Puppies Vs. Babies – Potty Training

How many times have you heard “Dogs are a great way to prepare for having kids!”


This statement inevitably divides a room – on one side you will find those who completely agree…and on the other side you will find those who are snickering, rolling their eyes, and insisting that babies are babies and dogs are animals.  Apples to oranges.

Now that I am a mom to both two-legged and four-legged, I can say I strongly agree with the former.  Exhibit A – “Potty” Training.

I think Buffy was possibly the hardest dog to house train EVER.  (I’m sure many of you would argue that your dog can claim that title.)  She simply refused to potty outside.  I tried EVERYTHING – I read every book; I took her out constantly; I rewarded with praise, rewarded with treats, rewarded with play.  I took her out at all hours.  I crate trained.  Nothing worked.  NOTHING.  My husband and I were at our wit’s end.  (Did I mention we lived on the second story of an apartment?  This meant leashing Buffy up and crossing the parking lot ever trip outside…and then walking back and forth in a small patch of grass while being watched by neighbors and passing traffic.)  Months and months on my hands and knees – patiently sopping pee up out of the carpet.  Countless shopping bags full of poop.

Flash forward 5 years.  Sebastian is of potty training age.  Don’t get me wrong, we have had accidents.  (I learned very quickly that the fact that he JUST pottied in the potty does not mean he will not potty again…right next the potty…before you can even get him re-diapered!)  I know we are a long way from being done with this chapter in the parenting book, but this has been nothing….NOTHING! compared to the potty drama with Buffy.  (The fact that Sebastian wears diapers that catch the messes does make a big difference!)

I like to think that Buffy was preparing me for Sebastian.  Buffy and her house training was the first “parental” challenge I had to face in my life.  The first instance where I was responsible for shaping another creature’s behavior.  The first time in my life where I had met someone who I could fill my heart with so much love while at the same time inducing such hair-pulling frustration.  I might have taught Buffy where to “do her business”…but she taught me the most important quality that every parent (no matter how many legs their baby has) must possess:





Book Review: Child-Proofing Your Dog by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson

I am a firm believer in books.  What can’t be learned from a trip to a bookstore or library?!  While there are a multitude of pregnancy/baby books out there… and probably almost as many dog books…I was surprised to find very little published on preparing dogs for babies.  And when I say “very little”, I mean literally one book.

Childproofing Your DogSome Googling and a few searches on Goodreads and Barnes & Noble’s website led me to Child-Proofing your Dog: A Complete Guide to Preparing Your Dog for the Child in Your Life by Brian Kilcommons and Sarah Wilson.  The title sounded perfect!  This had to be exactly what I was looking for!

Overall, though, this book was a disappointment.  That’s not to say that I would recommend expectant parents to read it (only a short 88 pages, so you wouldn’t be wasting much of your time); it’s just that most of the information was more common sense than the expert advice I was expecting.  There were, however, a few very insightful hints and suggestions sprinkled in…along with a few points that I completely disagree with.

The underlying theme of the book was spot on – most of the problems that you have with your dog (baby or not) are simply a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication.   Kilcommons and Wilson do a wonderful job of explaining a growl.  “A growl is due largely to confusion…”  and does not mean your dog wants to harm your child.  It probably means that crazy kid is doing something that your dog hasn’t seen you do and can’t quite make sense of it.  It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a Cujo on your hands.

Another point that they repeat over and over, throughout the book, in almost every chapter (which I think is a point worth repeating!) is you should Dog and BabyNEVER leave a dog along with a baby/child.  It doesn’t matter how wonderfully fabulous your dog is or how angelic your perfect child is…things happen.  (Not necessarily bites!) Do not…even for 5 seconds…go in the other room and leave a baby and a dog alone.  Just don’t do it!  Just don’t!

Now, the biggest issue I have with this book is how it discusses getting rid of your dog (this topic is actually brought up multiple times) and euthanizing your dog if he or she is not getting along with your bundle of joy.  Do I believe that in the HISTORY of ALL dogs and babies there has NEVER been a dog so aggressive that they cannot live around children?  Of course I don’t!  But I DO believe that these instances are so unbelievably rare it is not worth mentioning (again, MULTIPLE TIMES) in an 88 page book for the general public.  The fact that putting a dog down is even touched upon is ludicrous.

That being said…there were some “Wow!  I never even though of that!” moments that I had while reading the book.  Once I read them, they seemed like such common sense, but I honestly hadn’t thought of them before.  Expectant parents too busy to read this whole book – consider this the Cliff’s Notes:

  • Never play aggressive games – Luckily, this has always been a rule in my house!  Never ever EVER play tug-of-war or wrestling games with a dog.  (In general, you never want them to think they can challenge you physically.)  When you need to take something out of a dog’s mouth, you don’t want them to pull at it and think you are trying to have fun.  (Anyone who has tried to retrieve a favorite sock out of their dog’s mouth can attest to that!)  You never want a dog to mistake a child’s hug or rough handling is an attempt to start a wrestling match.
  • Do not call the baby a nickname you have assigned your dog – I had honestly never thought of this one!  My husband and I have taken to calling Amigo “baby boy.”  “Oh, our little baby boy!” we will coo when he is doing something especially adorable.  Well, the book warns, don’t be surprised if you are cooing “My little baby boy!” over your new son and your dog jumps right in.  The pup thought you were calling him!
  • Watch the toys you buy – My husband and I recently cracked up when registering at Target – they had a baby toy that looks EXACTLY like the “Buffy ball”.  We of course realized that we wouldn’t be putting that toy on our wish list.  Kilcommons and Wilson also suggest a “which toy is yours?” game where you place dog and baby toys side by side on the floor…and give praise and treats when your pups brings you the correct toy when asked.  So simple…but genius!
  • Be a baby yourself – From what I hear, kids and babies are pretty loud and unpredictable.  I’m pretty sure they don’t even know the proper way to pet a dog!  Of course, teaching your toddler to be respectful and gentle with animals will be your responsibility, but until they understand all that your poor pooch (just like you!) is going to have to learn to live with some unpleasant feelings and sounds.  So, go ahead and practice pokes, ear pulls, hugs, loud noises, etc.  (of course without hurting the dog!  Remember, baby isn’t going to have much muscle behind all those motions.)  Always let your dog retreat (whether practicing or when baby is home.)  Never force interaction between 2-legged and 4-legged child…you don’t want your dog to ever feel trapped.

Dog and Baby 2

Overall, Childproofing You Dog reminds us our dogs have the instincts of an animal…but the personalities of one of us crazy humans.  You’ve had 9 months to mentally prepare yourself, but their world is going to be turned upside down when you walk in with your new child.  Maybe Kilcommons and Wilson have the right idea about oversimplifying things and relying on common sense – all you really need to do is put yourself in their shoes paws.

If you have any other suggested reading on the subject of preparing dogs for the arrival of a new baby…please share!  

Lazy Sunday = Home School (Vocabulary Lesson)

If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written about dogs, you know my #1 advice for a happy pup: WALK.

But sometimes, you can’t go for a walk (weather!)  And sometimes, if we are being totally honest, it’s Sunday and your just being lazy.  This is the situation that I found myself in today.  Me – not wanting to go outside due to a hot, humid Houston day.  Buffy – bored.

Step 1 – Make sure your dog has proper eye glasses.

If you’ve ever been in this situation, let me offer a piece of advice: Teach your dog a new word.  Dogs need mental stimulation as much as they need physical stimulation.  It’s a win/win: your pooch will be happy that you bust their boredom AND they will actually be physically tired once you’ve finished playing teacher.  The word you choose does not need to be a command (example: sit, down, etc) or it could be an object…or a location…or a person.  Get creative!  (And think how impressive your pup will be at your next party.)

I guarantee (yes, GUARANTEE!) that this process will be easier than you think.  (Warning – Your first session will be PAINFULLY slow, but hang in there!)  Remember, ALL breeds of dogs will enjoy this easy exercise.  Vocabulary lessons aren’t just for labs.

Follow these 5 SUPER EASY steps to school your pooch:

(1) Choose your new vocab word carefully – Make sure the new word doesn’t sound like any commands your pup already knows.  If you are working on objects that can be retrieved, make sure your dog is comfortable with the object, and it won’t be painful to carry in his or her mouth.  Keep the words short and easy to understand. (ex. ball, rope, pen)

(2) Listen to your own voiceThe number one mistake of people training their dog is to repeat the word/command until the dog complies (which could make the word sound like a longer, more complicated, completely different word!)  Say the word once, and say it the same each time.  By changing our tone and inflection, we humans can easily confuse dogs without even realizing it.  “Give me FIVE!” “GIVE me five.” and “GIVE ME FIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” all sound like different commands.  Say it once, and then wait (even if it’s a full minute) until your dog obeys and you can praise him.

(3) Remember past lessons – Dogs speak no English…. seriously, it’s easy to forget.  If your dog doesn’t know “come”, he or she might not even show up to class!  If your pooch doesn’t know “sit”, that should be lesson #1.  In fact, I start each of my sessions with a few “sits” and “downs” – commands that I know my dog knows like the back of her paw.  This gets her from crazy co-ed to studious pupil.

(4) Get in the mood – Cesar Milan calls it a “calm submissive state.”  Whatever you call it, be aware of your dog’s mood before you begin your lesson.  If your dog is all worked up because the mailman just passed, it is not a good idea to try to use a vocabulary lesson as a distraction.  Also be aware that your mood matters too.  If you just remembered you forgot to pick up the dry cleaning you HAD to have for tomorrow and are stressing about it, your dog will pick up on your anxiety.  (Oh, and plus, you are much more likely to get frustrated with your poor pooch.)

(5) Be Patient – This is definitely the most important advice.  I know, I know…you are thinking “Duh!  I know I have to be patient.”  Think about however much patience you think you need.  Now multiple it by 10.  That’s really how much you need.  When I get frustrated, I try to put myself in their paws.  What if I went to China and someone was trying to teach me Chinese?  How quickly could I  hope to recognize, understand, and remember a handful of words?

If you can follow these 5 easy (I mean, really, they are SUPER easy) pointers, your pup’s IQ will raise in no time.  With short sessions on a (fairly) regular basis, my own dog knows everything from “kiss” to “bring me the remote.”

…and we didn’t even leave the house!

Training 101 – Repeat Repeat Repeat

I’ve never tried to learn Japanese, but I can imagine how hard it is.  Spanish is so similar to English – even those of us whose study of the language ended in high school Spanish II can usually at least get the drift of what Spanish speakers are saying.  But Japanese!  You are dealing with different  inflections, grammatical structure, and sounds!  This is what makes training your pup so difficult.  Not because your puppy speaks Japanese, but because you two are speaking entirely different languages. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to learn, it is that she literally has NO CLUE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING! 

I care for a dog….let’s call him Buddy…who has some major aggression problems.  Buddy’s mom loves him dearly, but she refuses to train him or correct any of his bad behavior.  (This has resulted in Buddy biting and drawing blood on more than one occasion.)  I consider myself pretty fearless when it comes to those on four legs, but this guy is big and has been known to get me a bit rattled.  His mom prefers him to be walked with a harness, but of course Buddy HATES having his paws/legs touched.  He likes me well enough, so usually he is pretty tolerant of me gently lifting his paws.  Usually.  One morning, when Buddy was in a particularly cranky mood (yes, dogs can have bad days too) he tried to bite my face when I lifted his paw.  (I say “tried to bite” but I don’t believe he was actually aiming to take my nose off.  He absolutely could have…but he didn’t.  I believe this was his way of putting me in my place by trying to scare the bejesus out of me…aka a “correction bite.”)  (P.S. It worked!  I had the bejesus scared out of me!!)  Of course, walking Buddy every day is part of my job, so I couldn’t let a little thing like teeth to the face scare me away. 

I came up with a plan.  I would say and do the EXACT same thing before every walk.  EXACTLY the same thing.  I would stand by the door, instruct Buddy to sit (this included waiting until he did…no matter how long it took!), slip the harness over his head, and say “paw” when I was going to touch his paw and lift it into the harness.  By going through these steps every day, in the exact same order, Buddy knew exactly what was going to happen.  Better yet – he knew that nothing bad was going to happen to him.  Wouldn’t you know…after only a few days of “sticking to the script” Buddy lifted his paw every time I said “paw.”  By simply repeating the EXACT same thing, he learned what to do all on his own. 

I have done this same thing to increase my own pup’s vocabulary.  I don’t actively try to teach her words, but if I pick up something, I will say what it is.  The key to this is NOT to include the word in a sentence.  Just say the word.  For example – to teach her what the TV remote was, I simply said “remote.”  I did not (at least not in the beginning) say “Bring me the remote.” or “This is a remote.”  I did not sometimes say “tv remote” and sometimes “remote control.”  I just said “remote.”  It didn’t take long before she caught on.  Now, when I sit down to watch tv and the remote is out of arm’s reach, I simply say “Bring me the remote.” (she is already familiar with “bring me the ___”) I don’t even have to get up!  She’ll bring it right too me. 

This is why so many people have trouble training their pooches.  To your furbaby, “sit” and “sit down” are completely different things.  If you teach your dog “down” (as in laying down on the ground) you cannot also say “down” as a command to get off the furniture.  It seems like such a basic thing, but listen to yourself next time you are training or instructing your dog to do something.  Also, make sure that everyone taking to your dog is using the same vocabulary.  If your dog is jumping up to get his paws on the counter – are you saying “down” while your wife is saying “off.”  If so, your dog either (1) thinks you two are nuts or (2) will never learn what the heck you are trying to say.

Training and vocabulary work are great ways to keep your dogs mind sharp and to intensify the bond between you two.  Make it a point to work on new objects every week.  In an amazingly short amount of time, it will be like you are both speaking Japanese! Your pup will be happy….and you’ll never have to get up to get the TV remote again!