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Question
Our cockerspaniel is almost a year old and we have an artificial Christmas tree.  He's been peeing on it. Is there anything I can do to stop it.  He isn't fully housebroken yet, we've had him a month and still needs to be watched.  We don't have any presents under the tree yet.  How can I get him to not chew or pee on the presents?

Answer
This sounds like marking, which is a different problem than housebreaking.  Neuter him if not already.  The key to most behavior problems is approaching things using the dog's natural instincts.  Dogs see all the people and dogs in the household as a pack with each having their own rank in the pack and a top dog.  Life is much easier if the 2 legged pack members outrank the 4 legged ones.  You can learn to play the role of top dog by reading some books or going to a good obedience class. A good obedience class or book is about you being top dog, not about rewarding standard commands with a treat. Start at http://www.dogsbestfriend.com/  For more on being top dog, see http://www.dogbreedinfo.com./topdogrules.htm

When you are around you need to keep a close eye on the dog.  Use closed doors or gates to keep it in the same room as you are, and perhaps as I do, a short chain fastened to the computer desk.  If you catch it in the act, give it a sharp ''Ah, ah, ah!'' and take it out.  When you can't watch it, crate it.

Leave it some toys.  Perhaps a Kong filled with peanut butter.  Don't leave
anything in the crate the dog might chew up.  It will do fine without even any
bedding.  You will come home to a safe dog and a house you can enjoy.

A dog that has not been crated since it was little, may take some work.
Start out just putting its toys and treats in the crate.  Praise it for going
in.  Feed it in the crate.  This is also an easy way to maintain order at
feeding time for more than one dog.

Housebreaking starts before you get home with the new puppy. If you don't have
a crate, buy one. I prefer the more enclosed, den like plastic ones. Skip the
bedding. At first it gets wet, and later it can be chewed into choking
hazards. A wire grid in the bottom will help keep the puppy up out of
accidents at first. They are available with the crates, but expensive and hard to find. A piece of closely spaced wire closet shelving from a home supply place is cheaper. I am now using a plastic vegetable bin with plenty of holes drilled in the bottom. It helps block off part of the crate for the smaller puppy. If you already have a metal crate, covering it may help. Just make sure you use something the puppy can't pull in and chew. Dogs that start out in crates as little puppies, accept them very well. Never leave an unattended puppy loose in the house. If nobody can watch it, put it in the crate. I suggest letting the dog have its crate all its life. A crate needs to be just big enough for a dog to stretch out in.

Choose a command and spot you want it to use. The less accessible to strays,
the less chance of serious disease. If it is a female, choosing a non grassy spot will avoid brown spots later. When you bring it home, take it to the spot and give it the command in a firm, but friendly voice. Keep repeating the command and let the puppy sniff around. If it does anything, praise it. Really let it know what a good dog it is and how much you love it, and maybe a treat. Note, being out there not only means you can praise it, but it also keeps it from being snatched by a hawk. If it doesn't go, take it inside and give it a drink and any meals scheduled. A young puppy will need to go out immediately afterward. Go to the spot and follow the above routine. Praising it if it goes is extremely important. If it doesn't go, take it back inside and put it in its crate and try again soon. Do not let it loose in the house until it does go.

At first it is your responsibility to know and take the puppy out when it
needs to go. It needs to go out the first thing in the morning, after eating,
drinking, and sleeping. If it quits playing, and starts running around
sniffing, it is looking for a place to go. Take it out quickly. You will just
have to be what I call puppy broke until it is a little older. How successful you are depends on how attentive you are.

By the time most dogs are about 3 months old, they have figured out that if
they go to the door and stand, you will let them out. The praise slowly shifts
to going to the door. Some people hang a bell there for the dog to paw. If
your dog doesn't figure this out, try praising it and putting it out if it
even gets near the door. When you catch it in the act, give it a sharp ''Ah, ah, ah!'' and take it out. Clean up accidents promptly. I mostly keep the little
puppies out of the carpeted rooms. Still I need the can of carpet foam
sometimes. First blot up all the urine you can with a dry towel. Keep moving
it and stepping on it until a fresh area stays dry. A couple big putty knives
work well on bowel movements. Just slide one under it while holding it with
the other. This gets it up with a minimum of pushing it down into the carpet.
This works with even relatively soft ones, vomit, dirt from over turned house
plants, or anything else from solids to thick liquids. Finish up with a good
shot of carpet foam. Note, do not let the puppy lick up the carpet foam.
Once the dog is reliably housebroken, your carpet may need a good steam cleaning.

Many people strongly strongly push cleaning up all evidence of past accidents. I am slower to suggest that. Dogs will return to the same spot if they can find it. When you see one sniffing the spot, that is your clue to run it out.

The above can be applied to older dogs too. Biggest difference is the longer time after eating or drinking before they are ready to relieve themselves. If a dog has been living where it could keep its living space clean, it should quickly catch on. The important part will be teaching it that if it goes to the door, you will let it out. It will be much more difficult if the dog was forced to live in its filth. You will need to learn to read the dog and learn its schedule, and when it needs to go out. Keep it in sight, closing doors and setting up gates. Some people even leash the dog to themselves. I have used a tie down at my computer desk.

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I can help you with your new dog. I am experienced in, and trained in techniques the average person can make work with dogs, especially puppies. I strongly believe in obedience training and the need to give your dog proper leadership. I have been raising a new puppy every year since 1991. I know housebreaking and protecting the puppy and the house from each other. I can explain the the feeding regimen you can easily follow to give your dog the same long, active life life as highly valuable dog guides. I try to give answers you can make work. The mark of a real expert is knowing the limits of his knowledge. I will not try to answer questions on breed standards, AKC registration, etc. PLEASE DON'T SEND ME MEDICAL OR BREEDING QUESTIONS. An internet forum is not the appropriate place for them. Even if I could tell what was wrong from a handful of symptoms, you would still need to get the medications from your local vet. Breeding should be left to those not needing to ask simple, basic questions. Books have been written about it. Rather than ask me a question, start reading. Those unwilling to do the work it takes to produce quality puppies should spay/neuter their pets at 6 months. I will not answer questions that sound like a poorly prepared breeder.

Experience

Like many, I grew up around dogs, but never realized how much I had to learn before my family started socializing puppies for a large dog guide school. The school shares their experience from thousands of dogs with the people they entrust to raise their puppies. Their recommendations on training, feeding, and care come from a large, well documented program. After it is a year old, they X-ray every one of the hundreds of dogs they breed every year. I continue to attend monthly training sessions with trained volunteers and professional staff. I share experiences with others doing the same. The school must have sturdy, healthy, well behaved dogs, that will have a long, active life. If that is what you want too, I can help you. In addition I have done extensive reading, and the 4 years my daughter was in 4-H were a real learning experience for Dad too. That exposed me to more breeds than the Labs, Shepherds, and Goldens in the dog guide program.

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