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Articles - Puppy Issues

by Caroline Kjall at DogBasics

I'm always surprised to hear someone say they have problem behaviours with their puppy and then they go on to explain that their puppy bites them, growls at them and steals things from them. These are perfectly normal puppy behaviours, nothing problematic about them, IF you know what to expect from a puppy. Puppies are not easy to deal with. That is a fact. They nip, they jump up and tear at your clothes, they growl at you, they run around like lunatics and they are absolutely adorable!

Chewing and teething

Puppies chew on things all the time. Just like babies, they like to put things in their mouth to discover what they are. Unlike babies, they don't have hands to test things with. All they have is that mouth of theirs... It gets even worse when their milk teeth are having to give way to their proper teeth. This will itch and sometimes hurt, so it is a great relief for them to be chewing on something. You'll probably find their milk teeth lying on the floor at times and maybe they'll have a little bit of blood in their mouth, especially when they play rough with other dogs or when chewing something. Even after all the puppy teeth have fallen out, the adult teeth are still growing in their mouths and that can be very itchy/uncomfortable. I’d make sure that my puppy has plenty of things to chew, for example raw hide bones, whole carrots and rubber toys (such as Kong toys, that can't be chewed to pieces). You can also get som FLP (Forever Living Products) Aloe Gelly to gently massage into their gums while they are teething, to help them through the worst of it. You can get FLP products from Aloe4Animals.co.uk.


If your puppy steals things from you, she's probably bored! Dogs of all ages need a lot of mental stimulation (brain work). If they don’t get enough mental activation, they will make up their own. One of the games they often come up with is to steel items that you value, because they will guarantee attention from you. See... they are nothing if not clever!

So she's learned a game that you are keen to play with her (I expect that you will tell her off and run after her to get the item she has ‘stolen’? That is a great chase game for a dog!).

By responding to her when she’s taken something you don’t want her to have, you are rewarding her stealing behaviour. What you should do is to first of all make sure that ANYTHING that she isn’t allowed to have is removed from where she could access it. The fact that she has been able to steal things is your fault – having a dog is like having a baby, YOU have to dog proof your home just like you have to baby proof it, if you have a baby.

If you’ve been sloppy (we all are, myself included, despite years of having dogs around) and she DOES get hold of something she shouldn’t have, you should ignore her and walk away. If you just can’t do that (for example if she’s got your mobile or a cable), go get a really, really yummy treat such as ham, cheese, chicken, etc and show it to her (use a big piece, so she can’t miss it) and back away, coaxing her to follow you. If she drops the item and comes to you, give her the treat immediately and show her the next treat. Ask her to do something for you, like sit and reward her for that. Try to move to a place where you’ve got a toy that she’s allowed to have and present that to her. Play her up and have a good tug of war with her toy. Now you can slowly move to take the item she wasn’t supposed to have, put it away safely and go back to playing tug with her.

Don’t make the mistake of rushing to pick up the item she shouldn’t have had. She’ll soon see through your treat bluff and keep the item she shouldn’t have. Why should she give it up when she can have your attention for so much longer if she keeps it?

Dogs live for attention and they will even take negative attention (shouting, screaming, telling off) rather than being ignored. Try to remember that when you want to shout at her. You’ll actually teach her more by walking away and ignoring her. She doesn’t understand English, so you can’t tell her off… simple as that. It is your behaviour, consequent to her behaviour, that will teach her what is rewarding to do and what isn’t.

When she picks up a toy of her own, remember to reward that, by playing with her and her toy, giving her a cuddle for it, a treat or maybe chase after her when she’s got her toy. Give her the attention she deserves, when she is picking up a toy she’s allowed to have. Your response to her picking up her own toys, will tell her that her TOY picking behaviour is much more rewarding than her picking up one of YOUR ‘toys’ (which you will ignore).

Jumping up at people

Dogs show that they are friendly by licking the corner of each others mouths. Humans are strange looking creatures on only 2 legs and our mouths are way up there in the sky, so they have to jump to get to it. You can fix this by doing 2 things. You can squat down to their level, so that they can get to the corner of your mouth (I do, but I don’t expect that many other people are willing to do that) and/OR you can teach her a behaviour that is more rewarding to do when you get up to people. This behaviour I would suggest is sit.

Toilet training

You have to give her a lot of leeway with this one. If she’s been in kennels during the first few months of her life, then how is she supposed to have learned to not soil in the house, near her bed, food etc? Kennels are very unnatural places for dogs, so at a young age they are likely to pick up some bad behaviours.

I suggest you go back to basics and treat her like she is an 8 week old puppy that has just come to your home. Take her out every hour on the hour during her awake time. Praise her gently when she goes to the toilet outdoors and give her some kind of reward (treat, cuddle, game) when she’s done. Take her out every time she wakes up from a long sleep, when she’s just eaten, when she’s had a vigorous play, when guests have come through the door. At all these times she’ll be more likely to need the toilet. Also look out for her turning around in circles (indicates she might need a poo) and if she walks along your walls sniffing the floor, take her out as she might need a wee.

You MUST NOT punish her when she’s done something in the house – this will escalate the problem, not solve it. Even if you catch her walking away from a puddle, it is too late to tell her off. She can’t possibly know that you are cross about what she has just done, she’ll think you are cross about what she is doing right that second, which is probably look at you, walking across the floor, etc. If you do catch her in the act (and I do mean literally seeing her do something), then you can say something like ‘ooops, come on, lets go out’ in a rushed BUT NOT ANGRY voice and lead her out by her collar. If you punish her, scream at her, etc. there is a big risk that she will hide away from you when she goes to the toilet indoors, because she will need the peace and quite when she goes (just like we all do). She might also very well start piddling and even eliminating when she sees you, because she’ll be so nervous about what mood you will be in. To her, your behaviour will be very unpredictable and that will make her insecure and nervous. So please don’t take any chances, just cut all the punishment out of your repertoire.

Growling/barking at people

Can be several reasons for this. Most likely scenario is that your puppy is nervous or scared around people. This is best fixed with giving her a positive association with people. Make sure that people never crowd her, but that every person that wants to say hello to her stops at at least a meters distance, croches down if they can (to make them selves smaller) and call her to them, rather than coming up to her. If they also offer really nice treats, you will soon have fixed your puppy's growling issue.

Play biting

Play biting is a typical puppy behaviour that is perfectly normal. Again, depending on how hard she bites, if she bites with lots of little nips or if she bites and holds on, there will be different solutions. If she gives lots of small nips, she might be trying to tell you that she wants you to back off because she's feeling cornered. You should respect her wishes and back away from her. If she bites and hangs on, it is more likely a play behaviour. Best solution for play biting is to give her a time out for 2-5 minutes. Don't tell her off or shout at her, but maybe say something like 'oops' and walk out and close a child gate or door between you. After a short time out, return to the room and try to have a quiet play with her. If she bites you again, give her another time out. Try not to talk too much to her during these lessons, as we want her to get the connection between her behaviour and our reaction of moving out of the room. Talking through this will only distract her and your training will take longer.


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