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Don’t let your dog make mistakes

It is so much fun living with a puppy despite all the trouble. I look at this little foster pup named Sammi and I can’t be mad at her no matter what she does. My 3-year-old lab mix Ace actually seems mature for once, although he is enjoying all the extra toys around the house, playtime and more walks. He has already destroyed two of Sammi’s new toys.

Sammi is a great dog. I can’t believe she ended up in the pound, and I’m so happy we were able to rescue her. Out of the three dogs I’ve fostered, she has been the easiest so far even though she is so young.

She has so much going for her. She has a great, easygoing personality. There is not one aggressive bone in her body. She looks at my cats and if they hiss at her, she walks away and pretends they aren’t there. If her playing gets too rough and Ace growls a warning, she backs off or lies down.


Sammi is a fast and eager learner. In just 24 hours, she has gotten better about staying in her kennel when I leave, and she has only had one accident so far. She understands the words sit and stay. Of course, she needs more work, but someone at least started training her before she ended up in an Iowa pound.

One of the reasons why Sammi hasn’t gotten into much trouble is because I haven’t given her a chance to make mistakes. It’s been so long since I’ve had a puppy around that I forgot dogs are pretty much puppies for at least a year and a half!

Puppy proofing

As soon as Sammi came home I began puppy proofing our townhome, which only took about 10 minutes. Everything came off the floor, shoes were put away and bedroom and bathroom doors were shut. I scattered plenty of tennis balls, Nylabones, stuffed animals and squeaky toys on the floor for her to chew and play with. Ace is also fascinated by the new squeaky toys and will just stand there squeaking the toys over and over.

If Sammi has plenty of her own things to chew, she has no reason to chew my things. And if I keep everything put away and off the ground, there is nothing she can get into. I’m happy and she’s happy. It’s the most basic form of positive reinforcement.

Assume the dog is not potty trained

Sometimes people make the mistake of assuming a dog is housebroken. Any dog can have accidents in a new environment, especially a younger dog that is still learning.

If I let Sammi out every hour to go to the bathroom, then she is not going to have an accident in the house. This doesn’t mean she is housebroken because if I forget to take her out she still might have an accident. Dogs learn from repetitions and they form habits. So as long as I keep bringing her outside for bathroom breaks, she will quickly learn that is where she should go.

When people get lazy or don’t understand the concept of housebreaking a dog, the dog continually has accidents in the house and begins to believe that is where she is supposed to go. That’s why a lot of little dogs or puppies will pee on the same rug or in the same corner every time. They’ve formed a habit and can smell where they’ve gone before.

Sammi does seem to be housebroken, but I haven’t taken any chances. Every time she gets out of her kennel, we go straight outside. Every time she eats, I take her outside about 10 minutes later. And in between, if she is not in her kennel, she gets outside at least every two hours.

Yesterday, Sammi was very distracted outside and even though I took her out every hour, she would not go. There were too many smells out in the grass, and she was constantly worried about Ace. If he came outside with us, she wanted to play with him. If he stayed inside, she kept looking back at the door wondering where he was. Sammi had a hard time focusing on what she was supposed to do.

So, despite taking Sammi outside often enough, she ended up having an accident on the floor yesterday. I didn’t catch her in action, so I didn’t even scold her. I just cleaned it up and continued taking her outside often.

At the time, I was thinking that Sammi must not be housebroken after all. But now that I’ve put more thought into it, I think she was just confused about where to go in her new home. Now that a day has passed, Sammi goes to the bathroom right away when I take her outside to the exact same spot. She seems to understand our routine. No more accidents so far.

But I did make one big mistake yesterday.

When I picked Sammi up from her temporary foster home, I put her in my car before walking her. I guess I just assumed that she had been taken outside already. But that was a bad assumption to make. Even if she had been outside, I still should have walked her again and given her a chance to go to the bathroom again.

Instead, I was eager to get Sammi to a nearby park for a run with Ace and I. Within two minutes of driving, Sammi had pooped in her kennel and gotten it all over herself and the kennel. Poor Sammi. She was nervous in the car and couldn’t help it. Needless to say, Sammi got a bath right away when we got home, and I spent some time cleaning the kennel and my car. Good thing I have two kennels.

Had I walked Sammi for even two or three minutes before putting her in the car, I could’ve prevented that accident. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson.

The importance of kennel training

I believe in giving dogs as much freedom as possible. Ace does not stay in his kennel when we leave because he can be trusted (as long as the garbage is put away).

But an important part of granting a dog freedom in the future is kennel training. By leaving a dog in a kennel, she learns that it’s OK to be alone. The dog can’t ruin anything, and the dog can’t hurt herself. The dog is also less likely to go to the bathroom.

A dog that is left free to roam around the house will form habits such as chewing furniture and peeing on the rug. A dog left in a kennel with some good things to chew learns to be comfortable when left alone. She learns how to relax, which sets her up for staying loose in the house alone with no issues later on.

Sammi cried and barked for about 20 minutes the first time I put her in her kennel. This is normal behavior. I do not consider this separation anxiety or fear of the kennel. She just wanted to be out with us and she didn’t want to miss anything. Once she realized she was getting no reaction from us, she settled down and went to sleep. I let her out again once she had been quiet for about a half-hour.

Whenever Josh and I were gone yesterday, Sammi stayed in her kennel. It was the right thing to do. She was safe and out of trouble.

What do you do to set your dog up for success?

Update: Sammi has been adopted!


Thursday 26th of March 2009

That is SUCH a cute puppy!!! Are you sure you'll be able to give her up??? I can't believe she ended up in a shelter either.

Trooper couldn't be trusted in the house until he was nearly 2. Now I have no issue leaving him, Kodiak, and Quinn inside alone, even for several hours. But Timber is still too much of a puppy and gets into major trouble so he goes out in the kennel.

You definitely have the right attitude about training though. It doesn't *have* to be super difficult. :)

Three Dog Blogger

Thursday 26th of March 2009

That's good advice about not scolding the Dog for going in the House.

I know so many people who continually scold if their Dog has an accident inside. If you are not even there when it happens they will have no idea why they are in trouble, and if you are there then it is a quick open of the Door.

Repetitively taking the Dog outside and praising it when it does its business is a much better way (as you mention) of house training a Dog, and it keeps the stress levels low too.


Wednesday 25th of March 2009

I loved reading this. It almost made me want a puppy. Almost. You showed so well how important it is to set the puppy up for success experiences and to avoid those situations where the puppy behavior does not meet human social standards. I know Sammi will quickly be a good little citizen thanks to you.


Wednesday 25th of March 2009

After a year and a half of having to keep EVERYTHING off the floors and counters, we are finally at the really rewarding stage of NOT having to keep things puppy proofed! It was a big milestone when we were able to leave shoes by the front door without having them become shredded. However, after coming home to destruction, we learned the hard way that our pups still can't be trusted when we are gone!

Esther Garvi

Wednesday 25th of March 2009

When I bought Sheba, I had no prior experience with the breed (Rhodesian ridgeback) and knowing the RR was special, I more or less followed the tips that breeders gave me (seeing I liked how they handled their own flock of seven adult individuals). Which was pretty much to take my time, be consequent, not get upset if rules weren't heeded in the first moment but just keep insisting and things would turn out well. They have. At times, it may have seemed that Sheba was getting away with murder ;-) but not so. I just did not allow myself to get riled up about anything, and like you wrote in your post, most things can (and should!) be prevented. Since I live in Africa, I have been able to integrate Sheba as much as possible in my life, and if she's not with me, she's either with a human or with the other dogs. When I got the breed, I knew she would be a yard-dog and not take lightly on being confined in an enclosed area, which she doesn't. But she answers wonderfully to trust. The only issues we have is when I change the routines, and she knows she normally gets to go with me. As in going out with the horses. By the time I come back, she will selectively have chosen something that belongs to the horses and will have spent all time playing with it. The end result reads as following: the quicker we come back, the less damage. If we're gone for a long time, the play gets rougher and rougher. Sheba is also very light on her feet and has an amazing precision at grabbing things that are seemingly out of reach for her (without a doubt they are out of reach of any other dog). She is very clever, and the key is to work with her, and not against her. And I have learned that all the things that worked for me with my Belgian Shepherds do not apply with a ridgeback. :-D