Puppy Problems

By admin Posted in Puppy /

No one can deny that raising a puppy brings joy, fun, amusement and a special kind of warmth into a person’s life. However, it may also bring days when you feel as if your life has been invaded by a mini-tornado that has left a path of destruction and frustration in its wake. Many puppy problems disappear as the dog matures, but some don’t, leaving countless misunderstood adolescent dogs banned outdoors or abandoned in animal shelters when their puppy antics are no longer tolerated after their cute looks have faded.

While every owner should be prepared to have his/her lifestyle altered a little until the pup matures, there are ways of coping with problems that may arise which will make life more enjoyable for both you and your pup and ensure that bad habits do not develop which may continue into adulthood. Four of the most common puppy problems are destructive chewing, biting or nipping, pulling on the lead and jumping up. What follows is a simple explanation of why your pup does these things and how best to cope with them:


Destructive Chewing

At the age of about 4 months, puppies begin to cut their permanent teeth. The loosening of the milk teeth and the emergence of the permanent teeth cause discomfort and the puppy chews objects to gain some relief. (Chewing results in the chemical dopamine being released in the dog’s brain which brings about a feeling of well-being.) As dogs have no way of discriminating between acceptable chew toys and unacceptable ones, they will usually turn their attention to whatever is at hand or takes their fancy, whether it is a stick or a table leg.

Another reason why puppies chew is because of their natural inclination towards inquisitiveness. Pups explore their environment by sniffing, pawing at objects (this may turn into digging) and by testing objects in their mouths. This investigatory behaviour helps a young animal become familiar with his environment and usually diminishes as the pup matures.

The first step in coping with destructive chewing is to puppy-proof your home. Remove all objects within your pup’s reach that may take his fancy. Anything made of wood, plastic, rubber or fabric is usually appealing to a puppy. Houseplants, especially those that are poisonous, should also be removed as many pups love to tug on and chew off leaves and flowers. The next step is to supply your pup with suitable toys and chews. There is a wide range of toys available, however not all of them are safe for your dog to play with unsupervised. Any items from which pieces of plastic or rubber can easily be broken off are dangerous. Squeak toys are also not advisable, as many dogs find and swallow the squeaker. Toys I can recommend are sturdy rubber rings and balls (bigger than a tennis ball), hooves (remove for a while if your pup has an upset tummy), a sock stuffed with rags (Labradors have a tendency to eat the material, so watch out), indestructible margarine containers or plastic bottles and soft rope tug-toys. Finally, let your pup play in the room where you are and do not allow him to wander the house unsupervised. This way you can quickly intervene and prevent your pup from finding trouble!

If your pup takes something inappropriate, yelling, smacking and chasing is not the answer. Calmly entice him to you (food or other toy as bait) and invite him to do a swap. Always reward him for leaving the object, even if you had to bribe him and he has already chewed it a little. Chasing him will only teach him to avoid you and you will soon find out that he is a lot faster than you! (See Why and How to Play with Your dog for how to get your puppy to leave/give.)


Nipping and Biting

Natural canine play primarily involves the dog’s mouth. While dogs may body slam and chase one another, they will usually revert to mouthing and biting and often look quite wet after a play session from all the saliva that has been exchanged. Dogs have much tougher skin than us and can therefore tolerate harder bites than we can. Our pups naturally try to play with us as they would with other dogs, but unfortunately this is often very unpleasant and even painful. 

The best way to teach your puppy not to bite is to do what another dog would do if your pup hurt him – yelp! In other words, every time your pup’s teeth make hard contact with your skin yell “Ouch!” as though he has really hurt you. He should release immediately and look startled. If not, try a louder cry. Once he lets go, give him a chew toy and praise him for playing with it – it is not enough to tell our dogs what is not acceptable, we also need to show them what is and reward them for it. Of course some pups are more determined than others and may need a little extra help to stop this behaviour. If your pup ignores your “yelping”, get up and walk away from him. Yelling and smacking will only heighten his excitement level and so should be avoided. If ignoring your dog does not work, i.e. he follows you as you walk away and bites your feet, a time-out is the final step. Pick your pup up, carry him to the door and leave him outside. He needs to learn that unacceptable behaviour will end his fun. After 5 minutes, let him back inside and have a game with him involving a suitable chew toy or allow him to play on his own while you keep an eye on him.

Some people get fed up with their puppies’ behaviour and simply leave them outside on a permanent basis in order to avoid being chewed. This is not a solution. Dogs are social animals that desperately need companionship. Isolation will only lead to more behavioural problems and a very unhappy dog. Socially starved dogs often continue to bite, chew and leap on people, because they are desperate for attention and have never learnt how to interact positively with people.

Another important way that dogs learn how to use their teeth appropriately is by playing with other dogs. They learn how to simply mouth each other in a way that is acceptable to their play partner. Hard bites result in yelps or, if an older dog is the companion, discipline (snap, growl etc.). The ability to use teeth in a way that does not harm by breaking skin or bruising is known as “bite inhibition”. Bite inhibition is very important in an adult dog as it allows a dog to communicate its displeasure without sending another dog to the vet. A dog with good bite inhibition is more likely to react to a teasing child by simply “holding” the child’s arm firmly, but gently in its mouth when it is actually quite capable of breaking the child’s arm. This is just another reason why puppy socialization is so vitally important.


Pulling on the lead

Pulling on the lead is a problem that extends to dogs of all ages, but it is a bad habit that usually develops in puppyhood. Most owners only put a lead on their dogs when they wish to go for a walk. The dog is excited at the prospect and tends to try to get to the beach or field as quickly as possible. As a dog’s natural pace is usually faster than ours and as they are quite capable of running all the way to their destination, the lead immediately tightens and the battle is on. The owner usually tries to yank the dog back and the dog usually tries to drag the owner forward. As is seen in carting and sledding dogs, pulling a load is quite an enjoyable canine activity. A dog’s natural inclination is to respond to a force (you pulling the dog back) by exerting an equal force in the opposite direction. Eventually the dog is rewarded for dragging you down the road by arriving at his destination and having a jolly good time. He does not realize that not pulling would have resulted in the same reward.

There are all sorts of contraptions on the market that are said to help with pulling and they usually do to a certain extent, but only when the dog is wearing them. They are not always convenient to use and as soon as the dog realizes that he no longer has one on, he immediately begins to pull. The best way to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead is to withhold reward when he doesn’t and to reward when he does. The reward in this case is moving towards or arriving at the destination. Thus when you begin your walk, as soon as the lead tightens, stop. Your pup may strain at the end of the lead a bit, but wait patiently and he will walk back to you wondering what on earth is going on. When he comes back and the lead is loose, say “good dog” and begin to walk again. The lead will probably tighten within a few seconds. Stop again and repeat the procedure. This method takes time and patience, but it works, because you are teaching your pup that pulling does not get him where he wants to go. 

Having said this, going for a walk is not a training exercise. Your dog should not be expected to walk to heel, just to walk on a loose lead. Expecting a dog to go for a walk without being allowed to sniff is like asking a person to walk blindfolded. Give your pup time to learn about his world and don’t rush him if he wants to investigate an object. Use a fairly long lead to make it easier for your pup not to pull and if you do not have time to do the stop/start procedure, put your pup in the car and drive him to the destination. One impatient walk where the rules are not followed can undo weeks of work!


Jumping up

Dogs greet other dogs by licking their faces. As puppies are small and far away from our faces they usually leap up in order to get close enough for what they consider a proper greeting. Most people respond by yelling or shoving and the dog often becomes even more excited and persistent. The best way to stop this behaviour is to ignore it and offer an alternative. When a dog wants another dog to leave him alone, he usually turns his head away or walks away. This is also the best way for you to handle your pup’s behaviour. Simply turn your back and walk away. If you do it quickly enough his paws should miss you and land on the ground. Once you are out of his reach, go down on your haunches, call him over and give him a nice greeting, but keep the excitement level down. If he still tries to jump up while you are on the ground, place a restraining hand in his collar to prevent the behaviour. He should settle after a short time. Once your pup has learnt the sit command you can give him this command when he looks as if he might leap and stroke him gently as a reward if he obeys it. It is far easier to replace one behaviour with another than to simply stop certain behaviours. Offering your dog something else enjoyable (being greeted on his level or sitting and being stroked) instead of the behaviour he has chosen is the quickest way to sort out the problem.

Unfortunately our dogs often have the opportunity to jump on other people who do not know how to handle it. So that there is consistency, it is a good idea to tell friends the procedure before they meet your pup. When meeting strangers or anyone you have not had a chance to “educate” keep your pup on a lead so that you can pull him down quickly if he attempts to jump. Get willing people to reward him with a pat once he has all four paws firmly on the ground or is sitting politely.

An important aspect of coping with puppy problems is realizing that dogs are not moral beings. They do not have feelings of revenge, guilt or malice and their disruption of our lives or destruction of our property is not a personal insult. Once owners are able to see this, things usually don’t seem so bad and they are able to focus on the countless wonderful aspects of raising a puppy.

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