You’ve decided to adopt a puppy. Congratulations! Puppies are wonderful additions to your home. They are an endless source of entertainment . . . that is when they aren’t making you crazy. If your prior dog lived a good long life, chances are pretty good that dog’s puppy behavior has long receded into the fog of distant memories. No wonder so many new puppy owners are taken aback when their puppy is mouthing and nipping, relentlessly jumping on them, barking, chewing, and struggling with house training. So herein, we offer our view on Normal Puppy Behavior and the best options for dealing with those Annoying, Vexing, Exasperating, and Maddening behaviors.
#1: Mouthing and Nipping
Dogs don’t have the benefit of hands with opposable thumbs to pick up things and examine them. Her mouth is how she explores the world. So everything goes into her mouth. She quickly learns, too, that human hands are awesome things. They pick up puppies, they pet puppies, they comfort tired and scared puppies, and they feed hungry puppies. Human hands are where it’s at. So there’s a natural attraction to human hands. And clothing. And hair. And anything else that comes within reach of that puppy mouth. Your puppy is not being aggressive or “dominant.” That’s just your puppy trying to get your attention or figure stuff out. We offer several training and management solutions, but whatever you do, please don’t hit your pup with your hands. The last thing you want is a puppy who is afraid of hands.
- Keep your puppy on a schedule. Puppies need lots of sleep. If your puppy becomes over-tired, she will start grabbing everyone and everything with her mouth. Time for nap in her crate!
- People are not toys! Don’t let family members rough-house with your pup with their hands. How is the puppy to understand that sometimes it’s OK to grab hands and sometimes it isn’t? Put a toy between you and your puppy’s mouth. Have a toy or chew to substitute if your pup begins to get a little too grabby.
- Institute a “Zero Tolerance Policy” for teeth on skin. If your puppy grabs any part of your body, immediately get up and walk away, out of the puppy’s reach. Soon she will come to understand that the fun always ends when she puts teeth on people.
Behavior Modification Solutions:
- Occasionally we do encounter puppies who are intolerant of handling and respond with a growl or a snap when handled or restrained in certain ways. This is very different from “exploratory” mouthing and grabbing, and you should consult a qualified, positive methods trainer immediately to begin counter conditioning work to help your pup learn bite inhibition and to tolerate, and even appreciate, handling.
#2: Jumping on People
This is usually a complaint when the pup reaches five months of age and older. When they are small, people think it is cute that the puppy is asking for attention or excited that you are home. But at some point it becomes problematic. You know your pup is principally seeking attention when jumping on you or visitors, but you still want it to stop. Jumping on people is the one behavior that is most resistant to change that we encounter, because it gets reinforced in a variety of ways. Put aside advice you get from others that tells you to knee the dog or yell at them if they jump. Believe it or not, your puppy interprets all that as attention — “See? You’re looking at me, talking to me and touching me! This jumping up really gets your attention!” To end the jumping-on-people-behavior, everyone must be on the same page and be consistent in not giving in to the jumping behavior. If you can’t count on visitors to follow your direction, then use management options when people come to visit.
- Tether your pup on a leash or put a baby gate between your pup and the main entry way of your home. If your puppy can’t practice jumping on people when they enter the home, you will have a lot less trouble training your puppy not to jump on people. Besides, isn’t there always someone who says, “Oh, it’s alright! I love puppies!” and proceeds to encourage the dog to jump on them? This strategy helps inhibit both the puppy’s inclination to jump, as well as the visitor’s inclination to reward it!
- Keep treats out of your hands when training your pup. If she sees a treat in play, she may jump on you to see if she can get it. Keep treats in pouches, pockets or on a table until you are ready to reward.
- Make Sit a default behavior. If your puppy learns that the best way to ask for attention, food, play and all the other fun stuff in your home is to sit down in front of you, then you won’t have a jumping problem. After all, a backside on the floor is incompatible with jumping on people. This sets your pup up for success and gives you a behavior you can reward, rather than a behavior to punish.
- Teach your puppy what Off means. In our glossary, Off means four feet on the floor. If your pup jumps on you, tell her Off, wait till she has four feet back on the floor and then click and treat. As your puppy comes to understand that cue, begin using it BEFORE she jumps on you. You know that warning sign — she wiggles with excitement to have your attention right before she jumps. Use Off when you see the wiggle. If she chooses not to jump, click and treat. If she still jumps and then gets down, offer praise, but keep the treat in your pocket.
#3: House Soiling and House Training
The age of your pup when she comes home with you, as well as the environment in which she was living prior to your home will have a lot of bearing on how much of a challenge house training will be. Of course everyone knows someone whose pup was reliable on house training in a week or two, but that is just not typical. Very young puppies will likely have to eliminate every hour initially. As she grows and learns the appropriate spot for elimination (your choice of outdoors, potty pads or litter box), she will develop some control over her bowel and bladder. We always advise keeping a log of your dog’s eliminations to ensure you are seeing patterns and changes to patterns. If your pup is eliminating more frequently than hourly, have her checked for a urinary tract infection (UTI). It is not uncommon even for young puppies to contract a UTI. A quick test by your veterinarian will tell you if that is the problem and get your puppy on medication, if necessary.
- Crate train your puppy. We can’t emphasize this enough. A crate is not cruel (so long as it is used in moderation) and it gives you a great option to facilitate house training. Use a wire crate that comes with a partition that you can move as your puppy grows. Initially, give your puppy enough room so she can lay down, stand up, and turn around with ease. You don’t want to give her enough room that she can eliminate in one spot in the crate and then go lay down in another area of the crate.
- Crate your pup when you can’t supervise her. Not only does this hold true for house training, but you’ll find she engages in less destructive chewing if you are supervising her, or crating her when you can’t.
- Download the Housetraining Schedule form from our Doggone Helpful page on coldnosecompanions.com. Log all of her eliminations so you can identify her patterns and exceptions to them.
- Clean up all eliminations with an enzymatic cleaner such as Simple Solution or Nature’s Miracle. However, be aware that both of these brands have introduced a variety of products in their line and not all have enzymes. Look at the list of ingredients for the words “enzymes” or “beneficial bacteria” to be sure you are getting the product that will actually destroy any residual organic matter from a potty accident.
- Have a treat to reward your puppy on the spot where she is training to eliminate. Let her completely finish; don’t talk to her or offer the treat before she has emptied her bladder or bowel, or she will be more likely to have an accident in the house soon after. If you are training your dog to potty outside, go out with her. This way, you know for sure she has pottied and you deliver the treat in the area you want to reinforce. Don’t wait until you come back in the house, because that is rewarding her for coming in the house — not pottying outside.
- Teach your dog to give a signal and watch for any semblance of that signal. You can train her to ring a bell next to the door, or to bark, or to go to the door and sit. All of these are great signals, but you have to pay attention and take her out as soon as she gives the signal. If she doesn’t potty outside within five minutes, bring her in, crate her and try again in 10 to 15 minutes.
Because your puppy is exploring her new world by putting everything in her mouth, she will likely find some of those things interesting to chew on. These items can be acceptable things, such as chews or toys. Or, they can be furniture, kids’ toys, cabinets, socks, shoes, or a host of other things you don’t want her chewing on. Your puppy will be teething between four and six months of age, and the chewing will be at its peak during that time. Of course, you don’t want your puppy to damage your belongings, and some things can present a health hazard to your pup. While there are training options, as noted below, management is usually the first line of defense against destructive chewing.
- Restrict your puppy to a “puppy-proofed” area of the house. Laundry rooms or kitchens that have been cleaned and chemicals stored high are usually good places to start, as they have hard surfaces and few chewable surfaces.
- Keep all objects of value, or that could be potentially hazardous if consumed, up and away from the puppy’s reach. Children may have to get used to picking up toys, socks, shoes, etc. Remember that puppies don’t know how to distinguish puppy toys from children’s toys.
- Teach your puppy a Leave It and a Drop It. In our glossary, Leave It is before she has control of a forbidden object (including body parts!) and Drop It is after it is in her mouth. Leave It is only used for contraband — things she just is not allowed to have. Drop It is for anything she has in her mouth that you want her to surrender.
Barking is, like chewing, a very normal canine behavior. But it can get out of control. The first thing to do is determine what the motivation is for the barking. Don’t leap to aversive measures to stop the barking, such as shock or citronella collars. If the barking is anxiety based, the aversive will increase anxiety and really compound your problems. And most barking can be reduced without the use of aversives. However, realize that some breeds of dogs were bred to bark — Beagles, for one. Beagles bark when on a hunt so the hunter can keep track of their location. So barking actually is self-reinforcing because of the breeding that instilled that trait in Beagles. If you adopt a dog bred to bark, you’ll have a lot harder time reducing the amount of barking your dog engages in. The solutions below address barking that is motivated by boredom, reactivity to triggers, and insistence on something of value (your attention, treats, etc.).
- If your puppy is reacting to people, dogs, and critters outside a window by barking, restrict her access to that window, or cover the portion she can see out of with waxed paper or translucent window film. You get the light, but your puppy can’t see what is going on outside.
- If your puppy is barking out of boredom, give her something better to do: play a game with her or feed her a meal out of a treat-dispensing toy.
- If your puppy is barking at you to insist you give her your attention or treats or some other thing of value, that barking must become an instant “off switch” for your attention. As soon as she starts barking at you, turn your head away or walk away. She only gets your attention or other goodies when she is sitting quietly at your feet. If you are consistent and the loss of your attention is immediate, your pup will get the message pretty quickly. Avoid looking at and talking to your pup while she’s “bossy barking” or you will be reinforcing the barking.
- If your puppy is barking to be let out of her crate, wait it out! Do not let her out of her crate when she’s fussing or she will decide that fussing is her ticket out of the crate and she’ll just keep it up for longer and longer periods of time. Be sure she is quiet for a minute or two before letting her out of the crate. The exception to this, of course, is overnight when you are house training and you think she needs to go potty in the middle of the night. However, you will want to wean her off this dependency as she gets older and gains more control over her bladder and bowel.
Behavior Modification Solutions:
- Occasionally, a puppy may be barking in her crate while you are away because she has separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a very specific behavioral disorder with a wide range of degrees of severity. Not all fussing in a crate when you leave is separation anxiety. If you believe your puppy suffers from separation anxiety, get some video of your pup in the crate while you are absent and call a qualified positive methods trainer to assist you with behavior modification.
Your puppy is an amazing creature who is always growing, evolving and exploring. She will be a wonderful companion for you and your family for a generation to come. Enjoy the brief time she is truly a puppy. With maturity most of these annoying behaviors will fade, but you will get there faster by working on the behaviors during puppyhood with these suggested solutions. Get proactive and be consistent and you will get relief sooner than later.