Puppies! There may be nothing in the world that can match their combination of cuteness, innocence, and evil genius. And while we could easily label their undesirable behaviors as acts of “stubbornness” or “defiance,” many puppy behavior problems stem from their owner’s poor communication, inconsistency, or impatience.

Before you blame your puppy, take a look at your own behavior—are you making any of these common mistakes?

Mistake: Showering your puppy with constant attention and taking them everywhere

  • Result: While puppies are social creatures and need regular supervision, interaction, and socialization for proper development, they also need a balance of togetherness and alone time. When puppies receive constant stimulation and engagement, they can become exclusively dependent on their human. This well-intentioned effort can lead to lifelong behavior problems, including:
    • Separation anxiety
    • Generalized anxiety
    • Destructive behavior (e.g., chewing, digging)
    • Self-harm
    • Running away
    • Stress-related health issues

  • Solution: Introduce short periods of “alone time” to your puppy right from the start. These can be only minutes initially, and grow to several hours as your puppy matures. During their alone time, safely confine your puppy to a crate or secure pen with access to a few chew-proof toys. Practice alone time only after your puppy has had an opportunity to play, or eliminate outside, as these will help them rest stress-free.

Mistake: Teasing or grabbing the puppy with your hands while playing

  • Result: Wiggling and waving fingers are an exciting prey-like stimulus for puppies, while reaching and grabbing can closely resemble nipping and biting. Since puppies explore the world through their mouths and play, their natural response will be to nip or bite at any approaching appendage.

Puppy teeth are painfully sharp, and when your puppy is over-energized or over-aroused, they’ll be more insistent about nipping and biting. As you pull your hand away—to stop the behavior or the pain—the puppy becomes more incensed. Their prey is getting away!

  • Solution: Allowing a puppy to gently mouth your hand can help them learn to control the strength of their bite. When puppies play together, they let each other know about a painful bite by crying out and stopping play. So, mimic a puppy when your pup mouths your hands—when a bite is too strong, cry out suddenly, and stay still. After five seconds, play at a lower intensity. If your puppy repeats the behavior two more times, calmly end the session, and place them in their crate or pen for a rest.

Mistake: Allowing your puppy continuous access to food and water

  • Result: Letting your puppy graze on food all day can make housetraining a headache. Puppies who eat when they please will not have predictable urination and defecation habits, making anticipating their elimination needs, and knowing the right time to take them to their designated place (i.e., outside or to potty pads), an impossible feat. The more frequently your puppy has accidents in the home, the more quickly that becomes a habit.

  • Solution: Talk to your Emerald Animal Hospital veterinarian to determine how much food your growing puppy needs. Then, divide that food into two or three equal portions, and offer meals to your puppy at specific times each day. To keep your puppy on a schedule, remove any remaining food after 20 minutes, and offer food again in an hour or two. Since teacup and toy-breed puppies are prone to hypoglycemia, discuss feeding frequency and timing with our veterinarian. 

Mistake: You want your puppy to be part of the family—so you give them complete household freedom

  • Result: The heart-melting eyes of a sad puppy are powerful enough to unlock any crate door or unlatch any gate. But, feeling sorry for your puppy doesn’t do them any favors. Allowing your puppy unrestrained or unsupervised access to the home often leads to chaos, behavior problems, and heartbreak, including:
    • Destructive behavior
    • House soiling
    • Toxin ingestion
    • Foreign body ingestion
    • Escape
    • Injury or death

  • Solution: Don’t be in a rush to release your hound. Puppies need boundaries and limits to protect them from themselves. If you want your puppy to spend less time in their crate or pen, tether themattach the handle of your puppy’s leash to your belt loop with a carabiner clip. This way, the puppy can stay in the center of household activity without any opportunities for mischief. As your puppy matures, you may begin to trust them with more space, but do so gradually, using baby gates to keep certain areas off-limits.

Mistake: Your puppy is so full of energy that you look for any physical activity that wears them out until they are exhausted

  • Result: Developing puppies have open growth plates that are susceptible to damage and permanent injury. Early physical activity can also alter joint conformation, ligaments, and tendons, leading to orthopedic problems in adulthood.

  • Solution: Physical exercise must be age-appropriate, and setting safe boundaries for puppies in regards to exercise type, intensity, and duration is necessary. Puppies—especially large and giant breeds—should avoid jumping, distance running, and repetitive or concussive activity until growth plate closure, which occurs between 9 to 18 months, depending on the breed. Your veterinarian can recommend low-impact activities for your puppy that will protect their growing bodies.

Finally, many common behavior problems can be prevented, avoided, or addressed with the help of an experienced positive reinforcement-based trainer, or a puppy consultation at Emerald Animal Hospital. Contact us to schedule your puppy’s next visit or request an appointment online