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 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!

What to do with a Kong

(This puppy is licking goodies out of her Kong instead of fussing during down-time at puppy class.)

If you have a new dog, especially a puppy or teenage dog, I bet everyone is telling you to get a Kong. Dog trainers are wild about Kongs, your veterinarian may even sell them in the waiting room, and every pet store stocks them in all sizes.

But let’s be honest, you have looked at a Kong and wondered what the big deal is. Maybe you even purchased one and brought it home. You put it in front of your pooch expecting a small miracle to occur. But your dog just sniffed it and walked away. You can’t help thinking, “Now what? Why all the hype?”

The truth is, the Kong is just a hunk of hollow rubber, unless you start thinking like a dog. Dogs like games and puzzles that engage their amazing brains. They need to use their powerful sniffers, their paws, and their jaws to scavenge and extract food from tricky places. The Kong is designed to make all of this physical and mental challenge happen in a way that does not involve your furniture, rugs, shoes, undies or other potential objects of fascination.

If your dog could talk, he or she would ask you to please stuff the Kong parfait-style: some smelly, gooey stuff in the tip (like cheese or peanut butter), layered with some kibble, then something globby like part of a banana, layered with a few dog biscuits or leftovers from last night’s supper (veggies are great, no cooked bones or toxic stuff, please), topped off with something easy to get started, like more peanut butter.

Now you’re on to something!

That should keep your dog quiet in the crate, or occupied while you prepare dinner or watch Dancing With the Stars (in which case you obviously cannot lower your eyes from the TV, even for a moment). You also get Good Dog Owner points for providing an outlet for your dog’s daily behavioral needs.

Fancy versions of this (because I know your dog is above-average smart):

  • Jam everything in as tight as possible by using the back of a knife
  • Prepare the Kong, then freeze it
  • Prepare the Kong, then nuke it for 15 seconds or so
  • Feed all regular meals as stuffed Kongs (use just a dab of PB mixed in to hold everything together)
  • Make multiple Kongs ahead of time (refrigerate) and hide them around the room/house before you leave

Yes, it’s gross, but your dog really will get every last morsel out (if not, adjust the difficulty by stuffing looser and using less goo). I put mine in the top rack of my dishwasher and, voila, they are sterilized and ready for another round. And I’ve had the same bloomin’ Kongs for 15 years.

If your dog has mack daddy chewing power, get the black Kong. If your dog is a girl, or boy, and color-coding is important to you, get the pink or blue Kong. But please, get a Kong. Your dog will love you for it. While your dog is munching away, please share your recipes, success stories and questions and comments below. There is likely another dog owner out there who would learn from your experience.

Counter Surfing Safari

One of the most amazing dogs I’ve ever known was one we adopted when he was 4 1/2 years old. He was gentle, funny, wise, loved people and other dogs, and had a way of calming everyone around him. He helped me teach pre-school aged kids about the right way to meet a dog, and taught our new puppy how to play politely. He used to hop out of the car when we arrived at the veterinary clinic and race up to the clinic door to get in, delighted at the thought of all the people inside waiting to see him.

But when we first got him, he  was a horrible counter surfer. That means that he had his front paws up on the kitchen counters almost as much as he had them on the floor, and he likely had been rehearsing that behavior for years. The foster person who had cared for him before he came to us warned me about this. She said she had tried everything to keep him from surfing the counters to grab a snack or catch a whiff of food. She had tried yelling at him and spraying him with water. She had even booby-trapped the counters to scare him out of his habit. One time, she hid in the pantry with the door closed, silently lying in wait. When she heard the dog rustling about with his paws up on the counter, she sprang from the closet, broom in hand, making an explosive, “AArrrGgghh!” noise at him. He just looked at her, wagging his tail, as if to say, “Ha ha! Hey, did you happen to see any snacks in that pantry?”Ravenous

Well, we didn’t want him surfing our kitchen counters. Partly because we didn’t want his feet all over the countertops, but mostly because I didn’t want him eating my snacks! Not to mention that there are all kinds of things on countertops that are dangerous for dogs to eat. So, we decided to solve it right off the bat. How, you may wonder, did we do it?

When solving a dilemma like this, it helps to get inside the dog’s head. The key is to recognize that dogs do what works. And most dogs just love food. If standing on their back legs, balancing themselves on the edge of the counter with their front paws means they can reach food, or even just smell food, why wouldn’t they do it? Sometimes there may be nothing there, but they figure it is always worth it to check, because chances are someone left a morsel, or a dirty dish, or (yes!) a sandwich or a roast cooling unattended. Sure, they realize sometimes humans get cranky about it, but the reward is so wonderful when it does pay off, that it’s worth doing any chance they get. Besides, when the dog food bowl is empty, the counter is the only interesting area worth investigating. Such is dog logic.

And therein lies the solution. As in nearly all matters of dog training, the most effective approach is to prevent what you don’t want and reward what you do want. (Note that if your dog hasn’t yet started counter surfing, this process goes much more quickly than it did for us, since we were undoing a 41/2-year-old habit.) Our first step was to allow the dog in the kitchen only when we were present and prepared to make interesting, yummy items available at the level where we wanted the dog’s feet—the floor. We put up a baby gate for the first week, and only went into the kitchen with him when we had prepared a meal or food puzzle for the pooch. So he started getting into the habit of checking out the floor as his first order of business any time we entered Kitchen Counter Land.

In the meantime, we had to make sure that there was no chance that our counters would ever, ever be for him a source of food, or even the scent of food. It would not have worked to just shove things back from the edge of the counters; we had to make them a food-free zone any time the dog was in the kitchen. He began to default to choosing the floor over the counters (because of the goodies we provided down below, away from the counters), and so it was time to teach him that even if we left him unsupervised, the counters in our house would never be worth surfing. We did this by leaving him in the kitchen, with spotless, food-free counters, and Kongs stuffed with goodies placed on the floor. I remember leaving the house, and peeking in through the window to see what he was up to. The first few times, the rascal would leave his Kong, and counter surf! (Old habits die hard.) But soon thereafter, I’d witness him leave the Kong and merely walk along the length of the counters, feet on the floor, with his nose held high. He was still checking out the counters, but he had clearly learned it wasn’t worth the energy to put his paws up. Finally, about three weeks after we got him, we left him with his Kong, I peeked through the window, and he didn’t even budge from his spot on the floor. Success! It didn’t work for him to counter surf any more, because it never paid off, and all the interesting, smelly, delicious stuff was happening down below, on the other side of the kitchen. (Here are some pointers if you need help with your Kong stuffing technique.)

We will never know if his former owners may have encouraged his habit by saying “off,” shoving him down (he really liked to be touched and talked to!), or perhaps they left food out frequently, fed him tidbits as they cooked, or merely pushed food to the backs of the counters where he could still smell it. Showing him that something else worked for him did the trick. Unfortunately, we forgot that his new manners wouldn’t transfer automatically to a new environment without a refresher course. Which is why, in his first visit to my parents’ house, an innocent carrot cake fell victim to our negligence. I am sure he is still wagging his tail over that one.

Housetraining Hint #1

Teaching your dog to eliminate only outside, especially if he’s a new puppy, is usually a labor intensive process. You’ll need to take him outside frequently, know how to respond if he does pee indoors, know the right way to supervise so he does not pee indoors in the first place, and have a plan for increasing his freedom in the house. In addition to this primer on how to house train a puppy, I thought I would offer a series of weekly hints to help those of you who are in the midst of this process. These are tips that are commonly needed by my dog training clients and that have made a big difference in their progress. Some of these hints maypuppypeeing not apply to you. If not, just wait a few days! Puppies have a way of throwing a curve ball at you just when things are going smoothly. Not to worry, that’s normal; my hope is that having the tip ahead of time will help ease the house training for both of you. So here we go, here is tip #1:

Do not praise your puppy or new dog while he is eliminating. Timing is everything. If you begin praising your pooch as soon as he has squatted, you risk distracting him or interrupting him altogether. This can translate into more frequent potty opportunities needed, or the “he pees in the house as soon as we’ve walked back in the door” syndrome. Let him empty that little bladder all the way. The moment he finishes is the time to turn on the enthusiastic praise.

Helping Your Puppy Sleep Through the Night

A friend of mine just brought her new puppy home. One thing on her mind is whether the pup will sleep quietly through the night in the crate. Many puppies will not have to get up to pee (metabolism slows way down overnight, so they don’t need to pee as much as during waking hours). But they probably do miss their littermates, and may not know how to be confined by themselves.mincrestst0022 Here are a few tips in case you are in the same boat:

  • Wrap a hot water bottle filled with warm water in a towel. Place it in the crate just before you tuck the puppy in for the night.
  • Place a t-shirt you’ve worn that day (so it has your scent on it) in the crate with the pup.
  • Cover the crate with a light sheet.
  • Keep the crate next to your bed. (You can always move it the next morning. In fact, depending on how big the crate is, you may want one for beside the bed and one for daytime use near family activities).
  • If the puppy stirs a little, don’t assume she has to pee and whisk her outside. Just give her a moment, she may be shifting around and just go back to sleep. You can even lean down and  stick your fingers through the crate. Your pup will find them (it’s very cute) and find comfort that you’re still nearby.
  • If the fussing is of a more agitated variety, your pup may need to go out. Just carry her and keep it very low-key. Act as though you are trying to avoid waking her up all the way. Don’t have a big party or feed treats in the middle of the night or the pup may decide that’s a lot of fun. Just do the minimum and get back to bed.

Despite all of this, you will have ups and downs as you and your puppy figure out her routine and what her little sounds mean. So, during the day, take lots of pictures of the pup and do fun things with her, to balance out the sleep deprivation you’re sure to experience temporarily. Fuzzy puppy days will be gone before you know it, so soak it in while you can!