So, You Say Your Puppy Gets into Trouble?

Puppies aren’t born knowing what the rules are concerning living with people.

In fact, they aren’t born knowing all the canine social rules they’ll need to know. Their mother and littermates teach them more. So when a puppy joins our family, it’s up to us to teach him what the guidelines are for living with us.

When a puppy doesn’t know those rules or doesn’t follow them, puppy owners tend to call the puppy bad or say he’s gotten into trouble. That’s not quite fair though. Puppies tend to do what interests them and some of those things may be destructive, dangerous or expensive. It’s up to us to teach them what to do instead.

He’s Not Bonded to You Yet

Your puppy usually cooperated with his mother when she communicated with him not to do something. If he bit her with those newly emerged, sharp puppy teeth, she growled at him and moved away. He understood immediately what she was saying and he cooperated because she was his mom. When he behaved, she’d wash his face or play with him.

When your puppy joined your family, however, he knew immediately that you weren’t his mom and you talk funny (compared to his mom). You seem to be fun, give good tummy rubs and provide him with food. Those are all good things, of course, but you haven’t yet taken the place of his mom. So cooperating with you isn’t high on his list of things to do. Investigating his new home, checking out where the squirrel is in the back yard and playing is much more important.

Bonding with your puppy takes time, more with some puppies and less with others. If you have a happy Labrador Retriever puppy, you’ll find it easy to bond with your puppy. If you have a puppy from a breed known to be a little more standoffish with strangers (Akitas, Shiba Inu or German Shepherds to name just a few), then you’ll need to be more patient.

To bond with your puppy, you need to interact with him. Tummy rubs are great but also introduce him to gentle grooming which is not just a necessary chore but also teaches the puppy you can be trusted. Play with him in the house and outside. Hand feed him a portion of each meal. Introduce some different toys. Have fun with him and enjoy him.



He Needs Rules and Guidelines

Many puppy owners tend to indulge their new puppy because, well, he’s a cute, fuzzy, adorable baby. When the puppy gets into trouble the comment is, “Oh, he’ll outgrow that!” No, puppies rarely outgrow activities that they find fun and rewarding. If you allow the puppy to jump up on every person he meets, for example, he’s going to continue that in adulthood.

Don’t assume that just because your puppy is young and seems to lack any concentration skills that he can’t learn. Puppies are ready to learn right away. By 10 weeks of age the puppy’s brain is like a sponge, making this a great time to teach the puppy all kinds of new things.

I like to start teaching my puppy the family rules and guidelines by imagining what I would like from him as an adult. I would like him to sit when people greet him. I want him to ignore all trash cans. He’s not to chase the cats in the household, steal their food or raid the litterbox. By having a vision of these and other rules, then I can begin teaching the puppy from the time he joins the household what is allowed and what isn’t. By beginning young, he grows up with the rules. If I let him do what he wants for several months and then try to change the rules later, he’ll be confused and potentially upset, both of which make training and learning that much harder.

Hone Your Training Skills

When teaching your puppy, your training skills need to be clear. When your puppy does what you wish, either on his own or with your help, provide rewards that get and keep his attention. Verbal praise in a happy tone of voice, food treats, a ball or a chance to dash about madly can all be good rewards depending on what your puppy likes. Some are more food motivated than others while some would do anything for a ball; you have to figure out what the best motivators are for your puppy.

Should your puppy do something you don’t want him to do, interrupt him. You can do this by making a sharp sound. If you have a leash on him, restrain him or turn him away. You can also redirect him by changing his focus from chasing the cat to chasing a toy thrown away from the cat.

Ideally, when you interrupt an action you don’t want, follow up by teaching him what to do instead. Have him sit for petting rather than jumping up on people for attention or teach him to grab a toy and carry it around rather than bark when people come home.



Miscommunications Are Frustrating

Miscommunications have ended many a peace talk between humans and can be equally frustrating when teaching a puppy. Although dogs can be wonderful at puzzling out what we’re saying, or what we mean, a puppy with a short attention span usually doesn’t concentrate that much. So it’s up to us to make sure we communicate well enough that our puppy can understand our message.

Use treats or toys to gain your puppy’s attention. We can’t teach him until we’ve got his focus. Then, depending on what you’re trying to teach him, use that treat or toy to help him do what you want. A treat or toy lifted over his head and moved slightly to his rear will help him sit, for example. Then give him the treat or toy as a reward for cooperating. This training technique is called lure and reward and is easy for first time puppy owners to learn and implement.

If you find your puppy is not cooperating, or doesn’t understand, then stop and think about what you are asking your puppy to do and how you’re doing it. Sometimes a different approach will make things more clear for your puppy.

If you’re frustrated and getting upset, and your puppy doesn’t understand, stop and take a break. Give both of you a chance to relax and calm down. Training shouldn’t be this stressful. Later, try again.

Patience and Consistency

Puppy training doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to bond with your puppy and to develop a relationship with him. It takes time and practice to learn how to communicate with him and for him to understand your communications.

Be consistent with the rules you’re establishing with your puppy and make sure everyone else in the family is consistent, too. If the rules are changeable, your puppy’s behavior won’t be reliable either.

Patience with both yourself and with your puppy are also important. Don’t hesitate to step back and reconsider your training, communications or your own behavior.

Keep in mind, too, your puppy is going to go through several developmental stages during his first year of life. He’ll be teething between four and five months of age, and while that happens he’s going to want to chew on everything. He may be nauseous, his gums will hurt and he might be more worried than normal because of this. Puberty hits between six and eight months of age and he’ll turn into a teenager. Need I say more? At a year of age, some puppies go through a little fear period and will be worried about the strangest things. Throughout all of these changes, stay calm and be the rock in your puppy’s life that he can depend on.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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