housebreaking

Trust your dog, don’t control him!

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Lizzie had recently retired from a responsible position. 

She lived in a spotless and perfectly-kept home in the countryside with a husband who was always out at work. She wanted a dog for companionship and pleasant country walks.

Her children were long grown so it was a good while since she’d had a young thing to look after. 

So the advent of her puppy Bracken brought up all kinds of fears and anxieties in Lizzie - she was terrified something dreadful would happen to him, but she also struggled with the disruption a puppy brought to a neat, clean, adults-only, house.

At Puppy Class, Bracken was distracted and lively - typical of his busy and active breed - not, perhaps, the best choice for a first-time dog-owner of later years. 

Lizzie got very anxious and embarrassed by his behaviour at class. 

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She felt ashamed that she couldn’t “control” this puppy, and felt he was showing her up. 

She was perplexed that her image of the perfect dog trotting at her heels across hill and dale was not matched by the reality of a puppy who seemed to be always straining to get as far away from her as possible!

So I wasn’t surprised when Lizzie got in touch with me a couple of months after her Puppy Course finished to give me a long list of problems she was having with Bracken, and to ask for help.

Enter the prison!

When I arrived at her home I found something more akin to a prison! I was ushered through an airlock of two doors at the front door (a good practice in itself) to see an excited puppy leaping up at a baby gate. Bracken was not learning how to greet people stuck behind a gate!

She had four metal playpens barricading various rooms and corridors. She had baby gates in most of the doorways - this in addition to a couple of crates. And outside she had had fencing built round the patio to prevent Bracken’s access to the garden.

The house itself was spotless, with no sign of Bracken’s toys which had all been put away. 

Her focus was entirely on containing and controlling her eager youngster.

Her list of problems included:

  • Bracken was not yet reliably housetrained

  • He’d grab anything he could find in the house and initiate a chase game

  • Outside he’d get hold of stones and slugs, which Lizzie frantically tried to get off him

  • This was leading to a Resource Guarding problem

  • He’d steal any food so everything was locked away

  • He’d race off to any dog he saw on walks, play too roughly, and refuse to come back

 

The Program

This is what made Lizzie happy!

This is what made Lizzie happy!

  • I revised with Lizzie the games she’d learnt in Puppy Class - which had all been forgotten in the new clampdown era

  • I taught her new games - particularly for focus and recall - to show her that Bracken could keep his feet on the floor and engage intelligently with her

  • We played fast games so Bracken could learn to respond even while highly excited

  • Housetraining - we went back to new puppy basics

  • She revised her matwork with Bracken so he could reliably go to his mat when asked - and stay there till released

  • She learned to swap, not to snatch or chase. This stopped the stealing and the resource guarding, and dealt with the potentially dangerous slug ingestion

  • Lizzie learned to stop caring about stolen items so that grabbing stones was no longer the prompt for a chase game for Bracken, so it just died out on its own

  • She improved Bracken’s diet, going for a grain-free option

  • She learned how to handle a long line with soft hands so she could give Bracken comparative freedom without getting too anxious herself

  • She got a Freedom Harness for control without coercion

  • These both improved her Loose Lead Walking dramatically

  • We worked on a system for greeting dogs and people with self-control

  • She polished up her Tug play from class so that it incorporated masses of impulse control along with masses of high energy fun

  • She did some work using Dr. Overall’s Relaxation Protocol to teach Bracken to self-soothe and settle

  • And she started to use impulse control at every opportunity - every time she opened the fridge, every time she opened a door, picked up a toy or Bracken’s lead

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The result

Over the course of a month - with much reassurance that Yes, Lizzie was an excellent owner for Bracken, and Yes, she could look after him well and give him what he needed, and Yes, he would become her perfect companion over time - all the playpens, fences, and gates disappeared. 

She became able to walk him on a loose lead instead of the vice-like grip on a tight lead she had before, and she was able to let him loose on walks without panicking that he’d escape (or even want to escape). 

She had entirely stopped chasing Bracken for stolen items, with the result that he no longer bothered to steal them - he’d much rather have the offered game instead.

Housetraining? “Oh yes, he’s fine now!”

The Conclusion

Bracken was a grand little pup who was being wound up on a daily basis with constant nagging, recriminations, and control.

He was simply exhibiting puppy and early adolescent behaviours which provoked a huge over-reaction in Lizzie, owing to her anxiety that she was somehow failing the dog.

Once Lizzie learnt how to relax and release - and to stop worrying herself into a panic - everything started to run smoothly.

By relinquishing control and instead giving Bracken choices, she elicited really good responsive behaviour from him. 

It was a delight for me to see that both Lizzie and Bracken felt free to trust and enjoy each other. The journey could now begin!

 

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I have a new puppy: will I ever get any sleep again?

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It’s a frequent cry from new puppy-owners. You bring home your cuddly fluffpup - you are overflowing with parental emotions for this little scrap and determined to do the best for her. 

Trouble is, that cuddly fluffpup turns into a screeching monster as soon as you put your head on your pillow. So you go down to see what’s wrong - is she hungry? is she cold? does she need a wee? By the time you’ve exhausted all these possibilities, both you and your puppy are well and truly awake. The puppy is now refreshed and ready to start the day. But it’s half past midnight and you have to be at work tomorrow morning!

This seems to be the stage when one of the pup’s new owners fetches the duvet downstairs and tries to sleep on the sofa. In no time it’s 4 a.m., the puppy is refreshed and you are not. 

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Next night you eschew your comfy double bed and start out on the sofa. You wake up hearing chewing and crunching noises as your puppy discovers the interesting textures of your computer cables. And being awake and mobile, she now needs to relieve herself - this bit of carpet will do …

As you stagger into work on the fourth or fifth day you realise that This Is Not Working! That’s when I get a phone call. The caller is usually desperate: sleep-deprived, anxious, guilty, worried, their work is being affected, they see no light at the end of this tunnel. Some people actually return the puppy to the breeder at this stage: really!

 

So what’s going wrong?

I often find they have a crate for their dog, but haven’t used it, or they’ve tried using it but won’t shut the door, or it’s in the wrong part of the house. They may think it’s cruel to confine the puppy to a crate - but I can assure you that the breeder confined the puppies (3? 6? 10 of them?) at night! 

Most people are comfortable putting their baby in a cot - for their own peace of mind as well as the babe’s safety. What’s the difference?

The next thing I learn is, “I don’t want the dog in the bedroom”.  

As they are usually at the stage where they are actually paying me to give them a night’s sleep, this is particularly shortsighted.

Your puppy is used to snuggling up with those 3, 6, or 10 warm, furry, littermates - suddenly being alone is a loss and causes fear. 

They’ve also perhaps been making this common mistake, which one desperate terrier-owner told me about: “I come straight downstairs, knock on the door, and tell her to be quiet.” 

Your puppy is not barmy - she’s able to work out that if she barks and wails long enough, someone will respond. Now you’ve told her she just has to keep going for as long as it takes! You’ve made things worse

Blissful, peaceful sleep

My own puppies sleep through the night from the day they arrive. They quickly get into a pattern and will be clean and dry by night from anything between 7 and 9 weeks. 

I’ve given my sleep recipe to anyone who has difficulty settling their new pup, and get responses like these:

 

“Got a whole night’s sleep last night! Thank you!!” Vizsla puppy 9 weeks

 

“Good morning Beverley, Just had to let you know that I followed your guidance re settling Gertie at night and we had a peaceful sleep with no crying and no mess in her bed, a very big thank you.” Miniature Dachshund pup 11 weeks

 

“Your suggestion about the size of the crate worked wonders! No mess in crate this morning.” Labrador pup 14 weeks

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Want to know what the secret is?

Here you go:

 

1. Use a crate

It doesn’t need to be the size of a ballroom - only big enough for the puppy to get up, turn around, and lie down again. It’s a bed, not a playroom. If you’ve bought a large one because your pup is a large breed but is currently still tiny, you can either buy a crate divider - or simply fill the extra space with cardboard boxes to make a smaller sleeping area. No problem if he chews the boxes. A well-reared puppy will not normally soil his sleeping area (unless very distressed) so this helps with your housetraining program. If you have a whippet, earthdog or other tunnelling breed, provide masses of blankets your pup can burrow into like a hamster, rather than a flat single piece of bedding which will better suit a hot dog like a border collie or a golden retriever.

 

2. Shut the crate door

Shut the crate for every nap, every sleep, every meal. Never open the crate door if your dog is hollering, “I’m going to get my lawyer if you don’t let me out of here!” Only calm and silence will get that door opened. (Genuine distress is something else, and needs attention - you should be able to distinguish between annoyance and distress with ease.) Darken the room and/or partially cover the crate - this makes it a cosy den. For naps, leave the room and shut the door.

 

3. Put the crate by your bed at night

Your puppy will hear you breathing and moving, sighing and snoozing. If she wakes up anxious, you can just reach a hand out to touch her through the bars so she is reassured she’s not alone. You’ll hear if she’s genuinely agitated and needs a wee. If you don’t want your dog to sleep in your bedroom, you can move her out again once a pattern is established and she feels confident in her new home and routine.

 

4. Once pup is in crate, there’s no talk, no interaction

The crate is a quiet area for s-l-e-e-p-i-n-g. And chewing chew toys, and eating meals. It’s not a chatty place. 

 

Imagine the crate is soundproof - both ways!

 

 

You have now taught your dog to relax and settle anywhere she finds her crate. This is invaluable training for the rest of your lives together! No separation anxiety, no pacing and worrying when you holiday in a new place, no danger of damaging the carpets or cables when visiting friends. When your dog goes into her crate, she lies down and sleeps!

 

Let me know in the comments below how you’re getting on!

 

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Once your puppy is about 9 weeks old and has settled in with you, you can start working through the Brilliant Family Dog series of how-to e-books. Everything is broken down for you into little steps - and what’s more, the first book in the series is free! Go get it now.

 

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Is your new puppy keeping you awake all night?

Errorless Housetraining and Crate Training

Let’s get something out of the way first:

  • “It’s cruel to put a puppy in a crate”

  • “We do have a crate, but we never shut the door”

  • “I don’t want him to see his crate as a punishment”

  • “We’re saving money by getting a crate that will fit him when he’s full-grown”

These are common responses I hear when I ask owners if they have a crate for their puppy.

My thoughts:

  • Do you think it’s cruel to put a baby in a cot or playpen?

  • Would you leave your toddler loose in the house at night without supervision?

  • I bet your child’s bed is full of cuddly toys, books, comforters, and he’s happy there

  • Do your children look like extras from St.Trinian’s, with their jumpers down to their knees so you can save money?

The only way a crate would be cruel would be if your dog were left locked in it all day. The same would hold true for leaving your toddler in a cot or playpen all day! The crate is an excellent help for keeping a puppy safe in his new home, and is your best friend when it comes to housetraining - and to getting a good night’s sleep.

So now we’ve got those misunderstandings cleared up, you’re ready to set off on your Errorless Housetraining - with the crate doing a lot of the work for you!

Get your free guide to Errorless Housetraining and have it all done in a week or two!

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A Word About Crates

The crate should be safe and secure, and strong enough not to distort in shape. Your first crate doesn’t need to be big and strong enough to restrain an elephant! Don’t put a puppy in a soft fabric crate - it’s too inviting for him to chew and shred it. Do use a custom car-crate for safety in the car. If you have a tunnelling breed, like a whippet or a terrier, provide lots of blankets and bedding he can dig into, like a hamster. If you have a “hot” dog, like a border collie or gundog, just a flat comfy bed will do well.

For total success with your puppy housetraining, much faster than you might expect, you’re going to take advantage of two important facts about puppies:

1. They need to sleep a minimum of 17 hours a day

Seventeen hours is what adult dogs need. So a puppy will obviously need more. It’s a lot more sleep than many new owners allow their puppy, and they’re amazed to find that a lot of minor irritations and things they considered problem behaviours can be resolved by simply ensuring sufficient downtime. All that sleep needs to take place in your pup’s crate. So when it’s time for a rest (after maybe one hour of activity) you take your puppy to bed, shut the crate door, and leave him to settle. Half-cover the crate with a blanket so it’s a cosy den. You can feed all your dog’s meals in his crate so he’s always happy to go there, and when you leave him, give him a food-toy or something he can safely chew.

2. A well-reared puppy will not soil his bed

This is why you want to get a crate that is the right size for him now. If you must get a giant crate for your little puppy, block off the greater part of it with the custom divider or cardboard boxes. It doesn’t matter if your puppy shreds the boxes - we want his sleeping area just big enough for him to lie down, stand up, and turn round. Just as our beds just fit us for sleeping. Always leave chew toys so he has something to amuse him as he nods off. Classical music playing on the radio is calming to many dogs.

The Early Days

When you bring your new puppy or your new rescue dog home, you needn’t expect perfect behaviour from the get-go. There is a honeymoon period to work through - you want to build a terrific relationship with your new family member, and you don’t want that relationship marred by barking commands at your dog, or telling him off for some transgression of which he has no idea!

As Housetraining, along with Socialisation and Familiarisation, are the key things to focus on at this early stage, you want to make it as painless as possible for both of you. So that means getting it right from the start.

Your puppy is going to need to wee and poo. A lot. Your job is simply to make sure it all happens where you want it to - i.e. outside. You need to be taking him out, on a lead, much more often than you think! Every half hour is a good rule of thumb, and more often if your little puppy is active and playing.

You need to keep him on lead until he’s done his business, then you can let him off to explore the garden and play with you. If you take him out without a lead, he’s more likely to bounce about chasing butterflies and sniffing leaves, so that when you get bored and bring him back in, he still has a full bladder or bowels. Keeping him on lead focusses his attention on what he needs to do.

Your puppy will gradually earn his freedom in the house as he shows that he can perform immediately when you take him outside.

People are sometimes baffled that their puppy is still not housetrained - they tell me they leave the door open for him all the time. This is why he’s not done yet! He will continue to pee wherever he happens to be. Sometimes that’s outside and you’re happy, and sometimes it’s inside, and you’re not. How baffling for him! You need to show him that he goes outside for this purpose, and he won’t learn if he can wander in and out, chasing those butterflies, whenever he wants.

No newspaper please

Another wrong turning people may take - especially if they’ve been taking their advice from uninformed friends or the local pet shop - is to use paper pads for their puppy to eliminate on. How is this puppy going to learn that this should take place outside?

I have known people who live in high-rise flats - where it would be impossible to race down the stairs with a puppy every few minutes! - successfully use an indoor toiletting arrangement. But this needs to be a particular, clearly-bordered area (like a giant tea-tray) in a specific place - perhaps the bathroom, or on a balcony. This puppy will also need to be taught to use the great outdoors too when on walks.

I expect my pups to be clean and dry by night at 7-9 weeks, and by day at 8-12 weeks. A puppy who is still not housetrained at 17 weeks is one who has developed habits which you will now have to change.

How much easier to start off doing it right and not letting these poor habits develop!

Get my Cheat Sheet for Errorless Housetraining and focus entirely on this for a couple of weeks. You’ll be surprised how quickly it will work for you!

 

For help with lots of the other issues facing a new dog-owner, get our free e-course which takes you step-by-step through the everyday problems you may have with your puppy - and gives you force-free solutions which are effective, and fun!

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Housetraining your puppy the easy way