By Sandy Modell
Alexandria, VA – Puppies are just too cute. Furry balls of fun! They love to play, run around, and cuddle in your lap. Unfortunately, puppies also come with many normal and natural behaviors that are not appropriate in the human home. So, why does my puppy…
1. Nip and Bite me, my clothes, my kids, and anything they can get their teeth on? Puppies, like human babies, investigate things with their mouths. But, unlike human babies, puppies have sharp teeth. What have they been doing for the 8-10 weeks before you bring them home? Using their mouths and teeth on their siblings while playing, fighting, biting, and barking.
Although mom helps them learn some bite inhibition, the job is not done. Once in your home, they continue to mouth and bite and nip you and your family members. The answer is not to scold them, hold their muzzle shut, pinch their nose, or use such old-fashioned techniques that have no scientific basis. These “correction” methods can hurt, increase anxiety and aggression, and make puppies afraid of you.
What’s the answer? Teach them what to do instead. Puppies need to chew; they just have to learn not to chew on you. Give lots of chew toys, stuffed toys, tug toys, and frozen Kongs. Surround yourself with toys and chews whenever you sit down with your puppy. Desensitize them to your hands coming toward them by associating you with good things. Pet your puppy, reward him for staying calm. You may have read to yell “Ouch!” when your puppy bites you. Don’t do that! Yelling gets puppies more excited.
Puppies need 8-12 hours of sleep a day. If they don’t get enough sleep, they get grouchy, but instead of crying and whining, they bark and bite. So, make sure your puppy has a quiet place to sleep, such as a crate, away from the hubbub. Without proper sleep, they can go from cute to Cujo in a heartbeat.
2. Jump on everybody she meets? Puppy jumping is normal, attention-seeking behavior. In the litter, they climb up to their mother’s face. Our faces are too high to reach without jumping. We also tend to pay attention when the puppy is little and cute and maybe even pick them up. How reinforcing is that?
Within months, though, that cute little furball is 75 pounds and can easily knock over children or granny. It’s not so much fun now. The good news is that puppies can learn to keep four feet on the floor by reinforcing that behavior. We can teach default behaviors, such as sitting, lying down, or just standing quietly.
Puppies have no self-control. We can teach it by reinforcing calm behavior and giving them behavior choices. Your mantra should be, “Only calm behavior gets rewarded.” Also, set them up for success by getting down at their level, so they are closer to our faces.
3. Pull the Leash or Refuse to Move when on a walk? Walking nicely on leash is learned behavior that doesn’t come naturally to puppies. They quickly discover that pulling gets them where they want to go. Some puppies walk a short distance and then just lie down. Pull on the leash and they become dead weight or pull in the opposite direction. Opposition reflex is a dog’s instinctive resistance to physical pressure, to feeling the leash tighten. I recommend taking pressure off the neck with a sturdy body harness.
Puppies don’t need long walks; they don’t have the stamina or bone structure. Short walks and observing the environment let you make positive associations with noises, people, other dogs, and novel objects like fire hydrants, garbage cans, and that inflatable Easter bunny on your neighbor’s lawn.
This is what puppy socialization is all about. Does your puppy bite on the leash along the way? Bring a tug toy and let him have fun biting on something appropriate. And bring lots of treats to reward and reinforce their engagement with you. Become your puppy’s “big cookie” on walks and he’ll want to stick with you.
These are the most significant behavior issues that concern our puppy clients. The best solution for these and other “bad” but normal puppy behaviors is training good behaviors from the start, using positive reinforcement. Remember, adolescence is right around the corner.
Sandy Modell, CPDT-KA, is Founder, Owner, and Head Trainer of Wholistic Hound Academy, Alexandria’s award-winning, premier canine training and learning center, offering group and private classes in puppy training, adolescent and adult foundation and life skills, behavior modification, agility, dog sports, canine fitness and conditioning, kids and dogs, pre-pet planning, and pet selection. Visit www.wholistichound.com and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.