Puppy Zones & Spatial Learning

Last week we discussed how we at Habibi Pup Academy (Go Bears!) spend quite a bit of time and effort to train your puppy to be in a state of calm and quiet as their default mode. We do this to build and maintain a training foundation that we can model further more complex sets of behavioral commands, commands like “sit”, “down”, or even “kennel” for puppy to learn and eventually, master.

As your puppy finally arrives to their new home, it is imperative to review and keep up with the standard of behavior learned at Habibi Pup Academy (Go Bears!) for a very important reason: puppies are spatial learners. In scientific terms and according to, spatial learning is “the process through which animals encode information about their environment through space… and location.” In more common terms, spatial learning for dogs means that each location a dog goes to, it needs to relearn, to a certain extent, what behaviors it must conform and perform. Spatial learning allows your puppy to “construct a mental map” of their new location and “perform a new sequence of actions across unknown territory” (Brittanica).  This is crucial to understand why keeping up with puppy’s lessons is of the utmost importance, because a lack of follow through means a puppy who is confused, needy, demanding, and possibly, no longer house trained. In every new space that puppy inhabits, they need to relearn and distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Maybe you have already seen how this works with your own new puppy or remember when your older dog was little. 

I’ll share something I witnessed last week while visiting family and their new 16 week old puppy.

Gracie, a four month old puppy, was adopted by one of my cousin’s after the death of her 13 year old dog a few months ago. On the first day, Gracie was very subdued and shy as she settled into her new inside environment, and did quite well in understanding that she needed to go outside to go potty. She stayed quite close to her crate and bed space, and didn’t venture out at all into the rest of the house. My cousin was so excited and amazed at how quick Gracie was in knowing her boundaries. She was even more excited that Gracie had a whole day with only one accident, in the location where her older dog in her last days, had had an accident. Day Two was similar, but by the time Day Three rolled around, things had changed. 

Too much free access too soon will inevitably result in setbacks.....

In her excitement and amazement of how well and quick Gracie acclimated, my cousin had allowed Gracie to wander freely and roam the house at her leisure, in which Gracie had “baptized” each of the new rooms, resulting in panic, scolding, and lots of paper towels and Nature’s Miracle being whipped out all day long. After each accident, the room was blocked off, but in all honesty, the damage was already done and Gracie was thoroughly confused. Now Gracie’s scent will remain perhaps forever, or at least until Stanley Steemer shows up to clean the carpets. 

It is perhaps one of the most awkward circumstances to see where and how people are setting their pups up for failure. But if someone had asked, here’s what I noticed and what I would have recommended:

  1. Day One-Two: Gracie was unsure of her new surroundings and realized she was the new kid on the block. 
    As such, she was subdued and submissive, kept to herself and only ventured out when coaxed or invited into new areas. 

  2. Day Three and onward: Feeling safe and secure, but without any constraints to her movement or food, Gracie now 
    “claimed” the house as hers, marking over the previous dog’s accident spots with her own scent, from room to room to room,
     whenever she was out of the line of sight, just as she or any other dog would do outside.

My recommendation to avoid this set of unfortunate events, would have been to crate Gracie if she was unsupervised. If supervised, I would have put a leash on Gracie, for her to wear while she walks around in one room, while all other rooms are blocked off, for at least two weeks, maybe more, until she is secure in potty training. She would walk and the leash would drag freely behind her, creating the psychological effect of minding the invisible boundaries while she is wearing it, as well as her place in the pack. I would also have used baby gates to keep parts of the house off limits to Gracie.  Because dogs are spatial learners as we discussed above, we can set them up for success with puppy zones. The establishment of a puppy zone is one of the most effective tools that you can use to help puppy learn the lay of the new land. Baby gates and crates are super duper tools to help teach mastery of each individual potty-free zone until it becomes second nature. 

This is one of the reasons that we recommend the use of a litter box and a designated potty pen when training with your Habibi Bear Puppy. It is the method that we use and what they are used to, making for an easier transition to your forever home. Even when you do use a litter box & potty pen, have patience with your pup if there are a few accidents here and there. Puppy will need to correctly make the correlation between the litter box at Habibi Pup Academy (Go Bears!) and the litter box at your house, as they surely will. For tips and tricks, make sure you consult your New Puppy Handbook! 

Soon your puppy will be top dog and these early days of potty training and clean ups will be a vague memory, and you'll have some amusing stories and anecdotes to share with your family and friends.  

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