Naughty Problems

These are defined as the things your puppy does because he almost can't help himself. They're extensions of normal puppy (and dog) behavior — such as barking — that become problems because they're done in ways that are unacceptable in your household (or to your neighbors).

The bad news is you can't completely rid your pup of these behaviors because they are part of being a dog; the good news is that you can curb or redirect them so that they are done in a place or at a time that is satisfactory for “your” world.

Naughty problems are:

  • Mouthing and nipping

  • Chewing

  • Barking, crying, and whining

  • Digging

  • Jumping up

  • Begging

Many people think their puppies are so cute. And as such, when their puppies do something mischievous, they tend to sometimes laugh. Now, you shouldn't be a curmudgeon, but don't indulge your dog in things as a puppy that you would not want them to do as dogs. What puppies can get away with becomes tiresome and annoying when they become dogs.

Mouthing and Nipping

Even if you've only had your puppy one day you've learned that he explores things with his mouth. This is completely natural; he can't help it! If your puppy came from a sizable litter, he learned to roughhouse and play with his littermates using his mouth, body, and paws. So his mouth is his direct access to everything pleasurable, and his method of saying, “Enough” or “Back Off.”

Here's how to discourage your puppy using his mouth to “maul” you or anyone with the sharpness of his teeth or the strength of his jaws.

If your puppy chomps down too hard on your finger, hand, wrist, ankle — any body part — immediately cry out in pain. Say OUCH, and make it sound like you just got your entire limb bitten off by a shark. Don't raise your voice in anger. Don't strike out at your puppy. Don't shake your limb or pull it away from your puppy's mouth. Just let out a big YELP. That should surprise him enough so that he stops pressing down and looks up at you.

If you suspect that your puppy is acting inappropriately even when you've tried to teach him right, don't let him continue to mouth and nip so that he's harming anyone. Ask your veterinarian to refer you to a trainer or behavior specialist who can assess and diagnose your puppy — before it's too late.

As soon as your puppy releases you, change your tone completely and warmly (not excitedly) praise your puppy. Hopefully you have a toy available nearby. Give that to him and tell him what a good puppy he is to take the toy. Instructed this way, most puppies quickly learn bite inhibition.

The biggest problem with a mouthy puppy and a family is that while it might be easy for you to control yourself and respond correctly when puppy gets you with those razor-sharp puppy teeth, it's usually not the way children respond. Their natural tendency is to pull away from the puppy or flail at the puppy — both behaviors that may incite the puppy to increase his attempts to nip because he thinks this is rough play.

Teach your children how to react to this situation by staging it with your puppy and demonstrating to them the response you want. Your puppy and your children will learn at the same time.

Barking

Out of respect for other household members, neighbors, tenants, and anyone with a low tolerance for barking, correct this problem — otherwise, you may be forced to get rid of your dog or face eviction. Don't worry that your dog will stop barking all together. Teaching barking inhibition increases his value as a watchdog because when he barks, you'll know it's for a valid reason.

To correct barking, even if it is only a problem in your absence, teach the dog to be “Quiet” or “Shush” on command when he's standing next to you. Leash your puppy and create situations that may cause your dog to bark. For example, ask a neighbor or family member to walk past the window or walk in the front door, or take him to the park in the early morning when squirrels are active, or drive him to a busy shopping center where customers will be walking past the car. When he barks unnecessarily, calmly close his mouth by gently encircling his muzzle with one hand while giving the collar several quick jerks as you say Quiet. If possible, enforce a Sit, Down, and Come command in quick succession to put him in a more compliant state of mind.

For more determined barkers, substitute the muzzle closure with a spritz of Bitter Apple spray. When he barks, reach for his collar so you can quickly place the nozzle at the corner of his mouth. That way he'll get a taste of the Bitter Apple without you wasting valuable time trying to open his mouth.

If your dog will obey your Quiet command without raising your voice or repeating yourself, no matter what the distractions, barking in your absence will usually subside. If it doesn't, you may be unintentionally rein-forcing excessive barking by attempting to silence a dog by petting him or giving him a toy or by allowing him to be vocal without repercussion.

If your puppy respects the Quiet command and you never tolerate barking or try to appease him but he continues to vocalize in your absence, find out exactly when and why he is barking. Record him with a tape recorder when you leave, ask a neighbor about his habits and spy on him. If he is not barking at outside noises, separation anxiety is probably the problem. Read about handling separation anxiety later in this chapter.

Crying and Whining

Believe it or not, these two behaviors can bother you even more than barking. Why? Because it's so hard for your puppy to understand what you want him to stop doing when he's crying or whining. The best remedy is to completely ignore your complaining pup when he's doing either of these things. It will be very difficult for you. After all, a crying pup is like a crying baby — your instinct tells you to go and do what you can to relieve the discomfort.

Remember the old adage that dogs do things to get what they want. If your dog has been adequately fed, exercised, and loved, the only other thing he could want is more attention, more food, or more exercise. But he's not the one who should be dictating that, because next thing you know he may decide he wants to stroll the block at 3 A.M. No, your puppy gets the things he needs because you oversee his environment responsibly enough so his needs are taken care of. Therefore, crying and whining become behaviors whose sole purpose is to get your attention. Don't become a slave to them!

If your puppy is crying or whining for no apparent reason other than to get you to pay attention to him, try turning on a radio or television to block out the sound of his protestations. As hard as it will be, ignore your puppy's cries. However, the second he stops crying (eventually he has to stop), go to him and reward him with attention, exercise, or food. If you're trying to break a habitual cry or whine, you'll need to increase the time between when your dog stops and when you go to him so that he truly associates that he's being praised for being quiet. Another solution to crying or whining is to startle the puppy. This doesn't have to be a physical force correction; instead, it's intended solely to break the offensive action and try to redirect the behavior.

Chewing

Puppies need and love to chew, and it's up to you to give them the kinds of chew toys that will satisfy — or they'll invent their own! Getting your puppy into a chew toy habit now will save you thousands of dollars in destroyed belongings. Choose a durable rubber toy that can be filled with something yummy. There are lots of these toys on the market now.

The table. The chairs. The rug. The sofa. The car seats. The kids' toys. The garden hose. The swimming pool cover. The remote control. A cell phone. You name it and a dog has chewed it to bits. Is there a worse feeling than coming home and seeing your beloved sound asleep amid a cyclone of destruction? After all, you feed him, exercise him, buy him great toys, comfy beds, keep him up on his shots, and love him to pieces. And this is what you get in return?

You're not going to want to hear this, but 99 percent of the time the destruction is your fault. You allowed the puppy too much freedom while alone in the house. You didn't provide any puppy-friendly chew toys. You left the puppy alone too long. You left one of your favorite things (cell phone, remote, handbag, shoes, pillow, etc.) within reach of your inquisitive puppy — and don't underestimate the reach of a bored puppy. Next thing you know, your stuff's history.

What do you do when this happens? Yell at your puppy? Spank or shove your puppy? Isolate your puppy (to “show him”)? No. For your sake and your puppy's. The first thing to do is take your puppy outside. He will probably need to relieve himself after all the fun he's had and the stuff he's eaten. If possible, leave him outside in a fenced area while you go back in to survey the damage.

Make sure immediately that your puppy hasn't eaten anything that could be poisonous (prescription drugs, household cleaners, some houseplants) or damaging to sensitive body organs (pins, splintered bones, large buttons). If you find any remnants of anything dangerous in the debris, call your veterinarian immediately and ask if you need to bring your puppy in for an examination.

Your pup will find things to chew on to relieve herself from boredom or the physical need and desire to chew. Providing appropriate toys will keep her from selecting furniture, shoes, and other inappropriate items.

If the damage is just, well, damage, bring your puppy inside and put him in his crate. While you're cleaning up, it's okay to cry or curse but don't direct it at your puppy. He'll sense you're upset, and if he thinks he's the cause, he may worry that you will always react this way to him. Then you have a puppy who hasn't learned anything except that Mommy or Daddy is very scary when they come home, which will make the puppy more anxious and lead to more destructive chewing.

After you've cleaned up, assess how your puppy was able to get to what he got into. Did you leave the garbage can where he could tip it over? Did you think it was safe to confine him to the kitchen and the den now that he's older? Lesson learned: don't do it again.

What you want to do is make sure that your puppy has chew toys he's really interested in. Smear peanut butter in a rubber Kong. That'll keep him busy. Add different sizes of treats and kibble so they fall out gradually over the course of a few hours or the day. (Remember to subtract this amount of food from his regular meals.) Supply him with non-edible Nylabones and sterilized bones into which you can stuff goodies. Get a cube or round toy that you can put treats into and that puppy needs to bat around to get the treats out.

Puppies are most prone to get into trouble just after you leave and just before you come home. They miss you when you go and get excited to see you later. This time can seem like an eternity. But you can have your puppy loving to see you leave and well-behaved when you come home by getting him hooked on safe chews that earn tasty rewards.

Don't think your puppy will want to chew less if he's by himself outside or in his crate. He'll get bored just as quickly in these spots as he will the well-appointed living room if he doesn't have something to chew on to take his mind off things.

Digging

Digging is practically the only problem that cannot be prevented, lessened, or solved with obedience training (although sometimes training, because it relieves boredom, indirectly reduces the behavior). Dogs don't dig because they are dominant, belligerent, unaware of authority, or out of control — they do it instinctually to make a cool or warm place to lie down or to make a nest-like den for their puppies. And, yes, interesting smells in the soil, the wonderful feeling of vigorous burrowing, and dirt in their toes are hard for any dog to resist.

Therefore, monitoring your dog and correcting digging attempts is an ongoing process — you aren't fighting your dog, you are fighting nature. The best thing to do is recognize and accept your dog's need to dig, and anytime he is in an area with digging potential, be watchful. Stop him with a quick jerk of the lead followed by praise, calling him to come and sit, and more praise. If he is off leash, substitute the jerk with a startling noise, then praise him and call him to come as you run away.

Another option is to exercise him vigorously and regularly so he doesn't seek aerobic activity from digging.

Jumping Up

Some puppies have no desire to jump up. They are content to let you bend down to pet them. Others jump up either because they are very bold and sociable or because they have been rewarded for doing so with petting and attention.

If you don't want your puppy to get into a bad jumping-up habit, or if you want to teach him not to jump up now, here's what to do. When guests or family members enter your house and shower the dog with affection, they teach the dog to jump up and act crazy. For good-sized, healthy adults, this can even be fun. But for elderly, frail people, young children, and finely attired guests or strangers, not only is it not fun, it can be very dangerous. This doesn't mean your dog can never jump up on someone to play. It means that he can do so only when asked, and always well after anyone has entered the house. Though play, fun, and enthusiasm are an important part of a well-balanced, bonded relationship, they should never be associated with people coming and going.

If your pup can't be dissuaded from jumping up on a particular piece of furniture, you may find that compromise is your best option. Put an old sheet or throw over your pup's preferred piece of furniture. That way, when you're not there, he won't stain or shed all over the furniture. As often as you want, remove the sheet and throw it in the wash. This works for sofas, chairs, and beds.

Encourage visitors and members of your household to show self-control. Practice calm arrivals by making it a habit to busy yourself doing other things, oblivious to your dog's prancing, barking, jumping, or panting. As you walk in the door, if your puppy starts leaping on you, simply ignore him. Don't even make eye contact or say anything to him. Walk away. Listen to your phone messages, sort through your mail. Totally ignore him until he settles down. Then calmly say “Good puppy,” and gently pet and praise him. Ask him to sit, and give him extra petting when he does. Insist that guests and family members do the same. Within two weeks of practicing uneventful arrivals, usually jumping up entirely subsides.

Begging

It often takes only one tidbit for your clever puppy to be convinced that your meals are better than his and that you're willing to share if he begs. If you've fostered this bad habit, it can be broken, but you probably can't be cured. You have to stop feeding him any human food any time around mealtime. Why? The answer is: Be aware of the repercussions. Don't expect your puppy to differentiate from the times you eat a pizza in front of the tube and gladly share it with him and the time you have your daughter's soccer team over for pizza and you don't want him underfoot or being fed by every member of the team, then getting sick.

Differentiate your mealtimes and his by confining him in his crate or a separate room where he can't watch you while you eat. Give him a favorite toy so he's distracted and doesn't whine, cry, drool, or stare you down. Stay strong!

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