To be frank, every new puppy owner starts with enthusiasm and willingness to give their puppy all of the attention they need. They are ready to train with their dog multiple times a day and stick to a strict schedule of potty training and discipline. However, many times, this enthusiasm for the more challenging aspects of puppy ownerships wanes.
Keeping your puppy disciplined requires you yourself to have discipline. Like going to the gym or eating right, this raising a social animal business takes time and energy! Think back to Day 5 – remember what it takes to be in charge. Display your own discipline to the schedule and your puppy will perceive you as a great leader.
Let’s cover some common behavioral problems, and how to deal with them:
This is natural and highly entertaining for dogs. If your puppy is constantly digging where you don’t want them to, you can set up a small, well marked area of the yard where they can dig, or get a sandbox. Put toys and treats in this area. If you catch your puppy digging elsewhere, guide them to the sanctioned digging area with treats and toys. Reward them if you find them digging in the right place.
You should understand that hyperactive behavior is perfectly natural in puppies. They love to play, and they get very excited when meeting someone new. Sometimes we inadvertently encourage hyperactive behavior when our puppies are young, only to detest it as they grow larger and older. Puppies jumping onto people can be seen as very cute, and they may get rewarded with pets for doing this. This might not be so cute as the dog gets large and harder to handle.
As usual, punishment should be avoided. Instead, a good way to train this behavior out of a dog is to train them to ‘Sit’ when greeting people. You can also come up with a command. Get their attention and then say, ‘Settle Down’. If your puppy settles down after hearing this command, reward them.
If your puppy simply has excess energy, it helps to give them some physical activity. Many high intensity games, such as ‘Stair Master’, will be covered later.
This is another perfectly natural behavior in puppies and even adult canines. It is exploratory for dogs, and can act as entertainment and a stress reliever, along with maintaining their dental hygiene. As covered earlier, try to remove anything destroyable from within your puppy’s reach. If you catch them chewing on something you don’t want them to chew on, a good way to deal with it is to immediately replace the item they are chewing on with something your puppy is supposed to be chewing on, such as a chew toy. If they start chewing on the toy, reward them for it.
Begging at the Dinner Table:
Instruct everyone in your household not to give into your puppy’s requests for food. If your dog gets what they want even once, they may continue begging indefinitely, and the behavior could escalate into whining or barking. If you catch them waiting near the table for food, try to redirect their attention to another activity involving toys. Filling a kong with peanut butter and treats is a good way to keep them busy.
Your puppy may go after food on the counter or the coffee table. This is a hard habit for your dog to break, because this behavior is rewarded with food. The best way to stop this is to prevent it from ever happening. Be very cautious about where you keep your food. Use gates to enclose your kitchen and dining room, or anywhere else food is commonly eating and prepared. If it does happen, you may want to preemptively train your dog to respond to a ‘Drop It’ command. More persistent owners can teach their dogs a command to only take food when instructed to.
Nipping at Your Legs:
If your puppy nips at your legs while you walk, leash them, and when they start to nip, stop walking and gently and calmly move them away from your legs. Once they settle down, start moving again. If they stop biting, reward them.
Whining is a very common issue. Usually, what makes it worse is when it is dealt with improperly. If you suspect your dog simply has to use the bathroom, say your command for potty time and see if they seem to respond. Take them outside to their potty area, but don’t do anything else with them. Do not play with them. You don’t want to give any indication that whining will get them anything except a bathroom break. The number one rule with dealing with whining, is to only respond to it when it is a situation where you want them to whine. If your dog continues to whine, the best strategy is to ignore it. Giving them attention only encourages the behavior or leads to negative consequences.
Barking at a Doorbell
To stop your puppy from barking at the doorbell, every time the doorbell rings, start training them to do something else, such as go to another room and sit. If you open the door after your dog barks at the doorbell, your dog may assume that barking will make you open the door. This can make the problem worse.
This is a common behavior in dogs. There is no consensus on exactly why they do this. Dogs that eat their own feces have not been shown to have any nutrient deficiencies. Some scientists think it is a genetic trait to prevent starvation when food is in short supply. Perhaps eating the stools of other species of animals with differing diets was a way for canine ancestors to get vitamins. Mother dogs will also eat the feces of their young, apparently to keep the nest clean and prevent predators from finding them.
The best way to avoid this is to keep your yard as clean as possible. Always clean up after your pets or any other animal that leaves droppings in your yard. If you catch your puppy eating poop, promptly clean it up and redirect their attention to a toy. Try to find something more interesting to your puppy than eating poop.
‘Pica’ – Eating Inedible Objects
Perhaps your dog has a fixation on eating a certain inedible object such as wood, plastic or rubber. Chewing inedible objects is perfectly natural, but if your puppy is clearly interested in, for example, consuming sand like it is food, this is an issue. Certain objects can damage or block your puppy’s intestines or otherwise poison them.
This behavior, known as ‘Pica’, has not been linked to any nutritional deficiencies. It appears to be a purely psychological fixation. It does not have an easy cure. Initially, when you’ve seen your puppy repeatedly eating something unusual, try to supply them with an alternative such as a new edible toy that you have never given them before, like a rawhide bone or pig’s ear. If it remains an issue, talk to a veterinarian. Your dog may need a muzzle or even medication to curb this behavior.
Never continue walking if your puppy is pulling you by the leash. This only tells them that they will get what they want when they pull. Instead, stop immediately and wait until your dog comes back to you. Then, continue again. Eventually, they will understand that they get to move by walking with you instead of in front of you. As covered in day 2, Training your puppy to ‘Heel’ is a good way to prevent this.
Dealing with ‘Poisoned Commands’
Is there a command that your puppy is not responding well to, despite practicing it frequently, and initially seeing progress? As you are aware of by now, dogs learn best through positive reinforcement. If a dog’s reaction to a command you give is not always very obviously associated with a reward, they may get confused. You may have ‘Poisoned’ it.
Punishment can potentially poison a command. You may have taught them something very well using rewards, but end up trying to correct your puppy’s mistake with a harsh word or a tug on the leash. Now, your pup is starting to associate your command with a bad thing happening. Instead of looking forward to a reward, they are trying to avoid a bad thing. This means they are now associating a negative emotion with this command. Even if you reward them afterwards, they will begin to feel ambiguous about the command.
Sometimes, you may not even be aware of the negative association you are giving to a command. A commonly poisoned command is requesting a dog to ‘Come!’. An owner may haphazardly shout ‘Come!’ from inside the house while their dog is having the time of their life outside. Their dog doesn’t want to come inside yet. Being inside currently doesn’t seem enjoyable them, so the dog’s owner has just associated the command with a ‘punishment’, and their dog is now starting to feel a bit ambiguous about this particular command. In this particular case, the owner should have gotten their dog’s full attention before calling their dog over so they weren’t interrupting his current focus of attention. Perhaps they should have played a short game with their dog before calling him inside to keep his feelings positive.
How should you deal with a poisoned command? You should change the word or phrase you use. A poisoned ‘Come!’ could be changed to ‘Here!’ or ‘Let’s Move’. If there’s a visual cue involved, you can try to find a way to change that too.