Two Weeks In, Ten Weeks Old: Puppy Update
He still doesn’t have a name, quite. His given name, Hamish, is a good one and it fits him, but all those h’s and shushes are hard for me to say clearly. I want a name that I like, that fits him, that feels good to call out, and that he’ll be able to tell apart easily from other words I say a lot (like “hush”). So we’ve been brainstorming.
I got him home on Sunday night, July 31st, thanks to my friend who drove us. I couldn’t take my own car, because I’d asked spouse and kids to clear out for a week to give me space to work up a routine with this bugger.
I quickly realized our first big challenge would be outdoor potty-training. This pup was already pretty good about not doing his dirty work in house or pen, but he very reasonably considered the whole great outdoors his toilet, whereas I want him to go only in his potty box. Every time I took him out, we’d go straight to that spot and wait for action—but the pup couldn’t do his business until he was moving; yet once he did get moving, there was no telling when or where he’d go.
So he was piddling and pooping any old place. Also, he got the notion that his potty spot wasn’t so much for pottying as for waiting. He’d make a few jumps trying to leave the box, and when that didn’t work, he’d just … wait it out. We spent a lot of time standing there, waiting. I taught him to follow my finger (targeting) back and forth to get him going, but this pretty quickly got boring for both of us.
This won’t do, I thought. The few times he did get something done there (hooray! delicious chicken!) didn’t seem to outweigh all the times he spontaneously went elsewhere. Sometimes I’d catch him in the act and quickly carry him into place, but that just made him pucker up. If I don’t watch out, I thought, I’ll end up teaching him to potty anywhere but here. Also, I needed to get this sorted soon, because I wanted to let him play freely in the yard, and I couldn’t do that as long as I was trying to get his poops landing in the right place.
I decided to encourage some positive emotions toward the litter box by running there with the pup full-speed every time we went out, then giving him a piece of chicken. Progress! He happily took to sprinting to his spot. I also started letting him walk in and out of the box at will while we waited there on leash (click and kibble for every reentry) instead of keeping him inside it, because I didn’t want him to feel trapped, and wandering on a wider circle made it easier for him to work up a movement. I read an Internet article that said never to do any playing at the potty place, but this was unrealistic. I brought his ball and kicked it around a little to keep him moving.
Most importantly, on day two (Tuesday), I started keeping a log. I needed a better sense of what the puppy’s patterns were—eating, peeing, pooping, napping—so I’d be able to predict his needs. By noting what time he did what, where, I could also reassure myself that his ratio of hits-to-misses was getting better. And it really helped. After two days, I figured out a schedule based on his natural rhythms that would also work for me.
- 6am—Pee, then poo, then play in the yard
- 6:30am—Potty break
- 7am—Play in the kitchen while I make breakfast
- 7:30am—Chew something fun while lying in puppy pen
- 9am—Pee, then play indoors or outdoors
- 9:30am—Chew something fun in puppy pen
- 11am—Pee, then chew something fun in puppy pen
- 3pm—Pee, eat some soft food in the dish, poo, play
- 7pm—Pee, then play or chew
- 8pm—To bed for the night
The real breakthrough pottywise came on day five (Friday) when I remembered, one way to get a handle on a behavior is to put it on cue. A few well-timed words (“Do your business!”) delivered just on the brink of action, in a soft voice so as not to break the spell, followed by chicken, of course, got it through to this smarty-pants that sometimes, I am asking him to potty. No more endless waiting. We go to the spot, I give the cue, he goes, we celebrate, and he is allowed to run around the yard like a madman. This was not the end of his yard accidents and it’s not the end of potty-training, but it was a game-changer.
Pottying and routines weren’t the only things we did that first week. We worked on Sit and Look At Me (both now on cue!), practiced walking at the heel position (needs work!), and made a small stab at Down and Pick It Up. I also did some resource-training and body-handling and reinforced the puppy call at mealtimes, as planned.
Along the way, I was surprised to find that saying “no” or “hey” actually works with this dog: he stops what he’s doing and looks at me. To reward him for that wonderful impulse, I tried to give him a big congratulations, or a treat, or another cue (like Sit), so that “no” would signify the start of a new game and not just a downer. But I tried not to say it often. I used toys to intercept his biting. I kept him on leash to meet the cats (one-year-old barn-born sisters and an elder orange marmalade). If the puppy wouldn’t listen, I put him in his pen. I ignored him when he cried about that, but came right back when he was quiet.
This might sound like a lot, but truth is, he spent most of the week sleeping. Even when he was awake, he was mostly just chewing something in his pen, tumbling underfoot in the kitchen, or romping in the yard while I ambled around watching him amuse himself. Counting only the hours, it was very uneventful. Counting the learning experiences, though, he had a wild ride.
Monday. Saw a duck—terrifying. Was hissed at by a big orange cat: what did I do wrong? Also, good god, box fans are scary when you run into them; only they don’t hurt. For some reason the primate wanted me to climb in and out of the empty wading pool and I didn’t think I could, but I did it, and I got chicken. A good day.
Tuesday. Ran away from the chickens. Also, went to the vet: lot of scary people in that place. But they are nothing compared to the rolling chair in that exam room. Oh my god I did not trust that wheel.
Wednesday. Sniffed the duck. Mastered the wading pool, too: can go in and out now, no problem. The primate seemed very happy. I also got up onto two different tubs, climbed a ramp, and walked on a wobbling board. Knocked the box fan over twice—whew, so scary. But I’d take that over the lazy susan any day. I forgot to mention it earlier, but I do not trust a cabinet that turns like that. Sometimes I think the world is just full of chicken chunks, and then you turn around and it’s full of lazy susans.
Thursday. Walked across a crinkling feed bag: fun. Then the primate opened the duck’s pen and I didn’t feel good about it, but I went in. Met a bike. It was okay. But the helmet! What was it planning?
Friday. I met the chickens today. They’re all right. I crawled through the bottom rung of a ladder, too. But for some reason, I still can’t walk the balance log. I start going across, and I know for sure that both my feet are on it, but then suddenly I have these other feet in the back that are always falling off.
Saturday. Other primates live here too, it turns out. They made a fire. One of them rode a bike. It was fine.
Sunday. I don’t think I’m going to keep writing in this journal. The primates are packing the car. I think they’re up to something.
On Friday my family came home to meet the puppy, and the neighbor kids came over too (that’s 19 new people since he left his mother!). On Sunday, we all of us relocated to the grandparents’ place for a few days, because Boots is involved in putting on a cultural festival that was scheduled for the following weekend, and their house is 15 minutes from the grounds.
Their house is also in the woods, so puppy’s education continued: he witnessed three goats; traversed deep brush, big logs and steep hills; learned to find me whenever I hid from him, which I did every chance I got; went knee-deep in spring silt and plunged his muzzle up to the eyes in mud; sat calmly while the bravest goat sniffed his nose; learned to use a new potty spot (and ran there to do his business all on his own!); found out that he could be left alone in his pen in several different places, indoors and out, and that he was not supposed to cry about this; and generally gained a new view on life.
Halfway through the week, the kids and I joined up with a friend for two nights at a house on Blue River to celebrate her fortieth, so the puppy adjusted to yet another sleeping and potty spot and started on a new set of lessons.
He confronted the river: its width, its urgent depth and splashing, its boulders and scum and moss. He confronted the reservoir: its seesaw driftwood tricking his paws in the shallows. He learned, reluctantly, to climb in and out of the car when asked. He learned to sit and wait for things when I say “wait.” He gamboled along the trail with us to the hot spring and took his first swim there, dunking underwater without thinking to paddle or even lift his nose; he didn’t know to shake himself out after coming up, either—not a natural swimmer, it seems. But brave enough to keep trying.
I can definitely see a difference in this pup since our first few days together, when he’d barked anxiously at a stranger and hesitated to sniff a duck. All these enrichment challenges really have developed his confidence. In ten days, he went from tentatively touching a stock tub with his nose, to bravely besting boulders, trying to swim, and meeting people of various ages and looks: 24 people now since leaving his mother.
Altogether a good two weeks.
During the next two, I need to find my puppy some dogs to safely meet, because if there’s one thing lacking in his education thus far, it’s that. I also need to trim his nails, introduce him to the bath, and get him comfortable with his brush. He recently started peeing indoors at night, so I reduced the size of his pen and will be watching for that. He’s also leaked a little pee sometimes when saying hello to people, so I’ll keep an eye out for that as well and problem-solve if needed. Meanwhile, we’re back home in town again. Life rolls on. I’ll keep reinforcing the cues he knows and introducing new ones. The kitties and I will remind him how (and how not) to greet a cat.
And somehow, eventually, I’ll manage to put a name on this puppy.