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30-Day Challenge: Teach Your Dog These 5 House Rules

New dog, new digs, no sweat.

by Ayelet Berger, CPDT-KA
March 27, 2021
woman gives small black dog treat for sitting

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

Considering just how many 30-day challenges exist to test people, it’s safe to assume that self-imposed deadlines help us meet our #goals. So why not apply that theory to training your new dog? It may feel as though it goes against every fiber of your being to order around a wide-eyed pup, but if you don’t set boundaries, you can bet they will push them. Read on for five house rules you can teach your new pet in their first month home. No pressure, though. Every dog is different, and yours might need more time to hit their milestones.

1. The crate is their happy place

To crate or not to crate is a question that many a new dog owner ponders. Try to see it more as a cozy den than a panic room. If your dog is a rescue, it likely found refuge in a compact, sheltered space on the streets and a crate will have a similar vibe. The point is, you want your dog to love their crate, and there are a few ways to make that happen. From day one, randomly toss treats and toys into the crate and watch as your pup goes fishing for them. Do the same with bones and food-stuffed toys to encourage them to stay awhile. In time, they will associate the crate with good things.

Secondly, dogs thrive on routine. Schedule crate time so it’s predictable for your pup. Even if you plan on phasing out the crate once your dog is housebroken, it can’t hurt to make them comfortable in there overnight, when you’re out, and when you just need some downtime. This is for your dog’s safety as much as it is for your stuff — teething puppies and untrained dogs can chew and choke on objects when you’re not around to supervise. And you’d probably prefer not to wake to pee puddles that a meandering dog left you while you were sleeping.

Exception to the rule: dogs that struggle with confinement anxiety should not be crated. Barking and whining for a few minutes is to be expected, but if your dog howls implacably or tries to escape by scratching, digging, or biting at the wire bars, try an alternative like a puppy pen or baby gate. If all else fails, seek out a professional behaviorist. 

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2. They must sit up and take notice

Sitting is the first command your pup should master as it is the bedrock of basic dog obedience training and lays the groundwork for stay, down, and other commands. Hover a treat up above your pup and move it backwards, over its head. As soon as your dog’s butt hits the floor, give them a treat and say, “Good sit!” In fact, encourage extracurricular sitting; keep treats on your person at all times and every time your dog casually plops down, pay up. Once your dog catches on, up the ante and ask them to sit when it’s time to eat, go for a walk, and at traffic lights.

3. When they gotta go, they gotta go outside

Accidents happen. An adult, housebroken dog can still suffer a setback or two while acclimating to their new home. To avoid slip ups, set up and stick to a potty schedule. For dogs under one year old, take them out first thing in the morning, again every few hours (after meals, lapping up water, waking up from a nap...okay, a lot), then right before bed. Even if you have a fenced-in yard, keep your pup on a leash so they grasp that it’s potty time, not playtime. And seek out the same spot because dogs are associative learners and will take the cue that it’s time to pee. Finally, when your dog gets it and ‘goes’ celebrate the breakthrough with a hearty “Good dog!” and keep the treats comin’.

4. Flex their brain and brawn

Sure, your dog is adorable, and their good looks will never get old. But just like us bipeds, both physical and cognitive exercise is integral to a dog’s wellbeing. You could be an Olympic-level dog walker but without mental stimulation, your pup will get bored and rebel. Don’t stress: you don’t need to tutor your dog on quantum theory. They boast 50 times more olfactory sensors than we do, so letting them to stop and sniff things on walks is the simplest way to keep their synapses firing. In the split second you’re eyeing the dosa truck across the street, your dog has caught up on all the neighborhood dog gossip — courtesy of the trusty fire hydrant.

For canine wunderkinds, like many Border Collies, signing up for agility classes (or DIY-ing an agility course at home) can be adrenalizing. Rainy day? Brain games for the win. Hide treats inside interactive toys and puzzles, compelling your pup to problem-solve to find them. They will feel like you do after you finish The Sunday Times Crossword — well, except for the need for a celebratory Bloody Mary.

5. You’ll BRB

Just like being attached at the hip to a new partner can sow the seeds of codependency, spending 24/7 with your dog can lead to separation anxiety. As much as it pains your pup (read: you) start by leaving them alone to take out the trash or grab the mail, gradually increasing your absences by longer increments of time. It can be jarring for puppies in particular to transition from living with littermates to being a solo pet, but baby steps will shore up their independence.

If you are concerned that your dog suffers from separation anxiety, seek out a professional behaviorist.

Ayelet Berger, CPDT-KA

Ayelet Berger, Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge-Assessed, Family Paws and Fear Free Certified Dog Trainer, is the founder of Sabra Dog Training and a training advocate on Dogly.