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Puppies, Puddles and Patience

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cliff  resting in a cage

The following article was written by Dr Sarah Pilbeam:

Let me tell you a story about a friend of mine.....

Blissfully dozing one Monday morning at 6:58, she was snatched from the arms of Morpheus by a shivering and a whimpering and a nosing and a restless pawing at her face.

“Mmmph, two more minutes puppy. Just hold it, okay? Just two.”

With eyes like deep, blue-brown pools of limpid contrition, she cocked her head, blinked, squatted, and voided approximately a quarter gallon of urine.  It spread with astonishing speed and within seconds struck through the blanket, counterpane, doona and both sheets to leave a matching stain of considerable size on the mattress.

The puppy, that was, not the friend.

Now, whose fault was that?  Someone who should’ve known better ignored some of the most central precepts of toilet training, and was justly chastised.

Keep your temper.  Cling to it.  Grit your teeth, and smile and smile.

    1. Remember: these are accidents, generally not unmitigated spite.  However it might feel.
    2. Puppies don’t understand.   Not "I pee inside, I get in trouble", but "you saw pee/me pee, and I got shouted at".    A subtle, but important difference.
      • In their minds, all they are learning is that a perfectly natural bodily function throws their erstwhile loving parent figure into a violent and uncontrollable rage.  That they are clearly dangerous, mad and slightly unbalanced.
      • Obviously, if you don’t find out they pee inside, they don’t get in trouble.  Please, don’t think they aren’t smart enough to work this out.  They can apply this simple deduction in two ways:
        1. Go outside
        2. Not get caught.  This means presents in your shoes, behind doors, under the television, just about anywhere you don’t expect them.  And trust me, they can get quite creative.  Or… take a more, um, direct hand in disposing of the evidence.  This is a particularly unsavoury habit, and really, really hard to break once properly routed.
  1. Puppies pee.  A lot. However often you think a small dog needs to go the bathroom, triple it.  Now you’re somewhere close.

When you first bring your new little bundle of joy home, you’re probably going to need to set a timer to go off every hour.  Twenty-four times a day.  In rain, wind, sleet and any weather, you’re going to find yourself outside five minutes out of every sixty, raving in sheer delight at a pathetic dribbling tinkle.

You may want to work in shifts.

As they get older, you can gradually reduce the frequency.  At 11 weeks old, Cliff can make it through the night if I take her out at before bed, then at twelve and four, and on the stroke of seven.  But you’ll have to play it by ear.

 

How to toilet train the correct way

Get very, very excited when they do the right thing.

It doesn’t matter if you scooped them up midstream from your most treasured afghan to squeeze out a few pathetic drops on the stoop; I want you to gibber in delight with all the vigour and gusto of a children’s tv presenter on helium who has just been kneed in the groin. The higher, the better. They don’t care that it’s quarter to three, and you have to be at work in four hours. This is a great and momentous event. Some people like to give them an amazingly exciting treat, (chicken, cheese, whatever they love), so you could try that if you had one to hand.

Learn to listen to your puppy.

Learn their specific signs.  Some common ones are circling, scratching, whining or getting restless.  If you’ve hit the puppy jackpot, they may sit by the door.

Pre-empt them.  Often they will need to go: after they eat, after they drink, after they play or after they sleep.  Granted, puppies don’t do a lot else, but just slot these times in on top of whatever schedule they are on.

When they make a mistake, clean it up and move on.

You have to obliterate the smell.  Any lingering traces are like flashing, neon ‘pee here’ signs to your puppy’s exquisitely sensitive nose.

Don’t use anything with an ammonium base, like bleach.  Because the nitrogen compounds smell just like urine, your diligent scrubbing will just shoot all your other efforts in the foot.  Soak up what you can, then try a liberally applied odour eliminating spray like, Urine-Off (dog formulation), that breaks down the crystals responsible for the distinctive smell your puppy picks up, rather than attempting to cover it up.

Or just, you know, flip your mattress and hope for the best.

Keep your temper.

Everything else is just detail, really.  There are the advocates of puppy pads, crate training (yours truly), and good old fashioned constant vigilance.  All work for some people.  What’s really important is that you are consistent and positive. Especially when you are just itching to strangle your new best friend.

To sum up

Whatever method, or blend of methods, you pick, stick to it.  Puppy preschool has some great tips, but it’s as much a support group where you can exchange bleary-eyed, knowing nods with other brand new puppy parents as anything else.

For Cliff and me, the end is very nearly in sight.  For the rest of you, God speed.

Nothing stretches unconditional love to breaking point quite like toilet training a puppy, except possibly teaching a teenager to drive.

You’re going to need the grim, slightly mad patience of a saint, the steely-eyed, delusional determination that comes from knowing that failure is not an option, and liberal use of Urine-Off.  For the driving thing, the urine spray is probably elective.

And for those of you who say I was playing Russian roulette sharing my bed with a poorly toilet-trained three month old, a very wise friend of mine once said, “pee washes out, love is forever.”

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