Common Behavior Problems in Puppies
Very young puppies are so cute, it’s hard to imagine that within a few months, they’ll graduate from their “I-just-want-to-please-you” stage and enter their “You-can’t-stop-me!” stage. As with children, testing boundaries is a part of growing up for dogs; so is getting into mischief. Your job is to keep the worst temptations out of your puppy’s reach, but realize that he will probably come up with something you never even imagined.
Use Play to Foster Good Behavior — Not Bad
Well-intentioned owners sometimes create behavioral problems by inadvertently reinforcing or encouraging the wrong behaviors. Cute puppy behaviors may be tolerated or rewarded, but the same behaviors may not be so cute in an adult.
Play that involves biting or chasing may or may not create ongoing problems with adult play biting, playing keep-away with stolen household objects or playing catch-me when called. Competitive games can increase a dog’s confidence and readiness to stand up to a human competitor; in most dogs, these do not develop into problems, but in some predisposed dogs, they don’t help matters. Owners can prevent some problems by controlling the situation — that is, by teaching the dog to stop tugging or running when told to. Once the dog gives up the toy or stops his behavior, the toy can be thrown and the game continued. Play is important between owner and dog, but the person should be the one to call the shots.
Banish Bad Behaviors Before They Start
Besides stealing and playing keep-away, common puppy behavior problems include lack of house-training, hyperactivity, nipping, chewing, eating feces and getting sick in the car.
Lack of house-training usually stems from giving the puppy too much freedom too quickly. You need to go back to basics like crate training or at least restricting the puppy’s access to parts of the house when you can’t be with him. Many puppies urinate when they greet their owners; this is called submissive urination and is not a lack of house-training but a lack of confidence. Most puppies grow out of it, but meanwhile, do what you can not to intimidate or excite the puppy — or at least make sure you’re outside when you do!
Hyperactivity is probably just part of being a puppy. Puppies of some breeds are naturally more active than others, but all healthy puppies should be active. Be sure to let your puppy expend his energy a few times a day, but never force him to exercise in the belief that it will tire him out even longer. This can be bad for his developing joints. A good way to tire out a puppy is to teach him some obedience exercises or tricks, or take him to obedience class, before naptime.
No More Nipping
Nipping is a common complaint with puppies. Puppies naturally play by nipping, and without canine playmates, your pup will turn to you. Some dogs have a greater tendency to nip and mouth than others. Retrievers, bred for generations to carry things in their mouth, are “mouthy” and tend to grab and hold your hands and legs. Terriers, bred to kill small animals by biting, tend to jump and nip in excitement. Some herding breeds, bred to drive sheep and cattle by nipping at their heels, will chase and nip at running people.
When your puppy bites you in play, there’s no need to react violently. In fact, grabbing at the puppy may only convince him that you, too, are playing roughly. Chances are he will respond by playing back even more roughly. Puppies react this way to one another, escalating their play-fighting until the going gets so rough one cries uncle and leaves. If a puppy bites another pup too hard, the victim will yelp and quit playing, or sometimes yelp and retaliate. This is a valuable lesson that teaches the pup that if he bites too hard, it’s game over. You can do the same. When your pup chomps down on you, yelp sharply and withdraw from him, standing still and ignoring him for 20 seconds or so. If he stops nipping and behaves, quit your statue act and give him a treat.
Remember, it’s better to reward proper behavior than to try to quash any behavior. Don’t just stop him from nipping. Reward him for not nipping by giving him a toy to carry, a ball to chase or a chewie to gnaw. It’s important that you are not rewarding the pup for biting. It’s fun to wriggle your fingers in front of the puppy’s face, pulling them out of reach as he lunges for them. It’s fun to run and squeal and to roughhouse on the floor. But if you want him to stop nipping, you can’t do that. You must also convince the rest of your family and any visitors that they must not encourage the puppy to nip.
Get Help From Your Vet
Eating feces is surprisingly common in puppies. Your best prevention is to immediately clean up any feces. If you catch him in the act, give him a stern “No!” to show him it’s not acceptable behavior. Your veterinarian also can prescribe a food additive that supposedly makes the feces taste bad — or, should we say, worse!
Carsickness, where the puppy drools or vomits, is common. Practice going for extremely short trips to fun places where he can get outside before he gets sick. Drive at a steady speed — acceleration and deceleration, as well as turns, bring on nausea. Your veterinarian can prescribe effective medication in difficult cases.
The Importance of Dog Health Insurance
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