Bringing a puppy home for the first time is not for the faint of heart.
After weeks of anticipation — after I drove to and from Punxsutawney, PA, to pick up my 8-week-old puppy and after a wonderful visit to my mom’s and dad’s — I finally brought my Labrador, Thurber, to his forever home!
I thought I was ready — I thought I had the right advice books, the right food, safe treats to chew and every toy my Labrador puppy, Thurber, could ever need.
Thurber sleeping deeply during his very first day home.
I quickly learned I was not even close to being prepared for the massive disruption my life was about to experience — a disruption that was caused by one of the most basic needs that every creature has.
Puppies “Go” All Day Long
When I say puppies “go” all day long, I’m not just referring to their incredible energy and playfulness.
I am referring to Thurber’s never-ending capacity to dampen my rug at any moment without warning, dozens of times that first day.
Thurber had no idea that the downstairs room in my house had been renovated into a wonderful family room with a full bath, kitchenette, a laundry room, a gym and some very nice leather furniture.
He had no idea I’d kept my house in very nice order and loved to have my wonderful husband-wife cleaning team in every two weeks — one of the great luxuries of life — to the place looking and smelling like new.
All this puppy knew is that in his first eight weeks of life, he lived in a cordoned off area of a concrete basement floor with eight of his siblings.
All he knew was that he and they were free to go #1 and #2 any time nature beckoned.
Thurber and I weren’t back inside our cozy home more than a few minutes before he crouched down and released a stream of #1 that was larger than most of the tributaries that feed the mighty Monongahela River.
What to Do?
Though desperate to do something to stop him, I was paralyzed by indecision.
I didn’t want to shout and scare him. I read that yelling would only startle him, affect his happy and positive spirit and make him mistrust me. It would make him associate the natural need to go #1 with negative emotions.
But neither did I want him to freely drain his puppy bladder onto my formerly clean, lemony-smelling rug — a smell that he instantly transformed with a very different lemony odor!
I knew that positive reinforcement — interrupt and redirect — was the way to go. I knew I needed to guide him to the place I wanted him to do his business, which was outside on the lawn.
I picked him up gently and carried him outside while saying, as calmly as I could, “No, puppy, not in here, please” — as my spunky little fire hose sprayed the walls, the furniture, the carpeting and me.
By the time I got him outside, his business was done — and everything in our path was wet
I needed a solution and fast.
But Don’t Ask Your Facebook Friends
A word to the wise: Don’t ask your “friends” on social media how they potty trained their puppies.
Their advice will run a wide gamut from absurd to unbelievable — with the occasional good advice in between.
However, their passions on the subject will run so high that they will pester you endlessly until you are forced to lie to them saying you did exactly as they suggested that it worked like a charm.
What will also happen is that disputes and conflicts will occur among friends who post, which can only result in angry reactions and responses, insults and lots of clicks on “unfriend” buttons among your rapidly diminishing group of online friends.
Stay Positive and Stick to the Basics
There are some simple tried-and-true basics to follow to potty train your puppy.
First, establish a consistent routine for feeding, bathroom breaks and playtime. Puppies thrive on routine and they have an uncanny way of knowing exactly when its time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner — so long as you feed them the same time each day.
Routine will also help bring order to when they go #1 and #2. After a few weeks home, Thurber liked to go #2 right after breakfast and right after dinner.
As for #1, it’s better to take your puppy outside on a regular basis before he needs to go. I took Thurber out immediately after he’d wake up in the morning or after naps, during and after playing, and after eating or drinking.
At a minimum I took outside to the area I wanted him to go at least once every hour. I’d give him ample time to do his business and if he didn’t go, I’d bring him inside and, 60 minutes later, rinse and repeat.
Sooner or later, your dog will catch on that outside is where you want him to go and when he does go outside, praise him lavishly with positive energy and give him his favorite treat — every single time!
Potty Bells to the Rescue
Though these positive techniques helped reduce wet spots on my rug those first few days, they didn’t stop them entirely.
While searching for a better solution, my sister, Lisa — human mother of Snowball, the cutest, most stubborn and undisciplined pup on planet Earth (more on Snowy later!) — suggested I try the hanging bell approach.
The American Kennel Club offered excellent guidance on how to use this approach.
Simply, you hang a bell next to the door that leads outside. The bell should hang low enough for your puppy to hit it with his nose or paw.
Every time you take him outside to go #1, you bump his nose or paw on the bell.
And every time you catch him in the act of going #1 on your rug, you pick him up, bump his nose or paw on the bell, then usher him outside to the patch of grass where you want him to go.
Again, when he does go, you praise him lavishly, then give him a treat!
Much to my shock and amazement, Thurber learned to hit the bell with his nose every time he needed to go #1 or #2 — within only two days.
From the fourth day he was home and onward, I can only think of one or two accidents in the house.
Either You Train Your Dog or Your Dog Trains You!
I was not only stunned and delighted by how smart and intuitive my new puppy clearly was — I know all of us think our dogs are the smartest, but one of Thurber’s trainers commented that he was one of the fastest-learning dogs she ever trained — but I would soon be tortured by my clever pup.
You see, not only did he learn to hit the bells every time he needed to tend to nature, he learned that ever time he hit the bell, I’d take him outside when he had no need to go, so he could explore and play.
Within a few weeks, he was hitting the potty bills 30 to 40 times a day — interrupting my work and rest and general happiness 30 to 40 times a day, because I feared if I didn’t take him out he’d go #1 or #2 in the house!
Another important lesson I learned is that if you are not training your dog, your dog is training you! More on that lesson later!