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Pushy Pups

Dealing with unruly young dogs

Your puppy may start off playful and easygoing, but as she matures she may become more difficult to control. Since dog breeds have been selected over many generations for specific characteristics (physical and behavioral), and since much of a dog’s behavior comes from the genes of the parents, researching the breed and meeting the parents or siblings can help you to get a better idea of what your dog might be like as an adult. While genetics plays an important role, how you handle, train, and communicate with your puppy is also critical in shaping adult behavior.

It is important to learn how to communicate with your new puppy and meet all of her behavioral needs. Training should start as soon as you bring your puppy home. Begin by rewarding your dog only for behaviors that are undesirable. Consistency is critical, so make sure all family members are on the same page. Otherwise, you may soon find that you are losing control as your dog becomes increasingly unruly and no longer responds to your commands. Early experiences should include learning positive ways to make handling enjoyable and teaching your dog to give up food and toys for even more valuable rewards in order to eliminate possessive and guarding behavior. This should help to prevent problems with handling and possessive aggression.

Taking control, ensuring success

Set up your household to ensure success. When you cannot watch your puppy, house her in a safe area where she cannot do harm to herself or to your household. When you are with your puppy, training and control can be achieved by rewarding behaviors that are desirable and preventing or interrupting those that are undesirable. Keeping your puppy on a leash will help prevent her from getting into trouble and will also provide you with a means of controlling unruly and undesirable behaviors and guiding her to what is desirable. For better head control, you can attach the leash to a head halter.

Reward-based techniques, such as giving your puppy food, favored toys, and praise when she displays good behavior, are the best ways to train. By giving rewards consistently, immediately, and predictably, your puppy can quickly learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. Avoid physical punishment, scolding, leash corrections, or pinning the dog down, as they can lead to fearful, defensive, and even aggressive reactions.

Problems often begin with normal behaviors that get out of control. Examples are pulling against the leash on walks, jumping up during greetings, play biting, and barking for attention. As soon as your puppy begins to exhibit undesirable, demanding, or overly exuberant behavior, you should ignore her so you do not encourage the behavior. For dogs that jump on you to greet you, try a verbal command such as “quit” or “off,” but do not give your puppy any attention until the behavior ceases. If your dog has been trained, an even better choice is to use one of the commands such as “sit,” “down,” or “go to your bed” to teach your dog a more desirable greeting behavior, which you can then reward. Keeping a leash and head halter attached anytime problems might arise is an effective means of immediately interrupting undesirable behavior and teaching your puppy how to acct appropriately.

Handling your hound

Throughout your dog’s life, you will need to handle or lift her, bathe or groom her, brush her teeth, clean in or around her ears and eyes, and trim her nails. These interactions can elicit fear and possibly aggression from some dogs that are not used to them. Gentle, positive handling exercises can prevent these types of problems from emerging. Begin at times when your puppy is calmest, such as after a walk or dinner, starting at a level she will accept. Give your dog tasty treats while gently handling her. Puppies that are headstrong or fearful may struggle and resist. Should this happen, you will need to gradually overcome any resistance by proceeding slowly and using rewards such as food to turn the situation into one that is enjoyable. Always end the session on a positive note and use this as a starting point for your next session. Never force the puppy to a point where you cause fear, struggling, or aggression. If you identify resistance or threats, seek the guidance of your veterinarian.

Drop it”

Possessive behavior or guarding of food, toys, or stolen items is related to how strongly your dog wants to keep what she has. It is not related to how she feels about you. Should your puppy display any aggression, seek immediate guidance from our veterinarian. To help prevent guarding, the first step is to teach the puppy to give up objects for rewards of higher value. Begin with a toy that is of minimal appeal and teach your dog to give it to you by trading it for a tasty piece of kibble. Initially, you should present the food and say “drop it” while the dog has the object in her mouth. Each time thereafter, do not show the food when you say “drop it,” and give it to your dog only after she drops the object. Once she reliably drops objects on command for food, switch to intermittent food reinforcement (offer praise each time and food only occasionally). After the pet willingly gives up toys of minimal appeal, progress to practicing the “drop it” command with toys that are more attractive to her and tastier treats as rewards. Clicker training (a clicking sound is associated with a food reward) can also be a very effective way to reward your dog for dropping. Simply monitor your dog closely until she drops the object and then immediately click and reward the behavior.

Mealtime

Although it’s best not to bother a dog during meals, it is important that the dog does not feel threatened when family members are around. To this end, have your dog sit while you prepare her food and place it on the floor. Then call your dog to come and eat. During feeding, approach your dog once or twice, interrupt her with a “sit” or “come” command, then lift up the food bowl, put a special treat in the bowl, and give it back. Another exercise is to have your dog sit, place about 10 percent of her meal in her bowl, and have her come and eat. As soon as she is finished, have your dog sit, then pick up the bowl and add another 10 percent. Repeat, and occasionally add a special treat, until your pup eats all the food. To reduce any threat the dog might feel when people come near her while she is eating, occasionally drop a special treat into the bowl as you walk by. If your dog shows any threat, consult our veterinarian. Never punish a puppy for growling while at her dinner bowl.

Who’s tugging whom?

Tug can be a fun game to play, but only if it does not escalate into unruly or aggressive behavior. Teach your dog to sit or lie down before the game begins and be certain that you can stop the game without problems. Practice a “drop” or “give” command during the tug game, then give a treat and resume play. When the game is done, either take the toy away and give a final treat or leave the toy with the dog (as long as she doesn’t damage the toy or become aggressive).

Even with the best of efforts, problems may arise. If you are having difficulty training your puppy or controlling unruly behavior or aggression, contact your veterinarian.

Piranha Puppies

Keeping mouthing and biting under control

It’s normal for a puppy to use her mouth during play and social interaction, but it’s certainly no fun having those sharp teeth embedded in your ankle or arm. It’s important to teach your puppy how to use her mouth in an acceptable manner. Strategies for controlling the little piranha include encouraging acceptable play, providing sufficient stimulation to meet her needs, teaching her basic commands such as “sit” and “down,” and ignoring or interrupting undesirable biting behavior.

When play biting becomes too intense or persists into adulthood, seek the advice of a behavior specialist so you can determine the best course of action.

Don’t make things worse

Do not encourage your pet’s pesky behavior. Don’t get your pup all fired up with rough play, teasing, or a game of tug-of-war if these lead to biting. Avoid games that encourage your puppy to attack any part of your body, and don’t wear gloves during play to allow your puppy to bite.

Be careful not to inadvertently reward the behavior. If biting works to get your attention, the behavior will continue. Petting your dog, picking her up, talking to her, or even giving her a mild shove or a light scolding can actually reward biting behavior. Therefore, any hard contact between your puppy’s teeth and the human body should be a signal for you to cease giving any attention to your dog. Immediately stopping play and ignoring your puppy or walking away will teach your puppy that attention and play stop when biting begins. Similarly, do not begin to play if your puppy is displaying “demanding” behaviors such as pawing, jumping up, barking, or mouthing.

When biting begins during play, or if you can anticipate biting, try to change her focus to a toy or some other form of play that does not involve biting. Another option is to use a training command, such as “sit” or “down” and reward her with a treat or toy if she settles down. A loud “ouch” when your dog bites can also be used to interrupt the behavior and mark the stopping of play. Play should begin again only if biting does not recur.

There will likely be times when your puppy becomes overly aroused and you cannot effectively deal with the problem. In these situations, one option is to immediately leave the room and shut the door (as long as it’s safe to leave your puppy alone) and return only when the puppy is settled. Otherwise take her to her safe area (such as a crate or pen) and give her a feeding or chew toy to keep her (and her mouth) occupied.

Avoid harsh corrections and physical punishment. Never hit or slap your pet, thump her nose, squeeze her lips against her teeth, shake her by the scruff of the neck, roll her onto her back, or force your fingers into her mouth. This kind of correction is likely to make the biting problem worse, ruin the bond with your pet, and lead to more serious problems, such as fear or aggression. On the other hand, some puppies may actually find these harsh corrections to be a big game, which only encourages them to bite and play more roughly.

Channel that energy

If your puppy is constantly demanding attention by mouthing or biting or is playing too rough, then you will need to provide other ways to keep her brain and body active. Schedule regular play and exercise throughout the day in ways that do not involve mouthing, such as walking, running, playing fetch, chasing a ball, practicing some of her training exercises, or even playing tug games as long as your puppy’s teeth remain on the toy and do not touch your body. Another way to channel your puppy’s energy is to provide frequent opportunities for playing with other friendly dogs. Giving your puppy dental treats, toys that are designed to be manipulated to release a treat, or those that promote prolonged chewing also provide opportunities to use the mouth and teeth in an acceptable and healthy way. The more energy the pup uses for these other activities, the less she will use for mouthy biting behavior. Remember the training mantra, “A tired puppy is a good puppy.”

Communicating with your puppy

Enroll your pet in puppy socialization and training classes as soon as possible. Teach her a few simple commands so you can communicate with her when she begins to engage in undesirable behaviors. Training sessions combine social time, mental stimulation, and learning new skills, while keeping your puppy focused on behaviors other than play biting.

Teach your puppy what behaviors you expect of her before she gets any rewards. For example, ask her to sit before giving her things she wants, and occasionally command her to stay for a second or two before following you around the home or going through a doorway. Be consistent.

You may want to permit soft mouthing and inhibited bites during play if you have a home in which there are no children or elderly family members who might be at risk. You can teach soft contact by placing your hand in the pet’s mouth when she is very calm and praising her when she mouths softly. However, if she bites with enough pressure that it is uncomfortable for you, say “ouch” and stop the play.

Training aids

A dragline can be a helpful tool for managing your pup’s biting behavior. Attach a long line (ten feet indoors and twenty feet or longer outdoors) to your pet’s collar so you can quickly grab the line when you need to stop the biting. Be sure that the pet is closely supervised when she is wearing a dragline. With a gentle pull on the leash you can immediately stop mouthing and biting. Release tension as soon as the dog settles down. If the puppy will not focus, gets easily distracted, or uses her mouth excessively, more effective control of the head and muzzle can be achieved by using the dragline with a head halter. Head halters can give all family members, even young children, a considerable amount of control over the pet.

Enough is enough: using a stop command

If biting begins during play, it is important that the pet learn to stop on command. This can be done by giving an “enough” command when she is biting. Begin training when the pet is very calm. Hand the puppy a small piece of dry food as you say “okay” in a relaxed tone. Next, hold another piece of food in front of her and firmly say “enough” without raising your voice or yelling. If the puppy doesn’t attempt to make contact with your hand or the food for two seconds, say “okay” and give her the food. If she touches your hand before two seconds pass and before you say “okay,” immediately say “enough” with sufficient force to make her back away but not frighten her. Be dramatic, lean toward the pup, and make eye contact when you give the instructive reprimand. Gradually increase the time the puppy has to wait. Once she learns to leave the food alone on command, practice the exercise without food by using only your hand. Later, repeat he exercise when the puppy is more keyed up.

The goal is to get to the point that the puppy will not take the food or touch your hand once you have said “enough,” no matter how tasty the treat or how interesting your hand. For this technique to work, the whole family must be very consistent, have precise timing, and practice every day. If necessary, a leash and head halter can also be used to teach the “enough” command. Whenever the puppy ignores the command to stop biting, a gentle pull on the leash will close her mouth. Eventually, the puppy will stop biting when you give the command.

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