Bringing a new puppy home to the family is such a fun and rewarding experience! Everything your new puppy does is sssooo cute! While it’s very easy to get lost in the bliss of puppy breath and belly rubs, the clock starts ticking from the moment you bring your puppy home.
Why is that?
Puppies are information sponges. Every interaction that your puppy has matters (whether it’s with you, your family members, the other animals in your household, or even inanimate objects).
Your puppy’s early experiences will shape their behavior throughout the rest of their life.
It is a misconception to believe that a puppy will “grow out of” an unacceptable behavior. The important thing to consider is that puppies, and adult dogs, behave in ways that they consider reinforcing or rewarding. As long as they continue to receive reinforcement for the behavior, the puppy will never just “grow out of it”. Remember, a puppy may consider an action rewarding even if you don’t think so!
We’ll discuss some common causes of problem behaviors in puppies, as well as puppy training essentials using positive reinforcement training.
Puppy Chews/Mouths On Everything
Why do puppies like to chew?
This is a natural behavior that you should expect to see in your puppy. There are three main reasons why puppies love to chew:
- Puppies learn about the world through their mouths. Much like toddlers, they love to pick up random things and put them in their mouth or up their nose. A puppy can glean a lot of information by picking up an object with their mouth.
- Teething can be a mildly painful experience for puppies, especially during 4-6 months of age, which is when all of their permanent teeth will start to erupt. Chewing can help soothe the pain, and releases those “feel-good” endorphins!
- Many puppies are “high-energy” - think of Retrievers, Shepherds, Collies, Pointers, Huskies, and other similar types. These are all breeds that were originally bred to do a job, and now are expected to sit quietly at home and be a well-behaved pet. Destructive chewing is an act of frustration - most puppies long to run, jump, and play, but if not given ample opportunity, will expend energy in other ways. In other words, if you don’t find a way to keep your puppy busy, they will find their own way to amuse themself.
What doesn't work?
Punishing the puppy for chewing, especially if it’s long after the fact, won’t solve the problem. When you come home to a mess and scold your puppy, they will have no idea why you’re scolding them, even if they appear to look “guilty.”
Frida (above) is a VERY mouthy and active 6-month old Labrador-mix puppy. If left to her own devices, she will take trash out of the rubbish bin, steal napkins off the counter, or grab your shoe and run off with it!
She needs an outlet for all of that energy - a long lasting chew is a good place to start, but she also needs daily opportunity to run around, sniff things, and fun, short puppy training sessions.
Here is a list of easy, daily enrichment that you should be providing to a high-energy puppy:
- Feed all meals out of puzzle toys, rather than a bowl. The sustained mental effort will help tire your puppy out. We recommend stuffing a Kong (with kibble and canned food or some other mixture), or using a kibble dispensing toy, such as this Starmark Bob-a-Lot™.
- Go on a sniff walk, hide treats or kibble around the house, or toss them out on the grass. But be sure that the grass hasn’t been treated with any pesticides or fertilizer. Letting your puppy “hunt” for their food takes considerable concentration and focus!
- Play with your puppy! Use a fuzzy tug toy with a long handle. Wiggle the toy to make it come alive for your puppy and run off in the opposite direction, inviting your puppy to chase you! Most dogs have a healthy prey drive (think of dogs who like to chase things, from squirrels, birds, kids, and even the vacuum!), and by regularly playing with your puppy, you will exhaust that drive and tire them out for the day.
Puppy Greets People Inappropriately
Why do puppies like to jump on people, grab at clothes, etc?
Puppies, and dogs, love it when their owners pay attention to them! It can become a problem if your puppy doesn’t know how to politely ask for attention. The important thing to understand is that puppies behave in ways that are reinforcing, or rewarding, to them.
If a puppy has a penchant for jumping on people, it’s because they’ve received reinforcement for it in the past. What’s considered “reinforcing”? It’s whatever the puppy likes - usually attention, in the form of physical touch or verbal signals.
This 5-month old Rottweiler puppy absolutely loves his owner! He wanted to put his paws on her but she is using her hands to try and keep the puppy on the ground.
For example, here is a list of common reactions people may have to a puppy jumping on them:
- Pushing the puppy away isn’t always effective, due to “opposition reflex”, which is a dog’s instinct to push against a push. A puppy may find it enjoyable to push back at you, and think it’s a fun game!
- Yelling at or scolding the puppy may not work, often a puppy jumps on a person because they want some attention. By yelling at your puppy, they will learn that they just need to jump at you to get your attention.
- Flailing your arms wildly trying to get away from puppy teeth will only ensure that your puppy will try to grab at your clothing again. If a puppy has already sunk their teeth into your sleeve, don’t try to pull away. The tugging sensation makes a puppy think of prey that’s struggling to get away, and this will become an exciting game for them!
- Whenever you plan on interacting with your puppy, have some tasty dog treats that are easily accessible, preferably in a treat pouch around your waist.
- When you see your puppy running towards you, be prepared. If you see their front paws come off the ground, quickly turn away, fold your arms, and say nothing. Just wait it out. Your puppy may get frustrated, and try to paw at you and jump harder, and it will be tempting to tell them “no” or push them away.
- Stand still and wait until your puppy backs away, tell them, “Yes!” or “Good!” and ask them to sit. As they sit, start rapidly giving them treats (between 5-10 pieces) as long as they remain sitting.
- Back away from your puppy and invite them into your space, and then repeat the exercise. After a few repetitions, instead of asking your puppy to sit, wait quietly until your puppy makes the decision to sit on their own.
- Once that happens, give your puppy a jackpot! Scatter a handful of treats on the ground and praise your puppy for their good behavior. You can eventually phase out the treats and reward your puppy with praise and attention. Be consistent and your puppy will soon learn that sitting politely at your feet is extremely rewarding!
If you have other people living in the household, get all of them to practice this exercise. Puppies aren’t good at generalizing - i.e. just because they are trained to automatically sit for one person, it doesn’t mean that they will do that for every person they encounter, unless you practice many times with a variety of people.
Puppy is Afraid of People, Dogs, and Things in the Environment
Why is my puppy scared?
The most important socialization period of a dog’s life is from 3 to 12 weeks old. During this time period, puppies will easily bond to people or other animals, and will be more accepting of handling from humans, exposure to different objects, and a variety of environments. After 12 weeks old, you may notice your puppy getting startled at strange people, loud objects, or new places.
Socialization is an ongoing process throughout your dog’s life and it’s up to you to support your dog and teach them that daily life occurrences are not scary and that you will protect them. If you adopt an older puppy from a rescue (5 months or older) and don’t know anything about their history, it’ll be even more important to come up with a socialization strategy so that your puppy grows up to be a well-adjusted, confident adult dog.
What is socialization?
It doesn’t mean that your dog needs to be a social butterfly who loves every single person and dog they come into contact with. Socialization is exposing the dog to things that occur in daily life so that they are not afraid when they encounter that thing in the future, it’s learning to be calm and relaxed despite a stimulating environment, and learning how to appropriately respond to social cues from other people and dogs.
In the past, many veterinarians recommended that you keep your puppy in your home until they are completely finished with their puppy vaccines. While it’s certainly a possibility that your puppy could pick up an infectious disease while out in public, it’s important to get your puppy out in the world in a fun and positive way, so that they do not grow up to be fearful adults or develop other behavioral problems.
Many people aren’t really sure what socialization means. A lot of people may mistakenly believe that “socializing” your puppy means taking them to the dog park and letting them figure it out.
This could potentially be a very costly mistake! Even one traumatic interaction with an aggressive dog can cause a lifelong fear of strange dogs, so be very selective with who you let your puppy interact with. Dog parks are no place for a young puppy - there’s no “vetting” process for people who choose to bring their dog to the dog park, and there’s a high probability that there will be pushy or aggressive dogs present with owners who refuse to manage their behavior.
Have a LOT of treats on hand for your puppy! Giving your puppy a primary reinforcer, such as a tasty treat, when they are in proximity to some strange people or dogs will teach your puppy that most strangers are not scary. They will learn to look to you whenever they’re unsure about an unknown person or dog.
Rather than taking your puppy to crowded dog parks, take your puppy to visit areas that aren’t frequented by a lot of dogs.
Hardware, garden supply, and feed stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Bomgaars, are a good way to expose your puppy to to a variety of people. Bring a bag of treats with you and give your puppy a treat when they sit politely to greet a stranger. Be sure that the treats come from YOU. This will help prevent your puppy from viewing random people as being even more rewarding and fun than you are.
Arrange for a puppy play date with trusted friends who have well-behaved dogs who are up to date on their vaccinations or titers.
When you see someone else with a dog off in the distance, you don’t have to drag your puppy over to them to say “hi”. In fact, when you’re at a distance, you can point the other dog out to your puppy and then feed your pup some treats, as long as they are behaving calmly.
Teaching your puppy to ignore strange dogs and focus on you can be a very useful tool. Imagine having a dog who turns a deaf ear to your commands and goes crazy with excitement whenever they see another dog.
Need more support? Click here for an extensive list on things your puppy should be socialized to.
Puppy Doesn't Quite Understand Potty Training
The quickest and most effective way of housetraining your puppy is preventing “accidents” from happening in your house in the first place. The more accidents your puppy has, the harder it will be to achieve 100% housetraining.
How can we prevent accidents? Know your puppy’s schedule.
Puppies will almost always relieve themselves after eating, drinking, playing, or waking up from a nap. The first few days at home, you should expect to quickly carry your puppy outside to relieve themself, rather than calling them outside and waiting for them to follow you (an accident will likely happen within those few steps). If a puppy suddenly walks off and begins sniffing the ground, immediately pick them up and take them outside.
Once you’re outside, tell your puppy to “Go potty”. As soon as your puppy relieves themselves in a desired area, praise them and offer them a treat! When you combine positive reinforcement and errorless learning, they will quickly learn their designated potty area!
Once your puppy goes 7 days without having an accident, you can step up the challenge by asking your puppy to follow you outside, rather than carrying them.
Why does my puppy only have an accident when I'm not home to watch them?
If you’re unable to closely monitor your puppy, confine the puppy in a small area so they do not get used to relieving themself in the house. When a crate is properly sized, your puppy will try to “hold it in” until they have the opportunity to eliminate in a larger area.
This large crate is perfect for containing this 12-week old Silken Windhound puppy for a couple of hours. It’s large enough for the puppy to be comfortable, yet small enough where she wouldn’t want to pee or poop in the same space.
How long can you crate your puppy?
Puppies can hold their urine or feces for one hour for every month of age. So a 3 month old puppy can be expected to hold their bladder for up to 3 hours. If you are going to be gone for a longer period of time, keep your puppy in a larger x-pen or kennel, so that your puppy has a bit more room to move around and you can keep a potty area in the corner. Please do not crate your puppy for longer than 8 hours at a time.
The FreshPatch is one of the best puppy pads out there. It’s made out of hydroponically grown grass, which most closely mimics the surface your puppy would be urinating on when outdoors. The downside of using a traditional plastic puppy pad is that some dogs are unable to discriminate between those puppy pads and similar looking objects, such as newspapers or white towels.
Why does my puppy seem to "forget" their housetraining when it's raining outside?
Think of all of the surfaces you might expect your dog to eliminate on. Grass, dirt, mud, gravel, wet grass, snow, and possibly more. Just because your puppy knows to eliminate on grass, doesn’t mean they will willingly go outside when it’s raining to go potty.
When you first bring your puppy home, you should try to get them to go potty on every type of surface that you would expect them to go on as an adult dog. This is part of socializing your puppy - getting them used to pottying on different surfaces.
You may even have to set it up where you thoroughly drench your lawn with the hose to simulate a rainy day. Puppies that are 12 weeks old and younger will be much more accepting of different potty surfaces than an older puppy or adult.