Monday, March 8, 2010

'Go Potty' on cue

Teaching Melissa where to eliminate and to go potty on cue was fairly easy. Briefly here are a few of the steps we followed:

1) Puppies need to go out frequently: upon waking, after eating, when excited, and after playing. You may think ‘but I just took puppy outdoors a few minutes ago’. You did. But when your puppy has a good aerobic work-out by running after a new toy and playing with you, or gets excited visiting with guests and then begins to slow down; chances are she will need to go out again, a mere 20 minutes after she had just eliminated outdoors. Take the time to set up good habits now, take your puppy out often.

2) Be prepared to get up in the middle of the night. An 8-week-old puppy will not be able to go thru the night without having to eliminate. As the weeks go on, your pup may sleep thru the night. Each pup is a little different. Each pup will develop at her own rate, but we can help form good habits early by being diligent. When Melissa would wake up in the middle of the night, I took her out; she had to go!

3) Within a few days you will be able to distinguish between the ‘I need to go out whimper’ vs. the ‘I am bored and want to do something’ cry.

4) I made sure that Melissa was very tired before I put her to bed. She had lots of free running during the day and many games to engage her mind. We had a 20-minute quiet time before bedtime, a last potty break and then Melissa was given a bone or interactive toy to work on. She settled quickly.

5) Crate training can facilitate housetraining.

6) Melissa’s whereabouts in the house were known every second. She was either interacting with me, chewing a toy or bone while lying on my feet, I tethered her leash to me, or she was in her x-pen. I set her environment up so she could be successful.

7) I will admit she was not 100% perfect. If I did not get up early enough…before 5 am, she did have a few accidents. But this also seemed to coincide during the weeks she was teething and after I thought she was pretty much housetrained. Losing puppy teeth, and having adult teeth emerge is a stressful time for puppies a lot is happening in their bodies. I tend to think that housetraining can regress during this time. Some puppies sail thru the teething stages with no side effects, I have had a few that seem to go off their schedule a bit. I just got up earlier to take Melissa out during this time period.

8) I took Melissa outdoors to the same spot whenever possible to eliminate. The familiarity of the spot speeds things up for future potty breaks.

9) As Melissa began to eliminate, and not before, I began to whisper the cue I use: ‘potty, go potty’. After Melissa finished, I would click and reward her with a treat. It is important to reward immediately after elimination rather then waiting to go back indoors. Behaviors you want repeated should be clicked or marked with a ‘yes’ and rewarded within a second or two. I then played with her outdoors for a short time. I didn’t want Melissa to associate eliminating and the fun outdoors ending. Instead I built an association of the same spot in the yard with having to eliminate, saying my cue as she was relieving herself, followed with a reward and some playtime.

10) Once Melissa was readily eliminating in her spot in the yard and was on a good routine where I could predict when she had to go, I began to use my cue word before she began to eliminate. I clicked and treated immediately and some play time followed.

11) The next step was to move to different locations. When Melissa understood the cue to ‘potty’, and I was pretty sure she had to go (upon waking, after eating etc) I began to take her to different places in the yard to eliminate. Why a different location in the yard? The long-term goal was to eliminate in places other then our yard, due to the amount of traveling I do. I began to take her to different places in the yard, and then moved our training to areas around town and finally when traveling by car for a few hours. It was important that Melissa feels comfortable eliminating in what would be strange places for her: rest stops, parks, designated areas at hotels, training facilities, and dog show venues.

12) Even though we have a fenced yard, I took Melissa out to eliminate while on lead. This made the transition for when we traveled easier. Dogs, who only go in their own yards off lead, may be distracted when the lead is on. Plus it also kept her from wandering off and getting distracted in the very early stages of learning.

13) Did our training pay off? It sure did. Melissa let’s us know when she has to go out by going to the door and letting out a little whine. I had a very busy schedule this winter; I was traveling for various workshops and training seminars. Returning to the hotel late at night after classes, or having limited time during lunch or break times, I appreciated having a puppy that could eliminate on cue in a strange area. Click!

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