How to Avoid Bad Puppy Behavior
If you’re getting a new puppy – or have already brought the adorable little guy or gal home – then chances are you’re wondering what you’ve gotten yourself into. You may be wondering what to expect and what dog behavior problems might arise.
More importantly, you may be planning ahead and learning how to prevent bad puppy behavior problems – great, we’re here to help you on your quest of dog training.
Potential Puppy Behavior Problems
Destructive chewing – Young puppies and dogs need to chew and they will chew. They’ll chew on your furniture. They’ll chew on your shoes. They’ll chew through a leash. They’ll chew on your pillows, your cupboards, your dishes and on and on.
Because chewing is a natural puppy behavior you have to accept it however, you don’t have to accept it when they chew on inappropriate items. Read a technique I teach on how to stop puppies from chewing up the wrong stuff.
A great puppy training tip to develop good behavior is to make sure your puppy has a supervised and controlled environment. Give them a secure space to live and play and plenty of toys and appropriate items to chew on. When you find them chewing on something they’re not supposed to be chewing on, quickly replace it with an appropriate item. This particular puppy behavior is short lived and once their adult teeth have come in, simply providing them with bones and chew toys will give them the outlet they need.
Barking – Barking is a very common puppy behavior particularly amongst certain breeds. This is also a signal that they’re starting to feel attached to their home and are protecting it. It may also be a signal that they need something from you. To curb a dog’s tendency to bark, make sure your puppy is getting enough exercise. Take your dog’s leash and take it on regular walks. Exercise will tire them out and they’ll be less inclined to bark. Also make sure they have plenty of toys and if the barking persists, pull them away from windows so they don’t bark every time someone walks by.
Once your dog learns the command “leave it”, you can also tell it to “leave it” when it barks at something that it shouldn’t. Even if your dog hasn’t barked yet, you can typically tell from physical cues whether or not your dog is showing territorial tendencies (which lead to barking) at any particular moment. The hackles will typically raise and the ears will pull back as your dog tenses up.
Not all barking is aggressive, of course. Some excessive barking can be a sign of a hyperactive personality, rather than a territorial, aggressive personality in your dog. In many cases, it’s easy to handle this by going through impulse control training.
Barking can also be addressed by socialization early in the life of your puppy. Expose it to as many people and other well-behaved dogs of all ages – other young puppies, adolescents, older dogs – as possible. Well-mannered older dogs are very important in mentoring young puppies and teaching proper behaviors. With proper socialization, barking will be greatly mitigated.
Going to the bathroom inside – Finally, going to the bathroom inside is a puppy behavior that must be modified. Housebreaking is likely the first item on your puppy training list to develop good behavior. Decide where you want them to go to the bathroom, learn their body language and schedule, and be consistent with your praise and rewards when they do go to the bathroom outside. Make sure to grab a leash and take your dog out regularly, sticking to that schedule.
Housebreaking your puppy isn’t as difficult as it seems and with a few steps you can quickly prevent this puppy behavior. Your dog’s behavior is very important, and training it is the biggest step you can take to improving your dog’s behavior.
Biting and nipping – Biting isn’t only a form of aggressive behavior. Puppies have puppy teeth, also often called milk teeth. These teeth are sharp and can do a lot of damage to hands. As puppies grow and mature, these teeth will fall out and be replaced by adult teeth. It’s similar to the teething process that babies go through. So it’s natural for young puppies to bite and nip at things like hands or its leash. Training will help curb this habit.
As previously stated, this teething process is natural. However, accepting this bad puppy behavior is a bad idea. Training your dog not to chew on its leash – let alone human skin – is very important. If you allow your puppy to bite and chew on your hand, they will learn that this is okay.
To prevent young puppy biting and nipping, make it a no-no from day one. When your puppy puts their mouth on your hands or someone else’s hands, give them a firm no and replace your hand with an appropriate item to chew on. Don’t be overly harsh; positive reinforcement is the most effective way of training dogs. This will quickly teach your puppy what is and isn’t appropriate to chew on – an important point for training. Read more on what I like to call “Urge Control” to stop puppy nipping.
The ASPCA backs up this method. In the following excerpt, it states:
“Puppies spend a great deal of time playing, chewing and investigating objects. All of these normal activities involve puppies using their mouths and their needle-sharp teeth. When puppies play with people, they often bite, chew and mouth on people’s hands, limbs and clothing. This kind of behavior may seem cute when your puppy is seven weeks old, but it’s not nearly so endearing when he’s three or four months old—and getting bigger by the day!
What to Do About Puppy Mouthing
It’s important to help your puppy learn to curb his mouthy behavior. There are various ways, some better than others, to teach this lesson. The ultimate goal is to train your puppy to stop mouthing and biting people altogether. However, the first and most important objective is to teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when using his mouth.
Bite Inhibition: Teach Your Puppy to Be Gentle
Bite inhibition refers to a dog’s ability to control the force of his mouthing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition with people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, and so he bites too hard, even in play. Some behaviorists and trainers believe that a dog who has learned to use his mouth gently when interacting with people will be less likely to bite hard and break skin if he ever bites someone in a situation apart from play—like when he’s afraid or in pain.
Puppies usually learn bite inhibition during play with other puppies. If you watch a group of puppies playing, you’ll see plenty of chasing, pouncing and wrestling. Puppies also bite each other all over. Every now and then, a pup will bite his playmate too hard. The victim of the painful bite yelps and usually stops playing. The offender is often taken aback by the yelp and also stops playing for a moment. However, pretty soon, both playmates are back in the game.
Through this kind of interaction, puppies learn to control the intensity of their bites so that no one gets hurt and the play can continue without interruption. If puppies can learn how to be gentle from each other, they can also learn the same lesson from people…
Here’s a game we play to start to teach your puppy that they can’t touch their teeth to your skin:
What to Do Next: Teach Your Puppy That Teeth Don’t Belong on Human Skin
- Substitute a toy or chew bone when your puppy tries to gnaw on fingers or toes.
- Puppies often mouth on people’s hands when stroked, patted and scratched (unless they’re sleepy or distracted). If your puppy gets all riled up when you pet him, distract him by feeding him small treats from your other hand. This will help your puppy get used to being touched without mouthing.
- Encourage noncontact forms of play, such as fetch and tug-of-war, rather than wrestling and rough play with your hands. Once your puppy can play tug safely, keep tug toys in your pocket or have them easily accessible. If he starts to mouth you, you can immediately redirect him to the tug toy. Ideally, he’ll start to anticipate and look for a toy when he feels like mouthing.
- If your puppy bites at your feet and ankles, carry his favorite tug toy in your pocket. Whenever he ambushes you, instantly stop moving your feet. Take out the tug toy and wave it enticingly. When your puppy grabs the toy, start moving again. If you don’t happen to have the toy available, just freeze and wait for your puppy to stop mouthing you. The second he stops, praise and get a toy to reward him. Repeat these steps until your puppy gets used to watching you move around without going after your feet or ankles.
- Provide plenty of interesting and new toys so that your puppy will play with them instead of gnawing on you or your clothing.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for your puppy to play with other puppies and with friendly, vaccinated adult dogs. Playing and socializing with dog buddies is important for your puppy’s development—and if he expends a lot of his energy playing with other puppies, he’ll feel less motivated to play roughly with you. Consider enrolling your puppy in a good puppy class, where he can have supervised playtime with other puppies and learn some important new skills! Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area who offers puppy classes.
- Use a time-out procedure, just like the one described above—but change the rules a little. Instead of giving your puppy time-outs for hard biting, start to give him time-outs every time you feel his teeth touch your skin.
- The instant you feel your puppy’s teeth touch you, give a high-pitched yelp. Then immediately walk away from him. Ignore him for 30 to 60 seconds. If your puppy follows you or continues to bite and nip at you, leave the room for 30 to 60 seconds. (Be sure that the room is “puppy-proofed” before you leave your puppy alone in it. Don’t leave him in an area with things he might destroy or things that might hurt him.) After the brief time-out, return to the room and calmly resume whatever you were doing with your puppy.
- Alternatively, you can keep a leash attached to your puppy during time-out training and let it drag on the floor when you’re there to supervise him. Then, instead of leaving the room when your puppy mouths you, you can take hold of his leash and lead him to a quiet area, tether him, and turn your back to him for the brief time-out. Then untie him and resume whatever you were doing.
- If a time-out isn’t viable or effective, consider using a taste deterrent. Spray areas of your body and clothing that your puppy likes to mouth before you start interacting with him. If he mouths you or your clothing, stop moving and wait for him to react to the bad taste of the deterrent. Praise him lavishly when he lets go of you. Apply the bad taste to your body and clothes for at least two weeks. After two weeks of being punished by the bitter taste every time he mouths you, your puppy will likely learn to inhibit his mouthy behavior.
- Be patient and understanding. Playful mouthing is normal behavior for a puppy or young dog.
Because mouthing issues can be challenging to work with, don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). A CPDT will offer group or private classes that can give you and your dog lots of assistance with mouthing.Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a CPDT in your area.
- Do not discourage your puppy from playing with you in general. Play builds a strong bond between a dog and his human family. You want to teach your puppy to play gently, rather than not at all.
- Avoid jerking your hands or feet away from your puppy when he mouths. This will encourage him to jump forward and grab at you. It’s much more effective to let your hands or feet go limp so that they aren’t much fun to play with.
- Slapping or hitting puppies for playful mouthing can cause them to bite harder. They usually react by playing more aggressively. Physical punishment can also make your puppy afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression. Avoid scruff shaking, whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat and all other punishments that might hurt or scare him.
When Does Mouthing Become Aggression?
Most puppy mouthing is normal behavior. However, some puppies bite out of fear or frustration, and this type of biting can signal problems with future aggression.
Puppy “Temper Tantrums”
Puppies sometimes have temper tantrums. Usually tantrums happen when you’re making a puppy do something he doesn’t like. Something as benign as simply holding your puppy still or handling his body might upset him. Tantrums can also happen when play escalates. (Even human “puppies” can have tantrums during play when they get overexcited or upset)!
A puppy temper tantrum is more serious than playful mouthing, but it isn’t always easy to tell the difference between the two. In most cases, a playful puppy will have a relaxed body and face. His muzzle might look wrinkled, but you won’t see a lot of tension in his facial muscles. If your puppy has a temper tantrum, his body might look very stiff or frozen. He might pull his lips back to expose his teeth or growl. Almost always, his bites will be much more painful than normal mouthing during play.
If you’re holding or handling your puppy and he starts to throw a temper tantrum, avoid yelping like you’re hurt. Doing that might actually cause your puppy to continue or intensify his aggressive behavior. Instead, be very calm and unemotional. Don’t hurt your puppy, but continue to hold him firmly without constriction, if possible, until he stops struggling. After he’s quieted down for just a second or two, let him go. Then make plans to contact a qualified professional for help. Repeated bouts of biting in frustration are not something that the puppy will simply grow out of, so your puppy’s behavior should be assessed and resolved as soon as possible.”
Potential dog problems include biting, nipping, destructive chewing, going potty inside, and barking. All of these problems are resolvable. Take your dog on walks with the leash to get its jitters out. Some leash-time is great for getting extra energy out. Also, remember to use positive reinforcement; reward your dog for good behavior.
Puppies are delightful little creatures and the puppy phase of a dog’s life is short lived. Take steps to prevent unwanted dog behavior problems, but don’t forget to enjoy this period in your dog’s life. Grab a leash and take your dog for a much-needed walk. De-stress. Appreciate the joys of your dog’s youth during training. It’s a great time to set the foundation for your relationship.