Oh, Those Pesky Puppies

Everyone loves puppies (and if you don’t love puppies, you probably are not reading this blog). They’re cute, they have puppy breath, they follow you everywhere you go and they depend on you for everything – at least for a month or so.

Then everything changes.

Suddenly, that cute bundle of fluff that still hasn’t learned to potty outside (and his messes are getting bigger) has decided your couch is the best thing in the world to chew on. Unless of course your favorite pair of shoes are within reach. Other favorite chewing options may include your arms, legs, clothing, kids’ hair, family cat, other dogs, garden hose, the cable to the laptop and your cellphone.

Your puppy also has  become more independent. He wants to go exploring. He wants to learn the rules and, if he can’t find any, he will be happy to make up his own. He will race through the house jumping on things, testing his strength and generally just keep growing up.

At this point, you might begin to wonder what happened to that sweet little thing you adopted. You wonder if somehow you got a “bad” puppy. Instead of causing joy, the puppy begins to cause tears and serious bouts of frustration.

The good news is, you are NOT alone and that puppy isn’t a bad puppy. Just about all puppy owners feel the same way you do. And puppies grow up. If you give them love, structure, training and socialization, they will become awesome family pets that you will be proud to call yours. The bad news is, they won’t become that awesome family pet without your help. Puppies need training and socialization.

You can’t expect your puppy to know not to chew on your shoes, bite the kids, potty outside, or bring you the paper each morning unless you train him.Taking your puppy to a puppy class is an important first step. It will help you see you’re not alone as you share your scratched up arms with other puppy owners. Your puppy will learn how to interact with other puppies and both of you will learn how to interact together as a team. Nothing strengthens the human-animal bond like a good training program.

Let’s look at some common problems:

Housebreaking: It’s all about patience and consistency.

You can’t scold your puppy for an accident that happened when you weren’t watching him. The puppy will never understand that he is being scolded for something that happened in the past, even if it is a very recent past. Ignore accidents and clean them up thoroughly with a cleaner designed for pet accidents. Take your puppy out on a regular schedule and keep his food and water on a regular schedule during the housebreaking phase. Make sure he can predict when he will be let out for the last time at night and when he will get out first thing in the morning.

Never let your puppy out of sight, even for a second. If you can’t watch him, teach the puppy to hang out in his crate. When the puppy does potty outside,  be lavish in your praise and give him a treat. Don’t just let your puppy outside and hope he goes. Go out with him and keep him on a leash until he potties. If he won’t potty, take him back inside, put him back in his crate and take him back out in 5 or 10 minutes.  Then let him off leash to romp and play. Otherwise the puppy may get so distracted at playing that he forgets to potty until he is back inside. Watch for your puppy to begin sniffing near the door or on the floor. When you see this, immediately take him outside.

For more house training tips, visit the ASPCA’s Virtual Behaviorist for some great tips.

Biting: Puppies need to find out how their teeth work and they do this by biting anything they can find, including you. Puppy teeth hurt!

One of the best ways for puppies to learn bite inhibition is for them to play with other puppies or tolerant adult dogs. The puppies and adults will tell the puppy if it bites too hard. Sometimes humans can use the same approach. Try making a high-pitched “yelp” if your puppy bites you. This works for some puppies. But a word of warning: this doesn’t work for all puppies and some puppies learn that it’s a fun game to make you yelp. Telling your puppy “no” or “no bite” doesn’t work. Remember, he doesn’t speak English. For all he knows you are telling him how much fun you are having with him.

If your puppy is biting you, get up and walk away from him, ignoring him completely. If he begins to follow you and isn’t biting, tell him what a good puppy he is and then find him an appropriate chew toy. And, make it a fun toy then praise the pup for playing with the toy. Provide the puppy with LOTS of things to chew on. Don’t just say, “Well he has lots of toys” because the toys have to be things he wants to chew on, not things you think are fun. Elk antlers and Kongs filled with treats make good chew toys. Also, don’t keep all of your puppies’ toys out all of the time. Puppies are like children and they can get bored easily so be sure to rotate them. Don’t hesitate to put your puppy in his crate if he is driving you nuts. The crate can be a fun place to relax and chew on a favorite item. Put the puppy in the crate with a treat and some toys, but never as a form of punishment. This should be more of a place for him to chill out while you catch up on work, exercise or watch TV.

If your puppy is biting at you when you or your kids walk through the house, take a toy and put it on the end of a rope or leash and drag that beside you. The puppy will decide that the toy is much more fun than your leg and start to chase what you’re dragging. This can also be a fun and safe way for your children to interact with the puppy.

Above all, keep your cool. Yelling at the puppy won’t help. Don’t close his mouth if he is biting you, push him, spank him, spray him with water, or do anything else that might harm or scare the puppy. You want him to love you, not be afraid of you.

My number one tip: Ignore bad behavior, reward good behavior. If the puppy is just on your last nerve, put him in his crate with a Kong and then sit down with your favorite beverage and relax.

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