Tamar Geller: Housetraining and Praise

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Today we’re featuring the third and final excerpt from Tamar Geller’s brand-new book: 30 DAYS TO A WELL-MANNERED DOG. (Yesterday’s excerpt covered Housetraining while the first excerpt dealt with Bringing Your New Dog Home.)

Remember, tomorrow we’ll be launching a giveaway of 20 copies this new book…stay tuned for all the details!

WHY “GOOD BOY,” “GOOD GIRL,” AND “GOOD DOG” AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH

See things from your dog’s point of view: She sits and you say, “Good girl!” You call her and she comes to you, and you say, “Good girl!” She goes potty and you say, “Good girl!” How is your dog going to learn which behaviors you’re praising if everything is “Good girl!” and you’re not going to help her distinguish which one is which? The more specific you are with your praise, the clearer your coaching and the faster your dog will learn to speak your language. Giving each behavior a name allows your dog to know what she’s supposed to repeat the next time you make the request.

When your dog does “hurry up,” say, “Good hurry up!” or just, “Hurry up,” in a singsong voice. If she comes when you call, say, “Good come!” and when she moves away from something, say, “Good leave it!” Say “Drink” when she’s drinking and “Be a goat” when she’s eating grass. Be creative and have fun with it!

As your dog begins to learn English, her reactions will help you know what she wants to do. When I ask my dog Clyde if he wants to eat, he’ll lick his lips if the answer is yes. I can also give him options—”Do you want to go see Maddy, play with Shadow, or go to Malibu?”—and gauge his reaction to each to understand his real preferences. You probably have friends who have to spell things around their dogs, who are quick to learn the meaning of words like “walk,” “treat,” and “ball.” If you put in the time talking to your dog and paying close attention to her responses, people will be blown away by just how smart a dog you have!

If your dog is going to spend the night in the crate—a good idea until she’s learned how to hold it—be sure not to give her any food or water for three hours before bedtime. However, if your dog constantly soils the white pad or towel, do remove them and let your dog sleep on the barren floor. If she does have an accident while in the crate and this time it isn’t absorbed by the towel, she’ll realize, “Yuck, I’d better hold it from now on!” It won’t take more than three of these experiences to drive the lesson home. But give your dog the best chance possible to succeed by making sure she’s “empty” before putting her in the crate for the night. She’ll be okay—even a seven-week-old puppy can be expected to hold it for six hours of sleep.

By the way, if you bought your dog at a pet store, you may want to consider an alternative to crate training. These dogs are forced to eliminate in their crates and have already learned how NOT to hold it while they’re in a crate. Use a crate when you can’t watch them, but otherwise you’re going to have to tether her to you on a four-foot leash and take her out frequently. Yet one more reason why I don’t recommend buying a dog from a pet store!

WHEN PEEING ISN’T A HOUSEBREAKING ISSUE

Not all “accidents” are related to housebreaking. Some dogs, for example, will let out a squirt or a few drops from the excitement of greeting you. The best solution is to ABSOLUTELY ignore the dog when you first come home or guests arrive. Act as if you don’t even have a dog, allowing her a few minutes to collect herself emotionally. After about five minutes, you can greet your dog in a super-calm manner.

Some dogs pee from fear—usually they’ll be cowering or lying on their backs. The worst thing that you can do is to correct her, which will only increase her fear. These sorts of situations should become less common as you socialize your dog and build her confidence by using the principles in this book.

WHEN DOGS HAVE TO “GO”

When they’re puppies, they have to “go” more frequently than adult dogs, especially:

  • After eating and drinking
  • After napping or sleeping
  • After chewing
  • After playing

DEALING WITH ACCIDENTS

No matter how smart your dog is, he’s going to make mistakes. How you handle those mistakes depends on whether or not you catch him in the act.

When you catch the mistake as it’s happening…

Congratulations—this is a teachable moment! Celebrate the fact that you can show your dog the bull’s eye. Make it clear, by your voice and demeanor, that you are displeased. You don’t have to overdo it—think “urgency,” not “anger.”

Urgently rush your dog outside—picking him up, if necessary—to the place you’d prefer that he go. But once you’re there, change your demeanor—bye-bye urgency, hello patience and encouragement. If your dog manages to go potty again, this time in the right place, reward him with an outpouring of joy and a jackpot of treats, as you say, “Hurry up” in an impressed and happy tone of voice.

When you don’t catch the mistake…

There’s nothing you can do. Do NOT push the dog’s nose into the pee or poop, or hit him with a newspaper. Neither of those acts communicates the real problem, which isn’t the act itself, but location, location, location. All you’ll be doing is teaching your dog to be more secretive about his business, training him to pee behind couches or in closets. Some dogs will even eat their own poop to hide the evidence!

Calling too much attention to a mistake can also create attention-seeking behavior—if your dog feels ignored, he can always go potty in an inappropriate place. Maybe it’s not happy attention, but it’s still attention. When I was a toddler and felt ignored by adults, I used to dip toilet paper in the bowl and use it as wallpaper. Even though it was clean toilet water, it worked like a charm.

So when you miss the mistake, the best thing to do is ignore it. If you’ve got the urge to hit someone, slap yourself on the nose with a newspaper and say, “Bad owner!” Next time you’ll pay more attention to your dog’s needs. (On Day 10, I’ll show you how to use a chart to get a clearer idea of your dog’s habits and needs.)

Be sure to clean up mistakes quickly, using a cleaner designed to neutralize pet odors. Dogs are all about their noses, and lingering smells just encourage a repetition of the same behavior. Just don’t let her see you doing it—you don’t want to draw any extra attention to the behaviors you’re trying to eliminate.

© 2010 Tamar Geller

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About Paris Permenter

Paris Permenter is the founder and co-publisher of LT Media Group LLC. Along with her husband, John Bigley, she edits DogTipper.com, CatTipper.com, and has authored over 30 books on pets and travel.