Puppies will be puppies, but there are reasons they act the way they do.
If we first understand the reasons for a puppy’s actions we can target the behaviors in a way that is more likely to create lasting change. It’s also important to realize that not all unwanted behaviors are “bad” behaviors.
Here are some common undesirable puppy behaviors and the reasons behind them.
BARKING is because your puppy:
- Wants to alert you to potential danger.
- Wants to play, eat, drink, or relieve himself.
- Is lonely.
- Is fearful.
- Is using it as a form of greeting.
SOILING IN THE HOUSE happens due to:
- Habit – Your puppy has relieved himself in the same spot a few times and now it is a habit.
- Surface preference – Your puppy may like a carpet for soiling vs hardwood floor, etc.
- Chosen bathroom – Your puppy may have found a secluded place in the house and has now made it his bathroom.
- Marking – Your puppy may be trying to establish dominance.
- Confusion – Your puppy has been given too much freedom too quickly.
Play biting – Your pup will have a relaxed posture and facial muscles. The general “feel” of the behavior is playful. Puppies do this to:
- Explore their environment.
- Instigate play.
- Get your attention.
Aggressive biting is much less common in puppies. Your pup’s posture and facial muscles would be tenser. This type of biting often involves snarling and a deeper (not playful) growl. The growl often comes before the bite as a warning rather than the playful growl that your pup will do during play. This type of biting often requires the help of a licensed positive reinforcement trainer, and action must be taken immediately to ensure it does not develop into a bigger problem.
- To explore his environment.
- As a way of self-soothing.
- As a natural instinct to strengthen teeth and jaws.
- Out of boredom.
- To greet you.
- To express excitement.
- A sign of dominance (much less common) – Your puppy will have a tense posture and little movement.
ACKNOWLEDGE AND ADDRESS THE CAUSE of the Behavior
Your pup is often alerting you to a situation, stranger, or its own need. Take the time to consider why your puppy is asking for your attention.
If your puppy is lonely, take steps to address the loneliness rather than reprimanding him. Steps might consist of a heartbeat toy in his crate at night, soft music, placing the crate near your bed, covering the crate or simply offering comfort through touch or sound.
If the pup is alerting you that someone is at the door, acknowledge your puppy’s alarm, get up and look at what he wants to bring your attention to, and then calmly let him know it’s ok and there is no longer a need for him to continue. Manage the energy rather than escalate it by using a loud voice or exaggerated body language. Change your puppy’s state by gently removing him from the window or door where he sees the visitor. Use a command such as “on your bed” or “down” to let him know it’s ok and he can go lie down now. Distract him with a command, toy, movement, or all three.
Always consider and acknowledge the Why, then change your pup’s state through commands, toys, movement, or sound, repeat.
If you are having a difficult time potty training consider possible causes such as:
Stress due to too much freedom. If your puppy is given freedom of space and movement around the house too soon, he may get confused about your expectations. It may mean you have to take one step back and reinforce boundaries for a while longer. Be sure you are effectively using the crate as a training tool.
Do not leave your pup out of the crate if you are not watching him. You want to be able to catch signals that he needs out immediately such as walking towards the door, sniffing, circling, and appearing restless. Show the rest of the family these signals so they can pick up on them as well. It’s much easier when the whole family is helping to keep an eye on your puppy.
Not enough walks. Puppy bladders are very small, just like babies, and will need to be relieved frequently.
Inconsistent routines and commands. Be sure that you are consistent with your routines and commands.
A medical reason. This is an unlikely cause. However, it should be seriously considered if your puppy’s urine color and odor are abnormal. Very dark, blood-tinged, or colorless urine could mean that there is a problem. Excessive odor to the urine is another red flag. Also, if your puppy is having diarrhea or frequent bowel movements this could indicate parasites or the wrong diet. If any of these symptoms are occurring, check with your veterinarian.
Questions to ask yourself if potty training is not going well:
- Are you giving your puppy too much freedom?
- Do you need stricter boundaries? Are you effectively using the crate?
- Does your puppy understand your expectations?
- Are you walking him frequently enough?
- Is there a comfortable place for your puppy to go outside?
- Are you consistent with his potty command?
- Is every family member involved with the process?
- Are you allowing your puppy to touch the floor when coming out of the crate instead of carrying him outside?
- Have you unintentionally instilled any fear in your puppy around the process? I have unintentionally done this with past pups, so don’t feel bad. Just recognize it and correct it quickly. One way this occurs is if you get frustrated when your pup is not going potty while you’re waiting outside. If you exhibit tense body language or raise your voice exhibiting your frustration, your pup will associate going potty with this type of negative energy.
- Could there be a medical issue?
Exploration is the most common reason for puppy biting, not teething as you may think. Puppies use their mouths for exploring new things and learning, just as babies do. When your puppy chooses to explore your arm and hands you must let him know it hurts you by making a crying sound and then replacing your hand or arm with a toy. Always have a toy on hand for this, especially when the family is outside playing with him. If your puppy refuses to stop biting and will not allow you to divert his attention, remove your attention from him by placing your puppy in his crate or safe space. Try again with him 10–15 minutes later, and repeat if necessary.
Biting will occur more commonly in high-energy situations, such as kids running in the backyard and during rough play. Do not allow your puppy to chase the kids in the backyard until a few solid commands are in place. Avoid high-energy situations that are not controlled. If the kids are having friends over, keep the puppy separated from them. If you have company coming over, keep the puppy crated until everyone arrives and the energy has relaxed a bit. Then, bring the pup out on a leash with one family member in control of the situation.
Aggressive biting often happens as a result of guarding objects such as toys and food. The good news is that it is much less common in puppies than play biting is. If your puppy is biting aggressively, it can mean that he is trying to assert dominance. It often accompanies a warning growl, a snarl, and has a completely different energy than that of a playful puppy bite. Your pup’s posture and facial muscles will be tense rather than relaxed and fluid.
Aggressive behavior needs to be taken seriously and cannot be tolerated, ever. If the puppy acts in this manner I recommend involving a personal dog trainer. As soon as this behavior is shown a strong “no” command must be used and your attention must be swiftly withdrawn. Place your puppy in his crate until he has relaxed and then try again; repeat.
Again, puppies explore the world with their mouths. If your puppy is exploring, then be sure that he has plenty of his own hard toys to explore on. I like Himalayan Yak cheese chews and moose antlers for puppy chewing.
If your puppy is chewing from boredom, then try some interactive toys to keep him occupied when you are not available to play.
Your puppy should be in a safe space or crate when you’re not watching him. He should not have the opportunity to chew your valuables, furniture, kids’ toys, etc.
Starting with a strong Sit or Down command is key to keep jumping under control. Once your puppy has a strong command, you can use it prior to the jump and also during the jumping to stop it. Remember, a strong command is one that your puppy responds to 10 out of 10 times, even with distractions. Not every single command must be a strong command, but you need at least three that you can depend on.
Teach your puppy to sit in front of people in order to greet them. Let your friends and neighbors know that you’re training him to greet people appropriately, and have them work with you on it. If your puppy jumps, then remove the attention he is seeking by turning around and being quiet. Once he sits, you can quietly, gently greet him. Good luck on this one with the kids! Mine still run in from school yelling and greeting our puppy. So, we’ve let this one go a bit. But, we do have strong commands, so when visitors arrive, our puppy can quickly be in control.
SET YOUR PUPPY UP FOR SUCCESS
Avoid high-energy situations that make it difficult to control and direct your puppy during the training phase. Once your puppy has a few strong commands, you can slowly introduce him to high-energy situations with more variables. Puppyhood can be a beautiful time filled with laughter and sweet memories, or it can be a time of chaos and stress. Your approach to handling each situation is key to your puppy becoming a dog you can enjoy and be proud of.
If you would like more information on raising your puppy, watch out for my upcoming course, The 5 Secrets to Raising Your Dream Dog.