5 New Puppy Must-do's

For those of you who are thinking about committing to a new dog here's a short list of my 5 top tips to make the transition to becoming a doggy household as smooth as possible.

1. Toilet training

 Have a clear idea on what's going to be your toilet-training strategy and don't confuse the message. Be clear and consistent once you start. There are many different ways of tackling this particular issue. I wavered at first between two strategies, and almost made the whole business more complicated than it had to be.

A very good friend, who is proud mother to a beautiful little whippet girl, advised me to go down the puppy pad route. 'Buy puppy pads, scent them with toilet training spray and leave them by the door,' she advised me. 'Then when you see the puppy looking like he's going to do his toilet business whisk him off and place him on the pad. When he performs, congratulate him like he's just taken gold at the Olympics'.


It sounded simple. I bought the puppy pads and we gave it a whirl, but somehow back in the balmy days of September (it's a hazy, dazy memory, but we did have some nice weather way back then) it seemed more natural to take Maxi out onto the grass at regular (very regular at first) intervals and praise him to the high heavens when the 'payload hit the drop zone'. I rewarded him each time with a doggy biscuit. It turned out that little Maxi is strongly motivated by food, and learnt very quickly as a result.


I had to be really vigilant for those first few weeks, and I must say that this hyper attention to his toilet habits felt as though it was verging on the neurotic.  I'd keep giving unsolicited updates in conversation about his bowel movements. Sad, but true. At one point I was convinced that there was something wrong with his bladder because of the number of pee pees he was doing. My husband, a character who is also strongly motivated by food and hence well equipped to understand the dog's psychology, pointed out that this was more likely to be a Pavlovian-type response - along the lines of: if I just squeeze something - hell, anything- out she'll give me a biscuit.

 Anyway I persevered sticking to my "let's go to the garden" routine, and within a couple of weeks he'd got the hang of it. He now prefers going on grass, which is really useful if we're in someone's shed. The shed floor does not have grass so he understands that it is not a socially acceptable toilet. Yeah heh, result!

2. No - absolutely no - negative re-enforcement ever

Just try a bit of empathy here: imagine what it must be like if you're a little puppy who's just been torn away from his mum and his litter-mates. You've got to feel pretty confused and more than a little bit nervous about what's going on. Maxi was one of the smaller chaps in his litter. The breeder told us that he'd been bullied  by one of his much bigger brothers who used to eat all their food, until she intervened and separated them. When he arrived with us it took him a week to find his bark. He's a miniature schnauzer, and I'd been expecting him to have quite a barky personality, but for a whole week he didn't say a single word, not a sausage.


Now imagine how it would feel for this little chap if someone started shouting at him - or worse - for doing his pee pees in the wrong place. It doesn't take a huge amount of imagination to realise that this is not the way to go.

Maxi is sooo sweet that I could never be angry with him, and he starts off wanting to please. So all it took was to praise him, reward him and fuss over him for getting things right, and before long he was getting everything right.

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