When Your Dog “Waters” Your Plants

The culprit with his shrubs, real and fake.

If your dog consistently lifts his leg on the same favorite plant, chances are you’ve had to replace it, or wring your hands when he moves on to the next nearest object and starts the process all over again.

After once replacing a shrub my dog’s “watering” had killed, I realized it was going to get expensive to watch shrub after shrub bite the dust. Sure, I could put him on leash to prevent him from always going to the same spot, but I preferred the convenience of just letting him out the backdoor.

So I replaced the favorite pee shrub with a fake specimen, leaving the old shrub there for a more branch-like look. For $1.99, my dog can now lift his leg on his favorite shrub location to his heart’s delight, and the plant looks good as new.

Simple solution, everybody’s happy. Here’s to dreaming of all the lovely springtime plants that will be sprouting before we know it!





Housetraining in Horrible Weather: A Tip to Help Your Dog Go Outside in the Snow

Little Ruby models her super-deluxe winter potty area.

Snow, ice and slush are not the most helpful ground covers if you’ve got a puppy to house train, or a diva dog who recoils at the thought of her tiny feet getting cold and wet. I can understand our dogs being too distracted to do their business, on our schedule, especially in extreme weather. But what to do?

One solution is to teach your pooch to go potty on cue. That helps when you want to take them out, get it over with, and return to the cozy indoors. (See Chapter 9 in Puppy Savvy for easy instructions on how to do this. Through 1/25 it’s 15% off with code JANSAVE15 at Lulu.com checkout.)

If you don’t have cardboard handy, a tarp or large trash bag will work.

A simple trick that you can start using today is to keep a preferred potty area dry by covering it with a sheet of cardboard before the frozen stuff accumulates. When it’s time to go out, just lift the cardboard and offer your dog a familiar, inviting spot to go. Clean up afterwards so your dog will continue to want to eliminate there.

Puppies form strong substrate preferences (surfaces that they seek out to pee or poop on) by about 9 weeks of age, so be sure to give your pup opportunities to eliminate in snowier areas, too. This is particularly important if you live in a climate where snow is a sure thing each winter.

Stay warm, and happy housetraining!

Where in the World to Take Your New Puppy

I am excited about how many of you read the previous post on when to take your puppy out into the world! Here is the what, where and how of introducing your pup to new experiences.

What kinds of experiences do you need to provide your puppy?

Introduce to your pup the sounds, sights, smells, touch, people, other animals, situations and surfaces he or she is likely to encounter in life. Consider your lifestyle and make a list of common activities your dog will encounter. Many lists will include “vacuum cleaner,” “a visitor to our home,” “grooming appointments” or “running children.” One list may include “riding elevators,” while someone else’s list may include “horses and chickens.”  Perhaps a trip to a shopping center, playground, puppy play group, public library, or cafe would fit the bill (here are more ideas.) There is no way to introduce everything the puppy will need to feel at ease about, but the idea is to at least come up with the most common things and provide happy exposure to those.

Why is a “happy exposure” so important?PSCoverWEB

Many people say they “mess with” the puppy while she is eating or “mess with” or touch her paws and tail to accustom her to that. This may work out, or what they may be doing is teaching the puppy to find that kind of touch rather annoying (and then, paradoxically, they punish the puppy for reacting in annoyance). If your goal is not mere tolerance of human touch, but rather you’d like to have a dog who actually wags her tail when you take a food item away or trim her nails, why not build in the right kind of association from the start? Teach the pup to happily accept human hands coming at her by pairing it with some of her meal. It can mean the difference between a big battle over these issues and helping the dog feel at ease (if you were the pup, which would you prefer?).


We used to think we had to “alpha roll” puppies to teach them who was “dominant.” But like every field of knowledge, dog training and behavior has evolved. There are some approaches we continue with and some areas where we find a better, more up-to-date solution. Now we know that there is just no good reason to intimidate a dog in order to help him fit into your family or your life, or to show leadership. You certainly can do it, and many people do, but why go that route when there are alternatives? I think it is much more respectful of the dog, allows kids to be part of the training, and allows you to avoid unintended fallout of using physical intimidation in the name of teaching. It is easy to get started; just get one of the books listed to the right or use this list, and find a puppy class that uses modern, reward-based methods. You can still show leadership, create boundaries and meet expectations for good behavior. What have you got to lose by training in a way that works for both of you?

How to help your puppy if the exposure turns less than happy

Stress is part of life, so it’s okay for your pup to learn what happens when things get dicey.  If your puppy balks or resists at any point, take it as information that you need to back up a step and pair an easier step with some of his meal, praise and/or a favorite toy. It is best to create trust with your dog rather than fear. Be patient and upbeat and go at your puppy’s pace. (Think of it this way: if the sight of a spider panicked you, I would not tell you to get over it and then put one down the back of your shirt. Not very effective, nor very kind.) Of course if your pup has a very strong reaction, contact your class instructor so you can pick the best plan of action for your particular puppy.

Don’t allow anyone to overwhelm your puppy (or pick him up without explicit instructions), especially if they are unfamiliar. For many reasons, well-meaning people you know and random strangers alike will mimic what they see on TV, what their neighbor told them, or what they remember about having a dog from 30 years ago. You will get all manner of unsolicited advice. The main thing to do is always allow your puppy to approach the person at his or her own pace, tell the person to pet under the chin or on the chest (they can feed treats, too, as can you), and if necessary be prepared to cheerfully say “let’s go” and encourage your pup to move away from the person. Most encounters go fine, but it always helps to have a plan in case you run into that extra enthusiastic person. (If you see a cute puppy or any dog, please ask the owner for permission before touching or interacting with their pooch.)

How often should you provide a happy exposure for your puppy?

I recommend your puppy have a field trip, new visitor, or new item from your list at least five times per week. That factors in a couple of days when you may be extra busy and gives the puppy a chance to have some calmer days. An outing doesn’t have to be any longer than 5-10 minutes, and it’s a lot less work than trying fix problems that otherwise might crop up later. An added bonus is that your puppy will likely behave like a dream the rest of the day, as the excitement of something new tends to wear them out a bit.

Puppy class certainly counts as a happy exposure, just be aware that, by itself, attending puppy class does not mean you have socialized your puppy. Class is a great way for you to learn about appropriate greetings and play between puppies, house training and bite inhibition, and basic training, and I highly recommend it. Going to the same class each week, with the same people and dogs, however, clearly only begins to help with your list. So do attend class and then practice what you learned the rest of the week in novel surroundings.

Remember, each person will have their own list depending on what they think life will have in store for their growing dog. Plan a happy new event at least five days a week. Make it fun by being encouraging, going at your puppy’s pace, and pairing encounters with meals or a favorite toy. Enjoy your curious little fuzzball, because adolescence is not far behind!

Backyard Blues

It is awfully convenient to be able to open the backdoor and let your dog out. Maybe you are even able leave him there for extended periods. Particularly if he can easily reach water and shelter in your absence, this may work out just fine for you, depending on the type of neighborhood in which you live. And then there are those dogs who sing the backyard blues. Dogs are smart, social creatures. Therefore, leaving them unattended in the yard can cause trouble that outweighs the convenience of having them spend their days outside. If your dog is bored, under exercised, or agitated by being isolated from you, you may find yourself with problems such as:


Barking or howling

Fence-fighting with neighbor dogs

Barking at passing dogs, kids or other pedestrians

Fence jumping (which means not only could your dog be hit by a car, but you will also be in violation of city ordinances; your dog may be picked up by animal control for being “at large” or disturbing people or their property)

Being let out of the yard by a worker, solicitor, or neighborhood child

Coprophagia (eating feces)

Ingesting toxic plants, mushrooms

Pawing or tearing at the screen or back door

Chewing on your belongings or deck

Being frightened by thunder or unruly kids (which can lead to a fear of going into the yard, or aggression toward strangers or children)

Being vulnerable to theft, abuse, or predators (such as hawks and coyotes)

Being in violation of noise ordinances (for incessant, early-morning or late-night barking)

That list covers just about every issue I’ve gotten a phone call about from clients who thought they were doing their dog or themselves a favor by leaving him in the yard, and found themselves with problems down the line.

For most people, the backyard is best used as a place to enjoy the dog by engaging him in fetch, playing or training, or just relaxing and having the dog keep them company while they garden. If you’d like to be able to use your yard to temporarily confine your dog, unattended, here are a few tips to help it turn out well:

  • Provide your dog with interesting things to do in the yard so he won’t develop bad habits or anxiety barking. Keep him occupied with: a stuffed Kong tied to a tree, a sandy area in which you bury dog treats, his meal flung out into the grass for him to scavenge, or a Kool Dogs Ice Treat Maker.
  • Make sure your dog is housetrained before using the yard this way. Otherwise you may be surprised to learn that your dog does not really understand the concept of “holding it” until given a yard opportunity, since he’ll be in the habit of just eliminating whenever he feels the need.
  • Provide adequate exercise for your dog. Your dog will likely just lay around in the yard, or maybe chase a squirrel or two. So you’ll still need to provide exercise in the form of fetch or walks for his mental and physical well being.
  • Use a fence tall enough that your dog can’t jump it.
  • Be courteous to your neighbors. It is not ok to allow your dog to bark incessantly. Not only does that indicate that he may be stressed, but also that he may be causing your neighbors stress. Noise ordinances prohibit this in many towns.
  • Keep your yard free of feces so that you can both enjoy the yard (and cut down on the spread of parasites).
  • If your dog is not used to being unsupervised outdoors, start out leaving your dog for short spurts, like five or ten minutes, and build from there. This will give you a chance to monitor whether or not this is a good idea for your dog.

Finally, be aware of why you want your dog in the backyard. If you are avoiding a training challenge, it might be best to get help with the problem that is resulting in him being placed in the backyard in the first place. Perhaps you just need a place to put him so he won’t be underfoot, or so your dog and kids can have a break from each other (in which case I would recommend an indoor Safety Zone). With a little forethought, you can keep your dog from singing the backyard blues.

Is Someone Sabotaging Your Training?

Do you ever get the feeling that someone in your household is undermining your dog training efforts? Maybe you have even invested in dog training advice, and a spouse or child does not follow through on the training recommendations the way you’d like.

You are not alone. Many of my clients fret that someone in their family is not on board with training. On top of not helping, the rogue family member may even complain that the dog does not behave as well with them.

What are you to do? Here is my advice:

  • Be grateful that the would-be saboteur is so involved with the dog as to potentially interfere with your training. Be glad they care enough about the dog to engage with him or her. Even if one or two training issues aren’t resolved as quickly as you’d like, it is probably all going to work out fine in the end.DogLickingSpoon
  • Try to be patient. After all, since they are not as involved in the training, your half-hearted helper may not be as quick to recognize, prevent and solve annoying doggie habits. So they may feel frustrated that they are not seeing the results you enjoy. The more they see you in action, though, the likelier they are to adopt the successful techniques you are using.
  • Choose one thing to prioritize, and let the rest go. For example, if you are working on several things like puppy biting, chewing on your belongings, housetraining, and crate manners, pick just one of those to get the person to stick to the rules on, at least for a couple of weeks. (Meanwhile, you can continue to work on the whole list.) Puppy biting rules are good to have agreement on, since that way they can still interact with each other without making things worse. Put prevention strategies in place to make sure the other priorities continue to go mostly well. If you have an older dog past the mouthy stage, but who is still in need of potty training, affix a housetraining schedule to the fridge and get a promise that your helper will stick to it. The main idea is that focusing on just one thing will make success more likely, and it will be a lot less frustrating for you.
  • Be open to what you can learn from your family member. I once had a puppy I had big competition obedience plans for. I wanted everything to be just perfect, and worked hard to teach the puppy all the right things. At least, that’s what I thought I was doing. Then one day I watched my spouse playing with the puppy. They had made up their own game, and I could see the joy and pure fun they were experiencing together. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment, because it taught me to remember why I have dogs in the first place, and it made a huge impact on me as a professional trainer as well. Be open to what you can learn about your dog and your family, just by letting them enjoy each other.
  • Spend time with others who are also training their dogs. It is lonely at the top! Training a dog, especially a new dog, takes a lot of time, effort, planning, patience and creativity. If you are working hard at it, and you are the main person in charge of the puppy’s learning, then you may sometimes feel unsupported by those who aren’t at home as much, or who are around just enough to reap the benefits of your hard work. It helps to take a group class, where once a week you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people who understand your struggles and triumphs. You might also enjoy neighborhood walks or puppy play dates with people in the same boat. (The Puppy Social Hour is designed partly with this idea in mind, or you might try a semi-private training session.)

Finally, if you are really butting heads with your family over which is the best way to teach the dog something, invite them to the next training session. I fully expect clients to ask why I recommend a technique, or to weigh in on the way they would like to handle a training challenge, or to help predict fallout from a particular method they may be considering. Since it is my job and I am not in the middle of the family disagreement, a little objectivity is injected into the situation. A  family training session can be a good catalyst for moving forward together.

And, of course, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh. For example, my dogs aren’t generally allowed to have food in the kitchen during meal preparation, but I noticed one of them had started coming in and staring at the same spot on the floor any time I got out a bag of potato chips. A little investigation revealed that someone has been accidentally-on-purpose dropping a chip there each morning when he makes his lunch. The dog never lies…

Housetraining Hint #4–last one!

It is time to wrap up the weekly series of housetraining hints. I had a few tips in mind, but it became obvious which one to share when a big issue came up several times in training appointments this past week. The trouble rears its head when you think you are a roll; house training is going well overall, yet you continue to find occasional puddles or piles your dog has left behind. If this is what you’ve been going through, then this hint is for you:

Until your dog is house trained, do not allow her to roam unsupervised indoors.wolfpeeing

That means your dog should be outdoors being praised the moment she finishes doing her business, indoors in her crate, or indoors under your direct supervision. This means you can see her every moment and you know exactly what she is doing between potty opportunities. If you get involved with your kids, your other dog, a phone call, or your computer, your dog can slip behind a piece of furniture, into the next room or find a little-used room (like a guest room or the dining room) to relieve herself.

Contrary to popular belief, she is not being sneaky, rather, she is trying to keep the areas in which you eat and socialize clean by going off to do her business. Don’t put her in that position and create housetraining problems. Make sure you can see her, so that if she gets restless and you suspect she may need to go, you can quickly get her outside to continue to build on success. In order to watch her closely enough, you may need to close doors, use baby gates or an exercise pen, or tether her near you with a chew toy to keep her busy. It’s a small, and very temporary, inconvenience for the peace of mind you’ll have knowing you’re on your way to a house trained dog.

Why did the dog chase his tail?

Because he was trying to make ends meet.

Sorry, a little recession humor there. But in these times, besides trying to keep an optimistic outlook, it’s also good to come across a discount or two. So I am now offering a Friends and Neighbors service. Here’s how it works:

Buddy-up with someone you know for an hour of customized dog training at Top Notch Dog, LLC. You and your friend split the cost of the session, plus receive a 10% discount, so that each of you pays $45/hr instead of $100/hr. You, your friend, and your dogs will get a lot out of learning and practicing together. Give it a try! 

 Some of the common things people like to work on together include:TopNotchDogPupilsShowingOffTheirManners

  • walking politely on leash
  • coming when called
  • greeting visitors without jumping up
  • teaching “leave it” or “go to your place”
  • basic training (sit, down, stay, come)
  • advanced training (preparing for therapy dog work, or attention, motivation, or control work for dog sports)
  • all things puppy (biting, indoor accidents, chewing on your things, crate training)
  • tricks! (especially fun for kids)
  • preparing your dog for your new baby
  • paying attention to you even around another dog
  • other goals you may have that lend themselves to sharing an appointment (your goals do not have to be exactly the same)

Call 493-4560 or visit Top Notch Dog for more information.  

Please pass this on to anyone you think would enjoy a better behaved dog. Thanks!

Housetraining Hint #3

If you just got a puppy and are considering paper training, you may want to give that a second thought. Your likely ultimate goal with housetraining is to have your dog eliminate outdoors, on outdoor substrates like grass, mulch, dirt, or concrete. If that is the case, then teaching your pup an intermediate step like going indoors, on a surface like paper, could be pitting your dog’s normal biological tendencies against you. That is because during the period between 7 and 9 weeks old, puppies form preferences for location and surface material on which to eliminate. Which brings us to Housetraining Hint #3: If you want fewer “accidents” and better success short- and long-term, choose the location and substrate you want your puppy to eliminate on as an adult, and start using that right off the bat. Of course, this means having a comprehensive house training plan that includes a potty schedule and a confinement strategy, and that works with your busy schedule. puppypeeingYou can find an example of such a plan here. No two situations will be the same; I enjoy helping my clients figure out a way to get their puppies and dogs housetrained quickly and in a way that makes most sense for their lifestyles. In fact, a while back I helped someone litter box train their tiny, tiny toy breed puppy, because as an adult their dog will not have many outdoor potty opportunities. (Yes, it’s true, you can litter train a dog or teach them to “go” on a type of backyard in a box that you can change out. These may be particularly good options if you live in a high-rise apartment building or in a freezing cold part of the country!)

Use that 2-week developmental window to your advantage; make sure your puppy does not develop a preference for paper, carpet, and relieving herself indoors. Get her outdoors, on surfaces that she’ll need to readily eliminate on later, and you’ll have far fewer speed bumps on the road to a house trained pooch.

Housetraining Hint #2

A housetrained dog has both the physical ability to “hold it” (bladder control) as well as the mental awareness to do so. Puppies have neither the physical ability to keep themselves from peeing if they really need to, nor do they yet have the mental awareness required to choose to eliminate only outdoors.

That brings us to this week’s housetraining hint: Don’t wait for your puppy to signal that she has to go. She can’t yet tell when she needs to go, much less signal to you that she needs someone with opposable thumbs to please let her out. Your main priority with a very young puppy is to guidewolfpeeing her to her designated outdoor potty location before she ever has a chance to eliminate indoors.

“Wait a second,” you may be thinking, “If I am not supposed to wait for a signal, then what will tell me it is time to take her out?” The answer is, your watch will tell you. When you are at home, take her outside every 30 minutes. Otherwise she should be under your direct supervision or confined (for more information, see this complete housetraining plan). For every three days your puppy has eliminated outdoors only, increase the time between potty opportunities by 15 minutes, meaning take her out every 45 minutes when you are at home together. Continue using your watch (set a timer if necessary), to let you know when to take her out, gradually increasing the time between potty opportunities over the coming weeks. Before you know it (when she’s about five months old), she’ll have better bladder control and, just as important, thanks to you and your wristwatch she’ll have had oodles of opportunities to eliminate only outdoors. (Note: Most puppies sleep through the night just fine; their metabolisms slow down and they don’t need to eliminate. See the earlier post on helping your puppy sleep through the night.)

If you have a new dog who is over about 6 months old, he or she likely has the physical ability to hold it. That’s great news, because it means you’ll need to provide far fewer potty opportunities. Start with every couple of hours and adjust depending on your success. Your remaining job  is to teach your dog to eliminate only outdoors by providing plenty of reward for doing so. Soon your schedule and your dog’s elimination schedule will match up, such that he or she will need to be taken out about 4 times a day.