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Most people underestimate how hard it is to raise a puppy.
They bite, cry in the night, potty everywhere, and chew up almost everything in your house.
But with a few tips and tricks, you can make raising your puppy much easier.
Check out this conversation with Michele Lennon, a professional dog trainer from the popular YouTube channel, How To Train A Dream Dog, below:
Puppy Raising Secrets
Q: How do I get started with potty training my new puppy?
A: Follow the four fundamentals.
- Restrict access so that your puppy isn’t going all over the place.
- Reward a whole bunch where you want your puppy to go in the first place. So ideally that would be outside to a potty spot.
- Clean up with the right product (like this enzymatic cleaner) because potty accidents are inevitable. Your puppy is learning to go in a different spot than on your rug in your house. And when they have to go, they absolutely have to go.
- Keep a routine so that you know when to take our puppies outside. And also so your puppy’s body can start to get in sync with going out at certain times.
And remember that an accident is an accident. It’s never your puppy going out of spite or purposely going in the house or anything like that.
Your puppy’s brain and bladder are still learning to work in sync together.
Your puppy’s bladder really isn’t fully developed to they’re about six months old.
So your pup has a little ways to go before they’re considered potty trained or being able to signal to you when they need to go outside.
And we always recommend that you write down what happens and when it happens.
So physically writing it out on a piece of paper when the puppy went outside to pee or poo.
And even if you took them out and nothing happened, write that down. Or even when accidents happen.
And so what you’re going to start to notice over time is a pattern so that you can catch your puppy before they’re about to go inside.
Being consistent among all household members is another good reason to write it down.
So if multiple people are working on potty training with your pup, they know what happened and when.
Q: So you mentioned the word “restrict.” Can you talk a little bit more about what that means, mistakes, and misconceptions about it?
So we’re restricting access to places that your pup might not be quite ready for.
The more space we give our puppies, the more accidents will happen.
And so we have this balance, we want to make sure we’re introducing new spaces to our puppy sooner rather than later, but giving them too much space right out of the gate when they’re not ready for it will lead to accidents.
Even tethering your puppy or putting them on a leash and keeping them close to you is going to limit the opportunity for an accident.
This management of the space isn’t punishment because we’re not making it a negative experience.
We’re just limiting the opportunity for the accident to happen.
Q: What about pee pads? And how do you potty train your puppy in the winter?
We do not recommend pee pads unless we have a senior dog or a human that is just physically not able to go outside.
We would recommend for those who live in apartment buildings or high rises, instead of pee pads, use something similar to like a fresh patch or real grassy patch that has a similar texture, feel, and scent as real grass.
This makes it an easier transition.
Pee pads are like a big bulls-eye in your home that tells your puppy to go inside, and not necessarily actually on the pee pad.
Usually, I’d see nine to 10-week-old puppies start going off the pads.
They go near them because they can smell that they’re near it, but they go off the pad.
Q: What are some common potty training mistakes that you see?
Not taking puppy out on a leash.
So they’re taking the puppy outside and the puppy is playing, having a ball, roaming around, and losing focus on the task at hand, which is going potty outside.
We also recommend even using a puppy pen outside as well.
This gives a clear designated space for the puppy to go in.
And then when you’re taking them out on leash, you’re walking over to that spot together, as opposed to the puppy taking off, running around.
Also, people are reinforcing when the puppy comes back inside, as opposed to out in the grassy spot where they want the puppy to go.
So when the puppy goes to potty in that moment, that’s what we want to reinforce right there.
When we reinforced when the puppy comes back inside, we are likely reinforcing a whole separate behavior — your puppy looking at us, sitting, walking through a door.
So reinforce outside where the puppy goes.
Another big common mistake is scolding the puppy for going to the bathroom inside.
Remember what I said, puppies have to go. It’s just like us. We have to go to the bathroom. It’s a natural instinct and behavior.
So if an accident happens, we always say it was an owner error.
The owner missed something. They missed the signal. They didn’t stick to the schedule. They waited too long. Maybe they didn’t stay out long enough with the puppy.
So you can’t scold the puppy when they went inside.
This is actually going to teach them to fear your presence.
This may actually teach them to sneak off and try to go in a corner because obviously going in front of you is really bad.
We want them to feel comfortable enough to signal to us that they need to go potty outside and come to us when they have to go.
Q: So you mentioned taking your puppy on a leash out to place where they should pee every time. Is this for the first two weeks, two months? How long does it take to potty train a puppy?
We want to make sure that we are staying consistent as long as possible.
When you’re starting to see progress, and it’s consistent progress, over the duration of a couple of weeks to a couple months, then we could attempt to start taking what we call the training wheels off.
But just know, especially during that first year, you’ll have some regression that happens.
It’s natural regression.
That happens when growth hormones are raging through.
Sometimes it happens right after a puppy gets spayed or neutered.
And then again, the hormones are changing in the body and even pain medications that are given might lead to some accidents because your puppy is drinking more water.
So revisiting the leash again in the training process is going to be beneficial.
Q: When I first had my puppy, one of the hardest things was puppy biting. How do you handle that?
Unwanted behaviors are only unwanted to humans.
They’re natural behaviors for our puppies.
Our puppies are drawn to movement.
Our hands tend to move a lot.
They deliver all the tasty yumminess.
So our puppies are going to be more interested in checking those things out.
Puppies, Golden Retriever puppies, especially, are very oral creatures.
They want to put everything in their mouth, which includes our hands.
Lots of redirecting is important.
You’re going to redirect hundreds of times, but the key to this is noting when the biting is happening.
Is it happening when our puppies have full batteries?
Or is it when the battery is kind of drained and now your puppy is overtired and overstimulated?
People always ask us, “What’s the one thing to make the biting stop?”
But it’s cumulative.
Did the puppy get enough rest?
Did the puppy get enough exercise, both mental and physical?
How are we managing the environment? Is it too overstimulating for them?
What outlets throughout the day did we give our puppy to fill their emotional cups, so to speak?
If biting is occurring we have to look at a variety of different factors to see what might be at play and to learn what we might need to do to fix it.
Q: How does biting compare to chewing, or are those different problems with different solutions?
Biting tends to come about more when there’s movement involved.
Chewing is a natural urge to fulfill the decompression of the jaw.
It’s also during teething and our pups wanna help those gums feel better.
So they’re trying to find things to chew on whether that’s to soothe the gum or try to move the puppy teeth out of the way so the adult teeth can come through.
It’s a way for them to feel more comfortable.
If your puppy is chewing on things you don’t want them to chew on, we want to make sure we’re providing the best options for them. Whether that’s a Nylabone or a Benebone, maybe a split antler, something that they can really sink their teeth into.
And we want to make sure that we are doing a ton of redirecting and management of the space.
If your puppy keeps chewing on personal belongings or furniture, we’re going to block off access to that space or that item for now, until they’re further along in the training process.
Q: What do you think about like the spray I hear about like apple vinegar spray or whatever?
That is not a tool that we have in our toolbox.
Most of the sprays are just an invite to lick and chew on things.
Most puppies love them.
I know they were intended to try to stop the puppy from chewing on things, but puppies really like that flavor or that smell. They’re curious about it.
The other thing is we’re not big on using aversive techniques or tools.
We would much rather teach the puppy what we want them to do instead, as opposed to trying to stop something that’s a natural behavior.
So if you have to resort to a spray of some kind, we have to ask ourselves, did I give my puppy too much freedom to that thing that they’re chewing on?
Have I taught my puppy what they should be chewing on instead?
Dd I meet all my puppy’s needs?
Did I provide all the things throughout their day that are going to fulfill their needs or give them an outlet to release pent-up energy that they have?
Q: What about canine enrichment?
I think when people think of canine enrichment, they think of puzzle toys most often, but enrichment is what makes your life enriching.
What are some activities that you do throughout the day or week or month or year that make you happy and fulfill your need?
And that’s the angle we like to take when we’re teaching our puppy owners — what activities can we provide for our dogs that are enriching?
Maybe it is puzzle toys, but dogs also like to forage.
They like to sniff and scavenge.
They like to dig. They like to shred.
These activities have to be provided to our dogs.
Otherwise, if they’re not, they may take these desires out on our home, carpets, furniture, shoes, or important documents.
Q: So you mentioned digging and shredding there. Most people don’t want their dogs to be digging and shredding. What are your thoughts on that?
I say, why are you trying to stop a natural behavior?
We can’t just try to take it away because it’s like trying to take your nationality away.
It’s in you. It’s part of what makes you who you are.
So for our dogs, especially some dogs who love to dig, swim, retrieve — this is what they were bred for.
Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve.
We can’t take it away, so what we do want to do is provide the right outlet in a safe way for them to still do these activities.
Terriers absolutely love to dig, we can’t just say no to them.
They’re going to find other ways to dig and it’s probably going to be destructive in our home.
So giving them a dig box or an iDig toy or a busy box, which is really just a shallow box big enough for you to put some items in it, whether it’s rags or old towels, and you can sprinkle in some kibble or treats and they have to dig in it and burrow through it to find those pieces.
Those are more productive outlets for our dogs than us just trying to say no, I don’t like digging.
Q: So for shredding… you mentioned a dig box, would you have a shred box where you would put paper towel rolls and stuff?
Yeah, and this is where you have to know your puppy’s play style.
If you have a puppy that consumes things, you’re going to use stuff like a head of lettuce or carrots or celery, something that is safe for them to consume.
But if you have a pup that would just shred it, tear it up and throw it around the room, then maybe a paper towel tube, or a toilet paper roll, or even just some cardboard boxes or the stuffing that comes in the boxes upon delivery.
Those would be fun to give your pup.
Q: So going back to the biting, let’s say that I have a five-year-old child and a puppy. Those don’t always mix that well. How do you handle that?
It’s honestly educating both the humans and the puppy.
This includes teaching them that if they run the puppy will want to chase them.
If they squeal and flail their arms, like most little kids like to do, these are invites to the puppy.
We’re going to teach them how to play some fun games together with your puppy to still bond and play and interact, but so that the puppy doesn’t feel the need to want to chase after and bite them.
One thing that could be beneficial is a flirt pole.
This gives a longer distance between the puppy and the kid so that the puppy still has something fun to chase and play with, but it’s long enough and far enough away from the kids.
Q: Going back to puppy management. Do you use baby gates and pens with children? Y
If we know that the kids are just not able to interact with the puppy in a good way without supervision, then we’re going to have to put baby gates or puppy pens up.
Q: You mentioned enrichment and toys. What are your favorite toys for puppies?
This depends on the puppy.
I have my personal preferences, but I always try to see what the puppy’s play style is and then find toys that would be best for them.
So for example, Pickles loves to move things around with this nose.
The Bob-A-Lot is one of his favorites.
I also have Wesley, my standard poodle, who loves to pull things apart.
So we’ve taken the Hol-ee Roller Ball and we’ve used rags and rolled them up with little pieces of kibble inside each roll piece and fed it through or weaved it through the ball.
And now he can pull those pieces out and unravel them and find treats inside.
The flirt pole is another really good one.
But one safety tip on that one — we don’t want puppies jumping, so we always keep the toy low to the ground as we’re moving it along.
Jumping could damage those growth plates that aren’t fully developed yet.
They develop closer to about a year to a year and a half, sometimes two years for our giant breed dogs.
Q: You mentioned Nylabones and Benebones earlier. Some people say that they are too hard for young puppies’, or even adult dogs’ teeth. What are your thoughts on that?
If they’re super aggressive chewers and they still have those soft, puppy teeth, we might need to find an alternative, like a teething ring or something of that sort.
If you have an assertive chewer that seems to be pretty strong in their chew style, the Nylabones, Benebones, and even the split antlers might be the better choice.
Q: Puppies, especially Golden Retrievers, like to jump. How do you handle that?
They’re excited to see you.
They want to say hi, they want to check in with you, they want to sniff you, especially if you come in from being outside.
This is one of those things that we have to identify what we want our dog to do.
Instead of jumping, you have to know what you want your dog to do.
First, you have to work on teaching them that alternate skill.
We call it pre-training, or dress rehearsals versus the real show.
For example, kids come home from school.
They’re super excited.
Puppy is going to be drawn to that energy of excitement.
They might be very jumpy, probably pretty nippy as well.
We’re going to want to set aside some training time when no kids are available. No kids are present and teaching the puppy:
Where do we want them to go? What do we want them to do?
A lot of people say, “I just want my puppy to behave,” or, “I just want my puppy to stop jumping.”
But what does that look like? What do you want them to do? Do you want them to go lay on a bed? Do you want them to go sit at your side?
And then we have to start to, what we call, layer in the training.
So we’re going to start with the simplest skill that your puppy can do or that you can teach your puppy.
And we’re going to slowly start to layer in different levels of distraction, eventually building up to the kids coming in the door. But we’re never going to start with kids.
Maybe we’ll start with teaching the puppy to go lay on a bed.
And we’re going to teach that in a place where it’s not very distracting.
Then at some point we, when they’re really good at going to their bed on cue with no kids present, we might start to add in a kid, just standing still, at the door.
The more layers we add to this, the difficulty level increases.
So if you think about it in terms of a kid knocking or a doorbell, or even just opening the door and coming in, that’s a lot of energy.
That’s like our training dial turned and cranked way, way up.
So we have to start with that training dial cranked way down to level one.
And a hundred is the kid coming in the door.
Eventually we’ll get to the point where the door opens and closes in the training process.
And then maybe a kid goes out and then in.
Eventually, at some point, the kid is going to come home from school and the owner and the puppy will be together.
Maybe the puppy will be on a leash or maybe they’ll have worked it up to a point where the puppy can go lay on their bed on cue with this grand a level of distraction going in.
Q: Let’s say I’ve got a new puppy. What are the other big mistakes that I’m probably going to make that are way too common, but are easy to avoid?
Another big one is thinking your puppy is stubborn.
A lot of people think, “My puppy is so stubborn. They’re refusing to do the thing.”
If you ever get to that point where you’re saying these things out loud, or you’re feeling as if your puppy is doing something out of spite, I want you to take that idea and just open the window and toss it out.
And the reason I say that is dogs aren’t stubborn.
If they are not able to do something, it’s because they either are overwhelmed, they haven’t had enough reinforcement history built up to understand what to do in that situation, or the environment is too much for them to process any more information.
To be stubborn would mean you would have to know what you’re supposed to do and purposely not.
That’s a very complex thought process.
So for people to think that their puppy is stubborn, it’s not what you think.
So a good common example would be, “My puppy is refusing to walk. They’re just laying down. They’re not moving. They’re refusing. They’re so stubborn.”
Well, when we ask a whole bunch of questions, especially with our students, we discovered they put their puppy in a situation their puppy wasn’t ready for.
They can’t process any more information.
They’re actually overwhelmed.
They’re either frozen in fear, or can’t process anymore information.
And even if they were to take treats, maybe they’re taking the treats super frantically, or not at all.
Just because you have food involved doesn’t mean the puppy is going to automatically know what to do.
We always say when our puppies are in kind of shutdown mode, no learning is actually happening.
So while they may be taking the treat, there’s not actually an understanding of what they’re supposed to be doing.
Q: Where can people learn more about you or get your help training their puppy?
The best place new puppy owners can start out is a free resource we have called our New Puppy Starter Kit.
That will get you started on the puppy training process and there are some printable resources in there.
There are also some common mistakes to avoid as a new puppy owner.