Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ask Billy: Potty Training 101

Judy from Alabama recently wrote us and asked this question:

HELP !!!!!!!!!
I have an adorable 5 month old Blue Merle Cocker Spaniel and I’m having some difficulties with potty training. My husband and I both work daily and we also have a 13 year old Cocker. I put up pet gates at our hallway and our den to keep them in the kitchen daily. Abbie Bella is fine during the day -- when I come home there's no tinkle or poop in the kitchen. The dogs also have a doggie door in the kitchen that leads from the covered patio to the double-fenced in yard outside. When I get home, I immediately take the puppy in my arms and shower her with kisses and hugs and then take her outside to potty and poop because I know she gets excited when we come home. She also knows what “potty” means because she will go with me outside and tinkle.

The problem begins once I take the gates down and we settle down to the den to relax. Abbie Bella will sometimes squat and tinkle or poop. I try to remember to take her out every couple of hours, but sometimes I forget or fall asleep on the couch after a hard day in the computer lab. I haven’t had a puppy in 16 years. So it’s been a long time for me.

I want to take Abbie Bella for obedience training, but I’m wondering if I need to take her for some reinforcement potty training first? Also, how settled down should she be before the obedience training?

Judy, thanks so much for your email. Before we get to the nitty gritty, we have to tell you that we think Abbie Bella is ABSOLUTELY ADORABLE! We wish we could give her freckled nose a big smooch in person!

Potty training is all about consistency. Dogs are creatures of habit and will learn the routine as long as you have one and stick with it. This means that no matter how tired you are, take the puppy out every few hours. Set an alarm clock if you need to. Just be consistent.

In addition, because Abbie Bella has started having accidents in the den, keep her confined until she fully understands that she shouldn't go in the house. This takes time, so patience is a virtue.

Now for the really hard part: when you come home from work and shower her with hugs and kisses before taking her out, you are distracting her from her training. Instead, as soon as you walk in, take Abbie Bella directly outside. As hard as it will be, DO NOT acknowledge her, pick her up, talk to her, hug her or pay any attention to her until she goes the the bathroom outside. As soon as she goes, give her as much love and praise as is humanly possible. She will quickly understand that going outside is the correct behavior and that the reward for this behavior is well worth her effort. Although nice, your hugs and kisses are preventing her from focusing on her job, namely potty training.

Now on to your second question: As soon as a puppy has all of her shots and boosters, and she's otherwise healthy, she's ready to go out into the world and take an obedience class with other young pups. Puppies are naturally playful. So, begin with a class designed for puppies, which focuses on socializing and very basic obedience. A puppy class should cover only basic commands and tasks, such as sit, stay and walking on leash. Keep your expectations in check and don't be surprised if it's hard for your puppy to "come" if she's playing with a group of other puppies. Wait until your pup has matured and mastered the basic commands before tackling more advanced obedience, party tricks and requests to bring you a Perrier from the refrigerator. Remember too that the trainer is really training you, so practice, practice, practice! And most importantly, of course, have fun!

1 comment:

  1. I would like to add that taking Abbie Bella to the same location,on the leash, and reinforcing her actions when she is there with a command (my dog knows "hurry up") helps her to know why she is there, and a reward when when the deed is done, with big praise. This serves a couple of purposes. 1) You won't have poop all over the yard. 2) If you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you can take your dog out and he/she knows exactly why and what is required. 3) If you are on a road trip and you stop to for Abbie Bella to do her duty, again, she knows why when youtell her "Hurry up."