Meeting Your Puppys Needs

Puppies under twelve weeks are a lot like human babies. Their daily existence is motivated by five basic needs: to eat, drink, sleep, go to the bathroom, and play. The degree to which they bond with you is directly determined by your capacity to meet each need and provide an environment as stress free as possible.

Yelling at or trying to discipline a puppy is as silly as yelling at a baby for knocking over a glass. All you create is a sense of fear and confusion. In fact, the bond you are trying to form—a bond of trust and direction—will be broken because the very person your puppy needs to turn to when he is frightened is the one frightening him.

Although there are many similarities between puppies and children, including their instinct to communicate their needs as they arise, there is a significant difference. When a baby has a need, he or she cries. It is then the parent's responsibility to interpret that cry and take care of the need. The parent doing so forms trust. Puppies, on the other hand, don't cry—they nip and get fidgety. If your puppy needs to poop or is tired, for example, that feeling will confuse him, and in reaction to that confusion, he will nip whomever he is attached to: namely you. Interestingly, this is a good sign: if your puppy is nipping you, it shows that he loves you and wants your help in figuring out his system. Instead of reacting to the nipping with frustration, think about which of his needs might be pressing. Try to meet that need by taking him out or putting him in his crate or quiet area to nap.

As babies grow, they are taught words so that they can communicate each need: "I have to go potty," "I'm hungry," even just "water." These words are all primitive, yet recognizable, ways a developing child can get her needs met without crying. Although your dog can't talk, you can teach him the meaning of short words or phrases to correspond to specific routines. Within a month, your puppy will simply go to the door and ring a bell to go outside, or stand by the water bowl or put himself to rest, instead of nipping you.

An easy way to organize and address your puppy's needs is to create a needs chart. You will use three columns: the first specifies each need, the second identifies a specific word, and the third gives you a routine to follow consistently so that your puppy will know how to signal his needs as they arise. Show your chart to everyone in your household—consistency and repetition create understanding and cooperation.

I Needs Chart 1

Need

Word

Routine

Eat

HUNGRY

Schedule feeding times. Place the bowl in the same spot and encourage SIT before feeding.

Drink

WATER

Keep the bowl in the same spot. Encourage SIT.

Bathroom

OUTSIDE/PAPERS and GET BUSY

Follow the same route to the same spot. Use a bell to encourage a signal. Restrict attention until he goes.

Rest

ON YOUR MAT or TIME FOR BED

Designate one spot in each shared room. Take puppy to a mat/bed, provide a chew, and secure him if necessary.

Play

BONE, BALL, or TOY and GO PLAY!

Establish a play area inside and out. Make sure that all four paws are on the floor before you toss a toy or give a treat.

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