Kerri Bee offers advice on all aspects of training and preparing your puppy for their new home. This a guide to help you with the most commonly asked questions about puppy care.
Puppies should be fed four times per day until they are three months old (12 weeks). Thereafter they should have three meals per day until they are six months of age or eight to nine months for large and giant breeds. When feeding, allow your puppy twenty minutes to eat the food, and then pick up the bowl, even if there is food left. Provide fresh food at the next mealtime. This will discourage 'grazing' throughout the day and allow puppy's digestive system to rest in between meals making for easier housetraining. Please check that the food you are feeding is as healthy as possible. Click here for more information.
A soft puppy or cat collar and fabric lead is all that is needed, to begin with, and plain flat collars thereafter. When they are fully grown you can spend money on a really nice collar, still flat and kind, though. Buy small cheap plastic bowls for food and water and save money for the things they will need when fully grown. This also applies to beds which can be very expensive. Try old blankets in a cardboard box to start with and keep an eye on chewing!
A harness is a really good idea for lead walking any size puppy as they can help prevent pulling from the outset. Get your puppy used the collar/harness and lead in short sessions at home. When you do attach the lead practice getting your puppy to stay with you using a cheerful voice but don't allow your puppy to pull. Never pull on a puppy's neck, just stop and call him back and change direction. Perfect lead walking is not important at this stage, just get him used to the feeling of lead and teach him that he goes nowhere when he reaches the end of the lead but goes everywhere with a loose one. It is vital that your puppy doesn't learn to pull to get to where he wants to go and you will learn much more about this on your course, but if you need help in the meantime, do please get in contact.
This can be the hardest element of basic training but it can be made so much easier by starting training from day 1 at home with your pup. Coming back to you must be extremely rewarding for the puppy – you need a happy emotional response as well as 'obedience', in other words, he must want to come back, or he just won't! Very simply, reward your puppy every time he comes to you in the house, even if you didn't call him. Using treats like small pieces of chicken and cheese will mean a lot more than shop bought treats but also play with him and make a fuss of him every time. In class, you will learn how to formalise this training with a word like 'come' or by using a whistle, but in the early days just make coming back really fun for him.
Puppies must be socialised from their first day at home with you, with vaccinated dogs at their home and yours and with lots of people and situations; your puppy can even go for a short walk on a beach with a receding tide – please see separate chart and advice.
Your puppy needs to let off steam and will need good off lead exercise every day, regardless of age and breed. It is only the length and type of exercise that differs with age and breed, all dogs need the time to 'be a dog' for mental health as well as physical. When your puppy is small, though, letting him off the lead can be quite daunting for many people, even if I advise them that this is really the time when he is least likely to run off.
The compromise until you have a good recall is to use a harness and a long line. I advise 30', 50' and sometimes even 100' training lines. 30' (15m) is a good length for a puppy. Extendable leads
are not a good idea, they teach a dog to pull as they are always tight, they don't allow natural behaviour when greeting other dogs and they are not long enough.
Handling a long line takes practice and there are some safety issues to be aware of. Firstly, you must be able to physically hold your puppy when they have built up some speed.
Have the line looped in big loops over your arm when you don't need the full length. Tie knots all the way up the line to prevent friction burns in case your puppy takes off unexpectedly. Keep back a metre or two to let out as your dogs runs to the end of the line to ease the impact. Avoid wooded areas and beware of the line getting wrapped around ankles or other obstructions. Always be ready to drop the line if needed.
As your confidence grows and your puppy's recall improves with training you can then leave the line to trail on the floor, so you can far more easily catch him again if needed, without grabbing at his collar causing him to avoid you in future. Just stand on the line (he won't know you've stopped him) then get his attention and call him back for a reward.
Leaving alone and night times
Try not to leave your puppy at all in the first few days until he is used to his new environment. Then just start leaving him in one room while you go to another for a couple of minutes. You can leave him with a food toy or chew. Build up the time he is left very gradually from there.
The best place for a new puppy to sleep is undoubtedly in a box or crate next to your bed, this has enormous benefits, not least the fact that he will settle better and need to go to do their business less. You can gradually move him out as he grows up (a crate is ideal as the crate becomes the place of security rather the position next to the bed).
If you don't liken this idea, try sleeping downstairs with him until he settles into your home, before leaving him.
If you feel you must shut him away downstairs from the start, you must not go to him at all if he starts to cry (also applies to puppies upstairs with you). This will teach him to cry for attention. Do be prepared, though, puppies can make an incredible amount of noise and if they get distressed, they are likely to wee and poo and get in a real state. Some puppies are fine from the start; some whine a bit, some sound like murder is being committed for hour after hour, night after night, but there is no way to tell in advance.
Teaching Your Dog His or Her Name
Dogs probably don't view their names in the same way that humans do – as part of their identity, which is why their names can be changed quite easily although people don't like to do it because they place human values on a name.
The way a dog views his or her name depends on how it is used. If a dog is re-homed and is known to have been treated badly in the past, many rescue organisations recommend a change of name. This is because the dog is likely to have negative associations with his name.
If we want a dog to look up expectantly whenever we call his name, he needs to learn that the word means something good. Even good owners use their dog's name to tell him off which can lead to the dog being less responsive to it, if this happens often
enough. Another common 'human' thing to do is to use tone of voice to indicate what is required in a way that the dog cannot understand. For example, if the dog is nosing around in the bin and someone says "Roveeeeer" in a warning tone, he'll get the message about the bin possibly, but he won't feel too positive about his name.
Another way, in which dogs become less responsive to their names, is when their owners talk about them a lot – "Rover did this, Rover did that". Each time Rover hears his name and looks up and no-one notices him, he learns that his name isn't worth looking up for.
It is common for people to use their dog's name to call him back (recall) and this can work well until perhaps your dog goes through adolescence, and decides to ignore his name! When a recall starts to fail, one way to rectify it is to train a new cue for recall or use a whistle. If the dog's name has been used, a new cue will have to be trained and the dog will have to be retrained not to ignore his name.
It is a good idea, therefore, to teach your dog that his name means to pay attention to you because something else is going to happen, maybe a cue to do something else, a walk, his dinner and so forth.
An easy way to start this process with a new puppy or a renamed older dog is simply to put 20 – 30 tiny treats in your pocket each day and give them to your dog in 5 or 6 sessions of 5 treats. You should have no treats in your pocket by bedtime!
Pop a treat in his mouth and say his name at the same time. Do this all around your house, and use different tones of voice and involve the whole family.
After two or three days you should be able to say your dog's name when you are close to him and expect him to turn and look at you. Treat that moment.
Effective House Training
It is very well worth planning how you will house train your puppy before you collect him or her, if you have the opportunity, but don't worry if you've already started. The following explains a simple, kind method of house training that, when followed carefully should see your puppy becoming clean and dry as he or she physically matures. At your initial home visit session, we can discuss how this method can be tailored to suit your family and lifestyle.
New owners should not underestimate the time and commitment that this involves, but please remember that the time spent house training not only teaches your puppy to 'go' outside but helps develop the bond between your family and their dog, as well.
Why are dogs 'house trainable'?
Dogs are born as 'nest' animals. That is to say, their mother gives birth to them and rears them in a nest until they are able to leave it under their own steam at about three weeks old. The mother dog keeps the puppies clean and dry throughout their immobile time in the nest, thus keeping the nest clean and developing the instinct in the puppies that they don't mess or wet the nest. It is a tremendously powerful instinct in creatures hardly able to walk or see. In order for that instinct to be allowed to develop, it is essential that the nest has a defined edge so that as soon as the puppies are able to wobble away to a bowl of solids, they are also able to wobble out of the nest to relieve themselves. If your puppy was raised in an enclosed bed and had to relieve himself in it, there will be additional work needed to redevelop the natural instinct properly. Similarly, if a puppy had a bed and play area of the same material, he will not have know which was which.
Tried and Tested?
Most people know of someone who has trained their dog by rubbing their dog's nose in his own mess, or who has said: "the dog knew it had done wrong because he looked guilty". The dog is now house trained so that method works – right? No. The method of rubbing a dog's nose in the mess is cruel and totally unnecessary because the dog cannot comprehend what he is meant to be learning from that punishment. The puppy that looks guilty when you return from shopping may have made the mess hours ago and won't know why he's being told off. He isn't looking guilty; he's using submissive body language because he has sensed that the owner is cross.
As previously mentioned the dog's instinct to relieve him/herself outside the nest is very strong and will quite often eventually prevail despite all manner of inappropriate house training methods. Those that continue to soil the house hopefully end up re-learning with enlightened owners, a dog trainer or end up in rescue centres labelled as hopeless cases. It is worth considering also the damage done to the owner/dog relationship in cases where the dogs eventually end up house trained in spite of the methods used.
The great news is, there is an easy way to house train your puppy. All you need is a commitment, understanding, the right attitude and the right equipment.
At this stage you should have this in bucket loads! Harness the whole family's enthusiasm and channel it into house training.
The first thing to really grasp is that until your puppy is at least twelve if not sixteen or more weeks of age he or she will have little or no control – they can't help it. Imagine caring for a human baby with no nappy, you wouldn't expect a three-month-old baby to wait, and a baby dog is no different. So, anticipation is everything.
The Right Attitude
With commitment and understanding comes the right attitude. If you understand that he/she can't help it, what is there to be annoyed about? If you know it's the quickest way to a happy, healthy, house trained a young dog, you will be cool about the repeated trips into the garden on cold, wet evenings. Above all else, stay calm. Even if you are able to keep your voice calm, if you are seething on the inside because Buster has just done a wee on your new rug again, he will feel your annoyance from your body language and demeanour which can be counter productive and destructive to all your hard work so far.
It is also important to agree to a plan if more than one person lives with the dog. Who is responsible for what? Who is going to clean up the mess? Who is going to take the puppy outside each time? If you have children, spend some time role playing what they should do when they spot puppy weeing or pooing in the house. Instead of shrieking from the other end of the house "Mum, Dad, Buster's weeing on the rug again", get them to practice walking calmly to you or calling you gently. Shrieking, running and arm waving are part of being a child, but if you can encourage calm at specific times it will benefit your puppy enormously.
The Right Equipment
The best way forward is to train your puppy to go outside right from the start. Training onto paper may be the only option if puppy has to be left alone sometimes, but essentially paper training means training twice – once onto paper then again to go outside. So, newspaper when he's alone and a soft puppy or cat collar and lead when you're are in!
You will also need some cheap biological washing liquid (easier to dissolve by hand than powder), a small bowl or bucket especially for the job, rubber gloves or disposable latex gloves, kitchen towel and old cloths. If you've got a spare mop for hard floors, that will be useful. You may wish to look at restricting your puppy's access to certain areas of your house using dog or baby gates or investing in a puppy playpen or crate.
You will need lots of small moist tasty treats (try small bits of cooked chicken) by the door that you will be taking your puppy out through to the toilet. Making sure that your coat is there ready will make life more comfortable for you.
For winter puppies with very short coats, you may wish to consider a coat as he or she will be spending several minutes, many times a day in the garden. This may also apply to puppies who have never been outside. Bear in mind, though, that you will need to get outside very quickly!
Consider life from a puppy's point of view.
Buster arrives at his new home, totally different to the place he was born and his mum and siblings are nowhere to be seen. He may be excited, he may be scared, but he won't be relaxed so very soon he will need to relieve himself. His instinct will tell him to go outside the nest, but he doesn't know where the nest exit is, so ends up weeing on the carpet three times in a very short space of time. Each time noise, dragons and monsters descend from above, grab him and put him outside alone where it is cold and hostile. On the fourth occasion, he checks for monsters and goes where they can't see or catch him – easy to do in a dark kitchen at night or behind the sofa!
Angel arrives at her new home and is left to explore her new world, which is only as large as the kitchen, with a nice bed. Soon after arriving, the nice teddy bear takes Angel out into the garden for a good sniff around on her new lead. There are so many things to smell and look at with the teddy bear happily chatting to her. When she needs to wee, she goes right there on the lawn without a moment's thought. But what a lovely surprise, the teddy bear says 'good girl' as she does it and gives Angel a nice piece of liver. Angel loves her teddy bears. Not only do they know when she needs to go, but they go with her and give her treats for fertilising the grass. Even when she has to go in the house, she is almost unaware that she has done it, because there is no reaction when she does, so as soon as she's able, she makes every effort to get to the garden to get the treats.
Buster was taught not to wee in front of humans. Angel was taught to wee outside.
How to Actually Do It!
Up to at least twelve weeks of age, your puppy will need to go outside:
● Immediately after waking up
● After eating
● At least every waking hour
● After play or excitement
● Whenever you see the signs – circling, sniffing the floor etc
So the first step is to encourage your puppy to come outside with you at all of these times. Assess your pup's nature in order to gauge how best to do this. For example, you might play 'chase me' to the door, or gently call your calmer pup with you as you go.There may be times when you will need to scoop and poop – scooping him up just as his bottom goes down to start going but generally, try to get him to follow you to the door under
his own steam. This is so that he knows where to go when the time comes to ask to go out.
Take him outside on his lead, with treats in your pocket, to the spot where you would like him to relieve himself. Allow him to sniff around the area and investigate as much as he wants. Initially, you may find that even if he was about to poo in the house, it will take a while for the urge to come back after being taken outside. The key is patience and observation. You should stay out here, really, for as long as it takes, but if he hasn't performed after ten minutes, go back inside and try again in another ten minutes. When he performs, give him a really tasty treat and praise. If using a clicker, the click must come as soon as he finishes, maximising the learning (he may stop if you click as he goes). If you would like to train your puppy to 'go' on request, use a particular word as he goes. Try 'be quick' or 'hurry up' rather than 'tiddles' or 'widdles'! Later on, when he has learnt what the word means, you will be able to ask him to go before you go out, lessening the chance of accidents on the floor when you return.
If you would like him to use a specific spot to go to the loo, or if he doesn't learn how to ask to go out, please ask for details of how to do this.
Try to remember that even if it's 11 pm, raining and freezing, he probably doesn't want to be out there any more than you do. He won't know yet what he has to do to get back indoors, so talk to him, happily and cheerfully, and if he doesn't perform in five minutes, go back in, but be prepared to go out again in another five minutes.
Important: if you let the puppy out to go to the toilet and reward him when he comes in, you will end up with a puppy that asks to go out and comes straight back in again over and over again. This is because he will associate the treat with coming back in – NOT going to the toilet. The treat must arrive the very second he finishes going to the toilet.
Dealing with accidents in the house
Your puppy has little or no muscle control until about sixteen weeks, so he is not messing on your best carpet on purpose, he just can't help it, so there is no mileage in telling him off. During the early weeks he won't be learning 'my bladder is full, I must go into the garden', because he isn't getting enough warning to do that. He is learning 'when I wee in the garden I get a treat'. The more times he successfully goes in the garden, the more you will build on his instincts and the conditioning his mother provided. This way, as soon as he starts to physically mature and get warnings, he will head for the garden automatically.
In the first few weeks, you may feel that you are spending half your time in the garden and the other half cleaning, but with commitment and perseverance, you should soon start to see patterns emerging, making the job easier.
The key is always anticipation, look for his patterns. Does he need to go out five minutes or fifteen minutes after eating?
When you see him going in the house, encourage him outside as before, as he can associate with what he has just done. There is little point if you find it even a minute or later as he will already be into something else.
Ignore any accidents in the house at this age, and be very aware of your non-verbal reaction to accidents in the house. If he senses your annoyance, he will start to get stressed and stress is proven to interfere with learning.
Dogs can smell where they have been, long after you have cleaned it with the most efficient disinfectant, and if they can smell it, they will go there again. A biological washing product will remove all traces of the accident. Blot as much of the urine as you can with kitchen paper (you'll need a lot and tread on the paper), then soak the area with a dilute solution of biological washing liquid, making sure it reaches down to the underlay, then blot again. For solid accidents, flush the solid away and treat the area as for urine. Diarrhoea on carpets is about as bad as it gets! Scrape as much you can up, use a carpet cleaner to get the stain out and finish with the biological washing solution.
It's a good idea to make up a separate bowl or spray bottle of biological solution, and to buy a different colour of cloth and kitchen paper to your usual household ones. Find somewhere to keep the kit away from children and as far away from human crockery etc as possible.
Crates and puppy dens can be tremendously useful with puppies, but they must be used in the right way – as a good place to be, never as a 'sin bin'. For house training, a crate or den must be large enough for the puppy to have a bed with an edge to it and an area to go to the toilet. Buying a crate which will be large enough for him as an adult is a good idea – even if you don't intend to continue to use it indoors, it may be very useful in the car.
At night time or anytime you need to leave him alone or need him safely contained, use the crate or den or an enclosed room like the kitchen or utility room. For the first few times, you will need to 'explain' how to use the area to him.
• Place his bed at one end of the crate, den or room and place several layers of newspaper at the other (not too far away if using a whole room).
• Collect some of his urine from one of his earlier accidents, on a ball of cotton wool and seal it in a plastic bag.
• Get him used to being in the crate by simply laying a trail of treats into the crate and provide a nice stuffed kong or chew in there – don't close the door until he's really happy being in there.
• Then when you need to put him in his area, dab the urine onto the centre of the newspaper sheets, to show him where he should go.
• Most puppies will pick this up very quickly, already being conditioned not to 'go' in their bed, reducing the need for you to do this yucky task very often.
• If your puppy didn't receive the right training from his mother or had his instincts curbed by the conditions he was kept in, you will need to do further work to help him.
The more times he goes in the garden, and the fewer times he goes in his crate, the quicker he will become house trained, but there will always be times he must be confined for his own safety.
Car Travel *
Please be aware of your puppy's toilet needs when travelling in the car. The best bet is to use a crate in the car, with the separate toilet area. If you can't fit a crate in the car, make the floor of the area the puppy travels in, waterproof. Puppies get very distressed of they are forced to go to the toilet in an area they consider to be their bed. Please note puppies must not be left unattended with the plastic backed puppy pads as they would be dangerous if chewed – stick to newspaper when you leave the puppy alone.
You may find that your puppy doesn't like going to the toilet in a moving car. In this case, take him out to the toilet before you leave and stop regularly to take him out.
As time goes by, you should notice that the length between visits to the garden starts to lengthen. Observe your puppy carefully. If he goes to the door or even looks at it, make sure you open it for him, so he learns what he has to do to get the door open. It is possible to teach your dog to ring a bell or push a buzzer when he wants to go out- please ask if you would like to learn how to teach this.
You will also start to notice fewer accidents in the house. Continue praising and treating every time he performs outside. This way, as his body matures, he will become conditioned to go outside. If you work hard and your dog matures quickly, he may be clean and dry by sixteen weeks. If not, don't worry, many dogs are six or seven months old, or even older when they become house trained. The good news is that by following this method, your dog will be house trained in a kind and effective way and in as short a time as possible for your particular dog, making for a much happier dog and home life.
Crate and Puppy Den Training
Crates and puppy dens can be invaluable when your puppy is very young, particularly if you have young children, but only when used correctly.
Crates are usually wire cages with a removable metal tray in the bottom. They usually fold flat when not in use. They have the advantage of being able to be used in the car as well if your boot is big enough, providing added security when travelling and you open the boot. Many dogs continue to use their crates through their lives so it is worth spending an extra ten pounds on one that will be roomy when she is full grown rather than ending up buying two. Check the size of the floor area and the height of the crate in relation to her potential full body size.
Puppy dens are usually like playpens, with or without a base. They give the puppy a larger area to move around in than a crate, but don't have the dual function of being able to be used in a car.
Their basic function is to give the puppy a secure place to be when she can't be properly supervised. You may find that you have a utility room or some small area that can be 'fenced' off that will do the same job. For the crate or den to feel secure it is important that children are not allowed to play in it or put their fingers through the wire when the puppy is in there. They need to be taught positively that the puppy must be left alone when in her crate or den.
It is important that whatever you use, your puppy can see out of it – shielding her from the world will make her nervous. So, crates and pens should be wire and areas or rooms must be fenced off with baby gates or panels that puppy can see through, so that she still feels involved with her new family.
Crates and pens can be used to train all kinds of useful things. First of all you could learn how to cue her to go there when you ask. Then you could ask her to go there every time you sit down to eat or every time the doorbell rings. If you do this every time, she will eventually go there of her own accord when she sees you sit down to eat, or the doorbell rings.
Crates and pens are useful at night time, wherever you choose to have your puppy sleep; they are useful in cars and for all manner of reasons. You can use the crate/den/room whenever you need to leave your puppy alone. Make a bed area and a toilet area inside it – as described in the house training leaflet.
As crates are usually metal, plastic or wire based, it is important to make the bed area comfortable and warm, particularly for very young or very short haired dogs and puppies. Cardboard boxes, old duvets and pillows are ideal during the chewing phases. Do watch the chewing, though; many puppies tear at soft bedding just to pull the stuffing out or shred boxes just for enjoyment, but if your puppy is swallowing these things you will need to find comfortable bedding she doesn't find so attractive.
Encourage your puppy to use it voluntarily by putting treats inside and feeding her in there. Puppies can easily be clicker trained to use their crates, while older dogs can be shaped to use them positively even if they have had previous negative experiences. If you provide her with chews and toys stuffed with food (only under supervision) in her crate you can quietly close the door when she is engrossed and release it again shortly afterwards until she becomes accustomed to having the door shut.
Dogs often see these areas as safe dens, not as cages and most will quickly come to love their den, even with the door shut. It is important to monitor the time your puppy spends in the crate or pen. If she is in there all night, it would be unkind to leave her there for longer than an hour or two in total during the day, so making a safe puppy proof area for daytime with the open crate inside as a bed would be a better solution.
To begin with only use the crate or den for very short periods, until you can see that she will settle nicely in there. You can put her in there any time that you are not able to supervise her properly, or when she needs a break from the children, or the children from her. PLEASE DO NOT USE THE DEN AS A SIN BIN. If you start putting her in there when she is naughty, or you are cross, she will quickly come to dislike the den and resist going in there. There are other better ways to deal with unwanted behaviour. Please also remember that a den is a training aid, not a substitute for good training, socialisation and family interaction.
You will find a den particularly useful throughout the chewing phases (bear in mind that after all the teeth are through, there is a secondary phase of chewing when the teeth 'settle in', which usually occurs between 9 and 12 months (although not usually for the whole three months!). They are also useful when the puppy gets overtired or overexcited but they must be used properly, ethically and with the interests of the dog foremost.
Some dogs chew more than others, but for most dogs chewing is a natural, enjoyable pastime, like getting into a good book. During the first year of life, puppies may chew more because their teeth are coming through. Try to remember that it is just a phase, he's not being deliberately destructive, he's just teething and this is your opportunity to teach him what he can and can't chew. Using a crate or pen will help when he is alone or cannot be properly supervised – but do keep an eye on how long he is separated from his human family. You must also provide him with plenty of things that he can chew, that are different to the things that he can't. Remember also, interrupt and distract, then refocus his attention on something he can chew. Try really hard not to get cross, as this may make matters worse. There is a second phase of chewing when the teeth settle into the jaw in the last part of the first year, so don't despair, you haven't done anything wrong, and it's just another phase.
Many dogs continue to enjoy a good chew throughout their adult lives, which is why pet shops are full of chews. The purpose of chew training is not to stop your dog chewing but to teach him what he can and can't chew.
The dog, who chews furniture while his owners are out, then looks guilty on their return. He's chewing to annoy them, right?
It is more likely that he chews because it feels good, especially when he's left alone, after which he has a good sleep. On his owners' return, he's forgotten the chewing, but covers because from their body language because he anticipates a telling off.
Look for uncoloured rawhide chews – soak the end in a cup of warm water for a few minutes to give your puppy the idea. Experiment with different chew toys to see what your puppy likes.
Make sure you get the right size and chew strength toys for your puppy or dog.
Treat dispensing toys are also a good way to occupy a teething puppy.
These work a bit like the anti-nail bite stuff and are unpleasant to taste. These can be used to protect certain things but only as part of chew training, not as a stand alone cure as puppies need to chew. Although they taste unpleasant for a puppy, they are a lot less unpleasant than chewing a live electrical wire! That said, do keep wires hidden and don't rely on sprays for safety. These are best used on expensive possessions like chairs and tables, the whole house shouldn't be doused in it. Some dogs will still chew but it is worth trying more than one brand as they are all different. Vets often sell the better brands (try one called Bitter Apple) and these do seem to have more effect than chilli paste or curry powder (which stain anyway).
Taking things they shouldn't and eating inedible items!
How you deal with this area of puppy care can affect how your dog behaves for the rest of his life (like so many other things). Puppies will pick things up in their mouths just to see what they feel like/taste like and so on – just like six-month-old babies.
The first thing has to be to puppy proof your home – put away anything you don't want teeth marks on. Many puppies like cuddly toys, socks, gloves, underwear from the dirty laundry basket, children's plastic toys and so on. Put lids on the laundry, impress upon your children that it isn't the puppy's fault if their things (that were on the floor) got chewed and put anything else up out of the way. This is a much easier way than the old-fashioned view that 'the puppy has to learn'. If they get a taste for stealing certain things because they are always lying around, it will become a habit.
The next thing is to change how you look at the behaviour. DON'T shout at your puppy (or worse) or squeal because they have something precious or dangerous, stay cool, don't make a fuss. Go to the fridge and get a couple of pieces of chicken (for example) and either encourage your puppy to come over, show the food and exchange the item for the food. As they give it up, feed the treat and say 'give' or whatever you want to call it. This is not rewarding the stealing, it is rewarding the giving back and your puppy will have no reason to fear you next time. Do be aware that if the same item is left lying around again, your puppy may well go and get it again just to get a treat – so put it away before he does.
If they have something dangerous, toss the food towards them, throw a ball, run up the garden making exciting noises, squeeze a squeaky toy – anything that's more interesting than what they have in their mouth. DON'T rugby tackles your puppy and forces them to open their mouth. All they learn from this is to run away from you and clamp their jaws shut. This also leads to puppies swallowing the dangerous item or learning to growl and guard the item – deal with stealing calmly, when puppies are offered a more tasty option they usually give things up.
Eating faeces, dirt, and picking up stones is very common in puppies. Stay calm and don't react. Clear away stones, or make sure the puppy can't get to gravelled or bare earth areas. Ignore poo eating, but make sure you clear away faeces as soon as they are done.
A salutatory tale
A man rushes his dog to the vet because he has seen him swallow a tennis ball. He knows this because he always has to grab the dog to take tennis balls from him because he will chew them up otherwise. On this occasion, he went towards the dog and saw him swallow the ball.
When the vet opened the dog up she found three tennis balls inside the dog. TRUE STORY!
Learning to Be Alone
To begin with, try not to leave your puppy alone at all if you can help it. Let him explore your house, bit by bit until he starts to settle and know your and therefore, his routine. Dogs are sociable animals and as such do not like being left alone, but living with humans often means they have to be sometimes, so it is important to teach your puppy how to be relaxed on his own fairly soon.
If you are able to take time off work to be with your puppy, please consider doing so or if you are at home anyway, you can get him used to being alone in a gentle and gradual way.
They key is always 'cool goodbyes' and 'warm hellos'. That is to say, don't make a fuss when you leave him, only when you return (although there is a lot to be said for teaching him not to mug you when you get home – see below!).
Start by putting him in his crate and leaving him for a minute or two while you go to another room. Return and wait a minute before you let him out, ignoring any protests in the meantime – not even eye contact. Build this up slowly through the first few days, going into the garden and so on, until you can pop to the shop, return; leave him in his crate for two minutes before letting him out to greet you. Teaching him not to run at you when you arrive home, means you won't get mugged when your arms are full of groceries, thus allowing you to give him your full attention when you've unpacked the shopping (for example). This is in the long term, though, as for a good while, you can only leave him in there for a minute or two after you return because you will need to take him to the garden!
If you have any continued problems with separation anxiety, like howling and barking please ask for help. There can be many different reasons for this and lots of ways to help your puppy learn to be alone.
If you have to leave him for more than a few minutes right from the start, it would be a good idea to have a support plan in place. If you are going to work, hopefully, you will have considered this before getting your puppy.
If he absolutely must be left, consider asking a neighbour or family member to pop into him. Some kennels offer day care and you can also pay a dog walker to come in and spend time with your puppy as well as walk him. It is vital that you provide your dog with 'home alone' activities to maintain his mental health and preserve your belongings. A crate would be too small for a dog for any length of time, but an area of the house that can be cordoned off or a large puppy pen are ideal. Inside your puppy will need his bed, a toilet area as far away from his bed as possible, a spill proof water bowl and interactive toys.
If you are with your puppy a lot of the time, you should still teach him to be alone sometimes and this will include relaxed separation from any other pets also.
Play biting, harassing people or other pets and over-excitement
Puppies play bite in order to learn to control how hard they bite. This is a lesson essential for communication in their future lives since, between dogs, biting is a communication tool as well as the obvious eating one. The more a puppy bites and receives education, as a result, the safer his adult jaws could be. There is no direct evidence to support this, but common sense tells us it's a good idea not to allow biting.
Clearly biting from dogs is not something most people will tolerate in the home, although it is worth considering how humans have changed in their attitudes to biting dogs even in my lifetime. Not so many years ago, people accepted that a growling, snapping dog was trying to communicate his unhappiness about something. These days, our expectation that a dog should not even growl is nothing short of expecting that a human being never raises their voice or write a letter of complaint. It should also be remembered that play biting is very different to aggressive biting and even perfect play biting training will not stop a dog biting if they are stressed enough.
The reasons why some puppies play bite more than others may lie in their early history. Puppies weaned early do not get the chance to learn from their mothers during nursing, that biting is unacceptable. Puppies taken from their siblings too early or those born without siblings may not have the chance to learn which bites result in a yelp from a sibling and the cessation of the game.
Some dogs are bred for 'soft' mouths, others for 'hard' mouths, some are bred to have a low bite threshold and some a high bite threshold. For example, some terriers were bred to bite other dogs with a low threshold (sooner rather than later) but to have a high bite threshold with humans.
There will, however, always be animals that don't conform to their breeding or the experiences of their early lives, but whatever the case it is vital that puppies learn good bite inhibition before their adult teeth come through and their adult bite strength reaches it's peak.
Managing Play Biting
It is unpleasant when an adult dog still play bites like a puppy, but more importantly a dog must learn not to put his teeth on people even when frightened.
• When your puppy bites too hard, make a noise to show it hurt and remove your hand/leg/whatever. Depending on the degree of bite you could stand up or remove yourself entirely from the puppy. (If you try to remove the puppy you risk further play biting because it will be like a game to the pup, or you will start a game of chase). Distancing yourself without further interaction can be a challenge, though.
• The aim is to provide your puppy with an education regarding the consequences of differing degrees of bite.
• If your puppy is under twelve weeks, it may have more effect if you 'yelp' like a sibling puppy before ceasing the activity.
• Issue the sound or yelp firmly but not harshly or shouting.
• There is no need for chastisement or angry body language. The removal of attention/favourite human chew toy, including eye contact is enough together with aloof body language.
• The puppy should only be excluded for 20-40 seconds – not long enough for him to get into something else or any learning will be lost.
• Return the puppy to the original environment and simply repeat the procedure every time the play biting or chasing occurs.
• When your puppy learns to stop biting at the painful level, work on the next level in the same way – even if it doesn't actually hurt. Work all the way through the biting in this way.
• By introducing many other activities, training, play, canine friends, the frequency should also decrease. By teaching a 'no' or 'stop' or 'off' cue you can also decrease the frequency.
Harassing People and over-excitement
If you permit your puppy to chase people, jump on people, and bark for attention or to behave in an otherwise inappropriate way, she will not 'grow out of it'. Instead, the behaviour will be re-inforced because of the attention she receives for doing it. Attention in any form is preferable to no attention for a dog, so if you shout and yell, the chances are your dog will either get used to the noise or actually prefer it to when you pay her no attention. Of course, if your puppy gets used to being shouted at, you are left with the choice of cranking up the punishment or trying an alternative method. If punishment doesn't work, incidentally, it becomes abuse – by definition. Please refer to handouts for more information.
It is important to recognise that much behaviour that people find unacceptable is quite normal for a dog. If you intend to teach your dog not to do something like tugging at people's clothes, it would be worth considering teaching him an appropriate game of tuggy as an outlet for this need. Games like tuggy need to be taught properly to be safe and to help rather than hinder training.
Generally, cats can be very good at dealing with puppies. Try not to shout at your puppy if he chases the cat as you could add to the thrill of the chase or scare your cat more. Cats must be able to reach their bed and food without fear of being harassed by the puppy. If you are worried about your cat, or any other animals you have, please ask for advice.
Dealing with play harassing people or other animals and general over-excitement
• Very simply, if your puppy is behaving unacceptably, say 'no' and stop the activity immediately.
• Issue the cue or yelp firmly but not harshly or shouting.
• Remove the reinforcement from the situation, either the humans or the puppy – as long as the rewarding activity, whatever it was (biting, chasing), stops without further re-enforcement.
• There is no need for chastisement or angry body language. The removal of attention, including eye contact is enough.
• The puppy should only be excluded for 20-60 seconds – not long enough for him to get into something else or any learning will be lost. This was your puppy could have 5 lessons in 5 minutes.
• Return the puppy to the original environment and simply repeat the procedure every time the behaviour occurs.
Dealing with unwanted puppy behaviour may be very time consuming and will undoubtedly try your patience. If this happens, wait for a moment when your puppy is being good, click and treat, and then call your puppy to his crate or special place with treats and something to chew. This technique makes sure that dens and crates don't form negative associations in the puppy's mind and neither is the puppy rewarded for poor behaviour. You can then have a cup of tea and let your puppy out again when you're ready (not too long, though!).
• Don't expect instant results. This may take hours, weeks or longer depending on your puppy and the accuracy of your training technique.
• Whatever way you use this technique, your timing will be crucial to your puppy's understanding. Also, each time your puppy is allowed to get away with biting it will reinforce that behaviour.
Other Ideas to Consider
• Try putting your puppy in his crate before opening the door to visitors. Allow them to come in and close the door before letting your puppy out.
• Get your visitors to follow your wishes regarding your puppy e.g. don't pet him until all his feet are on the floor.
Kerri Bee is a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (no.0999). She runs training classes and one-to-one consultations in West Pembrokeshire. Visit her website. http://www.sppot.co.uk
*We recommend that dogs and puppies should be transported in a vehicle, either a crash tested car harness.