Why does my puppy do that?!: Common puppy questions answered!
By Hannah Burton
Having a new puppy is an exciting and highly anticipated time! However, sometimes it can feel like your puppy is trying to communicate with you in a completely foreign language, leaving you tearing your hair out!
Though it can be hard to understand your puppy, taking the time to think about and understand their motivation may help you to be a more sympathetic guardian. We have compiled a list of the eight most common complaints we receive from guardians regarding their puppies and given a summary of the most common reasons they occur.
Before reading this article, it is important to note that while for all of the behaviours listed we have stated the motivations we see most often, these are not the only reasons we see these behaviours occurring. If you are struggling with any behaviour on this list, or any other puppy problems, please contact a reward-based trainer for additional guidance.
A note on punishment: Remember how I said that it can feel like your puppy is trying to communicate with you in a foreign language? Unfortunately for your puppy, this goes both ways and is one of many reasons we do not advise punishing your puppy for demonstrating any behaviour. Not only is it very confusing for your puppy, but you may also find that all your puppy learns is to avoid doing those behaviours in front of you (the scary and unpredictable human)! Instead, we should always be trying to find ways to encourage behaviours that we do like.
Why does my puppy…
Unfortunately, there are many reasons your puppy can bark so this is a tricky question to answer! If you are having problems with your puppy barking regularly, the best thing you can do is look at what triggers the behaviour and what happens as a result.
As an example, let us pretend your dog Fido starts barking every time your doorbell rings. The barking continues until the door has opened and the person has either left or has entered the property, where upon Fido shows friendly and excitable body language as he greets the new person.
It is safe to suggest in this situation that the reason Fido is barking is that he has learned the doorbell is a predictor of new people, and as a result barks out of excitement. However, even within this example there is room for his motivation for barking to be different. If Fido showed uncomfortable and nervous body language around new people he may be frightened of strangers, which would result in an entirely different training plan!
If your dog is barking for any reason, one of the best things you can do is teach your puppy what you’d like them to do instead. In our original example, one easy way to alter the behaviour may be to teach Fido that the doorbell means something different. A classic example of this is to teach your dog to find a toy on the cue of a doorbell. This alternative behaviour results in a quiet dog, as it is physically impossible for Fido to bark with a toy in his mouth! Another technique is to teach Fido to go and lay down on his bed. Fido will be so busy looking for his bed that he’ll forget to bark!
…bite my hands and/or feet?
Like barking, it can be hard to understand why dogs are nipping and biting without taking a look under the hood first!
For all puppies, nipping and biting behaviour is normal. Puppies first start to play with their littermates at around four weeks old, and then spend the next four to six weeks roughhousing with their littermates before you bring them home. In your puppy’s eyes, nipping and biting is perfectly normal etiquette, this is how you interact with others around you and they know no different when they come into their new homes.
Instead, teach your dog what you would like them to do by having them play with toys with length (to keep your hands away from them) or give them chews to nibble on as opposed to your skin!
Behaviours like nipping and biting often get worse when your dog is tired, and therefore having regular rest periods is an absolute essential, for all dogs but especially for young puppies. Having somewhere your puppy likes to go to rest, such as a crate or a pen will help with this, as the physical barrier will help to stop the nipping and biting. If you have a puppy proof room, a baby gate in the doorway may also help.
I have previously written a blog post discussing ‘the dos and don’t of puppy nipping and biting’. If you would like further guidance and are interested in reading this, please click here.
...jump up all the time?
It is very normal for puppies to jump up at their guardians and people on the street. Most puppies are around 10 inches high when you first bring them home meaning you feel miles taller than them!
Puppies like to be close to you, especially your face as this is where they get lots of their communicative information from. When you are little and you cannot see that high, it makes sense to jump up and make that process easier!
Equally, if you have been away and your puppy is jumping up to greet you, it’s purely because they are excited that you are back!
Teaching your puppy to keep four paws on the floor can be one of the hardest challenges of puppy guardianship but is ultimately worth it! It may be very cute when your eight-week-old German Shepherd puppy jumps up at you, but when your 35kg fully grown adult jumps up it may be a different story.
At Wanderdog, we love the Chirag Patel method for this! Teaching your puppy that it is much more reinforcing to keep their four paws in the floor than it is to jump up is the key to breaking the cycle. It is also important never to punish your dog for jumping up, using old fashioned techniques such as rattle cans or kneeing your dog in the chest, as this can create future conflict about approaching you. This can be especially important when trying to train future behaviours, such as a recall.
…try to dig up my garden and/or furniture?
Digging is a very natural behaviour for dogs. For some dogs, such as Dachshund, Beagles and Jack Russel Terriers, digging is an intuitive and instinctive behaviour. For others, it can be learned.
Though it has never been specifically studied, scientists have theorized that digging makes your dog feel good by releasing lots of happy hormones! Furthermore, these “happy hormones” act as a stress reliever and make your dog feel even better!
It therefore makes sense for us as puppy guardians to give out dogs a natural outlet if they enjoy digging. If you have the space, be that a garden or a large balcony, you can give your dog a specific dig box with sand in it. Encouraging them to use it by hiding toys, treats, and chews in it will make this much more reinforcing. Equally, if you catch them digging something you’d rather not, redirecting them onto their dig box will make the transition much easier.
If you do not have the outdoor space for a sandbox, having a ball pit inside your home can also work as a dig box, or even just a cardboard box with paper and treats in it!
…play tug with their lead?
Sometimes it can seem like puppies are doing thing specifically to drive you nuts, and one of those things is playing tug games with their lead! Even if you think you are telling your puppy off by staying “Rover stop!” and pulling back, this can actually be reinforcing for your dog and turn this into an even more exciting game!
The first step to preventing this behaviour is to make this game super boring. Holding the lead dead still and ignoring your dog until they let go is one technique to manage this. If your dog has a drop cue, you can also use this cue, though I would try to use this cue sparingly as we don’t want to create a behaviour chain (where they learn to grab the lead in order to drop it for rewards, clever pooches!)
Instead, we want to teach our dog what they can do instead. If your dog likes to tug on the lead for the fun of it, bring along a tug toy you can have games with at appropriate moments, such as in the park!
Alternatively, if your dog is tugging or chewing the lead out of frustration or worry, bringing something else they can chew/carry can be a great alternative behaviour!
…pick things up off the street?
As natural scavengers, dogs are very prone to picking things up off the street. This is especially true in big cities, where there are lots of things to pick up!
It is also important to note that puppies, similar to toddlers, explore the world by putting things in their mouths. Many puppy guardians find that their first few walks are a bonanza of their dogs trying to eat anything and everything from leaves to receipts to cigarette butts!
As your puppy gets older, they will slowly decrease the amount of things they pick up. However, things like tasty chicken bones, remain a fan favourite and those natural scavenger instincts are likely to kick in. It is important to teach a strong drop and leave cue, and to always bring treats to reward for this behaviour.
I have previously written a blog posts discussing what to do if your dog is continually picking things up off the street, and why we should not forcibly remove items from their mouths, but instead always swap for it if drop cue is not learnt. If you are interested in reading, please click here.
…never get tired?!
It is very common for puppy guardians to mention that they feel like their new puppy is running rings around them and never gets tired! As young, rambunctious puppies they do often have more life than we do and are likely to tire us out! However, if your puppy is bordering on hyperactive, there are several factors we can look at to help.
Firstly, and potentially the most crucially is diet. If you are feeding your dog a diet that is high in rice you may begin to see side effects! Rice is, to both dogs and humans, like rocket fuel! The complex carbohydrates essentially act as a sugar once they enter the digestive system, hyping your dog up! If your dog has a diet that is high in rice, swapping to a higher quality diet may help to bring your dog’s energy levels down. We recommend checking your dog’s diet at www.allaboutdogfood.com to see what nutritional rating it has, and sticking to above 90%.
It is equally important to ensure you are not overexercising your dog. Many online forums suggest taking your overly excitable puppy to the park and throwing their ball for them to chase until they are physically exhausted. This is inadvisable for two reasons. Firstly, chasing a ball is only going to increase your dog’s adrenaline level, making them more alert and energetic, regardless of how tired they actually feel. Secondly, the repetitive motion of chasing a ball can damage the developing joints, leading to musculoskeletal issues in later life.
Instead, use a combination of mental and physical stimulation to tire your puppy out. Taking your dog on long, sniffy, decompression walks will help to tire your dog out as sniffing is an exhausting activity for dogs! Activity and puzzle toys can also encourage your dogs to use their brains. Teaching your dog how to use their nose with a find it cue can also encourage this sniffing action.
Another technique to help with an overactive pup can be the creation of a clear routine. Giving your dog set times in the day where there is nothing to do with self-entertain or sleep can be useful for encouraging a more relaxed canine. If you are going to take this approach, having an area where your dog knows that they should relax, such as a play pen, can help to promote calm. There are also calming scents and music designed for calming dogs that you can use too.
…chew my furniture?
Coming home to find your dog has chewed your furniture may test your ability to keep cool, even more so when dealing with their determination to chew your things, can understandably test your patience to the limit!
As previously discussed, young dogs will explore the world with their mouths. Young puppies will find out what’s what in the world by putting objects the encounter in their mouth! This should get better with time, however if things are not improving, there are a few reasons why this may be.
The most common reason for puppies chewing furniture is that they are teething! Teething is an extremely painful process for puppies and they often will chew anything they can get their mouths around to help them feel better. This is especially true of puppies coming towards the end of their teething process, as they will naturally gravitate towards harder chews, such as table legs!
If you think this may be your puppy’s problem, then providing them with a variety of chews is the first step in helping. Hard chews like coffee or olive wood work brilliantly for this, but dog safe bones, freezeable toys or even ice cubes are also fantastic. Having chews that are softer, made out of cotton, fabric and plastic will also be a great addition to your arsenal, as you want to be able to substitute like for like.
If you think your puppy is chewing on your furniture because they might be bored, providing them with a variety of other things to chew may also help to manage this behaviour.
With all of the problem behaviours discussed in this post, it is best to contact a positive reinforcement trainer to get advice on how to best tackle your dog’s unique & individual behaviour. Feel free to get in touch with us at Wanderdog if you would like to work on any of these issues for your pup