Puppy Training: The Real Experience

A brown and white puppy sitting on a deck

McLean, a bundle of cute puppy evil

By Katie Meyer

One month ago, I adopted an eight week old puppy who I named McLean after my hometown in Virginia (No, every dude we run into, not after the Die Hard character). I will never forget the day I drove up into the mountains to meet the litter and pick out my new best friend.

I am absolutely terrified of driving in the mountains, so after swerving for 12 miles on switch-backing dirt roads, I arrived white-knuckled and winded, but elated, at the puppies’ foster home. When I walked in and saw mama and her eight puppies I cried.

I literally had never been so excited. But how was I to choose? I wanted them all! McLean was the first puppy to come up to me and was also the first to pass out after horsing around for the hour and a half I spent with the litter. Go big and then take a nap? That’s my guy!

A brown and white puppy kisses his owner.

McLean kisses his mom.

I brought McLean home and immediately Skyped my family back in Virginia so they could meet my handsome new fella. He was so very calm and sweet, giving me kisses and snuggling up in my lap to sleep. That first day was bliss.

And then we went to bed.

At eight weeks old, McLean was obviously not house-trained. After doing a lot of research, I decided that crate-training was the way to go. Everything that I read indicated that it is an effective tool in house-training that also provides a safe, den-like space that dogs enjoy and are drawn to. That whole first day, we worked on making the crate a positive thing. Every time he approached it, went inside it, looked at it…he got a treat. Best thing ever! Until I closed the crate door and turned the lights off. McLean did not see it as a den…to him, the crate was more like hell.

My sweet little eight-week old puppy began to produce blood-curdling noises, the likes of which I have never heard. He WAILED for six hours that night. Not just tears…he literally was flailing himself about, barking and howling, and punching the air. I knew from my research on puppy training that I was to ignore said behavior so that he would learn that blood-curdling noises would not get me to open the door. It has been exactly one month since I’ve had more than four hours of consecutive sleep.

The wailing stopped after three nights, but that doesn’t mean he sleeps the 8 hours that my body desires. For however many months the puppy is in age…that’s how long he can “hold it.” So, at two months, my buddy could go a solid two hours before needing to eliminate again. At 12 weeks old now McLean lets me know, every morning between 3:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., that it’s high time to go outside. Leash that cutie up…it’s time to go out into the dark!

A reflection of a brown and white puppy hanging out the car window.The good news is the crate absolutely works as a house-training tool. McLean has not once had an accident while inside the crate. But step outside the crate and all bets are off. If he’s not in the crate, my eyes have to be on him at all times or he will pee and poop in my apartment. And yes, he will eat said poop if I’m not quick enough. It’s nice that he wants to clean up after himself, but his help is unnecessary.

The best way to keep control of the situation, I have found, is with baby gates. My apartment looks a bit like a nursery–covered in stuffed animals, squeaky toys, and baby gates, but these things are necessary. When he is not in the crate, it is PLAY TIME ALL THE TIME, MOM.

He is only 3 months old, so play time isn’t always the most fun time for me. He’s incredibly mouthy and loves to chew anything and everything that he can get his mouth around–humans included. Distraction is key, which is why I started working on some basic commands in the home. While he struggles in making great decisions on his own, he is very smart and eager to please. He has mastered “sit”, “down”, “come”, “watch me”, “touch”, and “crate” in a few short weeks. Whenever he gets worked up or mouthy during play time or is doing anything that is undesirable, I simply ask for a behavior and redirect his thought process. Good boy!

No way did I learn how to obtain those behaviors on my own. We are enrolled in puppy obedience classes and he just finished his second class this week! Not only have the classes taught me how to handle my own puppy, but McLean has also been given a safe place to learn how to socialize. The trainer we’re working with (Noble Beast Dog Training) offers free puppy socialization to any pup up to five months. While I have been trying to expose McLean to as many new people and situations as possible, the puppy parties give him a chance to learn how to properly play with other canines. He is on his way to becoming an awesome dog.

A brown and white puppy with his head in the dishwasher.

About to get in trouble.

It takes a lot of time and patience to be McLean’s mom. He bites me, scratches me, eats my shoes, poops in my kitchen, keeps the hours of a nocturnal, and has no qualms about spending all my money on puppy training, vet visits, toys, food, leashes, harnesses, and yes, four baby gates.

He has also completely stolen my heart. I love introducing him to everyone we come in contact with. With his dashing good looks, we rarely walk a half a block without someone stopping to say hello to him. He’s so very friendly and sweet and I am so very proud to introduce him and show off his mad skills. Sit. Treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

I’m exhausted, but I’ve never been happier.

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