipped with the right tools. That sweet little ball of fluff is also a potty machine with razor sharp teeth, and relies on you 100% for every daily need. Puppies are a lot of work, but you can set yourself up for long-term success (and make life a little easier now!) by getting it right with four key issues.
2. Potty Training
This word gets thrown around in almost every conversation about how to raise a puppy. Unfortunately, it is not often followed up with how to do so effectively and appropriately, and can cause lifelong damage if done incorrectly. Every puppy guardian should be sure to introduce their puppy to a variety of people, objects, and experiences - including anything which they may encounter later in their lives. When they are young puppies are open to new experiences, but as they age, and their socialization window comes to a close, they become less comfortable with things they didn’t experience during their critical socialization period. However, it is not enough to simply expose your puppy to something and expect that they will be fine with it from then on. Each introduction must be handled carefully to ensure that your puppy is having fun, and therefor learning to enjoy whatever they are being exposed to, rather than perceiving it as neutral or even unpleasant.
Get it right by making socialization opportunities voluntary, brief, and rewarding.
Learn their language. When socializing your puppy, pay careful attention to his or her body language to determine if he or she is voluntarily participating in the experience. We commonly see puppies duck their head, flatten their ears, or back up a few steps, as a well-meaning stranger reaches in to pet them. This is a clear signal that the puppy is uncomfortable, and continued physical contact is not going to make them feel better. Instead, when you see these signals, remove them from the situation and give them a treat. This teaches your puppy many important lessons, including that people listen to their polite signals, so they are less likely to feel the need to escalate to growling, snapping or cowering. It helps them to learn that a stranger who could have been scary actually resulted in something good, and that walking away is a safe option.
Schedule socialization experiences. By planning ahead of time you can ensure that socialization opportunities can end while your puppy is still having fun and wanting more.Taking quick trips to the park or downtown on a day when you have free time is often much more beneficial than attending large public events or hours long social engagements. This allows you the opportunity to leave before your puppy becomes anxious, overstimulated, or exhausted. The last part of your puppy’s experience, and the part which was most emotionally impactful are going to be the parts which your puppy remembers most clearly, and unfortunately, this doesn’t always work in our favor. This means that even if he or she had fun during the first half hour of a local festival, but was fussy or agitated for the last half hour, or was frightened by a person in a costume, your puppy is most likely to record this as a negative experience.
Plan break and nap times. If you are traveling with your puppy, or they must attend a long event with you, plan ways for them to have quiet time throughout the day. Providing something for them to lick or chew will help them to calm down. Taking a break in the car, with a chew toy, or putting them in their crate in a quiet room with a stuffed Kong are great ideas for helping them to learn to take a break from the chaos.
Learn what your puppy likes. Knowing what your puppy likes allows you to be able to use these things to make new experiences as rewarding and memorable as possible for them. Does your puppy love chasing a ball? Next time a new person comes into your house, let them toss the ball for your puppy. Going someplace new? Take your puppy’s favorite treats along, and have every person who asks to pet your puppy give them a treat. This helps them to learn that meeting new people is a great experience.
For some lucky puppy guardians potty training is fast and easy. For others it can be a several month-long process. The amount of time it takes to fully potty train your puppy is going to be determined by a complicated combination of early life experiences (before you took him/her home), individual physical traits, and the actual training process.
Get it right by making potty training fun, using a schedule, and managing your space.
Set up Successful Potty Experiences. While you’re potty training, your puppy is actually forming associations, based on successful potty experiences. Some of their learning will be automatic - the act of relieving themselves is inherently rewarding because puppies feel better when their bladder is no longer full. A surface that absorbs their urine is also going to be preferable to a surface that does not. You can help this process along by making it far more fun for your puppy to do their businesses in the places you prefer than the places you want them to avoid.
How to do it. Go outside with your puppy on leash, with treats in your pocket, every single time. Walk with your puppy to your preferred potty location, and wait quietly for them to sniff out the best spot. Too much talking, or “encouragement” at this point can add to the distraction level. As soon as your puppy finishes going to the bathroom, give them a treat and allow them off leash to run and play. If you must keep your puppy on leash, you can reward them by following them around as they get to freely explore, chase leaves, or run with you.
Helpful Hint: It is important that the reward always immediately follows the behavior of going to the bathroom. A delay of even a minute or two will prevent your puppy from forming an association between the reward and going potty. For example, if your puppy goes potty, then runs to get their treat from you at the door, you are actually rewarding the behavior of running to the door, and not the behavior of going potty.
Record keeping helps. Record your puppy’s potty training successes and mistakes. This will help you to find patterns, and more closely monitor your puppy at times when accidents happen most often. Are you noticing that your puppy always has an accident between 3-5 pm? Take a look at your schedule and determine what is happening at that time of day that you can do differently to set your puppy up for success. Not seeing a pattern at all? This is still important information which tells us we need to improve our ability to read our puppy’s body language, and use more active prevention strategies. Record keeping can also help us to recognize when something unusual might be happening. If your puppy is eliminating multiple times consecutively in small amounts, straining, or eliminating without seeming to be aware of it consult your veterinarian to rule out a medical issue.
Manage the environment. Good spatial management is essential to successful potty training. Any quiet area, with a porous surface, is a good bathroom from your puppy’s perspective. While your puppy is learning where to go potty, you must prevent him or her from choosing the wrong places by preventing access to them in the first place. Keep your puppy in sight by using baby gates, exercise pens, or tethering your puppy to yourself with a leash. If you need to do something which will cause you to be out of sight of your puppy, put your puppy in a crate with a safe chew toy or food puzzle.
Those baby teeth are sharp! To make matters worse, your puppy is wielding them indiscriminately on every surface within reach. It is essential to recognize that this mouthy period is a completely normal phase which puppies experience, and they bite for a variety of reasons including information gathering, boredom, or in an attempt to soothe their own pain. Their little gums are extremely sore as adult teeth start pushing through, and your puppy is likely to be teething from 12 weeks to 8 months old.