A Helpful Guide for West Hartford Puppy Parents
By Adam Silverman, DPS Dog Trainer
When getting a new puppy, what you do beforehand is almost as important as the actions you take once the dog has arrived. Of course there is the obvious requisite equipment: leash, collar or harness, and bowls for food and water. However, new owners may forget items such as a crate, x-pen, food pouch for training, and suitable toys and “chewables.”
Correctly Setting Up The Environment Is Key
The benefits of a crate and an x-pen with a new puppy cannot be overstated. You’ve essentially invited a creature with no concept of “civilized” life into your home. What this means is that without any input or intervention from you, your puppy will more than likely poop and pee wherever he/she chooses, and tear apart any and all chewable items in your house. This is where the crate and the x-pen come in. You see, a dog naturally doesn’t like to soil their living space.
A crate, appropriately sized so that the dog can stand up, turn around, and lie back down, will prevent such soiling. Puppy bladder control is limited – a good general rule to follow is that the number of hours they can “hold it in” correlates with their age in months (i.e. a 1 month old puppy can go 1 hour without a potty break. Max. crate time should be 4-5 hours for puppies).
The x-pen compliments the crate because sometimes you’re not going to be able to take your puppy outside for a potty break at the designated time. The x-pen is a gated area surrounding the crate that should contain a pee pad, a water bowl, the crate, and LOTS of appropriate toys and chewables. With an x-pen, if you need to run errands or you can’t keep an eye on your puppy, you can ensure that they are safe and practicing appropriate “house manners.”
An x-pen is a great tool because while in it your dog CAN ONLY MAKE GOOD CHOICES. You’ve eliminated all opportunities to practice the wrong behavior. There are no baseboards, electrical cords, shoes, or rugs to soil or chew. If your puppy wants to bite, it bites a toy. If your puppy wants to pee or poop, the pee pad is right there.
If You Aren’t Training Your Dog, They’re Training You!
Now let’s get down to the granular stuff. What does a day with my new puppy actually look like? You’ve got all your equipment set up, you’ve brought your puppy home…now what? Introduce them to the crate using food lures. Put some treats in your pocket or food pouch, and toss several of them into the crate. After your puppy goes into the crate and eats the treats, they may naturally come back out, or you can entice them by tossing some treats on the ground outside the crate. This way, you can turn the exercise into a game of “back-and-forth” between crate and out of the crate.
Once your dog starts consistently entering the crate, insert the command “crate” as they go inside. You can then start giving a food reward for actually going into the crate, instead of throwing it in first as a lure.
Some puppies may be reluctant or hesitant. You can troubleshoot these issues with several strategies. If your puppy appears fearful, remove the top part of your crate during the exercise so entering the crate becomes less intimidating. You can also toss your treats closer to the entrance initially, so that your puppy only needs to put their front feet into the crate to eat.
Lastly, you can always try picking up and placing puppies in the crate, making sure to give lavish praise and reward once inside.
Keep Your Dog Busy and Happy
Now that your dog is at least familiar with the crate, start leaving him/her in the crate for a short period of time, not to exceed their bladder restrictions (see above). Providing them with a kong toy filled with kibble and an appropriate chew such as a Nylabone can help keep them occupied and reinforce the crate’s positive association. When you take your puppy out of the crate, chances are they will have to go to the bathroom!
Hurry them outside to a designated area, and bring your treat bag with you. Give them five minutes to use the bathroom and make sure to use the same command each time (i.e. “go potty”). After five minutes, you can head back inside. If they went to the bathroom outside, I like to use this time to work on some basic obedience like “sit, down, come,” to get them used to me handling their ears, mouths, and paws, and of course to play!
If they did not use the bathroom, I would put them back into the crate and start the process over again. In following this process you are preventing accidents from happening inside the house, and developing a great routine. The puppy learns that “I go outside to poop or pee, I come inside and play and learn, and then I go back into my crate for some rest and relaxation.”
Learn to Trust Your Pup
As they develop this understanding, you can begin to allow more time in the x-pen than in the crate, trusting that they will hold their poop or pee until they go outside. The key is to not put your puppy into a situation where they are going to fail, and to progress gradually. Over time you can then expand their area to include other parts of the house. Remember that if your puppy is struggling you can always go back a step; they may just need more time. Good luck with your new puppy and happy training.
Q & A With The Author:
David: Could pee pads confuse a dog about whether it’s okay to pee in the house or not?
Adam: Great question. I think you can mitigate that by putting some grass on the pee pad if you wanted. But the pee pad is there just in case. It shouldn’t be used frequently. Owners need to be vigilant to predict when the dog will go and take them outside (I.e. wakes from nap, just ate, etc).
(The following exchange did not happen…..)
David: If someone reading this blog wanted to use our company to tire out their puppy during a dog walking or pet sitting visit, what would they do?
Meet the Author
Adam Silverman, from West Hartford, CT, is a DPS dog training consultant and staff blog writer. His experience comes from a formal dog training education and years of working full time training seeing guide dogs for the blind.