December may be the tempting time to get a dog, but April is hands-down the best. The ground is thawing, the trees are turning, and even the most content couch potato is tempted by a walk. And going outside is the essence of housebreaking.

A housebroken dog never does his business inside. From day one, he takes it outside — which means you take it outside. No puppy pads on the kitchen floor. No newspaper in the bathroom. Pads and paper introduce your pup to the hard-to-break habit of going inside: exactly what you don't want.

To properly housebreak, put your pup on a careful and consistent feed-water-walk routine — no buffet-style dining. His digestive system is predictable, which makes housebreaking simple if you're diligent. Take him out immediately after he eats, drinks or has an accident.

Obviously, a yard makes this easier. The person who first said dog is man's best friend actually meant doggie doors. Most dogs get the hang of them quickly.

If you don't have an enclosed yard, your housebreaking mission will lead you outside several times a day, come rain, wind, sleet, snow. ... See what I mean about April?

For the yardless, remember: Parvovirus is spread through contact with fecal matter, and a puppy isn't protected from parvo until he's had the complete series of shots — usually three to four rounds separated by two to three weeks. Until then, your pup should not have any contact with strange dogs or roam in areas where other dogs do their business: dog parks, people parks, puppy classes, doggie day care or free-range kennels.

When bringing home puppy, equipment matters.

You'll need the obvious: leash, collar, ID tags, a few soft chew toys, a blanket, nutritious puppy food and bowls to hold it and some fresh water. The nonsliding food bowl is a great invention, and bigger dogs require a raised food bowl so that they are in the proper position to digest their food. You'll also want a wire crate — wire so he can see out in all directions. And you'd be smart to keep a battery of frozen washcloths in your freezer. These are for teething and will go much further to curb property destruction and painful "nipping" than the word "no" repeated over and over to no avail.

The blanket goes inside the crate for his comfort, and the crate goes next to your bed. This is where he should sleep at night, at least for a while. He needs to be comfortable; he needs to know he's not alone. The crate should never be used as a punishment. It is his safe, warm place, and he will grow to love it. And he should not — for his sake and for that of your love life — be in the bed with you.

When bringing home puppy, preparation matters.

Do your homework. Research training methods, and find one and only one that resonates with you. You'll find books and videos online, in stores and in your local library.

Finally, when bringing home puppy, bonding matters.

This is the time to cuddle and play and get to know one another. This isn't the time to go Stalin, don your Napoleon complex and morph into a "no" monger. Take it easy. Fall in love. It'll make training easier later because your pup will want to please you rather than hide from you.

Woof!


Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.

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