Stop Puppy Behavior Problems
Puppies display a lot of behaviors that are unwanted, but not necessarily “bad.” They mouth hands, chew clothes and other items, jump, have a high level of energy, etc., but this is normal. If we saw these behaviors in an adult dog, that would not be acceptable. Just as we expect certain behaviors from a toddler that we would not accept from a twenty year old adult.
What do you do when your puppy shows these types of unwanted behaviors? First, make sure you are not unintentionally reinforcing them. Unintentional reinforcement can come in the form of our verbal communication (owners have a tendency to raise their voice and say “Stop”, “No”, etc.). As humans, talking is inherent and our default reaction, but that not the case for dogs. Dogs perceive your excited high pitch voice as reinforcing or “fuel to the fire.” You are adding excited energy to their already excited state. So calm and quiet is always best.
Physical contact is also another prime reinforcer. Pushing your puppy away from you or grabbing their collar is also interpreted as reinforcing. You are providing them the attention they were seeking. Petting and picking your puppy up is a clear reward to a dog. If they are barking or jumping and you pick them up, you are rewarding that pushy behavior. Even making eye contact when they are barking, whining, etc. is sending the wrong signal. Eye contact is a form of active engagement. You are acknowledging them when you shouldn’t be.
Being mindful of these tenants will make a drastic difference in eliminating problem behaviors. It will take several days to even a couple weeks of ignoring a behavior (depending on how long the behavior has been going on, how diligent you are with ignoring, and how persistent your puppy is) before it will go extinct. This is a very effective way of stopping behaviors without having to correct. Remember this…dog training comes down to two things: Reinforcing behaviors we like/want to continue and ignoring/discouraging behaviors we dislike/don’t want to continue. It is the simple law of cause and effect. That’s how we can most clearly, simply, and effectively communicate with our dogs.
Common Puppy Behavior Problems and How to Handle Them…
Puppy Barking and Jumping
It is very common for puppies to bark or jump on people for attention. They learn that those two actions are the currency to get what they want. Typically, when a puppy jumps or barks, the human will give them food, pick them up, pet or talk to them. In order to rewire this, you need to ignore and no longer reinforce. Next time your puppy is barking or jumping, turn your back and ignore, or even get up and walk away. By eliminating any signs of reinforcement, your puppy will learn that those pushy behaviors no longer work to elicit the attention they were seeking.
Puppy Chewing on Furniture or Clothes
Puppies chew on everything, so stop puppy behavior problems with this most common complaint. If your puppy is mouthing on shoes, furniture, clothes, etc. redirect them to a more suitable alternative. Provide them a dog chew toy instead. Not only is chewing inherent to dogs, it helps sooth them during the teething stage.
Don’t forget about the concept of a short-term management plan. You should utilize a leash, crate, or puppy playpen to manage situations. These tools will help make things easier for you and your puppy.
High Energy Puppy
Plain and simple, puppies have a lot of energy. There are times when your puppy will be off the wall excited and full of energy. Ironically, it’s usually when you least feel like engaging with them: first thing in the morning when you are getting ready for work or when you first arrive home from work. Even though the last thing you feel like doing is to play and walk your dog at these times, I suggest you do. Being proactive will make things easier for you and your puppy. Don’t even give your puppy the opportunity to get overexcited, act up, and get into mischief. Preemptively take them out to the bathroom, for a walk, and play session, etc. It is better to spend fifteen to thirty minutes draining their energy than it is to spend two hours frustrated and stressed while trying to manage jumping, mouthing, barking, etc. in the home.
During our initial consultation, virtually every puppy owner says, “I try petting and playing with my dog and they start to mouth and bite. All I want to do is pet them, what can I do?” Your petting causes the puppy to get overexcited and make bad choices (mouthing, etc.). As soon as this starts to happen, simply stop petting, withdraw your hands, stand up, and walk away. Once your dog calms down, you can resume petting. Your timing is very important here. You should withdraw affection at the first sign of your puppy ramping up in excitement. Don’t wait for them to get too crazy or for the “bad behavior” to start occurring. Be cognizant of the energy you are bringing to the equation. Always be calm when interacting with your puppy. Remember, calmness gets rewarded and high energy/excitement does not. You puppy will quickly learn they get petted/played with, but if they cross over the “threshold of excitement” and make bad choices, all the fun stops. Make sure you relieve your dog’s energy.
Many puppies will playfully bite their owners pant legs and feet. One of the easiest and clearest ways to handle this is to grab the leash they are dragging and extend your arm out/away from your body, creating separation between you and your puppy. This eliminates unintentional reinforcement, such as grabbing their collar, physically pushing them away, or having to talk in a high-pitched voice. Once your puppy calms down, you can let go of the leash.
If they continue to chase and play, they may need something to chew on for teething or energy release. Once again, use the leash to create separation and this time redirect them to a suitable chew toy instead of just letting go. The toy should capture their attention.
Puppy Jumping on People
It is essential to properly obedience train your puppy, so they fully understand the command you are asking them to perform. When your puppy begins to jump, ask them to “Sit” in order to be greeted by the guest. We are using an incompatible behavior to mitigate the jumping. It is physically impossible to jump and sit at the same time. Your puppy will quickly learn that sitting gets them the attention they want, and jumping does not. Your puppy should be on a leash when people enter the home or to greet new people. The leash will prevent jumping and help you to reinforce the “Sit” command. Once your puppy learns the concept of sitting to be greeted, it should transfer to other real-life situations. In conjunction with stopping jumping, make sure you take your puppy through my Puppy Training Socialization Checklist.
Puppy Counter Surfing
Counter surfing refers to your puppy jumping on furniture, kitchen counter/table, etc. Not only is this an annoying behavior, it is potentially dangerous. Most kitchen surfaces have dangerous food for a puppy and items that can pose serious health concerns (utensils, hot stove burners, kitchen knives, plastic/glass, etc.).
Let’s teach your puppy the “Off” command in order to better control this tendency. When your puppy has their front paws on the household item, gently grab the leash, say “Off,” and guide them off the object. It is essential you catch your puppy in the act of having paws on the elevated surface. If they have already returned back to the ground, you lost the opportunity to teach “Off.” It’s vital you consistently correct and reinforce “Off” each time they jump on any surface. Any missed opportunity only reinforces the unwanted behavior. If your dog counter surfs, use the Doberman Security on my Dog Training Tools page.
Puppy Begging for Food
This is a common complaint I hear from adult dog owners, so its important to stop puppy behavior problems early. Many dogs are bothersome and beg, paw, bark, etc. at the table during meal times. This behavior is created when the dog is just a puppy. In order to prevent this behavior, never feed your puppy food from the table (ever!). Place a dog bed a few feet away from your dining table. Just before you sit down to eat, give your puppy their favorite toy on the dog bed. Our goal is for them to lie down and play with the toy on their bed while you eat. If your puppy gets up during the meal, simply ignore them puppy. If they choose to walk away, that’s fine. Just be sure not to unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviors at this time (re-read what your dog may find as reinforcing). If consistently ignored, your puppy should go lay back down on their bed or somewhere else in the home.