Training for Joy

I must admit I'm getting a little discouraged. Or, at least, I was, until about five minutes ago.

It's been five weeks now since we brought puppy Joy home, and to judge from the accident that she and I had this morning as I was taking her out for her first pee and poop of the day, we are no closer to being house trained than we were five weeks ago. I say "we" because, of course, I know that it is my fault as much as hers--more so, because I am the one who is supposed to be teaching her. But how?

I'm doing everything, well, most everything that the books and teacher have told us to do. I take her out more or less every other hour, sometimes every hour, sometimes we get a nap and I (she) can go for three. And I praise her when she goes, saying, "Good girl!" as enthusiastically as I can whenever we get a pee or a poop. But, okay, I still haven't managed to get a handle on giving her special treats whenever she poops because, you know, it's hard enough just getting her outdoors with her leash on and enough diaper bags in my pocket so as to deal with the essentials of keeping her safe and not leaving poop on the ground, never mind dispensing treats in the dark or with the wind blowing in the way that it is right now. Who can manage to get to the fridge for liver when pausing even for a moment might mean another puddle on the floor?

And, besides, it's not as if getting to the door is at all straightforward. If she's in her crate, then it means getting her out of the crate and lifting her up over the baby gate that we have set up to keep her in her play room. And then, if it's nighttime or early in the morning, there's the zipper door into the kitchen (now beautifully floored, but still unfinished) and another set of doors after that to get outside. We had our accident this morning on the new kitchen floor when I stopped to put on my boots and she started to pee next to the drop cloth the painters have left on the floor to (ha!) protect it. And then there are the stairs, sometimes still treacherously icy, regardless two stories up, which we can't let her descend until she is some months older and her shoulders have developed enough to protect her back. And that's just when we go out the back.

Most of the time, I have to admit, we do make it outside and she pees as soon as I set her down. So that's good. But it's not as if she's letting me know that she needs to go out, I just have to guess that she does, which, come to think of it, most of the time she must, since she does pee first thing pretty much every time I take her out. It's really the poops that are driving us (that is, my husband and me) crazy.

"Your puppy will tend to eliminate: 10-20 minutes after eating, a few minutes after drinking, right after waking up from a nap and following a play or exercise session." Yeah, right. Except she doesn't. We've got the first poop of the day pretty much down: I wake up around 5:30 or 6:00am and take her out even before I go to have a pee, and she pees and poops like a pro within the first few minutes. But after that, it's anyone's guess. There's a second poop in the morning, usually the canonical "10-20 minutes" after she has her breakfast, but sometimes it comes before we've fed her (and, therefore, on the floor) and sometimes not for as much as an hour after that, particularly if, as she often does when I can sit with her, she decides to have a bit of a post-prandial nap.

Nor does she necessarily need to go either pee or poop "a few minutes after drinking," although the pee after a nap is pretty easy to predict. The thing is, sometimes she does and sometimes she doesn't. So she doesn't, and then I am lured into thinking it will be okay the next time--and then it isn't. And then there are the poops in the evening. Usually it's two, one "10-20 minutes" (or an hour or immediately before) she eats, another about an hour or two later, but sometimes there's a third. Or not. And sometimes we seem to time it so that, yes, she goes within 3-5 minutes of our taking her out, but other times it takes more like 5-10 minutes--or she doesn't go at all and we end up taking her in, only to have her poop on the floor as soon as we turn our backs. So we should be more vigilant, right? But usually by the end of the day, it's all I can do to stay awake (I usually fail these days) long enough for the second poop, never mind the third. My husband (bless his heart) has more often than not been taking the last poop of the day, but there has been more than one time that I fell asleep early and missed the intervening one.

It is all, as I've said, very discouraging. Our friends who have dogs reassure me, "She's just a baby!" and tell me not to worry, it's really too early to expect that we wouldn't be having at least a few accidents. But how many is "a few" and how many is evidence that we simply aren't doing it right at all? One a day? Two a day? I don't think we've made it through a whole day yet without at least one, if usually only one. Is one okay? Our teacher says you are going for 80% success with any given behavior you are trying to teach your dog, so maybe we're doing okay if we manage four out of the five poops a day outside. But we really want this to be 100%, right? And this is just the beginning. What about all of the others things that we want her to learn (or unlearn)? Like not latching onto our pants' legs when we walk (she's a herder, after all, it's what she's supposed to do).

Or, for that matter, walking. Here I have this dream of taking my dog for a walk and it's all we can do to make it for half a block before she sits down and refuses to move. I have learned that I can get her to follow me at a fairly good clip if I dangle a stick in front of her for her to chase, which has given us a few outings in the park that can almost be classified as "walks," but then she misses the stick and latches onto my leg and I spend the next few minutes with a little growling dragon attached to my pants trying to figure out whether to ignore her or try to lure her off with a treat (which I may or may not have in my pocket, depending on the speed with which I have had to get her out of the door). Neither, of course, works, so I still don't know what to do the next time she goes for my leg even after she does let go.

And on, and on. Am I doing any of this right? She is a darling when I take her to campus with me, and, let's be fair, she's been a real star every week my students have come for our class, saying hello to everyone, chewing for a while on her pig's ear, and then kipping off for a good two hours while we talk about heady things like typology and looking at art. I'm probably being much too hard on her, not to mention myself. She's only a puppy, right? But, but, but. There are all those warnings in all of the dog training books about how important these next few weeks are for instilling the behaviors that we want. What if I make a mistake and she never gets properly house trained? What if she never learns to walk calmly on the leash and instead turns into one of those suburban sled dogs, dragging me down the sidewalk completely out of control? Am I to spend the next 12-15 years with a dragon attached to my leg, looking like an idiot who, yes, had no idea about how to train her dog? I haven't even managed to teach her her name.

Or have I? We were the real underachievers in puppy class on Sunday when I had to admit that I hadn't a clue about how to practice having her come when I called, so the main thing I've been practicing with her these past few days is simply having her look at me when I say her name: "Joy!" followed by "Yes!" and a treat (I can manage this) when she looks at me. Pretty basic stuff, nowhere near the Really Reliable Recall that the booklet said would take two weeks' work to achieve. I'm never really sure whether she is responding to her name or to the presence of the treat, although I have been working on holding the treat to one side and only giving her the "Yes" when she turns to look at me rather than the treat (I learned this exercise last autumn when I was just a lurking observer in the puppy class). So that's where we are. But then, just a few minutes ago (now more like an hour and some, it's taken me that long to write this post), when we were outside and she was running in happy circles like corgis do, she started to run towards the side of the building leading out into the street and although the gate was locked, I really didn't want her going that way, so I called her name, "Joy!" And lo and behold! she turned on the proverbial dime and came back to me. Could it be that I'm doing this right after all?


  1. We have two labs who were recently puppies (they're nearly three years old now). I have no idea how they got potty trained. Just that we were frustrated, trying different things, but mainly just doing what the trainer and books told us to do, and they gradually learned to control themselves and only go outside. No particular magic on our part was involved, and now I can't even remember when it was that they transitioned. So I guess the advice there is just patiently wait, clean up the messes, and one day you'll have a happy, housetrained corgi.

    As far as the walks, when we were training our girls the trainer said that you'll always think that your puppy has some sort of developmental disorder when you take her for a walk. One of his dogs, when she was a puppy, would walk out in front of him turned around so that she was walking backwards, most likely so that she could completely see him while on the walk. Our dogs started out doing the sitting down one hundred feet from our front door and refusing to go any further number. When they got the idea that walks are for walking they promptly developed the habit of walking next to us, but at an angle so that their heads and front legs were in front of our knees. The advice from the trainer was to just ignore the strange behavior, ignore the strange looks from passersby, ignore it when we kneed them in the head, and they would start walking reasonably after they had been in training for a while and had grown up a bit. This proved to be true as well.

    You're doing better than we are on the names. Three years later, Phaedra will still more often than not answer to either Phaedra or Penny (I think because she wants in on whatever Penny is getting). Penny will sometimes answer to Penny, but not if she is more interested in what she's doing than listening to us.

  2. Thanks, B.T., this is actually really encouraging, especially the part about taking walks. I have felt pretty silly teasing Joy along with the stick just to keep her moving, but now I will ignore the (imagined or not so imagined) looks and just be happy she's walking. My sister assures me that dogs actually prefer going potty outside so there isn't as much to worry about as one might think, but it is hard not to feel a little bit frustrated every time the Nature's Miracle has to come out. I will try just to ignore that, too. : )


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