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Archive for October, 2007

Potty training my puppy. How can a little dog just about make you cry?

Sunday, October 28th, 2007


Harry is a lil’ Maltese bastard that my girlfriend and I bought a few weeks ago. She saw him in a mall and fell in love with him. I’ve never been a small dog guy but Harry isn’t guilty of the many dog crimes I’d generalized to all small dogs. He isn’t “yappy” and annoying and doesn’t bark much at all. He’s a very smart dog (Maltese are an intelligent breed) and most of all he has a great personality, which is what I care about the most in a dog. Dogs with bad temperament are unpleasant and though I had really wanted to get a medium-sized dog I have to admit that Harry is the perfect dog for us. He doesn’t shed, he doesn’t need much outside exercise (he runs around the house and yard) and is playful as hell while learning to obey quickly (usually on the third try). Plus he makes a mean chili and he’s my first dog dammit!

I’d been around dogs many times in my life but they were never my dog and I never got to see them as puppies. So I was wholly unprepared for puppy potty training and didn’t even know it. I’d been relatively successful teaching easy dog tricks like “sit”, “stay” and most of all (especially with playful dogs) “paw” but I had never needed to train the dogs insofar as what not to do. So I figured that what I thought I knew about potty training a dog, which was to put his nose in his mess and scold/swat him, was the right way to go about it.

The first day he pissed and pooped everywhere as he scurried about the house. He wasn’t marking territory or anything, he’s too young for that. He simply scurried about the house relieving himself wherever he pleased, which ended up being wherever he happened to be when it occurred to him.

So I dutifully did what I thought I was supposed to upon finding his scattered “presents” and brought him to face his ugly deed and scolded him. He either thought it was wicked good fun or didn’t pay much attention so I added light swats on his butt to which he screamed bloody murder! His pitiful yelps to such light corporal punishment would almost be comical if it weren’t so visibly disturbing to him to be spanked.

I was more than a bit relieved to learn that my concept of potty training was misguided and that punishing a dog for pooping after-the-fact is not helpful since the dog likely doesn’t remember enough about what he did to understand just what part of relieving his bowels was wrong. I learned about “kennel training” or “crate training”, the basics of which is that if the dog urinates or poops somewhere he isn’t supposed to it’s our fault, not his. It’s up to us to make sure he’s always in a place he can go potty if he wants to. Now that’d be damned hard to do but there was a silver lining: he won’t want to soil his bed as he won’t want to rest in his poop or urine. So if you place him in a small enclosure where he has room to sleep and not much else he will learn to “hold it”.

I only wished I had gone about informing myself as to the proper way to go about potty training a puppy a day before buying Harry instead of a day afterwards. So I set newspaper out in the back patio and bought a padded dog carrying case which fit him and a little square dog bed (which was actually for a fake toy dog) perfectly. We’d zip him up in there for a few hours and let him out on the newspaper and praise him as he relieved himself on the newspaper. He soon learned to see it as his doggy bathroom and began to prefer to be on a newspaper surface to relieve himself. He’ll have his occasional lapses till he gets a bit older but I won’t discipline him unless I happen to catch him in the act.

And things had been going damn well. After only a week of crate training he’d go days without lapsing in the house. And it would often be when he found a rug or paper on the floor, which I’m not sure is something he’s legitimately confused about or whether it’s a convenient pretext since he’s so darn lazy. He likes getting in the bed and after a week of him being in the little padded carrying case whenever he was therehe learned to treat the whole bed as his own sleeping area. We began to let him out and he’d spend the night with us on one of our pillows above our heads and just hold it till the morning, at which point he would lick one of our faces until we lowered him off the bed and walked him outside to his newspaper.

He didn’t like being far from us so it was important to take him out there and wait for him to do his business. Thankfully crate training works like a charm and he’s learned to hold it and goes immediately when he’s on his newspaper toilet. But today I caught him pooping on the bed. He had no excuse, he’d been outside for a few hours as we were at the cinema and had no reason to go on the bed. I gave him two light swats and he yelped ever so pitifully. I took him outside and told him what a rat-bastard he was. He ran away into the corner and seeing fear of me in his eyes was doubly difficult since he would tentatively approach me with a forgiving forgetfulness till he realized I was still mad at him for something.

I closed the door and left him outside to think about what he did and then went to remove the bedding when I realized he’d urinated when I spanked him and that it traumatized him so just broke my heart and made me want to cry. That he was desperate for my affection just moments later when I went to apologize to him just about did.

But more than anything else I wanted to cry early this morning when he walked over to me on my bed while I was working on the computer and gave me repeated “hi five’s” (a recent trick he learned). I told him he was a damned good boy and all but he kept insisting till I thought he was trying to tell me something and since we disagree fundamentally on religion and politics and have mutually agreed not to talk about those subjects it could only be one thing: he needed to go to the bathroom! I didn’t want him to soil my workplace so I was happy to oblige and hastily put him down and got up to walk him out back. He apparently needed to go quite badly because he didn’t wait for me as usual and scurried out the room, through the living room, the kitchen and into the back yard.

I got there about 4 seconds after he did but he was already at it hunched over on his hind legs with what I can’t help but describe as a smugly satisfied grin. He knew my praise was coming and had his tongue hanging out of a wide open smile.

I have no problem crying, I’m not that kind of guy. But I didn’t think a dog taking a dump on a newspaper could make me so damn happy that I’d almost cry before realizing I’m watching a puppy going to the bathroom while effusively praising him in baby-talk.

He’s learning quickly and really wants to please me. I can tell we’re going to have a damn good dog and that this potty training phase will soon pass since he has shown me he understands what we want him to do. And since nobody would abide a roommate who poops on the bed or in the living room that thought made me more than a bit happy. But happier still was knowing that I won’t have to spank my dog soon, and I won’t have to see the big fat teary eyes he gets afterward as he cocks his head to the side and questioningly looks to see if he can come over and say he’s sorry.