Puppy Pointers

Create a home for your puppy within your home.

Often, this will be a crate, but it can also be a small room with very little furniture and flooring that is easy to clean up. Or pull a coach out from the wall and create a little den. Lay down large plastic trash bags – in fact, tape these down as a first layer. Recycle your newspaper or flatten cardboard boxes and then add old sheets and towels for comfort.

This area provides two functions. The first is the obvious potty-training assistance. A small area, primarily for sleeping, where your dog is situated when you cannot be fully present to her urges to relieve her bowels. This is instinctive behavior for dogs, to eliminate away from their sleeping area, but it is your responsibility to not leave your puppy in their crate longer than their bladder can hold out. If you do that, then the puppy won't have any choice but to go, and you'll lose the instinctive advantage of soiling away from the den.

The second function is to give your dog their space. There are times when your dog will be overwhelmed, tired, and unsure. If she associates her crate with comfort and security, she will naturally go there when she needs to. When this becomes the case, you really have an advantage and can feel that the crate is a positive experience for your pup, and nothing like the concept we humans have of being caged.

My six year old, Zanzi, is right now sleeping in her crate. She has not required crating for over four years, but she enjoys having her space and it is the place she goes when she really needs to rest. So while the initial goal of this place is to provide a space just large enough for your puppy to be safely restrained while you are potty-training; you also want to plan for this sort of place for the long haul, if your dog becomes accustomed to enjoyed their “Naptime.”

All trash receptacles need to be inaccessible to your puppy.

Any item that is not larger than a breadbox needs to be relocated into cabinets, high up off the floor, or in purpose built containers that close and are made of a secure material.

Remove all open trash containers from the floor: Either put them inside cupboards, like under the sink, or you can hang them if your dog is small of stature. In my house, hanging a small plastic bag from the towel holder in the bathroom or from an upper kitchen cabinet did the trick. Of course, there are always the closed receptacles with foot pedals or motion-sensors. But for at least the first 18 months of your puppy's life you need to be vigilant about trash being completely unavailable, and perhaps, depending on your dog's level of scavenger activity, forever. This re-arrangement is a small price to pay to avoid having to rush your dog to the hospital, because she consumed about a pound of trash, trying to get to that scrap of chicken you didn't consider edible.

Which leads to the next tip...

Sit on the floor and look at at things from your puppy's vantage point

Exhausted after first drive home, but at least there is food & water here....

Exhausted after first drive home, but at least there is food & water here....

Remember that your puppy considers a wide range of items edible that you cannot imagine they would. You need to really sit on the floor and ask yourself what is small enough to be swallowed – those things must be conscientiously put on higher ground. Then find the things that are small enough to be chewed into pieces that could be swallowed. Or are handled a lot by you, especially when you might have been eating.

There will be a few sharp, pointed corners that you might want to soften up so that your puppy doesn't get hurt, but this part of the exercise is only a few moments.

Then find the items that your puppy could hurt.

Remotes, Phones, Electric Cords and Shoes.

I might be playing a game of “one of these things doesn't belong” from Sesame Street, but in actually all of these are very prime targets of puppies. Shoes not only smell very strongly of you, they also are loaded with all the great things you've stepped in that remind the puppy of the great outdoors when they are stuck in a world of strange smells. Use your fancy brain to ensure that puppies with free time on their hands aren't given access to shoes. Or for that matter, dirty laundry baskets which have such great smells. (This can actually be a favorite and acceptable “bed” once your dog is an adult and is out of the chewing and eating non-food items phase. My dog, Tangenyika, favored my closet in general, and the dirty laundry basket specifically. This saved me hundreds of dollars on beds that often have toxic materials and I am sure she felt more loved and connected amongst my dirty clothes than any store-bought item could ever provide.)

The Electronics... Picture the scenario. You've been at work for seven hours. Your dog is fully rested and starting to get a little peckish. She wanders around the house. She misses you, and so she sniffs around for your scent. As she goes by the coffee table, the remote poised on the edge for when you get ready to relax in the evening, and she sniffs. Gee, it smells just like my best friend's hands. Hey, do I detect a slight aroma of popcorn? Lick. This is definitely salty. Let's pull it down to the ground and get a better sniff. Oh boy, this things smells like so many snacks, let's break it apart and get to the good stuff.

Your prized phones, tablets, laptops, and remotes smell like you and most likely (to a dog's extremely sensitive nose) a great deal of the residue of snacks you've consumed while using the remote. These special pieces of equipment, whose use cannot be understood by your dog, but whose smell truly prompts investigation, have to be rigorously placed out of reach of your dog. On a mantlepiece, in a drawer, high on a shelf. Think high.

Read about the full story of my canine companion journey in Second: A Tale of Grief and Puppy Love


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