As a veterinarian, I spend a lot of time discussing puppy training. Frustrated people come to me because their puppy is having accidents or keeping them up all night. Although some problems are caused by medical conditions, many are caused by sub-optimal handling by the family. Here are the 5 most common mistakes I see people make with puppies.
- Punishing a pup for submissive urination or accidents caused by excitement-The most common complaint I hear about in house training is that the pup has accidents every time the family comes home. The frustrated family has tried spanking and yelling which only served to make the problem worse. Now the pup urinates when it sees them and then lays down in it. Fortunately, this problem is easy to fix by training the humans, not the puppy. I instruct the family to enter calmly and take the pup outside immediately. No high pitched, excited speaking. All voices are calm and soothing. I also warn the family to avoid eye contact as this is considered an aggressive gesture in dogs. With appropriate human behavior, most pups stop having these types of accidents in a matter of days.
- Failing to crate train – Some people believe crate training is cruel because it deprives a puppy of its freedom. While well-intentioned, this fails to note that the crate provides security for the little one. The enclosed space filled with the pup’s toys, blanket and water bowl is like a bedroom for a child. I leave the door on my older dog’s crate open all the time because he runs in there when upset. He knows nothing will harm him when he is in the crate. Crate training also protects the puppy from electrical cords, toxins and other household dangers when the family is away. And last, crate training is an important skill for dogs to have later in life. After surgery, especially orthopedic procedures, dogs require strict rest to reduce swelling. Confining the patient in a crate keeps them quiet without resorting to tranquilizers.
- Using rewards at the wrong time during house training-Many people use treats when house training puppies. They take the puppy outside and tell them to ‘go potty.’ When they do, the pup is brought inside for a treat. Giving the treat back inside the house can lead to problems. Some dogs will run outside, act like they urinated then run back inside for the treat. Later, the family finds a puddle of urine on the floor. Correcting this problem is simple. Take the treat outside and do not give it until the puppy has completely emptied their bladder. Watch closely to make sure they really went as some dogs will fake it to get the treat.
- Inappropriate punishment-Sticking a pup’s nose in their urine or feces and telling them ‘no’ is an example of inappropriate punishment. This practice does not work because the pup does not associate urinating or defecating in the house when having their nose stuck in it. A better plan is to use a sharp ‘no’ when the pup begins to posture. This should stop the behavior long enough for you to pick them up, take them outside and then reward them with praise.
- Inconsistent messaging – Puppies are like children who thrive on a set routine with consistent rules. The first part of consistency is having everyone in the family use the same set of commands. If ‘down’ is used to ask the pup to lie down, then another word like ‘off’ should be used when ordering them to get off the sofa. The second part of consistency is having everyone follow the same set of rules. If the pup is not allowed on the bed, then everyone needs to keep them off of the bed. There are no exceptions because exceptions cause confusion and ultimately, anxiety. The third part of consistency if making the puppy obey once a command is given. When I give the ‘come’ command, I expect the puppy to come. If they don’t, I go get them immediately. Never give a command unless you are prepared to see it through.
Puppies are a gift but also require us to be consistent and constantly on our toes. If you have a puppy in your life, thank you for sharing your heart and home. May you be filled with years of joy and unconditional love!