The Puppy Chronicles: House Training, Toys, and Surviving the Velociraptor
God grant me the serenity to accept that I buy my puppy too many toys, courage to buy fewer toys, and the wisdom to ignore Chewy.com ads.
My Australian Shepherd puppy Kenobi is now 12 weeks old. We’ve been together for three weeks. In that time, he has me seriously wondering whether to buy stock in Resolve Carpet Cleaner, invest in falconry gloves to protect my hands from velociraptor puppy teeth, or sign up for a Dog Toys Addiction group therapy session.
I prefer the term “house training” to “housebreaking”… “Housebreaking” sounds like teaching him to be a future burglar, like a four-legged bandito. Also, I don’t like the word “break.” I don’t want to “break” this puppy — just help him direct his urine and other bodily eliminations outside.
Last week, we had one day of no potty-training mistakes. None. Zero. Nada.
“Eureka!” I said, telling him what an absolutely perfect, brilliant, Einstein of a puppy he was. The next day, five pees and one poop on the same carpet. Yes, I counted.
Yesterday we had two puppy pee mistakes. Both while I was on the phone. I blame myself.
I will say he has not used his crate as an indoor bathroom facility. He can sleep through the night until 5 AM or until the adult dogs start answering the coyotes and singing to them at 2 AM.
I have one crate in the bedroom for Kenobi to sleep in, and one crate in the living room. I feed Kenobi in the crate, and when I am out of the house for short periods of time he stays in the crate until I get back. He’s okay with this because he has at least one if not two pack members close by that he can see, plus a lick mat to keep him occupied….for at least two minutes.
Does he love his crate? I don’t think so. Nor does he hate it. Kenobi at this point in his young life is a kind of go-with-the-flow puppy when it comes to spending time in the crate.
He has learned not to paw at the bars when he sees me coming to let him out. He has learned to sit and wait for the door to open before he bounces out of it.
He has learned not to howl as I am making up dog meals, or sharpen his teeth on the crate bars. He now sits and watches, knowing his meal is coming. Patience and self-restraint are important skills, especially for a herding breed.
Use of voice
I rarely use the word “NO” for house training or any other correction. I use “Uh-uh” or “eh-eh” or “uh-oh”. I think those sounds make more sense to puppies and adult dogs. I make the sounds quickly and precisely. I don’t yell, I don’t point my finger at the puppy. As soon as Kenobi responds I say “YES” or “Good boy!”
I do occasionally get some assistance from the resident hall monitor — also known as Wookie. If she sees Kenobi doing something wrong, such as grabbing a shoe, pulling the Afghan blanket off the couch, taking papers off the coffee table, she intercedes with a growl or a bark. It is very effective.
The puppy song
Each dog I have raised has his or her own song that I make up, or plagiarize, depending on your point of view. Keen’s puppy song was to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine.” Wookie’s puppy song was “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis. Naturally, Kenobi has his own now. I borrowed it from a friend who made it up for her husky. It’s so perfect for Kenobi that I have adapted it for him. I sing it multiple times a day to him: when he goes in and out of the crate, when he gets treats, when he “wins” at tug of war, or when he comes over to me wagging his butt.
“The Velociraptor” (or, “What Happened to My Cute Little Puppy?”)
The velociraptor stage is when the puppy turns into a creature from Jurassic Park. The adorable, cuddly puppy is now all teeth and has an obsession with putting anything and everything into its mouth.
Kenobi is there now: teeth like little daggers piercing hands, fingers, clothes, ankles and my new Patagonia pants. He tries to chew on ratan, suede slippers, tasseled rugs, Keen’s ruff, my bathrobe, my knee brace, sticks, pieces of paper… did I say my fingers?
He has the agility of a velociraptor too: jumping, leaping on me, other dogs, dog gates, chairs, and his assorted toys.
Ground rules for velociraptors
Having raised eight Australian Shepherds, I have learned to have very specific ground rules when it comes to the velociraptor stage.
When Kenobi tries to jump up on me, I make myself very BIG. Like I am the King Kong of humans.
I correct him with “Eh-eh” and the “OFF” request. He is an Aussie, so he will test me: does she really mean it? As soon as he stops and either sits or looks at me with all paws on the floor I tell him how awesome he is and give him a treat.
Now, giving treats to a velociraptor requires teaching some basic boundaries. I keep the treat in my fist. If he jumps or tries to bite my fist or approaches with an open mouth, I pull my fist away. I offer it again (closed fist) and if he just waits, then I open my palm and let him have the treat – always accompanied with praise.
One thing I learned a long time ago with Aussies: You cannot wear a velociraptor out. If these pups get overtired then you are in deep kimchi. An overtired puppy is like a velociraptor on steroids… the biting, the jumping, the lack of self control gets way worse, and the falconry gloves you saw on Amazon may become a necessity.
The best way to decompress a velociraptor puppy is to engage their brain.
Puzzles that include food are a great way to get puppies thinking. However, Kenobi so far is not much of a problem solver. He’s more a Man of Action. So, I use a tug toy game, letting him win and rewarding him when I ask him to “release” or “let go.” The tug toy game lasts about 2 or 3 minutes. Then he ambles over to his favorite spot under my chair and naps. Peace in the kingdom.
Once or twice a day, for not more than a few repetitions, I will teach Kenobi something new. Or review what he already knows: come, sit, stand, look, wait, trade. I just started teaching him “leave it” — one of the most important skills for velociraptor puppies, and essential for the sanity of the entire household … particularly the cats.
Kenobi and I didn’t bond immediately. We observed each other like new roommates, with moments that were more like a blind date.
I didn’t have any expectations and I don’t think Kenobi did either. He was just trying to navigate this new environment: new house, new dogs, new sounds, new people. And I endeavored to provide a routine he could trust, boundaries to keep him safe, and playtime.
And then one day we clicked. He really looked at me. I really looked at him. It was a brief and profound connection. At that moment we both said simultaneously: I See You. I Get You. I Want to be with You.
To seal the deal, he picked up one of my sneakers and ran off with it.
The toy paradigm
My adult dogs don’t give a hoot about toys …. except when there is a new puppy in the house. When Kenobi arrived, all the other dogs wanted his toys. So, naturally, I bought toys for all the dogs…which they promptly played with for three nanoseconds.
Trying to find the right, or the best, or the perfect toy for Kenobi has been an exercise in futility. One day he loves, loves, loves the big fluffy llama. The next day the llama has been kicked off the island, and Kenobi is smitten with the squirrel or the beaver or the hedgehog or my shoes.
I found a cute Star Wars-themed tug toy, since Kenobi is named for the Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi. He bashed it around and I thought, Ah-ha, the perfect toy. …After about one minute of delightfully beating and whipping the tug toy around, he dropped it and has ignored it ever since. Even when I try getting him to play tug with it. Nope, not interested. He likes the tug toy that has fake fur on it.
At this point I feel like my living room is the FAO Schwartz of dog toys – or maybe a stuffed animal zoo. We have the aforementioned llama, plus a bunny, fox, lamb, panda, beaver, hedgehog, squirrel, turtle, sloth, octopus, and one Minion.
So far, no toys have been harmed, dissected, eviscerated, or had their white, fluffy innards tossed around the house like confetti. I am sure that will come later, in stage two of “Velociraptor Puppy.”
Keen to the rescue
Luckily, I have a superb nanny dog – Keen. I think of Keen as the favorite uncle I grew up with: permissive, fun, and doting. Keen is not the disciplinarian. He lets Kenobi climb all over him, bite his ears, his hocks, his mane. Keen plays with Kenobi, indulges Kenobi, lets Kenobi take a toy out of Keen’s own mouth. He watches over Kenobi, accompanies Kenobi on every trip to the great outdoors, and lets Kenobi nap beside him.
When Keen hears me say “uh-uh” to the puppy, I can see him telepathically message Kenobi: “You did a BAD thing.”
The level of tolerance in Keen is worthy of sainthood: Uncle Saint Keen.
Thank you Keen.