"Is that a Labrador?" This is the most common question I get, when I'm out with my new puppy Zippy. He is in fact a Foxhound/Trailhound cross which is a rather unusual choice for a pet dog.
I got Zippy back in November 2021 and he is now five months old. I was looking for a dog to canicross with and a fellow runner recommended I look at a litter of hounds. I was actually hoping for a rescue dog but with two cats and two young children, I'd had zero success with rescue centres.
So for the past three months my family and I have been living in the chaotic world of puppydom, complete novices, trying to find our way.
Zippy came to us at 12 weeks and had not been house trained. This was a little bit late as most puppies leave their mums around eight to ten weeks.
Straight away we got into the habit of taking him outside after he ate, played, slept or basically did anything. This meant going into the garden every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day and excitedly saying "wee wee". Every time he relieved himself (number one or number two) we would give him a treat.
I was expecting him to catch onto this pretty quick since he seemed to be able to wee on demand outside. Unfortunately he continued to regularly wee inside for another six weeks, although we were lucky that there weren't too many indoor poo accidents.
Having a decent stain and odour remover was vital especially since most of our downstairs is carpeted. On an average day Zippy would have around five wees in the living room or hall.
It wasn't really until Christmas that we cracked the house training. We visited my parents in Wales and I was so paranoid about Zippy messing in their pristine home that I insisted he sat on his bed whenever he was inside and I did not let him wander around.
Since dogs don't tend to wee on their beds (unless at night, more on that below), this helped Zippy to get used to holding his bladder. We had five days of no accidents and since returning home there has only been the odd one.
We still treat Zippy about 50 per cent of the time that he wees/poos outside to continue reinforcing this positive behaviour but we just use his normal kibble rather than anything special now.
Crate training has been slightly more hit and miss. We felt it was really important to get him used to this space so he couldn't harm himself chewing wires or swallowing household items when we were not around. Much like you would put a baby in a cot for a nap or sleep, it's a good idea to put a puppy in a crate.
During the day Zippy is happy to go in and out of his crate as long as the door is left open. In the beginning we fed him in there and made it a cosy space with a dark blanket over the top and put his bed and toys inside.
A good trick is to play a game with food which gradually gets them used to going in and out of the crate without worrying that they will be shut inside. Whenever Zippy is apprehensive about going into the crate I play this game and then leave the door open and walk away. Invariably he wanders into the crate a few seconds later and settles down for a nap.
I have the crate in a separate room to my office which means Zippy has adjusted to being on his own. At random periods in the day I shut the crate whilst he is in there to enable him to get used to it and learn that I will come back. Gradually I have built up the time he spends shut in the crate and gone out of the house for five minutes, then 10, 20, 30 and so on. He can whine for a few minutes but then settles down and usually starts eating the non rawhide chew or Kong full of frozen banana that I have left him.
A dog trainer advised us to make the crate smaller by blocking part of it with cardboard. This meant there was only space for Zippy's bed and in theory he would not wee on this. In theory.
In reality Zippy protest wees on his bed. Over Christmas he slept in the same room as us in his crate, due to a lack of space where we were staying. Content that he was close to us, he was quiet and held his bladder for eight hours, five days on the trot. But back home and in a separate room, he started weeing in his bed every night again and waking every few hours to howl and whine.
As a big, strong puppy he was also able to escape his original second-hand crate by using brute force to push the door open. We upgraded it for a more solid Salvic Residence crate which also doubles up as our car crate. So far the Houndini has not been able to find a way out.
Zippy has been with us for two months now. In many ways he is the perfect dog. He doesn't bark or bite, he is gentle and friendly, and during the day he is very chilled. But we still haven't cracked the sleeping at night. Right now he sleeps in the crate in the spare room, next to our bedroom. He usually wakes two or three times during the night and I call "shush" and "bed" from the next room which settles him.
Originally he was downstairs but he howled all night and even with regular trips outside to the loo he would not settle. I had a few nights on the sofa before realising I needed a different approach. I put the crate next to the bed in the spare room for a week and slept there. Then I ventured back into my own bed, leaving the doors open.
The next stage is to get him into the hall, then the downstairs hall and eventually back into the living room. But we are not there yet.
Every dog is different and some have no problem sleeping on their own at night. We just have to remember that we have made progress. Zippy no longer howls at night and when he does whine it is more of a whimper and is short-lived.
We thought he would never get the hang of house training and then suddenly he did. So we will keep reassuring him and eventually we will all sleep soundly again.