House Training A Puppy

The first thing many people do when they bring a puppy home is to start house training it. And I am certain that efforts in this direction completely ruin the temperaments of many good dogs for life.

The first essential to any success in training any animal (by success I mean an animal that works happily with you, rather than for you) is to ensure that it likes you. It must therefore associate your presence with pleasure.

But what do people do? They remove this young puppy, a canine baby, from its mother, brothers and sisters, and they take it into a strange and bewildering place. It is a known fact that fear or nervous tension affects both bladder and bowels (dogs are by no means unique in this respect) and when it is put down a strange puppy will nearly always urinate. And many owners will scold it or even punish it physically. But it does not know what it has done wrong — indeed it may not know what it has done — and it associates this punishment not with the ‘crime’ but with the person, the place and everything around it.

The effect is added to by the fact that the puppy is not old enough to want a leader. All it wants is a protector — a mother figure to give it confidence. Its own mother will by now have corrected it for biting too hard in play and it will respond to this type of correction. But she will not have corrected it for relieving itself. Unlike her human counterpart she will know instinctively that bladders and bowels must be emptied frequently, especially when the animal is young.

But the human guardian does not stop there. He or she goes out and leaves the puppy shut up indoors. On returning there is a puddle on the floor and the puppy is punished yet again. Not only is it punished for something it cannot help doing, it is punished after the event. If it has been left alone any normal puppy will rush to the door to greet its returning owner. Here is an opportunity to make a fuss of it so that it will associate the owner with pleasure. Instead it soon associates its owner with correction which it dislikes. Soon it won’t go to the door but it will still leave puddles on the floor — because it has never been corrected for that and cannot help it anyhow.

This is the type of owner who says ‘Of course he knows he has done wrong. He always looks guilty and hides in the corner.’ Would you not hide in the corner if you knew that going to the door resulted in a beating up? Dogs rarely look guilty and then only exceptionally intelligent dogs which have a very close relationship with their master. But many dogs look frightened and it is quite natural for a young dog to adopt a submissive attitude in the presence of its superiors. The puppy to which I have referred is simply afraid of its owner. But if you take any submissive dog, stare and scold it in an angry voice it will ‘look guilty’ to the ignorant onlooker. In fact it would only be reacting in the same way as a wild dog does to the dominant member of the pack.

A great many shy, nervous and neurotic dogs are made that way by owners who fail completely to build up the correct associations of ideas. They accuse the dog of being stupid when in fact it is they who are stupid in failing to interpret their wishes to the dog. In the end the dog becomes stupid and a complete nervous wreck into the bargain.

House training rarely presents any problems to those who appreciate that young animals cannot go for long without relieving themselves and that puppies actually want to be clean. Like pigs, kittens and most other animals born in nests puppies will go away from the nest to relieve themselves as soon as they are old enough. (This is in contrast to chimpanzees and their close relatives human babies who have to wear nappies!) If this natural instinct is taken advantage of, all that is necessary is to encourage the puppy to go outside. Often it is only necessary to give it the opportunity.

Here the common mistake is the new owner’s failure to concentrate on the puppy. Most puppies ‘ask’ to go out but not in a positive manner by barking, whining or going to the door as many adult dogs will do. But if you really concentrate you should soon be able to ‘read’ your puppy and, if you hope to train him, this is something you should be trying to do anyhow. It may just be a change in his expression or he may start looking in corners or going round in circles. Whatever he does you should be able to see that he feels uncomfortable. It is then that you should pick him up quietly and take him out. Don’t just shove him out and shut the door or he will sit on the step and wait until you open it. He will then do what he intended doing where he intended doing it in the first place. Take him out and stay with him until he has relieved himself. Then praise him very well and bring him in. If you are reluctant to go out on a wet night remember that the puppy will have similar ideas and be even less likely to move from the step. Puppies nearly always want to relieve themselves when they wake up from a sleep and after feeding. Make a habit of taking the puppy out on both these occasions.

If you are unable to be with the puppy or to concentrate on it all the time — few people are — then a playpen is a great advantage. This should be placed on an easily cleaned floor and should have the puppy’s bed in it. Newspaper can be spread on the floor of the pen and the puppy put in it if you go out or are too busy to keep an eye on him. This does not encourage puppies to be dirty indoors as one might expect. If he is out of his pen he will nearly always go towards it when he wants to go out. You can then take him out as already mentioned and because of this it is a good idea to have the playpen near the back door.

A playpen not only helps in house training. It also prevents the puppy getting into mischief (thus avoiding the necessity to correct it) and prevents him being trodden on, hurt or frightened in any of the many ways that can so easily happen in the home. It is in fact better to keep a puppy outdoors in a kennel with run rather than have it being a nuisance indoors.

Occasionally puppies lack the instinct to be clean in varying degrees. This is usually due to a puppy being brought up under dirty conditions where it had no opportunity to get away from the nest. Here correction will have to be applied. And you will have to be even more observant as this type of puppy rarely worries about finding a suitable spot — it just squats where it is. As it does so, pick it up quickly, tell him in a firm tone ‘No’ and take him out. That is very severe correction to the average young puppy and the important thing is to apply it as the puppy does wrong. If you do it properly once or twice the puppy will associate the correction with the ‘crime’ and when he feels uncomfortable will start to worry about it. He will then act in the same way as the naturally clean puppy and you should be able to ‘read’ him and proceed as before.

If mild correction does not work, apply it more and more severely until it does work. And never forget to be equally lavish with your praise when the dog does what you want.

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