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The Right Way to Handle Puppy Behavior Issues

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The Right Way to Handle Puppy Behavior Issues

The wisest thing you can do before bringing a puppy in your house is to set up management systems that prevent puppy behavior slipups, like having potty or chewing accidents.

You can’t watch a puppy all the time, so you’ll need a way of curbing your pup’s completely normal tendencies to pee and poop, investigate with his teeth and explore. Crates, pens, doors and baby gates are incredibly useful for keeping your puppy out of trouble.

Manage Puppy Safety First
Your No. 1 management priority is safety. Make sure your pup can’t access electric cords, steep falls (including stairs), and anything that is sharp or will develop sharp edges with chewing. Next, make sure your puppy has plenty of access to appropriate outlets for what he needs: a place to potty, safe things to chew, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.

Another vital outlet is socialization. Your puppy needs to be able to meet plenty of other friendly dogs, puppies and humans of all ages and genders. This helps prevent some potentially severe behavior problems later on.

When Puppy Behavior Mistakes Happen
Even the best management and containment plan can fail, though. You thought the puppy was “empty,” but then he let out some pee on the carpet. Or he’s never shown an interest in chewing your couch until that one time. It’s important to know that there are three possible ways to respond:

1.    Interrupting the behavior
2.    Punishing the behavior
3.    Redirecting the behavior

Interrupting Puppy Behavior
Interruptions stop the behavior in the moment, but they often don’t affect the frequency of the puppy trying the same thing in the moment. Startling things -- like yelling “No!” or squirting the dog with water -- are often recommended, but usually they simply act as interrupters. The next time the opportunity comes along, the puppy goes right back to the same behavior. For this reason, interrupters are the least effective response you can give.

Does Puppy Punishment Work?
Effective punishment actually does reduce the future recurrence of a behavior. (That is its technical definition.) There are two forms of punishment: removing the dog’s desired goal and applying an aversive. Whether it’s a scary voice, an intimidating body posture, or physical discomfort or pain, aversives can be effective at preventing future repetitions of unwanted behavior, but they can also have fallout. Your puppy may learn to fear you, especially if he thinks your “attacks” are unpredictable or in response to something he can’t control. (Remember young puppies have little control over their impulses and bodily functions.)

If your puppy still gets what he wants -- relief from bladder pressure, attention from you, a great taste or texture to chew on -- it might try to find a way to do the behavior but without getting caught. This is why many dogs learn to sneakily pee behind the couch or grab your shoes. And it’s also why removing your dog’s goal is often the most effective punishment. The puppy that jumps up or barks for attention only to find he’s given the cold shoulder, or that bites the chair only to find himself escorted out of the living room, is going to explore new ways to get what he wants. Technically, this is a negative punishment, and it can be very effective without scaring the dog.

Using Redirection to Correct Puppy Behavior Issues
Redirection is one of the best responses, especially since it tends to also include negative punishment. This is directing the puppy toward what you want him to do. This is giving your pup a “legal” chew toy, taking him to his potty spot, or cuing him to sit for attention and petting. This can be done with a patient or even cheerful demeanor on your part, meaning that your dog will learn what he should do while keeping your relationship strong!

Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy’s Wag’N’Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.

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