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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

5 new puppy must-do's ...

As those of you who've visited me here before will know I share my life with a lovely little canine chap called Maximus - or Maxi for short. I did an earlier post about him here: Puppy Angel.


The Mighty Maxi Moser


He's a constant source of love, high jinx and laughs in our house. He's only been around since last September, but it feels as though we couldn't live without him. Somehow his fluffy little face seems to be in every photo I take, everyone always inquires about him and I'd hate to pass the day without his cheerful, up-for-everything presence hovering somewhere round my ankles.


For those of you who are thinking about committing to a new dog here's a short list of my 5 top tips to make the transition to becoming a doggy household as smooth as possible:

1. Toilet training

Have a clear idea on what's going to be your toilet-training strategy and don't confuse the message. Be clear and consistent once you start. There are many different ways of tackling this particular issue. I wavered at first between two strategies, and almost made the whole business more complicated than it had to be.

A very good friend, who is proud mother to a beautiful little whippet girl, advised me to go down the puppy pad route. 'Buy puppy pads, scent them with toilet training spray and leave them by the door,' she advised me. 'Then when you see the puppy looking like he's going to do his toilet business whisk him off and place him on the pad. When he performs, congratulate him like he's just taken gold at the Olympics'.


'Ello! 


It sounded simple. I bought the puppy pads and we gave it a whirl, but somehow back in the balmy days of September (it's a hazy, dazy memory, but we did have some nice weather way back then) it seemed more natural to take Maxi out onto the grass at regular (very regular at first) intervals and praise him to the high heavens when the 'payload hit the drop zone'. I rewarded him each time with a doggy biscuit. It turned out that little Maxi is strongly motivated by food, and learnt very quickly as a result.

I had to be really vigilant for those first few weeks, and I must say that this hyper attention to his toilet habits felt as though it was verging on the neurotic.  I'd keep giving unsolicited updates in conversation about his bowel movements. Sad, but true. At one point I was convinced that there was something wrong with his bladder because of the number of pee pees he was doing. My husband, a character who is also strongly motivated by food and hence well equipped to understand the dog's psychology, pointed out that this was more likely to be a Pavlovian-type response - along the lines of: if I just squeeze something - hell, anything- out she'll give me a biscuit.

Anyway I persevered sticking to my "let's go to the garden" routine, and within a couple of weeks he'd got the hang of it. He now prefers going on grass, which is really useful if we're in someone's shed. The shed floor does not have grass so he understands that it is not a socially acceptable toilet. Yeah heh, result!

2. No - absolutely no - negative re-enforcement ever

Just try a bit of empathy here: imagine what it must be like if you're a little puppy who's just been torn away from his mum and his litter-mates. You've got to feel pretty confused and more than a little bit nervous about what's going on. Maxi was one of the smaller chaps in his litter. The breeder told us that he'd been bullied  by one of his much bigger brothers who used to eat all their food, until she intervened and separated them. When he arrived with us it took him a week to find his bark. He's a miniature schnauzer, and I'd been expecting him to have quite a barky personality, but for a whole week he didn't say a single word, not a sausage.

Our Nervous New Arrival


Now imagine how it would feel for this little chap if someone started shouting at him - or worse - for doing his pee pees in the wrong place. It doesn't take a huge amount of imagination to realise that this is not the way to go.



Maxi is sooo sweet that I could never be angry with him, and he starts off wanting to please. So all it took was to praise him, reward him and fuss over him for getting things right, and before long he was getting everything right.


Guess who grew up to be an Alpha Dog?

3. The No titbits feeding regime

I know this sounds harsh, but it's really not a good idea to spoil your new puppy with treats from the table. My father is the world's worst in this regard. My parents' doggy is an over-weight pooch as a result of all the biscuit-sharing that goes on in their house. My Dad loves, loves, loves his dog, but in the long run this is not a good way to go. Our processed food is really not good for dogs. Plus once a dog gets used to being fed from the family table he becomes a total nuisance at meal times.

Chow time!

Another thing to bear in mind when you're doing heavy rewarding for toilet training is to deduct the amount of treats from the notional amount that they should get at meal times. It's very easy to over-feed during this early period.


4. Have a dogs-only doggy snuggle zone

From the very beginning Maxi has had his bed, his very own space where he can go for sanctuary. In fact he's got three beds - one in the kitchen where we seem to spend most of our time as a family, one in his doggy room and another in my study where he and I seem to spend most of our time alone together. But the golden rule is that these are his places, to which he can retreat if the world around him is getting a little bit too busy/ noisy.

Which part of 'king-size bed' did she not understand?


My friend, the whippet mummy, got one of those folding crates for her dog so that she would feel totally comfortable when she had to go in it for travelling. This is a great idea if you've got somewhere to keep the crate in the house, and don't mind how it looks. I don't go the aesthetics of a crate myself, but each to his own, as they say.

5. Make sure you have 100% buy-in for Project Puppy

Our principal obstacle in buying a puppy was my husband, who was very, very reluctant. "What will we do with him when we go away?" he'd ask. It took a lot of persuading/ cajoling to convince him that there were ways and means of travelling with your pet or arranging for him to be looked after when you were away.

But when Maxi arrived my husband was over-the-moon in love with his dog, and it was little Emi, my son, who voiced concern that we might love the new addition more than him. This was a bit of a shocker for me. Admittedly I was suffering from a very pronounced case of puppy-love, but nothing - not even Maxi - could take little Emi's place in my heart.

The very best of friends ...

So I sat him down and explained that, whilst I loved Maxi very, very much, there was no one in the world who could ever knock him off his number one slot, and that we had bought Maxi for him. Over the course of the next few weeks I found as much to praise Emi for as I did Maxi. And you know what? Children are a lot like dogs: they respond best to positive re-enforcement as well.

I'll do whatever it takes to fit in around here ...
Anyway, whatever you do, please remember that a puppy is not just for now: a puppy is for life. It's a really big commitment.


Bonny x

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