Thursday, September 16, 2010

He’ll Probably Outgrow It

(by Brianne Statz, CPDT-KA)

Puppies are seriously cute. They can also be seriously annoying. Yes, I said it. I recently asked a group of new puppy parents in class for a show of hands on how many people have gotten mad at their adorable little puppy. Everyone admitted they had. Between housetraining, mouthiness, chewing and other less than desirable behaviors, it’s not surprising that all puppy owners get frustrated with their furballs. The good news is that there are many behaviors that puppies tend to outgrow (although it’s not always the case), such as the following:

· Mouthiness – By the age of six months or so, adult teeth have come in, and much of the mouthiness will go away. Some dogs do have a tendency to get mouthy when excited, and arousal control games like tug (ask your trainer how to play appropriate tug) and exercises like stay can help. It is appropriate to give him a time out when he is excessively mouthy by either walking away from him, or putting him in a crate for 30 seconds – 2 minutes. Then give him another chance to be more appropriate by offering him a toy or bone to occupy his shark teeth.

· Submissive urination – Many puppies release a small amount of urine when greeting new people or dogs. It tells the other party “Please do me no harm”. Often by the age of 6 months this behavior decreases and goes away as he gains confidence through good socialization. Keeping greetings calm and working on sitting politely, or a simple hand target (“touch”) for greetings can help, as can pairing greetings with treats or toys. Avoid punishing him for this. Remember “Please do me no harm?” If you do him harm, he may have to try harder (i.e. urinate more) to try to communicate with you.

· Won’t go for a walk – One of the quintessential dog/owner activities! But puppies are not born knowing how to walk on a leash. Puppies go through “fear periods” (often from 8-11 weeks, but varies by individual) during which they may be more sensitive to new stimuli. This combined with the novelty of the collar and leash and being moved around by them can often lead to a puppy who puts on the brakes in the front yard and refuses to move. You can encourage him to walk a little with a toy or treats, or even a stick you can find on the ground. Most dogs love to sniff, so reinforcing walking with the opportunity to sniff new stuff can be very effective. Avoid dragging him or forcing him to walk. You want him to learn to love walks, not to find them painful or frightening.

On the other side of the matter, there are many undesirable behaviors puppies aren’t as likely to outgrow, like the following:

· Jumping Up – This is a very normal behavior to dogs. Familiar dogs often jump all over each other. But it’s not appropriate when he jumps up on your clean pants with muddy paws, or knocks over grandma. Sitting politely for greeting exercises, and not reinforcing jumping with attention are essential to get jumping under control.

· Chewing – Dogs chew throughout their lives, and it is important for dental hygiene. Puppies need to be taught what objects are appropriate chew things. Offer your puppy a variety of toys and bones to chew on, pick up everything else and supervise, supervise, supervise! If you are consistent with interrupting and redirecting to legal chew things, your puppy will eventually learn to leave the table legs alone.

· Resource Guarding – Protecting one’s resources is also a normal dog behavior, but if directed towards humans, it is one that definitely requires attention. If resource guarding tendencies (stiffening when you walk by his food bowl, growling when you reach for his bone, etc.) are apparent in a puppy under six months of age, it’s likely he has a strong genetic basis for the behavior, and early intervention is key to changing the behavior. Talk to your trainer if you see any warning signs!

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