Wednesday, August 8, 2012

6-8 Weeks: Crating, Housebreaking, and Play-Biting

Margot is 8 weeks-old today!  I can’t believe how quickly the last two weeks have flown by and how much she’s already grown!  I’ve never adopted a puppy as young as Margot before.  I estimate that each of my other girls were probably close to a year-old when I adopted them, give or take a few months.  I really didn’t think that raising a 6 week-old puppy would be that different from raising Jocie, Sam, or Lexie, but I’m learning that there is definitely a little bit of extra work involved.   Here’s what we’ve accomplished so far:

As far as crate-training and housebreaking go, Margot has done so well that I’ve declared she is a Puppy Genius to several of my friends and family.  For the first two nights, Justin and I slept on our futon mattress in the living room in front of Margot’s crate, and I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. to take her outside (puppy bladders can only “hold it” for 2-3 hours).   Margot completely surprised us by how well she did and, I kid you not, by the third night our little 6 week-old puppy was completely crate-trained!   

I also consider Margot to be a Puppy Genius in the housebreaking department, although she is not yet fully housebroken.  She is able to hold it for several hours while she’s in her crate, she has learned that the purpose of going into the back yard is to use the bathroom, and she will use the bathroom almost every single time we take her out, which is quite often.  However, she will still occasionally have an accident in the house if we’re not watching her carefully because she hasn’t yet figured out that she needs to tell us when she has to use the bathroom, although I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how few accidents she’s had.

Last night, I had Margot over at my brother, Zach, and his girlfriend, Kristy’s, apartment, and I noticed she was starting to sniff around a little.  Then, to my surprise, Margot actually walked into the kitchen and towards their back door.  I immediately asked, “Margot, you gotta go pee?” and then praised her BIG TIME when she took another step towards the door.  Hopefully that was an indication that she’s beginning to understand that if she communicates her needs, we will respond appropriately.  

Our biggest challenge with Margot, so far, has been with play-biting.  For starters, I’ve learned that, even though Margot and her siblings were able to eat hard puppy food and were mostly weaned from their mother, many experts still consider 6 weeks of age to be too young for a puppy to be adopted.   Many articles say that it’s important for the puppy to stay with her litter and her mother for a full 8 weeks.  If the puppy is adopted before 8 weeks, she hasn’t experienced enough discipline in terms of play-biting or establishing dominance from her mother or her other siblings.  For example, as the mother weans her litter, she teaches the puppies that “no means no” and establishes herself as their leader by growling and/or walking away from them when they try to latch.  (We actually saw Margot’s mother doing this to her litter the day we adopted Margot.) Also, when a puppy wrestles and plays with a sibling, she learns that if her sibling yelps and stops playing with her, she’s bitten him/her too hard. 

However, because we brought Margot home before she had a chance to fully learn those lessons, she basically viewed me, Justin, and others as simply other members of her litter.  As a result, there has been a lot of play-biting and, while I know that this is typical playful puppy behavior, I’ve explained to Justin and all our friends that it is very important we discourage Margot from biting at all times.  It is also very important that we establish ourselves as her leader right from the start if we want her to become a well-behaved, obedient Doberman.

It turns out that this is much easier said than done, especially at such a young age, but I’ve been trying to combine a few techniques I’ve heard about online and from my friends.  First, I try to correct Margot’s behavior when she play-bites by telling her “No! No bite!” and then I redirect her attention to one of her toys.  If that doesn’t work and she bites me again, I immediately give a high-pitched yelp, but without pulling away (immediately pulling your hand away makes your puppy think you want to keep playing).  Then, I give her a VERY sad look right in her eyes and say, “OOOowwww!  Margot hurt me,” and then I slowly turn my back to her and pretend to cry.  It’s all very melodramatic and quite hilarious, but I think it’s actually starting to work.    She will usually just sit there and look confused for a second while I “cry”, but then she will eventually try to cuddle up next to me.   If she does this and remains calm for several seconds, I then gently pet her and say, “Good girl, Margot.  No bite.  Good girl.” 

Of course, a lot of times after I’ve “made up” with Margot, she will immediately try to play-bite me again, which can be frustrating to say the least.  However, I knew going into this that training a puppy requires TONS of patience, perseverance, and consistency, so I just simply repeat the whole routine if she bites me again.  If she does it a third time, however, I don’t just turn my back to her, I actually stand up and walk away for a little while in order to really get the message across that biting = no more playtime. 

As I said, we’ve been trying this method for two weeks now without seeing much improvement, but last night I thought I saw some signs that Margot is finally starting to “get it” because I didn’t have to repeat the corrections as many times before she stopped biting.  I’m not trying to kid myself, though.  Margot may be a Puppy Genius, but she is still only 8 weeks-old, and I’d be a fool to expect her to completely stop biting and chewing anytime soon.  After all, I’m pretty sure she’s not even teething yet.

Overall, though, I’m pretty proud of Justin and myself for our puppy-parenting thus far.   I think we’re doing a pretty good job of establishing our role as the “pack leaders,” as well as laying the ground rules for what is and is not considered to be acceptable behavior.   It can be difficult, though, because right now it feels like all we do is tell Margot “No!” when all we really want to do is just cuddle and love on her, but I know from my experience with raising Lexie that all of this discipline will pay off in spades in the long run.  In the meantime, despite our occasional frustration and exhaustion, Justin and I are definitely enjoying Margot’s crazy puppy antics, because we also know the day will soon come when we will actually say that we miss her rambunctious puppy phase. 

1 comment:

  1. She's a white goblin! Lexie was a green goblin, Margot is a white goblin!