Puppies are incredibly challenging. There is no doubt about this, but life with a puppy gets easier as long as you manage their environment to lessen mistakes and inappropriate behaviors as well as provide enough physical exercise and training. My job as a professional dog trainer involves many roles including teacher, cheerleader (you CAN housetrain your puppy!!), as well as sounding board for problems and troubleshooting.
Often I find myself reassuring my clients and let them know that their current challenges will get better as their puppy matures and learns more. Here is a list of 5 things that happen over time as young puppies develop that make the life of a puppy guardian so much better and easier. If you are currently frustrated with your puppy, I hope this gives you some hope that things will get better.
1. Sniffing Instead of Eating Everything
Puppies are born vacuum cleaners and it can be incredibly frustrating to walk one of these little street cleaners. Puppies have been known to eat everything from cigarette butts, feces, glass, pebbles, plastic bags, and anything else they can get into their little mouths. Imagine a walk with your little pup that actually involves walking instead of repeated LEAVE IT OR DROP IT cues. It will happen.
- Bring an approved toy with you on a walk and let your puppy carry it
- Scan the environment for items that are ahead of you so you can be prepared to work on cues
- Jog by difficult locations to decrease the likelihood that your puppy learns that this is a good foraging location
- General leash walking, Leave It and Drop cues
2. Telling You When He Has to Go Potty
Housetraining can be maddening. One of the challenging aspects is teaching a puppy to tell you when he has to go potty.
- Have your puppy in his crate an hour or more before you think he has to go
- Pay attention to his signals
- If he is anxious and you think he has to go potty, take him to the location, on leash
- Ask him to go potty
- If he goes potty in 3-5 minutes, give him an outstanding treat and then give him some time out of the crate
- If he doesn’t go, put him back in the crate and try again in 15-30 minutes
- Once you have a history of his patterns, it will help you identify demand signals vs. potty signals
Normally you don’t want to take your puppy out of the crate when he is whining, but potty signals are the exception. It is important to put him back in the crate if he doesn’t go and learn that this was a demand signal. Demand behaviors such as barking or whining should not be rewarded or they will probably get worse and then your puppy may become anxious when alone.
3. Sleeping Through the Night
Puppies can hold their bladders approximately one hour per month of age. So, a 3-month-old should be able to hold it about three hours. The good news is that they can normally hold it a bit longer during the night since they are not active and not drinking water.
- At the beginning you might have to set your alarm every couple of hours for a really young puppy until he gets more on a schedule
- If you wake up in the morning and there is ever an accident, make sure you take all the bedding out of the crate so he doesn’t use the bedding as a diaper, which moves the moisture away from him
- If the bedding is in the bottom, you also can’t hear if a puppy is moving around in the middle of the night – usually a sure sign that he has to go potty
- Stop access to water at 7 or 8pm
4. Leave a Puppy Out of the Crate
Leaving a puppy out of the crate doesn’t have to be wrought with disaster if you do it correctly. My rule of thumb is to start having a puppy out of the crate in the bedroom with the door closed during bedtime to prevent foraging throughout the house. It is also important to increase exercise during the day so your puppy is tired and is not bored. A sleeping puppy can't destroy your bedroom! With that in mind, take extra care to puppy proof the room as well.
Read this post for more hints and specific steps.
5. Off Leash Control
This is when it gets really fun. Imagine being able to take your dog to a safe area, throw the Frisbee, ask your dog to “Come”, or “Stop” and he actually does it! This comes through lots of repetition, consistency and good training, but you can do it. Always make sure you have appropriate expectations and you only say each cue one time.
- Have your dog trail a leash and work on Come, Leave It and Stop
- Socialize your dog properly so he is not anxious around other dogs, people or sounds