You’re ecstatic that your new puppy is home after a long wait, but soon realize that you are mentally underprepared for what she can do — chewing, biting everything from hands and feet to clothing and linens, refusing to walk on a leash, relieving herself in the house, crying and keeping you up at all hours of the night. You could turn to the Internet for answers, but with such a wide range of opinions out there, it’s hard to know who to trust when it comes to training — you need the help of a trained professional. The following tips are part of the preventive training advice I give puppy parents. There are no shortcuts or easy outs — it all comes down to an investment of time and patience.
WHEN PUPPY DOES SOMETHING WRONG
Correcting your puppy through tapping (hitting her on the nose with your fingers), snout grabbing, spanking, collar pops or intimidating verbal reprimands is completely unnecessary, and even potentially harmful.
Understand that your puppy has only been alive for a few months, and give her the benefit of the doubt and the time required to learn things. She must learn how the world works, not only from a dog’s perspective, but from yours, too! Focus on these techniques:
- Step 1: Identify where your puppy is failing; this is key to solving the problem.
- Step 2:Make it easier for the dog not to continue practicing the unwanted behaviour. This involves managing the problem (putting things away, moving items, making sure you are not triggering the behaviour through something you’re doing, etc.).
- Step 3: Figure out what you’d rather have the puppy do in that situation.
- Step 4: Train your puppy to do the preferred action or behaviour. Here is a list of common myths about dog training and behaviour, and alternative methods you can use to help your puppy become a well-adjusted member of the family.
CHEWING ON HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS
What not to do: Pin the puppy down after you caught them; raise your voice to them; hit them.
Proper approach: Management — puppies are not out to destroy. They are exploring everything, but because they don’t have hands, they use their mouths. If you don’t properly manage this stage, this puppy phase will turn into a way of life for you and your dog. Here’s what to do: Put your valuables and anything you like out of reach, so nothing is available for your pup to chew on. Don’t leave the puppy unattended and awake! This is a recipe for disaster. When you’re not supervising her, put her in a play pen with her own toys to amuse her. Make sure you spend sufficient time with them, so they want to sleep when you’re not around.
What not to do: Grab your puppy by the snout and squeeze; stick your finger inside their mouth and hold their mouth open until they back away; alpha roll your puppy into submission; spanking.
Proper approach: Nipping and biting is crucial training for puppies; it teaches them where to bite and how hard or not hard if they ever get into a fight, depending on the message they want to get across. Generally, we want them to practice on other dogs for their main training, and this is where socialization classes come into play.
When it comes to biting humans, we need to communicate that our skin is very sensitive and reinforce that it is not fun to nip at us. This starts with black and white communication with the puppy, i.e., that when teeth hit human skin, it hurts! Communicate this very quickly and loud enough for the pup to hear that she has hurt you (do not do a high-pitched yelp — use your regular voice). If done correctly, the pup should quickly stop and look confused. Don’t do anything at this moment, simply wait to see what the pup decides to do. Likely, she will apologize (lick you and wiggle up to you), bite you again (in which case, you need to be a little louder or more serious with your “ouch” message) or run away (which may mean you were too forceful and/or scary — in this case, it’s okay to coax puppy back to you with a treat). Training must be black and white for this approach to work correctly. At the same time, practice handling your puppy. This is best done after you’ve played or taken her for a walk, and when she is starting to settle down. Attempting handling exercises with a frenetic, energetic puppy will be next to impossible. Some tips:
- Have tiny, super tasty, meaty treats on a table (where puppy can’t reach them).
- Reach/touch puppy for a short second — if the pup doesn’t try to eat your hand, say “good dog” and reward with a treat.
- If the puppy nips you on your way in to touch her, or because you lingered too long while petting, communicate that it hurt. She should stop nipping, and you can wait for an apology (kisses and wiggles) before trying to handle her again — this time, make it a short interaction before giving the treat.
- As you progress, you should be able to pet her for longer periods and with more vigorous petting/handling. This teaches the puppy that a hand reaching for them isn’t a chew toy or a sign to play. This training, when done for a month (I suggest every night for five minutes) can greatly impact how your dog will accept handling later in life.
What not to do: Talk to the dog; grab and hold paws; knee the puppy in the chest; yell; step on their feet.
Proper approach: Dogs jump on us to get something, whether it’s attention or an object we may be holding. Often, this behaviour is self-reinforcing, meaning we don’t even need to do anything to encourage that behaviour. Because we can’t always tell why a dog jumps up (greeting, for fun, to get something), I’ll give you a tool that will fix the problem, no matter what they are after.
When the dog jumps up on you (or anyone in your household), you immediately leave the room to separate yourself from the dog. This is called negative punishment — the dog jumps on us, which makes us leave, which is the opposite outcome from why the dog jumps up. No words should be spoken, and do not make eye contact — nothing but turning heel and leaving the room for 30 seconds to one full minute. Do not go back into the room if you hear whining or crying (we don’t want to reinforce that behaviour).
Arriving home is often a major trigger for jumping, and in this situation I like to use proactive approaches, in conjunction with negative punishment as a last resort. As soon as you are close to your puppy, get down on their level and say hello to them. Don’t make the puppy jump to greet you. Your puppy hasn’t seen you all day, so they want nothing more than to say hello and show affection, and so this approach gets a step ahead of them — get low, say hello, give your love and stand back up. If they jump up at that point, walk out the door immediately, come back in and try again. Say hello before they can jump, but if they once again exhibit the jumping behaviour, leave for a short time. Try again.
These are just a few tip for some common behavioural challenges I frequently see in puppies. Remember, even with an investment of time and patience on your part, most puppies and their proud parents can benefit from some professional training. Ask your veterinarian about reputable trainers in your area.