A day in the life with Mia the American Bully (Bully Pit) puppy. Mia's fourth week—10 weeks old, 14 pounds, 11 inches from the ground to the highest point of the shoulders (the withers).
10 weeks old (2 1/2 months)
I've been using a tasty treat to lure Mia out the door and to the potty spot, trying to teach her to walk to the door when she has to go to the bathroom. Even with all of the times we have gotten her out the door with a treat, when she has to go to the bathroom, she just starts crying wherever she happens to be standing. The human has to grab the treat bag and shake the bag or wave a treat in front of her to coax her to walk the walk. She takes off following you wherever you go if she knows you have food. If you go out the door, so does she. If you do not do this quickly she will just pee or poop right where she is standing. The concept of where she needs to walk when she feels the urge to potty is not sinking into her bully head. It's as if when you are using a treat her brain is focused on "food, food, food, I'm gonna get me some of that. Follow the food" and she's not thinking about where she's going. She knows where she's going, but her brain is concentrating on getting the food. It's all about the food instead of being all about the sensation of having to go to the bathroom. The lesson of feeling relieved of her urge is missing. She is not relating going outside with potty. She is relating eating with potty.
Instead of using a treat I started snapping the leash on her and using a verbal praise reward to get her moving. At first, getting her out the door proved to be challenging. I had to take time to stop her from wanting to run in the other direction. When I didn't have a leash handy I had to body block her from running the other direction, but it's getting easier as she realizes all I want is for her to walk out the door to the potty spot. Without using food, I have to get her to think about what it is I actually want. Whereas with the food she moved without having to think; instead she followed her nose. It was the lack of thinking that blocked her from fully understanding.
At night when she woke up having to potty, instead of sticking a treat under her nose to get her out, I put the leash on her and sweet-talked her in order to coax her. Mia just lay back down. The connection was not being made. With the food it was "food, food, I get food when I have to potty." Instead of "I have to potty. Walk to the door so I can make the uncomfortable feeling go away."
To get her out of her crate after she lay back down I snapped the leash on her. I had to physically stand her up on her feet to get her out of the sleeping position. I then used the bully stick inside her crate to get her to take the first step and then put the stick on top of the crate and used praise from there. She walked out of the crate and tried to run to my desk rather than outside. The treat bag was on my desk. Yep, to her, having to pee meant food, even though I also kept treats in my pocket. Since she had the leash on, I was able to stop her from going in the wrong direction. Once we reached the door, something clicked in her brain and she realized where we were going. I tapped the ground to get her to jump off the step and we headed to the potty spot. I bent down while we were in motion and unsnapped the leash so she would be free to potty. She peed, and this time, instead of running to me for a treat, she paused and then went off to poop. Not only was using food making the entire ordeal's focus about eating instead of relieving herself, but it was causing her to not finish. She would pee and then run to me for the treat and then walk to the door to go back inside. She still had to poop, but she had not done it because she wanted food. "Pee, FOOD!! Yay me!" Rather than "Pee, that feels better. Maybe I should poop too so my belly feels better, too. Yay me!"
When she was finished pooping, she happily walked to the door with her tail wagging. I bent down for some snorting puppy kisses. Yes, she snorts when she gives kisses. I think I forgot to mention that. It had been 1:00 a.m. and Mia slept the rest of the night without yipping until morning.
I'm going to try this new approach for a while and see if she starts making the connection of having to go to the bathroom and relieving the feeling by going outside to get it done. I want to also see if she starts to finish relieving herself before coming in rather than what we were doing, which was out for pee, getting a treat, come inside, yip because she still had to poop, going back outside, pooping for a treat and coming back inside. She was not finishing. She would often still have to poop and/or she did not fully empty her bladder. Her brain wanted the treat. Of course, since I cannot feel her bowel or bladder sensation I never knew that she wasn’t fully finished. I would often have to repeat the process of taking her out more than once before she was finished relieving herself. We will see if this approach helps her understand what the main goal is.
Housebreaking—New Approach Next Night
At 1:20 a.m., I woke up to a yip. Did I really hear it or was it a dream? Should I wait and see if I hear another? No, get up and get her to walk outside, was the conversation I had in my head.
When I reached Mia's crate she was sitting down looking at me. I picked up the leash which was sitting on top of the crate and opened the crate door. As soon as Mia saw me in my coat holding the leash she curled into a ball and plopped back down. "You want me to walk out to the cold place? Never mind. I'll just go back to sleep."
Oh no you don't, you sweet little baby. You’re going outside to potty. "Mia, do you have to weewee? Wanna go outside?" She was all curled up in a ball, ready to go back to sleep. I reached under her belly and stood her up on all fours. I spent time coaxing her out. Mia had to walk the walk and not be dragged out. Dragging would not teach her what I wanted. It would only draw out her instinct to resist. When we finally made it to the front door the cold air hit her and she backed up. I stood there holding the leash with one foot outside the door. "Come on Mia, Mimi. Come on, girl."
Just as I was thinking about how I could convince her to take that step out the door, Spencer got up and walked outside. "Hey, Spencer! Wait for me!" And off Mia went. She jumped off the step as she tried to keep up with Spencer, who was heading out to do his own business. I had a hard time bending down while she was in motion to unsnap the leash, but I managed. Spencer trotted off to the middle of the snowy yard and Mia to her straw-covered potty area where she proceeded to pee and poop, and it was a lot of poop. Then she headed back to the house. Before I opened the door to let her inside, I bent down for some snorting puppy kisses. "Good girl, Mia. Good girl." I snapped the leash back on her to steer her to her crate. I waved her bully stick in front of her nose and tossed it into the crate. Mia followed the smell, walked into the crate and curled up to go back to sleep. I walked out to the porch to get some firewood and by that time Spencer was back. Goodnight, puppies.
Mia did not get up again until morning.
Housebreaking—New Approach Next Day
It was only yesterday I decided to stop using food to housebreak Mia. Three days ago she would just pee where she stood, even if it was on a toy with no warning.
Today she was napping on her dog bed and she got up and walked to the front door.
I opened it and she trotted out into the 18° F weather and into the bushes and peed.
She then headed across the driveway to the fire pit and pooped. All without me saying a word to her and with no leash. It seems the food reward was indeed blocking her understanding. Three days ago it was all about eating. Today it was all about realizing the solution to the uncomfortable feeling of having to go to the bathroom and paying attention to just where she needs to go to get that done. With the food not even watching the big dogs was making it click into her brain. As soon as I took the food away, I opened her mind to using her brain to focus on pottying instead of her nose. Food kept her thoughts on only the food and how to get more. She would pee and want food, rarely ever fully relieving herself. Now she seems to be spending more time going to the bathroom instead of trying to eat. Her concentration is spent on going potty. My fingers are crossed that this behavior continues.
Housebreaking—New Approach Day Two—Later the Same Day
While pee on the floor does not seem like progress, I saw great progress in the way this all went down. It was only the next day after we decided to train her without food. We had just gotten back from a walk and Mia had gone straight from the van to her dog bed. She was sleeping when I decided to go prepare her dinner. While I was doing that, Mia walked out into the kitchen and was hanging out. I should have taken her out as soon as she got up. But my brain didn't think of it. Duh on me. She walked into the dining room and squatted in the same spot Spencer used to have accidents. I had spent the last two days showing Mia what to do when she had to potty and now was my chance to teach her what not to do without changing the thoughts in her brain from potty to food. She could now learn this without a distraction. "Hey, no!!!" Mia stood up and stopped peeing. "Come on Mia, outside. Mimi, come on, girl." Mia followed me leash free and without using food as a lure from the dining room to the front door. She walked out the door and straight to her potty area, where she finished her business. "Good girl, Mia." Her level of understanding and her willingness to walk out the door to her potty spot was significant. "Oh, those humans do not want me to pee in that spot." There was an understanding that was not there before. We shall see what tomorrow brings. She is only 10 weeks old, so this is not the last of the accidents, but I feel she is on her way to fully understanding the concept. The picture was taken after she had finished outside. I already told her the act of peeing in that spot was not what I wanted, so there was no harm in having her sit there. After all, the pee was not being punished. I do not want her to be afraid of pee; I just want her to understand that I do not want her to put it there. To her, these are two totally different things. A person who yells at a dog after the fact is telling the dog the pee is bad, but the dog still pees because no one told him the act of putting it there was bad. So the dog still pees and as soon as it sees the pee it gets upset. The poor dog does not relate that he put it there and that was the true problem. The humans assume since the dog looks guilty he gets it and is just being hard headed or stupid. As a result of this miscommunication between many owners and their dogs, there are a lot of confused dogs out there. The human is speaking human to a canine and assuming the dog gets it. This is why humans need to learn how to speak dog.
Sara was calling Mia out the door to potty one last time before bed. Mia followed her up until she saw the door open and felt the cold air hit her. Mia turned to run the other direction. Little did she know I was right behind her. I stepped in her path blocking her. Oh no you don't. Out you go. Sara patted the ground to get her attention. "Oh shoot. I can't get away. Guess I'll go out." Mia jumped down off the single step leading from the house to the porch and walked off to potty.
Housebreaking—Waking up at Night
Mia just about slept through the night. She woke up at 4:40 a.m.; she usually gets up around 5:00 a.m. I took her out and she peed and pooped. I am happy to report she is still finishing her business without the food distraction. She then ran back inside the house thinking it was playtime. Oh no, little Mia. If the morning hour starts with a 4, it is not time to get up. Back in your crate you go with a bully stick. There has to be a limit to your early-bird ways.
The next night Mia slept through the night from 10:00 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.
Housebreaking—Third Day No Food Training
Sara was sitting on the couch. Mia was in her dog bed. Mia got up and walked to the front door. Sara walked over and opened the door. Mia went outside. She walked over to her potty spot and peed, then walked back to the door to come back inside. Good girl, Mia!
Housebreaking—New Approach Success
I do not want to jinx myself by posting too soon, but Mia has not pottied inside the house since I caught her in the dining room the day after we stopped using food to train her. I can see an understanding in her that was not there before. She has been walking to the door, asking to go out. She will happily trot out to her potty spot. She knows when she is finished going and she whines at the door, the door opens and she can get back to the warm place and out of the cold. Going outside does not mean she has to stay out. She gets it all done and she comes back in. She has been sleeping through the night, only getting up once if she does get up at all. This is because when she goes out she is not distracted with a reward for pottying. Her mind is on her business and she gets it all done. Her reward is relieving herself. She is only 10 weeks old and I have a hard time believing this is the last of the accidents inside based on her age. Her bladder is not fully developed and if we slack off on opening that door she just might go elsewhere out of necessity. If the humans can pay attention and keep on it, it just may be possible. Let’s just keep our fingers crossed we do not get another blizzard.
Deciding to Potty
It was a frigid 19° F outside. I was headed toward the house. Following behind me was Spencer and a little ways behind him was Mia. I had turned around to make sure Mia was still following. I saw the gears spinning in her head. As she passed her potty area she turned and looked at it, then looked back at Spencer. She was still trotting forward on her way to the warm house. She looked over at the potty area, back at Spencer, potty area, Spencer.... Then she made a hard right into the potty area where she peed, then pooped and raced to the front door. Once inside, she ran to the same wood burning stove that had bit her in the nose the first day they met. She and the big strange thing had come to some sort of agreement. She lets it stay so long as she can keep warm in front of it.
Mia chose to stay in the cold just a little longer to make that uncomfortable feeling go away. Good choice, Mia. Good girl.
Mia laid down in front of the TV and started watching the movie Escape Plan with Sylvester Stallone. The old tube TVs were hard on a dog's eyes. The dog would see a flicker with the picture. The new flat screen TVs do not have this issue. The dog can see the picture on the screen clearly.
Mia does not even think about trying to eat her brothers’ food during meal time anymore. I place Bruno and Spencer's dishes down and tell them to wait. I then walk over to Mia's bowl, which is still on the counter. Mia no longer waits really close to the other dogs. She gives them some space. She comes running when I reach for her bowl. She sits down at her feeding spot and quietly waits. Good girl, Mia.
Not even Kung Fu kitty tempted Mia to cross the boundary we set of not going into the family room. And believe me, she wanted to see the cat. She wagged her tail with her head low. "Hey Kung Fu, what are you doing in there?" Good girl, Mia.
Big Brother Mentor
Mia was hanging out with Bruno by the fireplace. It had been a while since she was out to potty. I got her leash and snapped it on. "Come on, Mimi." Mia didn't want to get up. She resisted the leash. "MiMiMi, come, Mia. Let's go outside." I tried coaxing her. Nope, she resisted. Suddenly Bruno stood up. He took three steps toward me and stopped to turn back to Mia as if to say "Come on, kid. The human says it's time to go outside." Mia suddenly perked up and trotted off toward the door with Bruno. They went right out the door and I unsnapped the leash as she was walking. Mia pooped and peed. Thank you again, Bruno.
In case anyone is wondering, we don't call Mia "Puppy" because we never stopped calling Spencer "Puppy."
The nicknames are:
Mia - Mimi
Spencer - Puppy
Bruno - Boon Boon, Bubba
A Pile of Puppies
There are three dog beds, yet they all pile into one.
Big Brother Harassment
Mia is sweet, cuddly, affectionate, spunky, comical, curious, playful, loving and smart as a whip. She is one of those dogs that makes you laugh just watching her. If you say her name she will perk her ears and cock her head at you. If you pick her up she will lick your neck while making a snorting sound.
She loves her big brothers, always wanting to sleep close to them.
She has especially taking a liking to Bruno.
Mia is, on the other hand, also determined and stubborn. She is a wild woman in the morning with extra energy. Thank goodness for the toys so we can redirect her playfulness to a toy rather than the older dogs. She has a bit of a space-respect issue where she gets in the other dogs’ faces, biting on their skin and collars during times when they are not wishing to play. If we do not stop her, she will follow them around, pushing her way to their faces constantly and relentlessly chewing on them. She's a high-energy, natural-born leader and she can get rather pushy if not stopped. If she has her mind set on something, you have to be more determined in your own mind than she is to convince her to stop. She will give up, but not as easily as any other dog I have owned. Luckily, Mia lives with a house full of calm, strong-willed humans who consistently stick to the rules. As patient as her big brothers are, it would be cruel to allow her to harass them. The more we keep her in line and demand respect from her, the more her brothers accept and play with her. Sometimes Spencer will be trying to sleep or will be playing with her and have enough, wanting to rest. When he is trying to sleep we stop her right away as soon as we notice. When he is playing and has had enough, the tone in his play will change and I will know he's telling her he is done. She will bark at him and lunge back and forth, back and forth, not wanting to stop. When I step in and back her off of him, Spencer will look at me with what appears to be a smile on his face and wag his tail as if to say, "Thanks for having my back. That kid is too much sometimes."
Sometimes bringing Mia down a few notches will prompt the dogs to play for real. When Spencer has had enough of her relentless, sassy pushiness we back her down from harassing him. Mia will give in and stop. Spencer's attitude will sometimes change from wanting to sleep to OK, fine I'll play. For example, Spencer was sleeping at the fireplace. Mia ran over and pounced on him. He was annoyed and groaned at her. I stopped Mia. A few minutes later, she tried it again and I was right on it with a “big mamma bear, leave my Spencer alone” attitude. This time Mia sat down next to him as if to say, "OK fine, I'll stop." Spencer looked up at me and wagged his tail. "Yeah, Spencer, I know, she's a pain in the butt sometimes." Spencer will then sometimes get up and start to play with her for real, with Mia's play being more respectful. Both the older dog and the human told her to pipe down. It is as if he does not like her attitude when she is all wound up in an “I can do as I want” mode, but as soon as she says, “sorry I'll be good now,” he rewards her with play. If you ever want to know how Mia is feeling, just watch Spencer. Mia is one of those dogs that, with a meek owner, would take over the home.
Mia! Stop chewing on the plant! That leaf was not there a second ago. You just pulled that leaf off. Give me that and go play with your toys instead!
Mia walked to the door to be let outside. Good girl, Mia. I looked out the window. Uh oh, she got distracted along the way to her potty spot and picked something up in her mouth. I walked outside. Mia, what is that? Oh great. A wing to some unfortunate victim of the cats. Give me that!
While out on a walk Mia suddenly pulled off to the side. Hey little pup, what do you think you're doing? Another bird? Oh no you don't! Let's go!
Bruno and Spencer: "Are we there yet? Oh, I think we are!"
Mia: "Where are we?"
Building Confidence—The Stairs
We brought Mia up to a house in the mountains that has a flight of steps leading up to the main level. We all walked into the house and up the steps wondering if Mia would bravely follow the three humans and two dogs. However, she just sat at the bottom of the steps and cried. And it was a pitiful cry. Her pack had gone somewhere she didn't think she could follow. Poor little Mia.
I could have simply carried her up, but I wanted to use this time as a lesson on climbing stairs and a confidence builder. I tried calling her with praise. She almost came but no, she was not confident enough. Sara got the treat bag and we waved a sweet potato wrapped in chicken in front of her nose. FOOD!! She slowly started following the food as I moved it up the steps. I was behind her, in case she slipped, with my arm reached over her head. Mia followed the smell all the way to the top where I slid it across the floor away from the top step and let her eat it. Good girl, Mia. I knew you could do it.
I did the same thing for the steps leading to the backyard. I let her walk out the door to the landing herself with only verbal praise. When she got to the end of the landing, I used a piece of orange to lure her down the steps. I stopped using treats for the actual housebreaking because I want her to think hard about what she is doing. However, this time I didn't want her to think. I wanted her to follow her nose and not give the steps much thought. Just go forward, steps are no big deal. Just be careful. Smell the food. Think about the food. I held the treat low so she would keep her eyes on her footing and not just the food. I moved slowly to help her not fall.
When Mia reached the ground she walked off to pee and poop.
She ran around with Spencer for a while.
I was on the top of the landing watching her in the yard. When Mia wanted to go back inside the warm house she went under the steps and cried. "I'm cold. How do I get inside?"
I walked down to the front of the steps where she could see me. "Baby-Mi. You silly girl. This way."
Something clicked in her brain. "Oh, I have to go around to the front! Here I come!"
I lured Mia back up the steps with another orange. Good girl.
I took the time to show Mia how to get out the door without food. I didn't use food to show her the door because I wanted her to be thinking about where we were going rather than eating. Follow your brain, not your nose. Then I used food to help her get down the steps without over thinking it. I didn't want her to think about the steps. Just follow your nose. It paid off. Even in the new house, she later walked on her own to the door when she had to go. I opened the door and she walked down the steps and out to the yard and peed and pooped.
Mia is learning in the early morning the older dogs want to sleep. She can play with her toys or she can calmly sleep with her brothers but she cannot jump or bite on them or she will be sent away. These are important pack manners that she needs to learn in order to fit in and be fully accepted by all.