Bringing a new puppy into your home is a big change! Your goals are to help your puppy to bond quickly to its new family, and to minimise the stress associated with leaving its mother, litter mates, and former home. If there are already dogs in the new home this transition may be a little easier as the puppy is able to identify with its own kind. However, most puppies, especially those obtained before 12 weeks of age, will form attachments almost immediately to the people and any other pets in the new home, provided that there are no unpleasant consequences associated with each new person and experience.
How do I prevent my puppy from doing damage or getting into mischief?
The rule of thumb for dog training is "set the dog up for success". Supervise the puppy whenever possible until it has learned what it is allowed to chew, and where it is supposed to eliminate. Keeping the puppy on a house line is an excellent way to keep it in sight, and to train it not to wander off. This is particularly helpful with a highly investigative puppy or in a very busy household.
At any time that the puppy cannot be supervised, such as throughout the night or when you need to go out, house it in a secure area. An escape-proof cage, a dog run, or collapsible pen are simple, highly effective, and most important, safe. The puppy could also be confined to a room that has been carefully dog-proofed. When selecting your dog’s confinement area it is useful to consider a number of factors. The dog will adapt faster to the new area if it is associated with rewards. Have the puppy enter the area for all its treats, toys, and perhaps food and water. The area should have some warm, dry, comfortable bedding and should never be used for punishment (although it can, and should, be used to prevent problems). Housing the puppy in isolated areas where there is minimal human contact, such as in a back room or basement cellar, should be avoided. In fact, often the best area is a kitchen (so that this can also be the dog’s feeding area) or a bedroom (so that it becomes the dog’s sleeping area). Each time the puppy needs to be confined, it should first be well exercised and given an opportunity to eliminate.
Another consideration in selecting the type of confinement area is how long you may need to leave the dog alone. Anytime the puppy will be left alone for longer than it can control its elimination, you must provide an area for elimination. A room or collapsible pen with a paper-covered area would be needed. A simple cage could be used for owners that do not have to leave their puppies confined for longer than 2 or 3 hours.
How can I prevent problems?
Supervise the puppy at all times that it is not confined to ensure that the puppy does not get itself into mischief or cause damage to itself or the home. Leaving a house line attached is all that is usually needed to prevent or interrupt inappropriate behaviour such as bin raiding, chewing on household items, house-soiling, or wandering off into rooms or areas that are out of bounds. When the puppy cannot be supervised, confinement (discussed above) will be necessary. It is not fair to stop the puppy doing things for when you provide no suitable alternative. Providing for your puppy’s needs is discussed below.
What if my puppy does something wrong?
Every effort should be made to avoid punishment for new puppies as it is unnecessary and can poor relationships at a time when bonding and attachment are critical. By preventing problems through confinement or supervision, providing for all of the puppy’s needs, and setting up the environment for success, punishment should never be required. If a reprimand is needed, a verbal "ah-ah" or a loud noise such as a hand clap is usually sufficient to distract a puppy so that you can then direct the puppy towards the correct behaviour. NEVER hit or smack a puppy.
What must I do to provide for my puppy’s needs?
Chewing, play, exercise, exploration, feeding, social contact and elimination are basic requirements of all puppies. By providing appropriate outlets for each of these needs, few problems are likely to emerge. Puppies should be given chew toys that interest them and occupy their time. When supervised, the owner can allow the puppy to investigate and explore its new environment and can direct the puppy to the appropriate chew toys (and away from inappropriate areas). Hollow toys can be stuffed with biscuits and treats to make them more attractive. Play, exercise, affection, training, and handling must all be part of the daily routine. New tasks, new routines, new people and new forms of handling can be associated with rewards to ensure success. And, of course, the puppy will need to be provided with an acceptable area for elimination, and will need guidance until it learns to use this area.
How do I house-train my puppy?
With a few basic rules you can house-train most puppies within a few days. This does not mean that the puppy will be able to be trusted to wander throughout the home without eliminating. What the puppy should quickly learn is where it should eliminate.
Puppies have a strong urge to eliminate after sleeping, playing, feeding and drinking. Take your puppy to its selected elimination area within a few minutes of each of these activities. In addition, although some puppies can control themselves through the entire night, most puppies need to eliminate every 3 to 4 hours during the daytime. With each passing month, you can expect your puppy to control itself a little longer between elimination times. The puppy should be taken to its elimination area on lead, given a word or two of verbal encouragement (e.g. "Hurry up") and as soon as elimination is completed, lavishly praised and patted. A few tasty food treats can also be given the first few times the puppy eliminates in the right spot, and then intermittently thereafter. You can also have a short game with a favourite toy. This teaches the puppy the proper place to eliminate, and that elimination in that location is associated with rewards. Always go outdoors with your puppy to ensure that it has eliminated and so that rewards can be given immediately when it performs.
When indoors the puppy must be supervised so that you can see when it needs to eliminate and immediately take it outdoors to its elimination area. If you see pre-elimination signs (circling, squatting, sneaking-off, heading to the door), immediately take your puppy to its elimination site, give the cue words, and reward the puppy for elimination. If the puppy begins to eliminate indoors, interrupt it by saying “oops”, and immediately take the puppy outdoors to its proper site, so that it can complete the act.
When you are not available to supervise, the puppy should be confined to its confinement area. Be certain that your puppy has had a chance to eliminate, and has had sufficient play and exercise before any lengthy confinement. If the area is small enough, such as a pen or cage, many puppies will have sufficient control to keep this area clean. When you come to release the puppy from confinement, it must be taken directly to its elimination area. If the area is too large for the puppy to keep clean, or the puppy is left alone too long for it to control itself, the entire area, except for the puppies bed and feeding spot, should be covered with paper for elimination.
What do I do if I find some stool or urine in an inappropriate spot?
Be cross with yourself for not watching your puppy and just clean it up! There is no point in punishing or even pointing out the problem to the puppy. Only if the puppy is in the act of elimination can you correct it (and take it out to the appropriate place). Make sure your clean the area thoroughly with a proper pet odour and stain remover or use diluted biological washing powder. Leaving any residue will encourage the puppy to eliminate in that spot again.
Why does my puppy refuse to eliminate in my presence, even when outdoors?
Puppies that are not supervised and rewarded for outdoor elimination, but are constantly being disciplined and punished for indoor elimination, may soon begin to fear to eliminate in all locations in an owner’s presence. These puppies do not associate the punishment with indoor elimination; they associate the punishment with the presence of the owner. Check to see whether or not this could apply in your situation and ask for urgent help from our behaviourist! Punishment does not work!
How can I teach my puppy to signal that it needs to go out to eliminate?
By regularly taking the dog outdoors, through the same door, to the same site, and providing rewards for proper elimination, the puppy will soon learn to head for the door each time it has to eliminate. If you recognise the signs of impending elimination and praise the puppy whenever it heads for the doorway, the behaviour can be encouraged further.
When will I be able to trust my puppy to wander loose throughout the home?
Generally you will want your dog to have been error free around the house for a month before you can begin to decrease your confinement and supervision. The first time you leave the puppy unsupervised should be just after taking the dog outdoors for elimination. Gradually increase the length of time that your dog is allowed to roam through the home without supervision. If the dog has been able to go unsupervised for a couple of hours without an "accident", it might then be possible to begin going out for short periods of time. Of course, if the dog still investigates and chews, then confinement and supervision may still be necessary as well as a wider range of chew toys.