You plan to start puppy classes soon, but what should you do right now? I mean, the puppy is chewing on you! Jumping on your guests! Getting in the trash! Should you wait for puppy class?
No, you should not wait.
Here is a five minute read to handling normal puppy behavior.
Getting into mischief is normal – they don’t know better and have not been exposed to acceptable alternatives. Yet! So how might you get through the upcoming days and weeks with your brand new family member; molding good behavior and seeing as little problematic behavior as possible?
Start by considering the needs of your puppy. Just like with a toddler you will ask yourself questions like, are they hungry? Are they physically comfortable? Are they tired? Are they scared or overwhelmed? Do they need mental stimulation or physical exercise? If you address your puppy’s needs you will solve 90% of your behavior problems.There’s nothing to be angry about when you see a complaining, unhappy or troublesome puppy; most of the time there is simply a need to be met.
The reality is that the biological needs and emotions of the other often make it difficult for them to control their behavior, so stop asking them to control their behavior! At that moment they cannot, so take the issue off the table. Change the environment or the circumstance to stop it, but don’t expect the toddler/puppy to stop when you haven’t addressed their needs.
Change your setup to allow good behavior to create a better reality for everyone.There’s nothing to be angry about when you see a complaining, unhappy or troublesome puppy; most of the time there is simply a need to be met. You would be amazed at how often giving your puppy a simple mental enrichment option like a puzzle toy will solve a whole lot of issues. If you’re not familiar with enrichment ideas, go online and search for dog enrichment activities.
What if bad behavior is happening RIGHT NOW and appears to have nothing to do with a biological need? Indeed, it seems more like entertainment and it’s coming at your expense! Puppy is chewing my couch! Puppy is biting my hands!
If you see your puppy doing something, ask yourself, “What would I do if this were a toddler?”
Your toddler is playing and is getting very rough and overaroused – He is starting to push and pull and hit! He is hurting others or causing damage. What should you do?
Hopefully you would stop him. To do so, you might calm your own body and behavior, quiet your voice, stand still with eye contact, or hold his arms to prevent the behavior from continuing.
And your puppy? Tell your puppy, “hey, easy!” Make eye contact! Calm your body and your voice! If needed, pick up the puppy, turning the biting end away, and prevent the behavior from continuing! There’s no reason to yell or “be firm” anymore than there is with a toddler trying to figure stuff out. Indeed, as often as not that just adds fuel to the fire – quieting your body and voice in the presence of overarousal and anger is often much more effective. Would you hold a toddler to the ground and wait for them to submit? I hope not. Don’t do it with your puppy. It’s neither kind nor necessary.
Okay- so you intervened and it worked! For two seconds, your toddler or puppy is no longer showing the behavior! Awesome – now you need to substitute an appropriate alternative. “Here, chew on this!” or “Why don’t we do this other activity instead?”
Or maybe that didn’t happen. Maybe you tried it and… it didn’t work! The behavior is worse than ever!
When your toddler/puppy cannot respond and instead gets more riled up? Why might that be? Let’s go back to those biological needs.
As often as not, it’s a tired toddler. Toddler needs a nap. Off to bed you go, whether or not the child wants a nap.
And your puppy? Is your puppy simply overtired? Needs a nap? Great! Oft to the crate or puppy pen the puppy goes, whether the puppy wants a nap or not. That’s because….puppies need a lot of sleep. Just like toddlers. Do not assume that a busy puppy needs exercise – maybe he does! But it’s just as likely that he needs a nap.
But…he’s crying! With a toddler – do you allow some crying in the crib? Probably – allow some crying with your puppy. Sleep should soon follow.
It didn’t work! He’s STILL crying! Did you judge the correct biological need in the first place? Maybe exhaustion wasn’t the problem – maybe it was boredom or a need for exercise or mental stimulation. Can you find something for the puppy/toddler to do when you see similar circumstances in the future?
Wait! My puppy isn’t overaroused – he’s getting into my trashcan, calm as could be! Entertaining himself inappropriately – at my expense! I can’t have this. What should I do?
You are right. You cannot have that. Because if your puppy learns to entertain at your expense, then plan on seeing a lifetime of it.
Instead, relocate the garbage can or add a childproof lock unless you want to continue removing your toddler/puppy from it. Most new parents childproof their house. It is a whole lot easier than protecting your house by controlling the baby – that would be exhausting. Control the environment rather than the individual.
Experienced puppy parents do the same thing. Rather than following your child or puppy around telling them what to do and what not to do, why not just make it impossible for the problem to take place? Take the issue off the table.
That is called structuring the environment. Structure is an enormous part of raising a toddler or a puppy! The best part is that if your little one doesn’t get in the habit of playing in the trash, the interest will usually disappear as they get older. Then, when the other is older you can remove the “garbage can protection”. And if puppy/child goes that way anyway when they are older and no longer living with significant structure? Without being angry but being direct, you say “uh uh – don’t do that” and you stop the behavior. And then they understand. They don’t go in the trash. Problem solved.
Which doesn’t mean it will be perfect. Most parents I know have, on occasion, found their child somewhere they should not be, making first class mischief. It happens because no one is capable of perfect supervision or decision making all the time. Remove them, clean up, and see about better structure next time. Screaming and yelling over your error makes you scary and irrational – don’t go there. Just stop the mischief and if you want to use a verbal/physical response, do it BEFORE the mischief starts whenever possible. As your child/puppy is heading for the garbage can is when you need to say something – once they are in it you can say something if you want but mostly you just need to remove them as fast as possible.
But my puppy jumps on guests!
What would you do if your toddler was being too rough with your elderly guest? Gently remove them or hold them or don’t let them greet the person at the door where arousal levels and excitement tend to be too high. Maybe quiet your voice to calm the initial interaction. Or avoid the issue altogether by leaving your child in their crib (puppy in crate) and letting them come out after you have seated your guest.
It’s the same with your puppy. 90% of the time, if you raise your puppy the way you raise your toddler, you’ll end up doing very well. There is no reason to be scary or “firm” or to hurt the child or puppy, nor do you need to intimidate them.
Next part! Because so far, I haven’t even mentioned the most important part.
The most important part is to identify and acknowledge what goes right. “Look at you, helping mommy set the table!” “Look at you, being gentle with your friend.” “You were so amazing today when grandma came over that we’re going to your favorite park now!” Acknowledge what you see that is right is much as possible! Feel free to throw a cookie on top of that praise when it’s your puppy. Puppy looks at the trash and walks away? Good puppy! Praise and a cookie are just fine to get the point across. Puppy thinks about jumping on the guest but does not? Great puppy! Get out of the situation before it goes south as arousal grows, hand over a cookie or two, and maybe return for another repetition.
“Look at you coming when I call! Who’s a little puppy star? You are!” “Look at you waiting politely for your dinner! Super puppy!”
When your puppy behaves well is when you want to tell them how wonderful they are and offer up first class interaction! Make a point of looking for good behavior and paying attention to it. Teach your puppy to value your voice and your opinion! When you see your puppy or toddler make a choice you like, even if you structured that choice, acknowledge it! Soon you will find them doing more things you like and fewer things you don’t like. Your puppy or toddler will start “showing off” for you – to hear your positive reaction. Take advantage of that desire to be praised and to avoid disapproval.
The things I’m talking about here are not instant fixes to getting your baby or puppy to act like an adult of that species. No one raises a toddler or a puppy overnight. But over time, if you are realistic and recognize that both toddlerhood and pupppyhood are phases that we can move through eventually, you will end up in a good place. That is when you start removing environmental structure (removing household puppy or child proofing), adding choice (you are loose in the house to choose your entertainment without the need for constant supervision), and enjoying the future together.
When the time is right, take your puppy to school or hire a trainer to come to your house! Now they can learn additional things that don’t necessarily have to do with the basics of living together. With a puppy, training basics like “come when called” and “stay there” and “walk nicely on a leash” allow greater degrees of freedom. Trained dogs have more choice and less structure because the guardian can give it to them! Take that additional step and enjoy your relationship even more.
If you have raised a human child using positive parenting, you have the answers within you. Apply the concepts to your puppy to the best of your ability, and you’ll be fine a high percentage of the time.
In summary…structure the environment with puppy proofing to avoid issues as much as possible, and supervise to prevent problems from getting started. Address the puppy’s biological needs and a good deal of bad behavior will go away – is the puppy bored, tired, scared or anything else? Make a happy fuss when you see what you like and stop behavior that you do not like. Over time re-evaluate your overall need for structure, and begin to remove it, allowing for more choice, as your puppy shows readiness.
If you’re thinking this is all too time consuming then I need to point out the obvious – you opted for a puppy and baby animals are a lot of work. There’s nothing wrong with a toddler or child who shows behaviors you don’t like – it’s just a baby being a baby. You’re the adult in this relationship – do your best! And forgive yourself when you can’t – everyone makes bad decisions sometimes.
The good news is that baby animals tend to turn out okay. Time and a bit of knowledge are your friend here.