Puppies and babies have a lot in common: They both need around-the-clock care, they both have to be picked up after, and they both do better on a regular schedule. The advantage a puppy has over a baby is housetraining takes much less time -- that is, if you do it right.
Chow time. An important part of housetraining a puppy (or adult dog, for that matter) is her feeding schedule. Since housetraining revolves around controlling what's coming out of your dog, it makes sense to begin by regulating what goes into your dog and when. This is especially important in these days of working households.
When you first bring your dog home, she may be as young as seven to ten weeks old. A puppy grows quickly -- even a medium-size dog will go from two-pound pup to twenty-pound adult in six to eight months -- and needs to eat three meals a day to build that much more dog. Not surprisingly, then, her diet must provide twice the energy as an adult dog's. This means puppies should only be fed a high-quality food specially formulated for growing dogs and should get it as part of a consistent feeding and exercise schedule that fits the needs of the dog and your household.
It's not a good idea to free feed your dog, leaving food out all the time. Not only does this make housetraining nearly impossible, it can also make your dog fat. A chubby puppy may look cute, but she'll be more prone to skeletal problems as she grows, especially if she's one of the larger breeds. So ask your breeder or veterinarian how much food your pup should get per day and divide that amount into three daily servings. For instance, if your Chihuahua puppy needs one cup of food daily, give her three one-third cup meals.
Toilet training. Here's a model housetraining schedule for a new puppy, which also applies just as well to an older dog.
- At 6:00 a.m., take the puppy out of her crate and carry her outside immediately to eliminate. Bring her back inside, feed her one-third of her total food for the day, wait about 20 minutes, and then take her outside again. Praise her when she eliminates, and then head back inside for a little quality time. Put her in her crate so she can rest undisturbed while the family gets ready for work and school. The last person to leave the house should take her out to eliminate one more time.
- The next time to take your puppy out should be around 12:00 p.m. A puppy doesn't really develop complete bladder control until around the age of six months, so it's absolutely necessary for a young dog to have her midday walk. This is a good time for the second meal, too. If you can't be home in the middle of the day, arrange to have a neighbor or pet sitter come in. Repeat the morning ritual: Take your dog outside from the crate, praise her for elimination, have some play time, give her a feeding, and then take another trip outside within 20 minutes of the meal.
- At dinnertime, when everyone in the household is usually home, repeat the noon routine. This can be a good time for a walk on a leash, too. Let the dog hang out with the family during the evening, but be sure she's always under supervision. Remember, playing, eating, or drinking will stimulate the reflex to eliminate, so be sure to take the dog out after any of these activities. Take her out one more time before bed, then crate her in your bedroom.
Break the habit. Once you start shaping your dog's toilet habits, you'll need to focus on another important aspect of housetraining: teaching your pooch to respect your belongings. Once again, you want to create an environment that makes success easy and failure difficult.
First, use common sense: Put away anything you don't want the dog to chew on. Never give her your clothes or shoes to play with, unless you want your entire wardrobe to be fair game. Your dog can't distinguish between what's okay to use and what's off-limits.
Rotate her toys so she doesn't get bored with them. Put breakables where they can't get tumbled by accidental bumps or swept to the floor by the wagging tail of a rambunctious pooch. Always crate a puppy or confine her to a puppy-proof area like the kitchen or laundry room when you're not there to supervise.
Correct unwanted behaviors quickly, fairly, and briefly. Always positively reinforce appropriate behavior with praise and petting. In general, you should respond to unwanted behavior in one of three ways: ignore it, interrupt it, or redirect it.
Ignoring your dog is a social snub and lets her know the behavior isn't acceptable in polite circles. Give your dog the cold-shoulder treatment as part of an immediate correction for an unwanted behavior, but only keep it up for 10 to 15 minutes. (Any longer than that and your dog will have forgotten what happened.)
Interrupting the behavior helps break the habit and encourages the dog to try another strategy. Interruption works best when it comes unexpectedly; otherwise it can be programmed in as part of the cycle of unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog barks at the mail carrier every day at 2:00 p.m. and your response is to go and get the shaker can, after a few days your dog will expect you to do it and just keep barking. The idea is to set up interruptions so the dog doesn't know it's coming. That way, the correction gets associated with the behavior and not with you.
Redirection is a more advanced technique and should be used once your dog has learned a basic vocabulary of commands such as sit, down, off, wait, leave it, and out. Once your pooch has these commands nailed down, you can use them to stop unwanted behavior in its tracks. So when your pup starts to jump up, you can tell her, "Sit!" or "Off!" instead. When she's eyeing your shoe as a chew toy, you can tell her to leave it (or if the shoe is already in her mouth, "Out!"). The wonderful thing about redirection -- and an obedience-trained dog -- is punishment is almost never necessary. You give the redirecting command, the dog responds, and you praise her. It's a win-win situation: The unwanted behavior stops, and Fido gets to be a good dog!
Now we'll move to a part of dog care that makes life more pleasant for everyone: grooming and bathing. They're covered in the next section.