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General Points:

  • Behavior training takes time, patience, and consistency. The more consistent everyone in the household is with behavior management, the faster your puppy will learn.
  • Spanking or hitting a puppy is unkind. These are not appropriate training methods and should not be used.
  • It is always easier to prevent undesirable behaviors than to correct the behavior. However with puppies, many undesirable behaviors are part of the growing process. The next best strategy is therefore to quickly teach the puppy to stop the behavior before it becomes ingrained in his or her normal routine.
  • When your puppy exhibits an undesirable behavior, applying this general philosophy can go a long way in eliminating the behavior:
  • Stop the behavior (with a command like ‘No!’, with a loud noise, etc.)
  • Redirect the puppy into an acceptable behavior.
  • Praise the puppy for the good behavior.
  • Basic behavior training is the foundation of many behavioral corrections. Having a well-trained puppy can make your adult dog better adjusted.

Training:

Basic Commands:

Every puppy should learn and routinely practice some basic commands. Start with the high priority commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’, ‘come’, ‘heal’, ‘lay down’. From there you can get creative with other commands. It is important to practice these commands daily. Every family member should take turns working on the commands so that the puppy learns that he or she should take the commands from everyone.

Training Classes:

It is always a great idea to enroll a puppy in basic training classes. These classes should be ‘group’ classes with multiple puppies and breeds, which will contribute tremendously to puppy socialization. The classes do not have to be expensive! We do not recommend facilities where puppies are dropped off for training without the owner present. For training to be fully effective, the owner needs to also be present to learn with the puppy.


Socialization:

When is the best time to socialize my puppy?

A puppy’s ‘socialization window’ is open until about 16 weeks of age. This means that we want to try and expose the puppy to a wide variety of things during this time period. The exposures during this time period can set up lifelong effects. Of course puppies can (and should!) be socialized after 16 weeks of age.

How do I socialize my puppy?

Try and expose your puppy to a variety of people, animals and situations. Take the puppy away from the house. Encourage contact with strangers (especially children), other dogs their age, and even cats if possible. Place the puppy in various unfamiliar situations and try to make these pleasurable experiences. By teaching a puppy not to be afraid in a new situations, we may be able to avoid having the puppy grow up into an adult that is afraid and aggressive in unfamiliar environments.

Won’t socializing my dog make them lose the ability to help guard the home?

No. Dogs are so instinctively territorial that even nice dogs will bark at the doorbell or react to strange noises. Not socializing your puppy can create an adult dog that is fearful, aggressive, and unable to maintain normal contact with humans.

A word of caution:

Always remember that puppies are more susceptible to infectious diseases. Their immune systems are still developing, so they may be less able to fight off infections. Additionally, they have not received all their puppy vaccinations before 16 weeks of age. Do your best to strike a balance between socializing while also being selective about where your puppy goes and with whom he or she plays.


Chewing:

It’s a "normal" behavior!

Chewing usually presents itself as teething on inanimate objects or as biting the owner. Although chewing can be very frustrating for new puppy owners, remember that chewing is a normal behavior. Although chewing cannot be eliminated, the effects can be minimized.

Supervision is key:

Puppies need to learn what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable, to chew on. While your puppy is in this learning phase, it’s best to have your eyes on the puppy at all times. If you cannot watch your puppy, place him or her in the crate for a period of time where he or she cannot find inappropriate items for chewing.

Consider a ‘pacifier’ toy:

Attempt to get your puppy fixated on one particular chew toy. Compare this behavior to a child’s attraction to a pacifier. This toy should be made for chewing and it should either be indestructible or readily replaceable with a duplicate. A hollow rawhide or Nylabone or Kong toy are good examples. Keep in mind with a rawhide, the owner should purchase a larger size than they would normally consider. This will allow a longer life for the toy and minimize the likelihood of ingestion.

How many toys?

Puppies should have many other toys besides the pacifier toy. These toys should be rotated to avoid boredom with the toys. Additionally, after playtime put the other toys away. The idea is if a puppy has an entire room full of toys to choose from, he or she cannot tell the difference between a toy or a shoe or a couch, etc. If the puppy becomes accustomed to chewing on the first thing in his or her path, sooner or later he or she will find something inappropriate for chewing.

What do I do if I catch my puppy chewing on an inappropriate item?

Say ‘No!’ and take the item away. Then, offer the puppy an acceptable item for chewing. When the puppy takes the acceptable item, praise the puppy.


Play Biting:

Is play biting ok?

Puppy play biting should always be discouraged. Play biting can either be an expression of chewing behavior, or it can be from more aggressive playfulness. While it may seem ‘harmless’ now, it can cause the puppy to grow up thinking it is ok to bite people. Furthermore, puppy teeth can be sharp and painful, and the play biting can still cause harm – especially to children.

How can I make my puppy stop play biting?

First and foremost – do not hit or spank the puppy. This type of punishment is unkind, and it will likely incite more biting because the puppy will think you want to play more roughly. Instead, when the puppy bites, you can try a few different things:

  • Yelping like another puppy would yelp if it had been bitten too hard can be a natural signal to your puppy that the biting is not ok.
  • Say ‘No bite!’ in a deep tone of voice.
  • You can stand up and turn your back to the puppy, or walk away. This will signal that play time ends when the puppy bites.
  • If your puppy chases after you and bites at your ankles, you can either close a door behind you for just a few seconds, or you can put your puppy in the crate to settle down. Just be careful to not turn the crate into a place of punishment. We want the puppy to feel safe and want to be in the crate (more on that later).


Crate Training:

Why should I crate train my puppy?

Crate training is incredibly useful and handy. It keeps the puppy and the house safe when the puppy is unattended. There is nothing cruel about crate training, and puppies will accept – and even enjoy – the crate. Keep in mind that if crating is used incorrectly (e.g., as punishment), more behavior problems can result.

Will my dog like the crate?

Dogs are natural den dwelling animals, so confinement in a crate is a normal experience for them. Owners will defeat the purpose of a crate if they express remorse for confining the puppy for extended periods.

Crate Selection:

The crate should be large enough for the puppy to comfortably stand, turn around, and lay down. For puppies, if the crate is too big, the puppy may learn to soil in one area and lay in the other. Therefore, the crate should be small enough to encourage non-soiling. As puppies learn not to soil in the crate, the crate size can be increased. Some crates come with removable dividers. These are useful because you can make it small for the puppy with the divider, and then as the puppy grows and learns not to soil the crate, the divider can be removed.

Where should I put the crate?

The answer to this question will depend on individual circumstances. Keep in mind that some puppies will use the crate as a ‘getaway’ when they need a break, so placing it in a quiet area of the house could be helpful. Some puppies do better if the crate is placed away from people – otherwise if they see the person they whimper and ask to come out.

When should I crate my puppy?

Puppies should be in their crate any time the owner is not supervising them. This includes at night while everyone is sleeping., during the day if no one is home, or during the day if the owner is busy and cannot monitor the puppy.

What should I put in the crate?

A blanket or towel may be in the crate as long as the puppy does not chew it. The puppy’s chew toy (provided it is indestructible) can also be placed in the crate. Food and water do not need to be in the crate for shorter periods of time, but water can be placed in there for longer periods if the puppy is potty trained.

How should I put my puppy in the crate?

Use the same command each time the puppy is put in the crate (e.g. ‘Crate’, or ‘Kennel’). Praise the puppy for going into the crate. A treat or piece of food can be also be offered as a reward.

When should I stop using the crate?

Once a puppy is thoroughly house trained and no longer chewing inappropriate items, the use of the crate may be discontinued. This usually occurs around one year of age. Often the dog is so attached to the crate that the owner will continue using the crate indefinitely. Remember, having a dog in a crate when no one is home keeps the dog and the house safe!


House (Potty) Training:

Overview:

When puppies are learning not to use the bathroom in the house, several different things are occurring. First, the puppy’s body is learning how to hold the urine or stool. Second, the puppy is learning where it can urinate or defecate. Third, the puppy and the owner are learning how to communicate with each other about going outside. Owners should pay attention to the signals that puppies will give when they need to use the bathroom.

How long will it take to potty train my puppy?

Many puppies will be getting the hang of potty training between 10 and 12 weeks of age. Most puppies will be well trained by 6 months of age.

Utilize Crate Training:

Crates teach puppies to hold their urine and stool because they instinctively do not want to soil in their ‘den’. Puppies younger than twelve weeks may not have the holding power to go long periods of time in the crate. If a puppy older than twelve weeks is soiling the crate, the crate may be too big.

Establish a Consistent Time Routine:

As soon as the puppy is let out of the crate, he or she should immediately be taken outside to use the bathroom. The puppy should also be taken outside at regular intervals throughout the day, with a gradual increase in those intervals as the puppy gets better at holding the urine and stool. Remember to take outside after meals – a puppy will usually need to defecate within 30 minutes of eating. Finally, take the puppy outside one more time before bed.

Establish a Consistent Bathroom Location:

Always take the puppy to the same area in the yard. This area should only be for the puppy to urinate or defecate in. Do not allow play in this area. Even if the puppy is in a fenced yard, the puppy should be on a leash to maintain control. Once the puppy has finished relieving itself, praise the puppy with words, affection and/or treats.

How to Handle Accidents in the House:

  • First and foremost, don’t let the puppy out of your sight. This step alone can prevent many accidents because you can notice the signs that the puppy needs to use the bathroom.
  • Do not scold the puppy after the fact. They will not understand why you are fussing at them.
  • If you catch the puppy in the act, say ‘No!’ and carry the puppy outside right away. If they finish eliminating outside in the right place, then you can praise them.
  • You can also pick up the urine or stool from inside with a paper towel, place it in the yard, and have the puppy smell it there.

Is Paper Training (Potty Pads) OK?

We do not recommend this method of potty training because it teaches the puppy to use the bathroom in the house. This will only delay the puppy from learning to eliminate outside.


Handling:

Dogs routinely resist having their mouth, ears, and feet handled. By gently handling these areas repeatedly during puppyhood, owners can help their puppies learn to accept this handling. When the puppy is resting and quiet, work on handling these sensitive areas. Gently touch the lips and gums. Do not allow the puppy to chew on your fingers. Handle the earflaps and gently touch the external ear opening. Finally, rub the feet between the toes, on the underside, and around the nails. Make this a pleasurable, bonding experience. Be sure to praise your puppy in a quiet, soothing voice.


Leash Training:

Puppies have to learn how to walk with a leash. Leash training should be done gradually by first introducing a collar. The collar should be loose enough to insert two fingers between the collar and the neck, but snug enough that it cannot be pulled over the puppy’s head. Once acclimated to the collar, the leash can be attached. Allow the puppy to simply drag the leash around without anyone holding the leash. This should only be done under supervision in order to prevent the puppy from choking his or her self. Next, pick up the leash but allow the puppy to go where it chooses. This allows the puppy to become accustomed to a person holding the other end of the leash. Once this is accomplished, encourage the puppy to follow you by using praise and treat rewards. Never put the leash and collar on and pull the puppy. A bad leash experience will only delay leash-training success.


Jumping:

Jumping up to greet people is a common puppy behavior that should not be allowed. Although small now, when the puppy grows up he or she could hurt or knock someone down by jumping on the person (especially a child or elderly person). The puppy’s nails can also cause scratches. It is therefore best to never allow the behavior. When greeting a person, keep the puppy leashed. When the person approaches, drop the leash enough to stand on it so the puppy cannot jump up. When the puppy interacts with the person without jumping, praise the puppy.


Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS