Life as it happens

House training a puppy

I am not a dog person, I am a cat person. I do like dogs though and for reasons beyond my ken I got the urge to have a dog. In addition to our two cats, that is.

The first attempt with an adult dog was unsuccessful, but it did not discourage me and the urge remained.

But in no way was I prepared to handle a puppy.

I read everything I could find on the Internet and even in some “proper” publications, and they were all full of praise for the great positive effect that dogs have on people, etcetera, etcetera, and everyone should have a dog, basically. No! No. A dog will change your life on a minute-to-minute basis, and it will only be positive if you can handle it.

A cat is pretty much its own individual who lives in your house on its own terms – excuse me, you live in their house, of course. If you are lucky, the cat can be your companion, but many don’t bother. They don’t impose on you, always pee in the same place – the litter box – and generally lead their own lives. You can lead your own existence too.

A dog is a very different creature. A dog does not exist alone, cannot live alone and can never be happy alone. A dog depends on you to survive, mentally and emotionally rather than for food. A dog needs to be a part of your life continuously, every minute of it. Your life apart from the dog ends right there.

Of course this doesn’t mean that the dog has to be physically with you 24/7, as most dogs can be trained to wait for you while you are at work. But mentally they are with you all the time.

However, a young puppy doesn’t have such training yet, it has just been rather brutally removed from its mother and litter mates and thrust into a new place with unfamiliar smells and sounds, all alone. You are its world now.

We got our puppy at 8 weeks old as is now the trend. This is too early! The puppy’s vision is still very poor, so it cannot see you; it has the need to touch mum most of the time – that’s you now; the bladder and bowels are still developing, so it cannot hold it when it needs to “go”; the emotion of fear has not yet emerged in its brain, so it cannot learn from mistakes and cannot be told off yet for messing absolutely everywhere in your house 12-15 times a day – including in your bed. Oh, and you are completely responsible for it and without you it will die, literally.

But a month later, at 12 weeks, most of these issues are resolved as the puppy develops. I really don’t understand who could ever imagine it would be a good idea to put both the puppy and the human through a month of total misery! No, it does not make you appreciate the puppy more. It makes you wish you got another cat instead!!

Our puppy is now almost 6 months old, so yeah, we got through it and we didn’t give her up to a shelter. I kept repeating to myself that it takes a human baby over a year to learn to control its bladder, so surely I cannot expect a puppy to do it in 8 weeks. By 12 weeks things improved.

That is not to say that she is house trained now – far from it. But I found an acceptable compromise which is the main purpose of this post, apart from a doze of venting above. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I looked everywhere for tips and advice on house training and found nothing useful and nothing that worked – the puppy didn’t seem to understand what was expected from her. At some point I think she thought I wanted her not to pee at all – ever. Oh dear. She didn’t seem to get that it wasn’t the peeing I was objecting to but where she was doing it. And so I could not make it clear to her how to do it right.

Ours is a winter puppy, born in November, so it was too cold to make her go out 15 times a day – and I couldn’t do it either. So we had to find a solution with peeing indoors. Puppy training pads were bought and laid out, and she used them happily if she happened to be sitting on one when the urge took her. Otherwise anything else would do just as nicely, thank you very much. The carpet, the sofa, your bed or your lap – it’s all good. This nearly drove me to despair.

Then the weather improved and we started going outside. But she refused to pee on the grass! Much too weird. Run back indoors and pee on the carpet. ๐Ÿ˜ค Even if it had been saturated with the “Don’t Pee Here” spray. Oh, she hated the smell but felt there was no choice but to endure it! Again, I was not getting through to her – she could not tell the difference in terms of toilet suitability between a pad and a sofa. Both soft, both absorbent, how do you choose?

They say some dogs will try to always pee in the same place, so if there’s lingering smell of urine somewhere, they’ll go there again. No, that’s cats! Our dog will not go in the same place again – she wants to go in a fresh place every time. Wouldn’t you? So much better.

So, your first line of defence is to absolutely close off all areas where peeing is out of the question. Do not let your dog go there – supervised or not, she’ll find a way to pee. We installed a pet gate.

But the question still remained: how do I make it clear to the dog what she’s supposed to do? She learned quickly enough that peeing on the carpet gets her in trouble, but not knowing what to do instead, she wasn’t getting anywhere. Yes, of course I tried pointing her nose into the pad and all that – nothing worked.

What did work was so simple, I don’t understand why I didn’t think of it before (was probably too busy panicking). The solution was: do not believe advertising. The pads claimed to carry a scent that would tell the dog to pee here, yet the dog didn’t seem to get it. Well then, the scent must be too weak or may be not even be there at all! Obvious, isn’t it? We bought a separate “pee here” spray and started squirting it onto the pads, refreshing every few hours. That’s it! Miraculously, the dog got it! And every time you praise her for doing it right, it reinforces the training and prompts her to do it right again.

Of course, we are still getting an occasional accident, mostly when her nose is on the pad but her business end is off it. She gets it though, she looks and sniffs and realises she got it wrong – you can see it in her eyes. It gets more accurate every time.

So, as a temporary solution indoor toilet routine is sorted. Phew! I can live with that for a bit and gather my strength, because the goal is of course to have her go outside. We have a cat flap in the kitchen door, so she goes out into the garden all the time. But even if she spends all day outside (if you are also there), she runs indoors to use the facilities… The goal is however for her to go outdoors for toilet and see the garden as the facilities. She does use it sometimes, but only if the weather is warm, the grass is not wet, there are no magpies watching and she is just too lazy to go upstairs.

So this is only half of house training for now. We haven’t managed the crucial second phase yet. But it has only been 4 months, and apparently it can easily take 6 to 8 months or even longer to house train a puppy! My god! If I had only known it in advance! It took me on average all of 10 minutes to house train my cats, so I could not even imagine that kind of timescales for dogs… Almost as bad as human babies, that!

Don’t worry – our dog is in no danger of being abandoned, even if she pees on the carpet. Our lives have been changes and we are sticking with it, and thankfully we are managing. But it is not an easy path to take! There are other aspects that take a lot of work and attention – there is a lot of training to be done. Dogs have an immense learning potential, and whether you train them or not, they will fulfil it, they will learn things either from you or by themselves, and the latter would often be wrong. So you have to train them, after all, you are their pack now, and the pack trains the youngsters.

Wolves are genetically the same as dogs – they belong to the same species. Wolves typically live 6-8 years, but they only reach adulthood by the age of 3. That’s nearly a half of their life span. Think about it – wolves spend a half of their lives in training. And you think half an hour for your dog is enough?

10 thoughts on “House training a puppy

  1. Too funny! What might help for getting your dog used to peeing – pooping is to put her on the leash, take her outside to an area you have in the garden as the “designated spot” – maybe more spray – perhaps with garden chips, and take her out on regular basis, say “potty” or something, and of course praise when she gets the message! Puppies and dogs are wonderful company in ways that cats are not, but each one has its charm. Enjoy your girl – certainly worth the effort! (Like those old sewing machines you have hanging around!)

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    1. I think our puppy just needs more time. Now that we found this “pee here” spray, we’re getting somewhere. I agree that a dog provides far more companionship than an average cat – they are all different. But whether this is welcome depends on the kind of person you are – because we are all different too! Not everyone needs or wants persistent company at all times. Not everyone is sufficiently fit to go for walks, to play ball, etc. It is not always the matter of not wanting to go out in the rain, but rather of having too much pain to walk when arthritis flares up. Yet she needs walking, so I go. Am I enjoying myself yet?

      Luckily, our dog is learning a little independence. I think it will improve as she matures, and I do believe it will be worth it. But it is not easy to get there, it puts a lot of strain on you – and this is what you don’t read anywhere. It is by far not all wonderful.

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    2. Good idea about the garden chips! They don’t feel so wet as the grass after a rain. Yes, the spray helps, so in time she’ll get sorted, I’m sure.

      Old sewing machines do have one redeeming quality: they don’t pee. ๐Ÿ˜†

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      1. Dogs are worth the work – and they give you a different satisfaction than a sewing machine. But, damn, those sewing machines are just as lovable. And what they share is neither will require a drivers license or a college education!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am much more of a dog person than a cat person but we do have a rescue kitty that is fully mature. His name is Starbucks after where we got him lounging around getting coffee and high calorie bread given to him. Took him a while to like meat after we took him home. He thinks he is a dog and follows me around on his rounds (I mean mine). I think the real bonding took place when there was cat politics and I scared off all cats that challenged his territory. He then saw me on his team but I also think he thinks he is a dog (we have 5) and he even has no fear of one of them. Of course it is important to give human contact in the first 6 weeks to avoid the cat going wild in attitude but the coffee shop took care of that for free (cat personality training not the coffee which is quite expensive). On dogs….there used to be a saying in the Navy “choose your rate choose your fate”. I was electronics. Choosing the right breed that is compatible is extremely important. I’ve heard that golden labs are so gentle around children and don’t knock stuff over in the house which maybe why they are one of the top breeds in USA but I’ve never had one. Almost got a Belgian Sheep Dog (Malinois) but learned how even the police departments sometimes don’t have enough time for them leaving them largely to military (and sometimes not children friendly) and instead got two pure breed German Shepherds which do love attention. I am not a pro of bulldogs….they kill people just like wolves held in captivity can when they challenge the people. We also have two mix breeds and a Jack Russel. We love our Jack Russel very much as we do our GSD’s. They need time out doors. They need exercise. And they need to sniff around when they are going to do their biz when nature is calling. Our dogs and cat spend most of their time outdoors (cats can bring allot of germs into the house) and when they do come inside it is after a flea bath (or medicine) and under strict observance. During puppy stage we let them reside in the outdoor kitchen or inside in a cage. We used to bring our Jack Russel indoors every night but lately have stopped. When indoors at night we put them in a cage which is supposed to be 1.5 times the body length (to avoid going to bathroom) and they see it as a safety cage but first thing in AM outdoors again. Best regards, Mike

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    1. I think it is a lot easier on everyone when there are several dogs together to keep each other company, and when the dogs can stay outdoors. Here it’s just too cold, so the puppy has to grow up indoors with humans providing company. This is very, very hard on humans. This is the bit you don’t find in books.

      I agree that dog breed is important. But every dog is a tame wolf and they all rely on other members of their pack for moral support. The most enlightening piece of information I found was documentaries on wolves in the wild and how they behave between themselves in a pack. So revealing. Wolf cubs getting told off by older members all the time for being naughty, for playing too rough, for stealing food or peeing too close to the den. And of course teaching how to do it right. And bonding, all the time. When I try to imitate their ways of training, I get the best results – I get a dog trying to think for herself and make the right decision on her own rather than blindly follow whatever I say because there’s a piece of bacon at the end. Your dogs train each other – that’s the better way, but for many people a single dog is all they can manage in terms of space for example, and then all the company for the dog must come from that human. So much harder on both the human and the dog, yet you don’t read that anywhere either.

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    2. I am not so sure about labradors being all gentle. Last week a labrador tried to kill my puppy in the park. I don’t blame the dog – it is a hunting dog with a prey instinct, it saw a small animal and went for it. I blame the owner for not being there and for not having trained her dog – it paid no attention to her calls when she did turn up. “Oh, he’s only playing!” – I didn’t think so. He didn’t catch my puppy because that’s a Jack Russell and they are fast, agile and not afraid of anything. She was ready to fight the lab, but then thought better of it and jumped into my arms given the chance, but she was in full battle mode. I thought the lab would go for me next, so I hissed, spat and growled (cat/dog hybrid response ๐Ÿ˜ฏ). It confused the dog enough so that the owner finally managed to get hold of him. No, not all labs are all sweetness.

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    1. Thanks for the link! I’ve read something similar back when we just got ours. It didn’t work, which is why we gave up on taking her outside in the pouring rain in January. It had to be an indoor solution for several months, and it could not be our bed. She was giving us at best 5 seconds notice before she had to go, and there was absolutely no time to move her anywhere. Poo was always liquid, too. The vet said it was quite normal for a puppy of that age because she had been still on mother’s milk till the last moment, and now all of a sudden she was on solids only. The bowels could not cope. We started giving her goat’s milk and that helped a lot. By the time she was 12 weeks old, she stopped drinking milk all on her own. All dogs are different. ๐Ÿ™‚

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