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Training your new puppy



Training is fun and very rewarding for both you and your puppy. Puppies have an amazing capacity to learn complex demands quickly.


Start training as soon as you obtain your puppy. Puppies learn very rapidly but their attention span may be short, so spend 10-15 minutes twice daily.


Training should be conducted when the puppy is not excited and when the home environment is quiet. Once the puppy has learned a response in one environment, move the training location to progressively more complex and more stimulating environment. That is, the puppy will have to be trained in each environment that you wish it to respond in.


Learning occurs more rapidly if one person trains the puppy first and then the other family members get involved. Train the puppy using one-word commands like “(puppy’s name) come”, “sit” and “(puppy’s name) heel”. Tip: do not use the puppy’s name when you are asking him to perform a stationary command like “sit” or “down”. Be firm with your voice, but not loud or aggressive. It is the tone of your voice that let’s your puppy know you mean business. Be sure and make eye contact. Remember, you are the alpha member of the family, not your puppy.


Reward appropriate behavior as soon as possible after giving the command (best within ½ second). Give valued rewards such as food, touch and praise every time the puppy responds to a command. You will quickly learn which reward is more valued by your puppy. Once the response is learned, give the rewards intermittently. This will result in rapid learning and make the response more permanent.


If the puppy fails at any level of training, stop, don’t reward and start the training again at a simpler level. How consistently a puppy responds to a command is a function of the degree of training. If a puppy responds only when it feels like it or when the environment is quiet, start again and train more intensely.


Be patient, never punish. The opposite to reward is no reward, not punishment. A punishment which causes pain or excitement does not work and generally causes problems. Punishment may also interfere with the owner/animal bond. If the puppy is doing something that is inappropriate, distract it or use a reward for responding to a command which is incompatible with the unwanted behaviour.




The key to successful house training, more than anything else, is supervision. Constant supervision of a puppy’s free play time is critical to have successful house training. If at any time you cannot fully supervise the puppy (100% of your attention - this doesn‘t mean watching TV while puppy is playing, it means CONSTANT supervision while puppy is out) , it should be in a kennel or another confined, safe enclosed area. It only takes about ten seconds for you to turn away and for your puppy to eliminate on the floor. Every elimination error on the floor is one elimination that you did not get to reward outdoors. So keep accidents to a minimum, and supervise your puppy during the entire time puppy is active.

Having a puppy confined does not always have to be in a kennel. A very useful tool to teach puppies and older dogs is to have them lie on a mat quietly. Some people call these "play stations". It consists of a mat, with some of the puppy’s favourite toys that the puppy only ever gets while on the mat. If the puppy is not on the mat, it doesn’t have access to those toys (things like Stuffed Kongs, or a favourite chew bone) Because puppies have short attention spans, you can create these play stations by using a tie-down. A tie-down is a short leash (approximately 3 feet long) that is attached to a bolt securely fastened to a wall (or a strong piece of furniture), that allows the puppy to play quietly on the mat, but prevents the puppy from roaming the room unwatched. This way you can keep an eye on the puppy’s actions, and the puppy is not confined to a kennel even though it can’t have access to the whole room. This is intended for occasional use for short periods of time only. It is not intended to be over used in place of proper supervision and play time. As the puppy matures and ages, you can teach the puppy to stay on the mat without the tie-down.

Puppies will always need to eliminate at the following times: after sleeping, after eating, after playtime, before bedtime. However this is not the only time they need to eliminate. Small puppies may go every half hour when awake, as their bladders are very small. At a very young age they are not physically able to hold their bladders for long periods of time. As they age, the time they can hold it increases. You can figure that a puppy can hold its bladder for a length of time of its age in months plus one hour. So if you have a three month old puppy, it should be able to hold it in its kennel for four hours. However, don’t take this as the golden rule, as puppies are all individuals, and some will mature at different rates than others! Also remember that holding it in the kennel for four hours and holding it while out playing for four hours are two completely different scenarios! Don’t count on a puppy roaming the house to hold it for four hours.

So, your first rule is supervision. Now that we have that down, you also now know when the main times a puppy will eliminate are. Now you can deal with the times in between. During "free time", the puppy may begin to show signs of needing to eliminate. Some of these signs are sniffing the ground, circling quickly, and finally, squatting. If you see any of these signs, pick up puppy and get her outside before she goes on the floor. If the puppy starts to go before you reach it, or if you "catch the puppy in that act", say a word such as "Ah ah" or "Outside!" in a neutral voice (do not yell), pick the puppy up and take it outside immediately. Even if you don’t see those signs, it’s a good idea to take the puppy out regularly, at least for the first while, to allow the puppy the chance to make her own decision.

When outside, pick one location that the puppy will always eliminate in. If you have a fenced backyard, pick a section of it to use as housetraining area. The reason for this is that it will smell familiar to the puppy (it’s own elimination scents will cause it to go there again in future), and it will set up a routine for the puppy to know where to go. Even if as an adult you plan to allow the dog to go anywhere in the yard (such as a fenced backyard), it is easier on the pup to have a smaller area to learn from in the beginning. When the puppy begins to eliminate, say a cue word, such as "Hurry up" or "Go Potty". When the puppy finished, give the puppy a treat, praise, or play a game with the pup. This will allow the puppy to begin to learn a cue to eliminate, as well rewarding the experience will leave a lasting impression on the puppy. Dogs do what works. Behaviours that are rewarded will be repeated. So, by rewarding proper elimination in the proper place, proper elimination behaviour will be repeated. If you clicker train your puppy, this is a fabulous thing to use the clicker to teach!

At some point in time, you may come across a puddle or a small pile that you did not see the puppy perform. If you do this, simply quietly clean up the mess, with no fuss at the puppy. Most importantly, contrary to the old style of housetraining, do NOT rub the puppy’s face in it! The puppy will not make the association between your fuming in anger and it’s behaviour of three minutes before. The only thing you will cause the puppy to learn in this case is that in the presence of pee or poop, you are a "dangerous, scary person", and that will be the beginning of teaching the puppy to learn to eliminate in out-of-the-way areas, or to eliminate when you aren’t around. That is a bad habit to create, so don’t create it at all. The best thing to take away from a situation like this - take it as a learning lesson to watch the puppy more closely. If the puppy does go on the floor, it is not the puppy’s fault, but an error on the caregiver’s part. Remember, the puppy is not big enough or mature enough to hold it yet, and doesn’t yet know where to go, so it’s up to you to help your puppy make the right decisions, and that happens through prevention, supervision, and reward.

One important thing to take note of is how you clean up an area in the house if an accident occurs. Proper cleaning of the area is important so that the puppy is not inclined to use that spot to eliminate in the future. If the puppy smells signs of its past actions, it may be tempted to make a repeat attempt at eliminating. If you are cleaning it up from carpet, use an enzymatic cleaner to do the job. Soap and water, most times, doesn’t work. An old way to clean carpet was to use vinegar to repel dogs from going back to old spots, however vinegar gives off the smell similar to ammonia, a component of urine, and may attract the puppy to the spot rather than repel it. There are many great enzyme cleaners you can find from your vet or pet stores that will do the job.

A great way to control the success of housetraining is to feed scheduled meals. What goes in must come back out, so they say, and this works to your advantage for house training. Getting your pup on a meal schedule will greatly increase your chances of success for housetraining because you will know those times the puppy will have to eliminate after eating. Free feeding can wreak havoc on house training attempts (as well as cause other problems), so for your own benefit, schedule mealtimes for your puppy.

If you fully supervise your puppy, and properly clean up all areas of messes indoors that the puppy makes and you are still having problems, or the puppy is eliminating in its kennel even though it doesn’t ask to go out, you should make an appointment to see your veterinarian to ensure there is not an existing health problem such as urinary tract infection or urinary incontinence. If you do have a medical problem, you cannot begin to have successful house training until you get the pup back to proper health.

Also keep in mind there are other issues that can accompany house training problems for puppies. Puppies have a natural, in-born tendency to leave their sleeping area to eliminate. This occurs in litters from a very young age. Puppies that are raised in pet stores, or raised in very small, enclosed, kennel-style environments may have lost the natural tendency to leave their sleeping area to eliminate, and may have learned to eliminate in its kennel or sleeping area. This can create additional problems for the new puppy caregiver, and you have to become extra vigilant about house training as well as teaching the puppy that the kennel is a sleeping area and not a bathroom. However, if you get your puppy from a responsible breeder, you should have no problems with this issue because the puppies will have had ample space to live and grow in, as well as distinctly separate sleeping and bathroom areas.



Crate training takes some time and effort, but it is a proven way to help train new dogs or puppies or dogs who act inappropriately because they don’t know any better. You can use the crate to limit his access to the house until he learns all the house rules… like what he can and can’t chew on and where he can and can’t eliminate. A crate is also a safe way of transporting your dog in the car or taking him places where he may not be welcome to run freely. If you properly train your dog to use the crate, he’ll think of it as his safe place and will be happy to spend time there when needed.


Selecting a Crate


Crates may be plastic (often called “flight kennels”) or collapsible, metal pens. They come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores. Your dog’s crate should be just large enough for him to stand up and turn around in. If your dog is still growing, choose a crate that will accommodate his adult size. Block off the excess crate space so your dog can’t eliminate at one end and retreat to the other.


The Crate Training Process


Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. It’s important to keep two things in mind while crate training: The crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in a series of small steps. Don’t go too fast.


Step 1: Introducing Your Dog to the Crate


Place the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to him in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate door is open and secured so that it won’t hit your dog and frighten him.

To encourage your dog to enter the crate drop some small food treats nearby, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If he refuses to all the way in at first, that’s okay, don’t force him to enter. Continue tossing treats in to the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If he isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.


Step 2: Feeding Your Dog His Meals in the Crate


After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding him his regular meals near it. This will create a pleasant association with the crate. If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, place the food dish all the way at the back of the crate. If your dog remains reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the dish a little further back in the crate.

Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat his meal, you can close the door while he’s eating. The first time you do this open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until he’s staying in the crate for 10 minutes or so after eating. If he begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving him in the crate for a shorter time period. If he does whine or cry in the crate, it’s imperative that you not let him out until he stops. Otherwise, he’ll learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine, so he’ll keep doing it.



Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog to the Crate for Longer Time Periods


After your dog is eating his regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine him there for short time periods while you’re home. Call him over to the crate and give him a treat. Give him a command to enter, such as “kennel” or “crate”. Encourage him by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, praise him, give him the treat, and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for a few minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let him out of the crate.

Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave him in the crate and the length of time you’re out of his sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him crated when you’re gone for short time periods or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.


Step 4, Part A: Crating Your Dog When Left Alone


After your dog can spend about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods when you leave the house. Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys in the crate. You’ll want to vary at what point in your “getting ready to leave” routine you put your dog in the crate. Although he shouldn’t be crated for a long time before you leave you can crate him anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving.

Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give him a treat for entering the crate, and then leave quietly. When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excited behavior by responding to him in an excited, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low-key to avoid increasing his anxiety. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.


Step 4, Part B: Crating Your Dog at Night


Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside.

Older dogs too, should initially be kept nearby so that they don’t associate the crate with social isolation. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer, although time spent with your dog - even sleep time – is a chance to strengthen the bond between you and your pet.



Potential Problems


Too Much Time in the Crate


A crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is crated all day while you’re at work and then crated again all night, he’s spending too much time in too small a space. Other arrangements should be made to meet his physical and emotional needs. Also remember that puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They can’t control their bladders and bowels for longer periods. A two month old puppy should stay no longer than his age plus one hour…. 3 hours MAXIMUM! A three month old puppy should stay no longer than a maximum of (3 months plus 1 hour) 4 hours.




If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to determine whether he’s whining to be let out of the crate or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you’ve followed the training procedures outlined above, then your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate. If that is the case, try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, he’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.

If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to eliminate. If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not playtime. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Don’t give in: if you do, you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants. If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast you’ll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.


Separation Anxiety


Attempting to use the crate as remedy for separation anxiety won’t solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolve from counter conditioning and desensitization procedures. To help reduce separation anxiety, make leaving the house without your pet and coming home as casual and uneventful as possible. When you come home, ignore your pet for a few minutes. Wait 5 to 10 minutes before letting him out of his crate. Don’t make a big fuss about it and your pet won’t either! You may also want to consult a professional animal behavior specialist for more advice.

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