Puppies: Avoiding the Hurt and Helping the Progress!

Who hasn’t relished that “puppy smell,” enjoyed a lick from an exuberant tongue or had their day brightened by the antics of a puppy? We thrill in the experience of unconditional love and vitality that puppies bring into our lives. As they grow, we work through their behaviours and shape them into well – behaved adults that we can enjoy for years to come. However, some normal puppy behaviours are not so lovely!

Puppies go through stages – digging, nipping, biting, accidents – and eventually learn the correct behaviour s (some slower than others!). Their mother tolerates a lot until the puppies have reached a certain age that they can learn from her corrections. Every puppy is different with their unique temperaments and learning abilities. Puppies learn by interacting with others and their environment in various ways including tasting and biting. Puppies vary in their responses to particular training methods, and also as to what motivates them (praise/toys/treats). The following recommendations should be tried and adjusted as needed based on the response of the individual puppy.

Nipping is typical puppy behaviour. It is adorable when they are young, but a definite no-no when they are older. One of the easiest things to do (more easily said than done!) is to ignore them completely – stop all interactions; no talking or touching at all. If they don’t seem to get the hint, then even putting them in a restricted space is appropriate until they calm down. A “time-out,” even in their crate, helps them calm down, prevents people from being hurt, and does not provide the attention the puppies want; sometimes scolding encourages the behaviour because the puppies end up receiving attention although negative.

A loud noise (loud “no” or “ouch”) when puppies nip can also stop the behaviour, maybe even make time to find an alternative to provide them instead. Distraction with a toy offers an excellent opportunity to reward good behaviour, and everyone’s happy (biting on toy = no human biting)! You can even train them to come to you with a toy so that you can throw it at them and their mouths will be already occupied! Positive reinforcement, for example praising them when they are chewing on a toy as often as possible, is a great way to help encourage them to continue to chew and bite the right objects.

Jumping is usually due to excitement, wanting to play or desiring attention. Puppies should be verbally praised or given a treat/toy as a reward only when all four paws are on the ground. Walking forwards or holding paws while walking forward can be a handy technique for deterring this behaviour from recurring. Another convenient method is to teach them to “sit,” so they do not jump at all and know what to do to make their owners happy. It may also be helpful to have their leash on in the house so jumping can be deterred efficiently or stopped. Consistency is crucial in helping puppies learn what not to do and in the shortest amount of time possible.

Puppies are a lot of work when they are young. They need to learn to control their mouths, where they pee and poop, commands to please their owners, how to have their bodies touched and experience the big, wide world! Socialization helps them learn how to interact appropriately with other dogs. Nipping and jumping can occur because they want attention, they have a ton of energy to release, or they don’t know what else to do. Make sure that there are plenty of good-sized toys available with a variety of different textures. Regular exercise is crucial for proper bone health, burning off energy and reducing stress. Handle pups on every part of their bodies, especially their ears, mouths and paws. Obedience training can begin at home at an early age, so teaching “sit” and “let go” of an object can help avoid jumping and nipping issues. Positive reinforcement is very effective, so find out what puppies like (praise/food/toys) early on, and reward good behaviour as often as possible.

Living with puppies is hard but rewarding work. Daily, positive, consistent training, while they are young, will reap tremendous benefits later in life with a well-trained pet that will be welcome everywhere and everyone will enjoy. If however nothing is working and issues are worsening, please let your veterinarian know as soon as possible. Let’s keep those paws on the floor and those teeth in their place!!

Written by Dr. Rhonda Boulter