Puppies and Potties and Crates, Oh My

Potty Grass

There’s a lot of training that you have to start in on right away after getting your puppy, which can feel somewhat stressful. Sleep training, crate training, potty training. All while you are probably short on sleep yourself in the first few days of coming home with a new baby.

Crate training was definitely one of the hardest things we had to do with our puppy Brewster — listening to him scream his little head off, worrying if he was ok, feeling like bad parents and even worse neighbors. One week into having him, we left him alone to go to dinner one night when my fiancé’s father was in town, and halfway through appetizers, I got a text from our downstairs neighbor saying that he had been barking nonstop and sounded like he was “distressed”. This upset me so much — both because I was worried about our little puppy home all alone, and because I felt badly about disturbing the neighbors — that I actually started crying at dinner.

We learned that this was normal and even necessary for training your dog to be ok by himself, and that I didn’t need to have a meltdown just because Brewster was. If you’re able to stay strong and have understanding neighbors (who also understand that the noise is temporary), it pays off big time in the long run. There were a few tricks we tried to help Brewster get more comfortable with his crate, like feeding him all of his meals in there, making sure he always had a chew or toy to keep him occupied, and lining the bottom with fleece blankets to make it a cozy place. After a couple weeks of this, one of our happiest moments was when he wandered into his crate all on his own one evening when he got tired. It became his little sanctuary where he could relax in a warm, safe spot. Now we can leave him in his crate anytime, day or night, with no barking or anxiety — which is much more comforting for him AND for us.

Potty training was a whole different challenge — especially when you live on a top-floor city apartment, and have a pre-parvo-vaccinated puppy who is only comfortable peeing on grass and not sidewalks. We tried to tackle this by using one of those patches of fake potty grass on our roof deck as a temporary solution until we could take him out to real grass to pee. The only problem was that he seemed to prefer peeing on our floor than on the potty grass, and apparently thought the potty grass was just a good spot for a nap. We had read in a puppy training book that it’s much harder to break bad habits than cultivate good ones, so we realized that we needed to be much more attentive and proactive about taking him to the potty grass and avoiding any more accidents on the floor. We tried to be as encouraging as possible about the grass, even sopping up some of his pee from the floor and wringing it out onto the grass to let him know this was an acceptable spot to go, and when he finally tried it out for the right reason, we practically showered him in treats.

It was a lot of work to stay that vigilant all the time about the potty training, but as time went on, the accidents became much fewer and farther between, and Brewster would start to wait by the back door when he had to go. One day, there were just no more accidents, and he would hold it as long as he needed to until we could take him out. Now we never have to worry about him, and can leave him alone in another room while we go about our business, or even take him on vacation to a new house, where he quickly learns which door to wait by when he needs to go.

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