When Honey came to live with us as an eight week old puppy, we limited our puppy reading. We didn’t want to get overloaded.
Our book of choice? Before and After Getting Your Puppy: The Positive Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, and Well-Behaved Dog by Ian Dunbar.
Giving Your Puppy a Good Start
Dunbar’s book covers all the basics of what a puppy most needs to grow into a great adult dog:
- house training
- bite inhibition
- learning to use a crate
- basic behaviors like sit and lie down.
But here’s the thing. Dr. Dunbar is gentle and forgiving toward puppies. They can do no wrong. They’re just learning and it’s up to us to guide them in the right way.
But his standards for people are pretty exacting. Anything a puppy does wrong is ALL YOUR FAULT! And this is never more true than when he’s talking about house training.
Dr. Dunbar calls it “error-free house training.” By that, he means that if you follow all the guidelines in the book, your puppy will never have an accident in the house. And if she does, IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!
We did ok with Honey. No, we didn’t get all the way through house training without a single accident. But she had very few. And it helped that she was sleeping through the night about a week after she came home.
Of course, we were very motivated. Honey was going to live with us the rest of her life. And anything we did wrong would be part of our lives together for many years to come.
But what about taking care of puppies who are only with us a short time?
Enter the Foster Puppies
You may recall I recently made the list to foster puppies for the local SPCA. And, in the short time I had Scooter and Buster before they were ready to be adopted, I took my caretaking responsibilities serious.
I took house training so seriously that I refused the piddle pads offered me and vowed to follow all Dr. Dunbar’s guidelines for error-free house training:
- Limit the puppy’s freedom when you can’t watch him.
- Take him out after meals, playtime, nap time, and anytime you see him looking for a place to
pee or pooleave a gift.
- Always carry him outside so he doesn’t stop on the way.
- After he does his business outside, throw a big party of joy and treats no matter what it feels like to be standing in the snowy yard at 3:00 a.m. in your bare feet and pajamas.
- Repeat 470 times throughout the day.
Generally, when I was home alone with the puppy and Honey things were fine—meaning, no accidents. Of course I did nothing else but monitor the puppy–sniffing behavior, activities, even the pucker of his anal region (I’d swear, it looks like it’s winking at me).
It was a different matter when Mike came home.
I had been tied to the house all day watching for signs of puppy accidents so I assumed he’d share in the watching while I tried to get caught up on some work. Sure enough, seconds after sitting down, the puppy would squat.
Isn’t it strange that almost every puppy accident we had occurred when both of us were home to keep watch?
Tag Team House Training
We’d settle into the office where I’d try to do some work while Mike went on puppy duty. Every few seconds, I’d look up to see where the puppy had gone while I noticed Mike absorbed in a book or the laptop or a snack. As I spied the puppy turning the corner, I’d ask Mike, “Where’s he going?” just as Scooter (or Buster) squatted. Mike would grab the puppy mid squat and rush him outside to complete his task while I’d go running for rags and vinegar to clean up what we weren’t fast enough to prevent.
When Mike and the puppy returned, we started the implied lesson in Dr. Dunbar’s book: “Figure out who’s to blame.”
My marriage has survived stresses brought on by twenty years of caring for a mentally ill family member, waking up to gunshots on the other side of our party wall, and bill paying sessions between a frugalista and the man who never met a dollar he didn’t like (to spend). But we were almost defeated by small puddles of ammonia-scented liquids and warm, mushy piles of carbon-based waste.
Dr. Dunbar’s Passion
Ok, I don’t really mean to curse Dr. Dunbar. He’s done a lot of good work, starting with developing the first puppy kindergartens for socialization and training.
Dr. Dunbar sees millions of dogs surrendered to shelters and ultimately killed because their people couldn’t (or didn’t want to) live with them.
He’s fighting the pervasive notion that cute puppies grow up to become great dogs without any work and if they don’t, there’s something wrong so you should get rid of this one and get a new one. I get it. Your language is strong to pierce the denial that we bear any responsibility for our puppy’s (and dog’s) behavior.
But c’mon Dr. Dunbar, you create a lot of pressure on a girl. What do you think? When you revise your book, could you soften the language a little bit? Maybe tell us that if we try to do everything right our puppies will rarely have accidents?
Or maybe just include a coupon for 50% off online marriage counseling.
[My tongue-in-cheek post is not intended to disparage Dr. Dunbar. I think he’s done more for our understanding of puppy raising than anyone. You can check out his puppy raising books for free by downloading them at DogStar Daily. Just check your ego at the door.]