Common puppy behavioural problems

No matter how adorable and cuddly your puppy is there are times when his or her behaviour can be downright baffling. So what's the solution? Helping your puppy to learn good habits that he or she can take into their adult years is key. Below are 6 common issues and practical solutions.

Q.  My 4-month-old Spaniel loves to play bite. It started as a bit of fun when he was younger and his teeth were tiny, but now he does it whenever I touch him. How can I get him to stop?

A. Play biting is something puppies do with their siblings or mothers, and they may get a nip back if they are too rough. When your pup is very young, it’s easy for you to join in his 'rough and tumble' as he nibbles your hand. But, by doing this, your dog learns that play biting gets your attention. He may well continue with this play biting behaviour even though you no longer find it fun. Give a little yelp when he does it, just to gently startle him and interrupt the behaviour. Then immediately withdraw any attention from him by walking away. Keep doing this each time he tries to play bite and he’ll learn that biting results in the end of play and interaction.

Q.  Our nine-week-old Terrier is very nervous and she seems terrified of just about everything. What can I do to make her more sociable?

A.  Nervousness in a puppy can sometimes occur. Every dog has their own personality; some will be bolder and braver, while others are shier. Socialising your puppy from its first weeks with you is essential in order to help her learn to cope with a wide range of experiences so she can get the most out of life. You’ll also help her grow into a dog who is adaptable and sociable. When socialising, take your puppy’s character into account. Gradually introduce her to the outside world, carrying her if she feels safer in your arms. Once she’s a bit older, attend a good puppy socialisation class in your area which ensures that she is treated with care and understanding. You can also take your pup to meet neighbours or friends, and introduce her to some children, asking everyone she meets to be calm and gentle. Do not overwhelm her. Traffic noises, the rustle of a tree or seeing another dog for the first time might initially be scary to your puppy. The more positive the experiences your young dog has, the more confident she should become.

Q.  My five-month-old Labrador becomes very distressed when we leave her alone, even when we are in the house but in a different room. How can we help her feel happy to be out of our sight?

A.  I’d recommend investing in a slatted dog gate, so that she can be physically separated from you but can still see you from another room. Start by placing her behind the gate for just five minutes at a time. Give her a chew or a toy to distract and occupy her, but don’t interact with or talk to her. This will enable her to become accustomed to being ‘alone’ without feeling distressed. Slowly build up the time she spends behind the gate over a number of weeks, in several daily short sessions, and progress to half closing the room’s door. Eventually, when your puppy seems completely calm and is comfortable with the situation, you can move on to fully shutting the door. This will teach her that even though she can’t see you, you will return and it’ll build her confidence with being on her own.

Q.  We often come home to find that our five-month-old puppy has chewed a shoe, or trashed anything else that we left in the room with him. How can we stop this?

A.  The most important thing is not to give your puppy the opportunity to chew anything that you value. Your young dog doesn’t know the difference between a tasty hide chew and your leather shoe or a remote control and a toy. He just wants to use his growing teeth to chew something, as chewing provides relief during the teething stage (which can last until dogs are 12 to 18 months old). Keep anything chewable, especially things such as electric cables, well out of temptation’s way, and make sure your puppy has a variety of chewy toys. Also try rotating his choice of toys every couple of days, so that he doesn’t become bored with them. A crate is a good way of keeping your puppy safe whilst you go out.

Q.  We love the enthusiastic greeting we get from our sweet Border Collie puppy, but he jumps up every time we come in and now that he’s getting bigger this is becoming a real pain.

A.  It’s easy to inadvertently teach your puppy to jump up in greeting, as most people find a friendly 'jumping' puppy cute and will ‘reward’ him by stroking him or giving him attention. A negative reaction, such as shouting at your pup, is likely to confuse him and he may jump up more to try to appease you. Instead, instigate the ‘all four paws on the ground’ rule, making sure that you only greet your young dog the second he’s stopped jumping up or if he calmly greets you. Ensure your family and all visitors also follow this rule.

Q.  Our four-month-old puppy seems a bit slow in getting to grips with house training, and she’s most likely to have accidents if our kids bring friends to see her. Any suggestions?

A.  I’d recommend implementing a regular routine. Call her into the garden every morning as soon as she wakes up, and then again straight after meals, after every nap or play session throughout the day, and just before bed time. Make sure you give her plenty of praise when she has gone to the toilet in the appropriate place (choosing one specific spot in the garden can help) and you can even introduce a command, such as 'hurry up' as she is having a wee. Puppies can often have accidents when they are very excited, such as when they’re surrounded by overenthusiastic admirers and active children. Never tell her off if this happens - just make sure you put her out for a wee more often during these times. If you notice that she seems distracted and is sniffing about, it’s often a sign that she needs to go out for a toilet break pretty quickly. If your puppy gets especially excited during playtime with children, it may be best to restrict the amount of time she spends with them. After a short stint of play, take her out for a wee and then put her in her crate away from any stimulation, so she can rest and calm down.

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