Common Training Questions
My puppy is always biting my hands, arms and ankles!
Yes, this mouthy, biting, even ‘attacking’ behavior is quite normal for most puppies. It is usually a way to initiate play. Puppies play with their mouths, and typically learn bite inhibition while playing with other puppies. When they bite other puppies too hard the other puppy typically disengages with the attacker and walks away.
Things not to do:
-Don’t hit your puppy - anger and punishment (particularly physical punishment) tends to make the puppy more aroused and use more force, not less. Or it makes the puppy totally afraid or you and that’s a behavior that can lead to aggression later in life.
-Don’t hold their mouth shut - they are doing something natural and holding their mouth shut will only increase the dog’s arousal level and/or fear (see second comment above)
-Don’t scold your puppy - they are just trying to play.
-Don’t Yell OUCH! - this makes for a great game as it tends to increase the puppies arousal level and will increase, not decrease the attack.
What TO do:
- Use Crates, Gates and Tethers to separate the puppy from you when he is in this mode. All of these will prevent the biting behavior, but you ALSO need to provide something yummy and long lasting to chew on so the puppy doesn’t get frustrated. Bully Sticks, Nyla Bones, Kong toys that are stuffed with canned dog food and FROZEN so they last a long time are good places to start. Note: these toys should not be out all the time, reserve these for those times when you need them!
- Leave a leash on when the puppy is out and about so that if an ‘attack’ happens you can quickly corral the puppy without touching him and secure him (using the leash) to something sturdy (like a doorknob or under a heavy piece of furniture) and then walk away, you can at this point provide him with something appropriate to chew on, as mentioned above. In a bit when he has settled down you can return to him (do NOT take him off the tether) and sit down with him to see if he’s settled enough to come off the tether. If he is REINFORCE him with yummy treats for being calm and without fanfare release him. If he starts to ramp up again, simply say 'Uh Oh' and walk away calmly out of his reach.
- It is better to be proactive than reactive so if this is happening at predictable times (usually first thing in the morning or in the evening) either put him in the crate during this period or tether him so people can stay out of his reach. Give him something good to chew on while he’s there, of feed him using a food search toy (see my recommended products on the Local resources page (under the More menu heading).
The key is to prevent the behavior (using crates, gates and tethers) so the puppy doesn’t have an opportunity to practice it! At the same time, when the puppy is calm and has all four feet on the floor, you can reinforce that behavior by saying ‘Yes’ and following that up with a yummy morsel.
Think about what’s happening just before she gets into bitey mode. Is it when you are playing with her, is it often at the same time every day, is it when you are trying to pet/cuddle with her, is it when you touch her in a particular area of her body like on the top of her head, or her flanks? If we can predict when the biting is likely to happen we can take steps to prevent it. Also, sometimes, our interactions with our puppies causes them to be over stimulated which triggers bitey episodes. It is not uncommon for bitey episodes to occur more often first thing in the morning or between 4-6pm. In cases where we can predict when these episodes are more likely to occur, I recommend you take preventive action, like tethering the puppy BEFORE she gets too stimulated, so you can easily walk away from the interaction, or put the pup in a crate with a long lasting, high value chew toy (frozen stuffed Kong, bully stick, nylabone) to keep her busy during the ‘grey’ hours so she can’t engage in bitey behaviors to begin with.
As long as we prevent or interrupt the behavior quickly with little fanfare, so as to prevent a habit, these bitey episodes generally decrease with age. If your dog is already older and has already developed a habit of being mouthy, it needs to be prevented/interrupted asap, so the dog understands this behavior does NOT get them attention.
Finally, once the dog has a fluent set of behaviors (like sit, down, go to mat, etc), we can begin asking for a trained behavior when she gets overly mouthy. Giving her something positive TO do instead of doing the behavior you don’t want is often the best way to prevent the undesirable behavior.
I would also recommend you watch the video on Puppy Nipping and Biting under the Canine Confidential tab on my web site. There is also a Blog entry entitled 'The shark in my kitchen/the kangaroo at my door!’, which you can find easily if you go to the blog page and search for shark.
What are the best treats to use during training?
I like to use as low a value 'treat' as I can get away with. Since we are typically working with young puppies in non-distracting areas, and they are growing so quickly they are almost always hungry, their regular kibble usually works pretty well. Sometimes I will use higher value kibble as treats, or coat the Puppy's kibble with something yummy, so I know that everything going in is 100% nutritionally complete.
The key is to make sure you are not overloading the dog with too much food, so remember if you adjust the quantity of kibble you put in your puppy's bowl if you are planning to do a big training session anytime before or after meal time.
Here are some of the dog ’treats’ I like to use when I have to
- Ziwi Peak dog food (Mackeral Flavor)
- Vital Essentials freeze dried mini nibs (duck, beef, turkey) I use the food (100% nutritional complete) as opposed to the treats.
- Nom Nom treats (very high value - you probably won’t need those until Grad Puppy)
- anything that the dog really likes, smooshed into a cup of their kibble like; small amount of hot dog, small amount of liverwurst, small amount of peanut butter/other nut butters. The idea is to make their kibble just a bit tastier than normal, by coating the pieces you can feed their entire meal during class and not overload their belly!
What do I do when my new puppy pulls when we go for a walk down the street?
I will often use a 10-15’ line on my brand new baby puppies, but honestly I don’t start taking my new puppies for a ‘walk’ down the street until they are 5-6 months old and have a clue about leash walking. The first several months are more like puppy exploration time, and typically happen in the yard or a field or on the trails. I follow the puppy around, making sure to keep the leash loose at all times (hence the 10-15 footer) and if and when the puppy finds its way to my left side I mark it (with at click or a yes) and reinforce it with a very high value treat! In addition, every time the dog hits the end of the line, I stop and act like a tree! In this way the puppy learns pulling on the leash does NOT get them to go forward, but when they are next to you they get fed! Also, several times a day, I will take the puppy out for ‘leash training time’ which is 2-3 minute of walking up and down the driveway in a fashion similar to what we practice in class, with lots of reinforcement for being next to me on my left side.
Be sure to read the Leash Walking section of the training manual and look at the videos on the Puppy Kindergarten Videos tab on my web site.
The leash training videos are on the Week 1 videos (Leash training part 1) and Week 2 videos (Leash Walking part 2), as well as the 3 Steps forward 3 Steps Back video in Week 2 and 3.
The goal for Puppy K is to be able to teach the dog that pulling on leash does NOT make them go forward and to have your dog be able to stay with you for 10-15 feet at a time, anything beyond that is generally beyond their capability at this age.
We do work extensively on leash walking in Graduate Puppy class as well as the next level of recall, stay, leave it and several other behaviors.
My puppy growls at me when I pick them up!
Growling can be in play, as a way to make scary things go away (like people who randomly pick you up when you aren’t expecting or don’t want to be picked up) or as a way to warn the other dog/person that they are VERY uncomfortable in the situation (as in getting picked up). So, do NOT pick the puppy up randomly, when you do pick the puppy up, give him plenty of warning and feed the dog as you pick them up, as you are carrying them and as you set them down! This makes the puppy like to be picked up. Also, be sure to hold the dog in a secure way (like a football - tucked between your arm and your side/hip), this helps the dog not feel like Fay Ray being held by the waist and suspended WAY up high with no visible means of support! BTW this is NOT aggression, this is your dog telling you he is SCARED! Never, never scold a dog for growling, this is their way of warning you, if you scold the puppy for growling they will stop growling and now the only thing left is for them to bite you!
What do I do with a puppy that wants to wake up every day at 5:00?
One of the reasons I recommend puppies sleep in the bedroom (in their crate) is it typically helps them to acclimate to YOUR schedule rather than the reverse.
from page 9 of the training manual
Locating your pup’s crate is often the key to success. It should be in the room you use most often, but tucked off in a corner so when the pup is asleep he won’t be getting ‘his cage rattled’ by thundering hordes of kids as they stampede past or the door as it gets opened and closed. The crate should be big enough for the pup to comfortably stand, turn around and lay down again. Many large crates now come with dividers that can be used to make it smaller for the new pup and grow with the pup to full size. Consider draping the divider so that the pup can’t see all the empty space behind it.
Tip: I always recommend that new puppies sleep in a crate next to your bed, especially for the first couple of nights as they acclimate to their new home. This allows you to reassure them if they wake up that first night or two (often they don’t really need to go out, they just need to know they are not alone) as well as take them out if needed.
That said, my puppy would get up early because she needed to eliminate, after she was taken outside, I would place her back in the crate with a high value, long lasting, treat (I use Kong toys stuffed with canned dog food and then frozen - I always keep a few in the freezer!) That gave her something to do in her crate (ie eat her breakfast) and me an extra hour or so of sleep as after finishing the Kong the puppy often went back to sleep again.
As the puppy matures and her bladder can hold more, they will wake up later, especially if they are in the bedroom and no one else is waking up.
Help my dog barks at everything, what do I do?
Barking problems are among the most common complaints that dog owners have. Why do dogs bark? Well, for a variety of reasons. Dogs will bark if they feel threatened. They may bark when they play and get excited. Some dogs will bark for attention. Some will bark if they are in pain and they’ll even bark when they’re lonely, bored or stressed. Certain breeds or breed types are also genetically inclined to bark more than others.
How you’ll prevent or resolve your issue with barking will partially depend on what is triggering your dog to bark. For example if your dog is barking or vocalizing because he’s in pain, treating the source of his pain would be the obvious solution. If your dog is barking through the front window as dogs pass by your house, blocking off his access to that window is a simple way to help prevent his barking.
Keep in mind that the more your dog practices barking the better he’ll get at it. So identifying what is triggering your dog to bark and if all possible, removing the trigger or trying to stop the barking before it occurs is the simplest way to prevent the barking.
Anti-bark collars which use shock are inhumane and are inappropriate for most kinds of barking problems (and often make the problem worse!). With the right kind of help and a strong desire to stop the problem, most pet parents can successfully resolve barking issues in a safe and humane way.
The Alert Barker
If your dog is barking to alert you to someone or something outside, the answer is quite simple. Remove the source of what triggers his barking. For instance if your dog barks at people as they walk past your home, prevent his access to the window using furniture, closing blinds, blocking off the area with a baby gate or confining him to a room or his crate while you aren’t at home. Understand that when a dog barks at people who are walking past the house and the people keep going, the dog is reinforced for ‘defending his territory’, so the more you can prevent the barking in these cases the better!
The Lonely Barker
Fortunately the remedy for the lonely barker is often simple. Try changing your dog’s environment a bit. Remember that your dog probably wants to be with people. Dogs who are left outside for long periods of time are often the worst offenders of barking. Your dog needs to play with you and feel like he is a part of the family. Dogs typically don’t do well when left alone for long periods of time. Make sure you set aside time for regular walks, playtime – even some training sessions. You’ll want to be sure that you give him the social contact that he needs to keep his body and mind occupied. Barking when left alone may also indicate separation anxiety. If you think that anxiety is the source of your dog’s barking, contact a professional dog trainer in your area who specializes in working with anxiety. You may also want to work with your veterinarian to see if medication is necessary to help improve your dog’s behavior.
Attention seeking barking is a learned behavior! When your dog brings a toy over to you, drops it on the floor, barks and you pick it up and throw it. You have just taught your dog, “When I bark you play!” Even if you look at him or verbally scold your dog when he barks, you will still be teaching him that his barking is a successful way to get your attention. How can you remedy it? You need to ignore his demands. His barking may initially increase and so don’t give in or he will learn that persistence pays off. However, if he barks and you really ignore him or even better if you ignore him and walk away until he is quiet, he will eventually learn that barking doesn’t work and it will decrease.
When my kids are running around in the backyard the puppy will often run after then and try to play with him like they are another puppy. So far I have been clapping and saying NO loudly or LEAVE IT, today I also tried luring the puppy to me with a treat and the COME command. Any advice you have on how I should be handling this ?
In addition to stopping the dog with a sharp word (No, WILL interupt the behavior but it will NOT teach the dog not to chase or tackle), I would recommend you teach your kids to FREEZE! When the play STARTS to get too rough (don’t wait until the teeth come out and the dog is already tackling the kids) teach the kids to BE A TREE (freeze, fold your arms and look down) AND toss treats at your puppy's feet and/or away from the kids!
This does 2 things 1) it stops the kids from being a trigger for the dog to chase and 2) scattering treats will redirect the dog AND it will also act to calm the dog, as the dog will switch from ‘fight or flight’ mode to ’seeking/eating’ mode which changes the dogs brain chemistry and makes them calmer.
When in doubt - throw food (away from the kids)!!!! The dog is rewarded for stopping the chase, and moving away from the kids and calming down!
Above all else, remember that neither your puppy, nor your children have any impulse control at this age and your puppy has TEETH. So when you can’t be actively watching and intervening when necessary, give yourself a break and separate the dog from the kids. Crates, gates and tethers are all good management and good management is a wonderful thing. BTW it’s OK to put the dog in the crate with a frozen kong -especially in the evening when the dog and kids are tired! I stuff my Kong with canned dog food, then FREEZE it so the dog doesn’t get overloaded non-nutritious foods and it takes a long time to empty the Kong!