Tips From a Trainer for Bringing Home a New Puppy or Adult Dog

By Hailey Castagnozzi (Tacoma, WA)

Whether you’re bringing home an adult dog or a puppy, there are a few things as a trainer I consider essential to beginning life with your new family member successfully. 


KENNEL or CRATE training–

Too much freedom, while it is something that many pet owners think will make their dog happy, is actually quite overwhelming for your new family member, and can cause more problems than it’s worth. Dogs do not need access to all parts of the house, at all times. You will find that keeping them in a kennel at night, and while you are gone, will eliminate many potty training issues, chewing problems, troubling settling down, and other self rewarding behaviors. This will also ensure that they don't learn other bad behaviors while you are away such as chasing other pets, barking at the door or window, or counter surfing. When dogs are free in the home, I tend to recommend keeping a flat collar on and a full length leash on for a while, so you can guide the dog or correct behaviors that are not okay, without having to use touch to do so. For many dogs, getting your attention and touch is enough reinforcement to continue a behavior, even if you think you are correcting it. For puppies or dogs who do not understand the boundaries of the home yet, I recommend closing doors to rooms, adding baby gates, or simply having a wire play pen area, even when they are out of the kennel. 


To help dogs develop confidence and the ability to settle without you, it is important to set up times where you are home, but they are crated or in their pen and cannot follow each time. It is equally important to make sure you begin leaving your dog alone at home for a few hours at a time, especially if raising a puppy or training a new dog. Unlimited access to you (a form of affection) will mean that the dog may develop separation anxiety, see you as a resource it controls, or end up not caring about your presence when you need or want them to (like walks, or an accidental escape from the yard or home). You ARE a resource to your dog, but you can control how your dog views that, and use that knowledge to help shape a well behaved family member. I personally do not like to leave puppies under three months in a crate for more than three hours at a time, puppies under six months for more than four hours, and adult dogs for more than four to six if necessary, during the day. 


POTTY area– 

To best help your dog understand where to eliminate, take them out each time they exit their crate, on a leash, to the area you want them to potty in, or to the area they chose when first coming home, if you have no preference. When they use the bathroom, say “potty”, and praise them kindly, giving them a treat or your affection as a reward. This will teach them the word “potty” over time, creating a cue to eliminate quickly, and on leash. It will also let them differentiate between elimination time, and play/free time outside alone or with you. For puppies, this is especially important to stick to until they can eliminate on cue. Young puppies cannot hold their bladder for too long, particularly after eating or drinking. With younger puppies under three months, try to take them out a half hour after eating or drinking. To help them begin to go throughout the night without having an accident, take away food and water two hours before bedtime. They do not need access to food all day, or water all night while they are still developing bladder control. Water is offered with meals, after exercise, or after being crated. Once a dog can hold their bladder for at least eight hours, you can offer free access to water. Keep in mind smaller dogs do have smaller bladders– A helpful option for potty training and helping a dog learn to signal at the door is to keep a fake grass patch in a plastic tray near your door for your puppy or dog. This reinforces going to the door to eliminate, and gives them one place in the home they can use without correction.


Do not ever correct your dog for pottying in your home unless you catch them IN THE ACT. A stern “no'' and clapping your hands usually does the trick to stop the behavior as it’s occurring. You will then immediately take them outside to finish pottying, praising heavily if they do so. They cannot connect a correction for pottying after they have finished, and will have no idea what the yelling is for– this can seriously damage the relationship between you and your dog! If you correct in the moment, and do not reinforce good pottying habits, or follow through with what you DO want, you may create a dog that does not want to eliminate with you nearby, or eliminate at all. Dogs may even resort to eating their poop, and refusing to potty for up to days on end when they have been corrected harshly for pottying in the home, but not given reinforcement for doing so outside. Remember that puppies in particular are always learning, and do not know any alternatives to the things they choose, so do your best to help them learn the thing you intended to teach them, instead of that they simply have to hide their eliminations or other destructive behaviors from you.



In my training program, and for my personal dogs, hand feeding is one of the key components to our relationship. Hand feeding allows you to reinforce wanted behaviors throughout the day, whether they are implied things or cued. Remember, puppies know nothing– make sure you reward them for calm behavior, for pausing at doors, for looking at the mailman, for engaging with you, for looking at things they seem unsure of or are simply new, for ignoring distractions, for going into their kennel, for pottying outside, or for leaving items like shoes and other pets alone. If I have any leftover food, or simply had a busy day, I use the entire meal to reward a simple behavior or two, or use puzzles, enrichment feeders (like the Snoop, Kong Wobbler, or Kong Gyro), or do a treat scatter in the grass outside. Sniffing and foraging are very important to a dog’s mental health. Sniffing, chewing, ripping, digging, hunting, etc., are all outlets a dog needs to have in order to be fulfilled. When a dog does not have an outlet given to them, they will find other ways to relieve that instinct. I like to “enrichment feed” at least three times a week! Another wonderful option is to soak kibble or simply buy wet food, and stuff it into a Kong, freezing for at least two hours before giving it to your pup. I call these “pupsicles”! 



Did you know puppies need naps, too? One of the main reasons for overstimulated behaviors (biting at clothing, nuisance barking) is being overtired! If your puppy exhibits these behaviors, try putting them in their crate for a nap. It may be helpful to cover the crate with a blanket, to eliminate visual sight of you, the temptation to look at and speak to your dog as it is barking in it’s crate, and to create a cave like environment a dog naturally wants to den in. Training is essentially happening all the time, as a dog is constantly learning from his or her environment. So don’t wait to begin teaching your puppy behaviors that you want! 

Hailey Castagnozzi 
Dog Trainer for Koru K9
IG: @consciousk9pnw



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