Adopting a little dog means accepting that you are going to be using a floor-mop for a certain time. At the ideal age for adoption - around 8 or 9 weeks - toilet-trained puppies are few and far between!
To expedite matters, there are a few rules to follow, and especially some mistakes to avoid making.
Spot the right moment
In very young pups, each and every meal, drink and awakening triggers the need to "do its business". If you take your dog out right then, you stand a good chance of being able to hand out a bit of reinforcement (strokes) for business done in a place of your choosing.
Reward works better than punishment!
It does not need to be systematic in order to be efficacious.
Never punish your puppy if you have not caught it "on the job"
It might get afraid of you. "Putting its nose in it" is not a punishment at all (you will see that dogs quite happily do as much by themselves!) and would not help it to know what you´re so cross about. It will, of course, put on its "hang-dog" look - but so would it if you scolded it when it had done nothing at all! It reacts to your expression rather than to any fault it may have committed itself.
Don´t use the "newspaper method"!
Learning twice over is just twice as hard. Take your puppy out, as soon as it has been vaccinated. That way, it will soon learn, and will never be afraid in the street.
Don´t clean up its business in front of it.
It's going to take that as a sign of interest on your part.
If you are going to get on well with your dog, you will need to train it in two types of command: call and stop.
- Many a dog has been saved from an accident by being able to obey these very simple commands. In both cases, you should begin training your new friend very early on. Education begins as soon as the puppy arrives in your home.
- Use simple words, and always the same ones. "Heel, Fido!" or "Rex, come!" will do just as well one as the other, as long as you do not change them.
- The younger the puppy, the more the training needs to be playful, and the shorter the sessions should be: 5 minutes at a stretch for a 3 month-old.
- Rewarding is always more effective.
- Disobedience is very often due to not understanding. Words mean little to a dog, so you should back them up with clear accompanying gestures which it can learn and interpret more quickly.
- As regards the call, never stand in front of your dog pointing at it and calling to heel!
For the first lessons, crouch, face away and call softly, tapping your thigh, "Come, boy!". This makes you attractive for your puppy, who will come, and be delighted to get a vigorous stroking as a reward.
Walking on a lead
Walking on a lead does not mean much to a dog. You are going to have to teach it this new relationship which binds it to its master or mistress.
- At first, you could put the collar and lead on your puppy, and let it get used to this little constraint.
- When you pull on the lead, do so gently. Give some little tugs, calling your dog´s attention by clicking your tongue. As soon as it follows the direction of the lead, be it only for a yard or two, reward it with some vigorous strokes.
- Once the puppy begins to frisk alongside you on its lead, go on catching its attention with lots of little sound signals, so as to get it used to making regular visual contact with you. In this way, the physical leash is backed up by a vocal tether.
- Keep the lead slack: as soon as the puppy pulls, bring it back sharply to heel and slacken the lead straight away again, accompanying your gesture with always the same command: "Spot, here!" or "Flash, heel!". As soon as the dog goes a few yards without tugging, give it a stroke.
A tight leash is a transmission line for emotions and may trigger undesirable reactions, such as aggressiveness towards other dogs.
Taking your dog out
While taking all necessary precautions not to expose it to pointless risks (places soiled by animals you do not know and contact with unvaccinated animals), do walk your dog as soon as possible. In all likelihood, it is going to be spending its daily life in a completely different environment from that in which it was born and spent the first few weeks. To be truly at ease in its world, the puppy needs to encounter it regularly by its 13th week (i.e., its 3 months).
By walking your dog, you thus let it avoid falling victim to the "deprivation syndrome". This all too common behavioural affliction consists in severe difficulty in adapting to urban life and intense fear when in contact with strangers.
Should your dog seem unduly afraid when you first take it out, do not stroke it for reassurance: you would be rewarding, and so reinforcing, its fear! Just act as though nothing is wrong and start a game with it by way of distraction. If this is just too hard and your puppy is unable to respond to you in this way, do not hesitate to talk things over with the Vet.