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  • Writer's pictureCarol Neil

Things I wish every person considering a new puppy or dog knew? Part 3

Updated: May 29, 2023

In Part 1, I discussed why it’s important to know the breed/s of the puppy you are

bringing into your home. In Part 2, I discussed how to shop for an ethical breeder.

So now you have decided on a puppy breed and your breeder, or maybe you have

decided you would like to support a great rescue. Either way, you have decided

you are going to get a puppy. What should you do before you bring your puppy


The first thing I recommend is to read the best puppy raising book I have ever

read. How to Raise a Puppy: A Dog-centric Approach, by Turid Rugaas and

Stephanie Rousseau. There are so many books and training approaches out there,

it can be overwhelming. Remember, the industry of dog training is unregulated

around the world and there is a vast amount of misinformation passed around,

based on old, outdated approaches that science has long since discredited or

learned far better ways to raise and teach our dogs. There is absolutely no

requirement of us as dog professionals, to have any education and take ongoing

courses to keep up with the latest peer reviewed science in ethology, canine

neuroscience, canine behaviour, etc.. In many cases, “dog professionals” will

simply watch a celebrity dog trainer on TV and print up cards saying they are a

trainer and behaviourist, so please, please, please be very careful. The wrong

approach can cost a dog its life in the long run.

We now know that the number one most important thing needed for puppies

(and dogs of any age for that matter) is that THEY NEED TO FEEL SAFE!!! Avoid

any approaches that focus right off the bat on training. Sound strange coming

from a trainer? Well, you heard that right. They are babies. And just like human

babies, we do not focus first thing on teaching them to do things. We now know

based on research, that the single most important thing we can do, is help a

puppy to feel safe in the world. This needs to happen carefully and at the

individual puppy’s own pace. We also know based on countless peer reviewed

scientific studies, that any approaches that have us being the “alpha” or “pack

leader”, thinking we need to dominate our dog or they will dominate us,

approaches that will have us “correcting” or punishing unwanted behaviours,

even so called ”balanced” approaches that punish undesired behaviours and

reward desired ones, will do the absolute opposite of helping a puppy/dog feel

safe in the world. They will feel very unsafe, and they will start to realize that we

are not able to be trusted. Behavioural issues will follow.

Also, any approach that tells us to lock them up in a kennel or crate and let them

cry it out, teaches a puppy that the world is unsafe. They are learning that no

matter how much they cry, no one will listen. Science now knows that approaches

like this cause early developmental trauma and will permanently change the

neural pathways in the brain, causing attachment and separation disorders, the

same as it does in human babies (*I will delve into puppies, dogs, crates and

kennels, more deeply further on in this article). Early safe, kind, caregiving, is

essential and should be the sole thing we start focusing on. I absolutely

recommend you do not get a puppy if there will not be a caregiver at home for at

minimum the first months of a puppy’s life. Dogs are highly social mammals. In

the wild, the earliest puppies have been observed being left alone, is 9 to 10

months. If the mother needs to go out and search for food, the puppies’ maternal

grandmother will stay with the puppies. Mom and the puppies sleep touching.

Removing a puppy from its family and bringing it home to live with us, is

traumatic and life changing as it is, we no not want to add to this trauma by

placing this 2 to 3 month-old baby in a crate by itself. It needs comfort and

reassurance, not abandonment. When I bring a new puppy home, I put a

waterproof mattress cover on my bed and place my new puppy on the bed

between my husband and myself. I have always woken up if the puppy gets up in

the night to potty, which does not last very long at all if we help them feel safe.

They are often sleeping through the night without needing to go out to potty

within the first week. If care givers do not want their puppy sleeping on their bed

with them, I recommend the crate or kennel be placed up high beside the bed of

the care giver, so the caregiver can place their hand through the bars and the

puppy can feel and smell their caregiver, start to feel safe and bond.

For potty training, we can start helping the puppy learn where we want them to

potty right away, by taking them there regularly on a schedule and praising and

rewarding if necessary for pottying in the desired place. Remember, a puppy is a

baby and simply does not develop the muscle control to begin holding their need

to urinate and defecate, for a few months, so it is not just about training. Rule of

thumb is that a healthy puppy can hold it for 1 hour per month of age plus an

hour, to a maximum of 5 to 6 hours, even for an adult dog* (I will come back to

this). This rule of thumb of 1 hour per month of age plus an hour, changes based

on the puppy’s nighttime sleeping (they can generally hold it much longer at night

when they are sleeping but will need to go immediately upon waking), on being

active and playing during the day, just waking up from a nap during the day, after

they finish eating or if they have a urinary tract infection or digestive upset. UTI’s

are not uncommon in puppies so if your puppy seems to backslide in their potty

training, make sure to visit your vet and rule out a medical issue! Scolding or

punishing a puppy by doing things like yelling, rubbing their nose in it or smacking

them for doing their business in an undesired area, does not teach them where

we want them to go. It does, however, teach them that going to the bathroom in

our presence or where we might find it later, is scary, so our puppies will start to

seek out a hidden area in the house to go potty. This type of approach to teaching

our puppies/dogs, also has the fallout of fracturing the trust bond they seek with

their caregivers. *Note – while it is common practice in North America for dog

caregivers to go to work and expect their adult dogs to suppress their need to go

to the bathroom for 8, 10, 12 hours and even longer in some cases, this is

considered an animal welfare issue in other parts of the world. It is common

practice in many European countries that if you work out of the home, you must

hire a professional to come let your dog out or take it for a walk, halfway through

the day. If it is discovered that you let your dog go longer than 5 to 6 hours in

some countries, you are fined. This truly makes sense when you think about it.

You try going 8, 10, 12 hours or longer without being able to go to the bathroom,

and often with the threat that if you do, you will be punished. It is truly abusive.

Additional potty training tips…take up all unattached rugs and gate off any areas

with attached rugs until the puppy is potty trained. They will target absorbent

surfaces. Clean all potty accidents with an enzymatic cleaner. These are available

at all pet stores. The enzymes will break down the odour that attracts puppies to

do repeat business where they have previously gone. Go outside with your

puppy! Do not expect them to go out on their own and do their business.

Remember, they need to feel safe! Go out and wait until they have done their

business and then make it a little party by praising them and giving them a little

treat right after they finish. Do not make the mistake of standing inside and

watching them and giving them a treat when they come back in. This does not

teach them to go potty outside. It teaches them that when they go outside and

come back in the house, they get a treat. This will often set up a cycle of a puppy

going out and coming right back in before they do their business, to get a treat.

Crates and kennels…we often hear that dogs are natural den animals, and that

they naturally LOVE their crates. This is another fallacy. Dogs are not natural den

animals. Animals such as gophers and badgers, are natural den animals. A den is

their home base for their entire lives. Feral dogs and wild wolves do not live their

lives in dens. A female about to whelp will seek out a den to have her pups in, to

protect her young from predators and the weather. She will slowly have the pups

start to venture a little ways out of the den with her present and by 10 weeks of

age, she and the pups will abandon the den and live out in the open, seeking

shelter from the weather under trees, etc.. The single biggest factor though, is

that a den has no door on it. A crate or kennel does, which does not allow an

animal to leave should it feel anxious and the need to leave the crate. I do teach

my dogs to be comfortable in a crate or kennel when they are older. I teach it in

microscopic steps, by having it with no door on it and available and offering all

sorts of great things in the kennel. Slowly over time, with me staying right there

and sitting beside the kennel and reading a book, I will have the door closed for

short periods, while the puppy chews on a favourite chew. I teach this so a

puppy/dog can be used to it for travelling in a vehicle if necessary, having to

spend time at the veterinarian, etc., not so I can go out and leave them locked in

it for hours on end. This will often cause crate panic. In addition, some of the

absolute worst advice I see repeatedly given on social media platforms when a

puppy or dog is experiencing Separation Anxiety, which is a true panic disorder, is

to lock the dog in a crate. This is convenient for the humans and may possibly

prevent damage to the home, but gives no relief or consideration to the absolute

panic of the dog. In some cases, people even purchase plexiglass inescapable

crate/kennels so the dog cannot chew, destroy, break teeth or hurt themselves, in

an attempt to escape. Often the comment I hear or see, is the dog is fine and

stopped trying to escape. They laid down. This is not a dog that is fine. This is a

dog who has given up all hope and has laid down in what is scientifically referred

to as “learned helplessness”. A heartbreaking state. Not a calm dog at all.

Okay, that is plenty for Part 3 - What do you wish every person considering a

new puppy knew? Stayed tuned next month for Part 4 where we will look at

normal puppy behaviours that humans can find problematic, such as puppy biting.

Remember…if you are thinking about getting a puppy, do yourself a HUGE favour

and read the above recommended book. You will be SO glad you did!

Carol Neil of Soul2Soul Dog

CPDT-KA, Fear Free Certified Trainer, Family Dog Mediator

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