Teaching a Ten Week Old Bulldog Puppy the Basics

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 24, 2016

Apollo Bulldog Puppy

Apollo is a ten-week-old Bulldog puppy in Hollywood who was adopted two weeks ago. His guardians asked me for help with some puppy basics and an unusual potty training issue.

Apollo had a nice playful energy and showed good curiosity when I arrived for the session. When I sat down with his guardians discuss what they want to do accomplish, I noticed that they petted him every time that he jumped up to stand and lean against on their legs.

While it’s almost instinctive to reach down to pet a cute puppy that jumping up on you, this is a habit that can lead to an unwanted behavior later in life. Essentially, you are rewarding the dog for whatever it is doing whenever you provide it with attention or affection. In this case, Apollo’s guardians were training him that the proper way to ask for attention was to jump up on a human. While Apollo’s guardians may be ok with this, guests and visitors may not feel the same way. But to the dog, the message was ALL humans will pet you when you jump up on them.

Usually I recommend that the guardians give the dog a counter order to sit, then pet it for doing so. But because the little puppy didn’t know any commands yet, I started out with the simplest of them; the sit.

Apollo showed good intelligence in how quickly he picked up the sit. Clearly this little puppy was smart and wanted to please.

But because his guardians had spent the last two weeks petting him every time that he jumped up on them, he continued to do so. Even though the guardians were now aware that this was conditioning him to jump up on them, they still occasionally reached over and patted him when he did jump up on them.

To help with this issue, I showed his guardians how they can redirect the dog when he jumps up on them and place him into a sit using a hand motion.

If Apollo’s guardians condition him to sit in front of them rather than jumping up on them to get attention now, they won’t have to break the dog of this bad habit for the rest of his life.

Apollo’s guardians live in a very nice apartment in Hollywood that featured hard floors with no carpeting except the upstairs. Because Apollo is a short hair dog, it’s natural for him to need a place to lay down that isn’t going to be quite so cold, so I showed his guardians how to condition him to use a blanket as a dog bed.

Due to having accidents, his guardians were trying to keep the dog in a bathroom behind a baby gate. While it’s good to have a confined area for a puppy, for dogs the only real punishment is to be excluded from the group. So keeping the dog in the sequestered room for extended periods of times should be avoided. I suggested that the guardians bring him out of the gated bathroom after he had done his business. This lessens the likelihood of the dog having an accident in most cases.

Before we got into the full potty training portion of the session, I wanted to give his guardians one last tool to help the dog learn to adopt desired actions and behaviors for the rest of his life. I like to call it Petting with a Purpose.

As we were wrapping up the discussion of petting Apollo, One of his guardians was holding the puppy in her lap. The dog’s rear end was facing the other guardian who was sitting on the couch on the opposite side of the room.

The puppy was asleep at the time that the guardian on the couch noticed that his anus seem to be expanding slightly. The guardian was paying attention to this area because the dog pooped in his sleep on multiple occasions. This occurred while he was lying on a blanket as well as if he was in the lap or arms of one of his guardians.

This is a very unusual behavior for a dog to engage in. Typically a dog will get up and move away from where it sleeps or is residing when it wants to defecate. The fact that the puppy did this without waking up or showing any signs of being aware of the situation leads me to believe that some fecal incontinence was going on.

Sometimes puppies will develop fecal incontinence as a result of a poorly done tail docking or a botched spaying or neutering procedure. But because Apollo’s tail had not been docked and he had not been spayed or neutered, this is likely the result of an infection or a genetic defect.

The guardian mentioned that they had taken the dog to the vet when I first discovered this pooping problem and he had prescribed a drug to treat something they found in the dog’s poop after a fecal analysis.

After the session, I spoke with a few vets that I consult with and they suggested that the vet prescribe the dog a round of Metronidazole which should kill any unwanted bacteria and provide an anti-inflammatory agent.

If this drug does not alleviate the problem, it may be indicative of a physical issue that is causing his sphincter to loosen while in his sleep. It’s possible that the dogs sphincter muscles will strengthen as he ages, but this is a very unusual problem to have. But when dealing with unwanted behaviors, a good rule of thumb is to rule out physical or health issues first.

Potty training a puppy can be one of the more stressful things for a new dog guardian to deal with. If you adopt a dog from a reputable breeder generally the pup will usually have mastered some of the potty training basics via its mother and siblings.

But in Apollo’s case, there were a number of things that the guardians told me about the breeder that made me question how experienced and competent they were. They were not allowed to see Apollo’s mother and only one other sibling was present in the location when they picked him up. Additionally the breeder did not give them an opportunity to see the area that Apollo was raised in. These would all provide additional information that would be helpful to Apollo’s guardians.

I spent the next few minutes going over the basics of potty training.

I started out by making sure the guardians understood that old methods like rubbing a dog’s nose in an accident, spanking or yelling at the pup after an accident actually teach the dog to run away to eliminate rather than coming to let the guardians know it needs to go.

The times that a a pup is most likely to need to eliminate; after eating, after heavy playtime and after waking up. I suggested that after anyone of these three things occurred that they take the puppy into the bathroom and sit inside it with him. Also when a dog gets up and races away from its sitting or laying down position, that can sometimes mean the dog needs to poop.

Watching out for unusual behavior or sudden interest in the humans are often a dog’s way of communicating it needs to eliminate. So if the dog come up and starts jumping up, wandering in circles in front of them or barking, its a good idea to take the dog to the designated area.

I usually like to give a puppy five minutes to do their business before I move on. Many people mistakenly think that if they leave their dog in the designated potty area for a lengthy period of time (often hours) that the dog will do its business. Then they are surprised and frustrated when they see the dog eliminate immediately after bringing it inside.

What it comes to puppies, distraction is everywhere. So if you take your dog to the designated elimination area and they don’t go within a couple minutes, removing for them from the area is often a good course of action.

When a dog is crate trained, I usually suggest placing the dog inside of the kennel and waiting 15 to 45 minutes before letting the puppy back out to the eliminate area to give them a chance to do their business again. But in this case, Apollo’s pooping issue made the kennel useless in this regard.

Because he has not had his shots, it’s not a good idea for Apollo’s guardians to take him to a place where other dogs have pooped or defecated; something that is often advisable to help a dog learn that it is time to eliminate.

The last time I potty trained a puppy mill dog, I found that I had the greatest success by taking the dog outside once an hour to go potty, then rewarding him richly when he did.  In Apollo’s case I suggested the guardians place him in the bathroom once every hour and sit in there with him for five minutes. By repeatedly returning to the area that the puppy pads are located in, we increase the odds of the dog eliminating in the right place.

I also suggested that they leave one lump of fresh Apollo poop on the puppy pad in the bathroom. Sometimes leaving this visual and olfactory reminder in the designated location can help remind a dog of the need to eliminate.

Another important factor when it comes to potty training is assigning the word with the act. Most of my clients mistakenly talk to their dog as if it speaks English. “Go and make a potty” they instruct their dog as soon as they get to the designated area.

But puppies don’t speak English. So giving them a command that they don’t recognize is as pointless action.

To link the word with the act, I advised Apollo’s guardians to start repeating the single word “potty” as soon as he started to eliminate. I don’t make a distinction between solid and liquid elimination as dogs generally see them as one and the same.

I repeat the command word in a calm tone and pace of speaking with a one second pause in between each iteration, making an effort to articulate the word consistently each time. Adding baby talk inflection, too loud a delivery or excitement to your voice can lead the dog to become confused.

As soon as the dog finished eliminating, I pulled out a high-value treat and pop it into their mouth within 2 to 3 seconds while simultaneously offering the word “potty.” At that point I spend the next 10 to 15 seconds vigorously petting and rewarding the dog while I also repeat the word potty.

You want the dog to be like “Man these guys get super excited as soon as I potty.” Once you have connected the word with the act, then you can start directing the dog to a specific location and using the word as a command / suggestion.

Because Apollo’s guardians live in an apartment on the third floor, they were using puppy pads. They had spread them all over the floor in the bathroom in the hopes that the quantity of puppy pads would increase the chances of the dog using them.

The method that I prefer is to build a box that is large enough to encase the puppy pad with a little extra area on one side that is only large enough for the dog to sit or lie down in. This way the dog has no choice but to potty on the pad as there are no other options.

The box should not have a roof, just walls that prevent the puppy from escaping. Usually it’s a good idea to have a floor in this potty box to prevent any accidents from seeping into the guardian’s flooring and increase the structural integrity of the box.

When it’s time for the dog to eliminate, I simply place the dog into the box and then wait for it to do its business before I let it out. I make sure that I am nearby and observing the dog during this time so that I can immediately start repeating the command word as soon as I notice the dog starting to eliminate.

Of course it’s not always practical to stand around all day watching your puppy; waiting for it to do its business. To counter this problem I came up with a novel solution; I cheat.

Generally speaking, most dogs pass water that they drink within about 45 minutes. I suggested that Apollo’s guardian start adding 2 to 3 ounces of hot or warm water to his dry kibble when they feed him. If they let the dog food sit in the hot water for 15-30 minutes before they give it to the dog, the kernels will soak up some of the water. Additionally the dog will find it difficult to eat the food until he drinks the water first. Usually i add an ounce or two of additional warm water right before i give it to the puppy.

Once the dog finishes his meal, we know that he’s going to have to eliminate within 45 minutes. I usually put the dog into the designated potty area immediately after a meal as outlined in one of the three situations that a dog is most likely to eliminate. But if after five minutes the dog has not done it’s business, I place it in the box and then remain nearby to observe it.

If the dog starts to whimper a cry for attention, then it’s a good idea to look slightly away and avoid direct eye contact but make sure that you can still observe the dog in the potty box out of the corner of your eye.

I have found that if you can repeat the command word while the dog eliminates every time it goes for about a week, you generally have the problem in hand. If you’re not able to observe the dog for every bowl movement, it generally takes a little bit longer. The dog’s level of intelligence and surrounding distractions also impact the learning curve.

If Apollo’s guardians are able to utilize the box and observe him for the 45 minute period after eating his water soaked food, they should be able to quickly condition the dog to a eliminate on command.

One final piece of advice that I offered the guardians was to start charting when they feed the dog as well as when the dog eliminated solid waste. Dogs generally have a fairly consistent digestive process. If his guardians start feeding him on a regular basis and chart when he makes a solid elimination, they will quickly identify the times when the dog is most likely to need to poop. Once this window of time is identified, then they can either place the dog in the designated elimination area or inside of the box at the appropriate time.

I’m really hoping that the vet medication recommendations that I offered to his guardians help Apollo stop having these solid waste accidents or that as he develops he is able to be aware of the need to eliminate and better control his sphincter muscle. If it is indeed a physical condition, then his guardians will need to work with their current vet or find a specialist to address the problem.

By the end of the session, I was quite pleased to see that Apollo was starting to sit in front of his guardians for attention rather than jumping up on them. His energy level seemed a bit lower and more in control as well.  I was also happy to see the reaction from his guardians as they witnessed him learning how to sit and come on command.

Apollo really has a beautiful energy and is going to make a great dog if his guardians implement the proper rules, boundaries, structure and discipline at this stage in his life. It’s always easier to raise a dog the right way rather than the correct unwanted problems and behaviors down the road. With some time, love, patience and vigilance, Apollo should quickly pick up what his guardians want out of him.

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