Though you may be the type that absolutely adores puppies and enjoys lavishing them with attention, it’s probably safe to say that you don’t derive similar enjoyment when dealing with puppy behavior problems. I’m not talking about housebreaking issues (such as pooping in the wrong place), although these can be big problems too.
What I’m referring to are the typical problems we associate with puppies and dogs in general: chewing up furniture and footwear, hand-biting, excessive barking, jumping up on people, etc. The list (and the headaches) can go on and on.
Fortunately, there are many ways to resolve these issues. Let’s take a look at some of the solutions to the most common puppy behavior problems.
1. Chewing – This is part of a puppy’s normal behavior. They will typically chew almost anything they can get their teeth on due to several different reasons: boredom, excessive energy, teething purposes, curiosity, or perhaps even all of the above. Puppies can become especially destructive chewers between 5 to 9 months of age, in their teething phase.
Teach your puppy what is acceptable to chew by limiting it to chew toys. You can easily buy these at any pet store. Buy several and distribute them for your puppy to chew. If your puppy starts chewing on unacceptable items such as furniture or electrical cords, give it a direct, curt command such as “No” or “Out” and physically put it onto a chew toy.
What you must never do is punish your puppy physically. The only thing it will learn is how to avoid your punishment by chewing other items when you’re not around.
2. Nipping and biting – This is among the most common of puppy behavior problems, but it is also part of your puppy’s natural behavior in relating to his littermates. Puppies like to bite each other as a form of play, and because it teaches them how to use their teeth effectively; however, since everyone in the household is also considered a part of their pack, they may start nipping and biting humans as well. This can be distressing and painful, especially for young children.
You should usually start teaching puppies bite inhibition at around 4 to 5 months of age. When the puppy’s teeth start to bite down, let out a loud yelp of pain and take your hand away. Either end your playtime to let it know that it’s not okay to bite you, or give it a chew toy to show that it’s more fun biting toys than humans. Never, ever punish your puppy for biting by hitting or slapping it. This will only hurt your dog and ruin your relationship.
3. Jumping up – Usually, puppies will jump up on guests, and it can be hard to dissuade them. Actually, the only reason they do this is that they are rewarded for it – people will bend down and pet them, encouraging them to jump up again.
Many trainers advocate inappropriate ways of dealing with this that will only hurt your dog, such as kneeing them in the chest or stepping on its rear paws. The proper way is to ignore the inappropriate behavior and reward proper behavior. Stand completely still when your puppy jumps up, or just walk away from it. When it greets you on all fours, pet and praise it. The jumping behavior will worsen before for some days before it gets better, but it will go away eventually, as long as you provide the proper incentives.
4. Excessive barking – This is one of the tougher puppy behavioral problems to tackle; barking comes naturally to all dogs and is one of their primary means of communication. You don’t want to stop ALL instances of your puppy’s barking, you just want to train it to cease barking on command. Don’t yell at it for barking; to a dog, you’ll just sound like you’re barking as well.
The way to do this is to reward your puppy for being quiet, instead of punishing it for being noisy. Use a voice command such as “No bark!” and wait for it to quiet down. When your puppy has stopped barking, give it an edible treat. This method will progressively reduce the amount of barking your dog does over time, but patience and persistence are vital.
Once you’ve trained it, you don’t need to reward it with food every time it follows your command. Instead, pet and praise your puppy when it obeys you, and then give it treats only intermittently.
As you can see, the solutions to puppy behavior problems are as varied as the issues themselves, but they all have one major factor in common: reinforcement is key. Reward the behaviors you want, and simply ignore the actions you don’t wish to encourage. The opposite of rewarding isn’t punishment, but the absence of rewards.
Finally, you should start training as early as possible, preferably the moment you bring your puppy home. Don’t wait until your puppy is several months old before beginning training since it will be too late by then.
Be firm and consistent; all family members should use the same training methods. If you guide your puppy with a loving and caring hand, then it will pay you back with its devotion and respect.