I occasionally give a seminar on Puppies at Superior Dog Training in Cary, NC. Below are the topics I usually cover, including some notes on what I discuss during each one.
- What is it? Where does it come from?
- Usually begun to be instilled by siblings / mother dog
- Singletons and prior to 8-10 weeks
Bite inhibition is the dog’s ability to control the pressure of his mouth when biting. It’s the primary reason puppies have such sharp teeth — so they learn at a young age how much pressure is too much.
Usually, puppies begin to learn bit inhibition from their mom and litter mates, before going to their new home — but sometimes singletons (puppies who are “only children”) and puppies who leave home before 8 weeks of age fail to learn even a hint of this important behavior. Even those who began the process often need to continue to learn bite inhibition even after they’ve left to begin their new lives.
As adult dogs, bite inhibition will help prevent your dog from doing damage to a person or dog should they ever get startled and begin to bite; dogs with good bite inhibition are also less likely to do damage to a younger dog if they get annoyed and decided to “correct” the youngster (not that we’d encourage this!).
- Appropriate things to chew/chase
- “the yelp” – How another puppy would respond
- Time out
All puppies explore the world with their mouths — and working lines (both herding dogs and retrievers) can often be extremely persistent about grabbing things with their mouth and thinking later.
The first step to preventing a puppy from using mom and dad as a chew toy is to make sure they always have something appropriate to chew, whether that’s a puppy-appropriate bone, a frozen Kong, or some other rubber toy.
When (not if) the puppy decides to see how mom and dad or the furniture tastes, the first step is to try and trade them. Offer them an appropriate alternative — distract those puppy brains. If it’s people they’r getting mouthy with, the next step would be to react as another puppy might: with a loud, high-pitched yelp or “ow!” Most puppies will startle a bit and freeze, then try to reengage in play a bit more gently.
If the puppy comes back on just as strong, it may be nap time. Just like small children, puppies often get a bit cranky when they’re tired. Put them in a playpen or crate with something quiet to chew on or play with, and leave them alone. You’ll probably find them passed out in less than 15 minutes.
A quick word on criteria — think about what you’ll be “okay” with once your puppy is an adult and has his full strength, and don’t accept anything more than that now. The lighter your puppy gets with his teeth, the better, but be clear about what you’re personally okay with and try to be consistent.
Games to play to help teach the puppy to be Gentle
- Slow treats
- “Kisses” with peanut butter
- On/Off switch game
- “Drop it” predicts a cookie (also good for preventing resource guarding!)
- months = hours Rule of thumb
- Crate > outside > potty > inside playtime > Crate
- Party time & Taking it outside
- Why “rubbing their nose in it” doesn’t work
- Sleeping through the night
- MONITOR PUPPY AT ALL TIMES
When it comes to potty training, until the puppy is potty trained it should be monitored anytime it’s loose in the house, whether that means using it’s leash as a tether and tying it around dad’s ankle or only letting it out of it’s crate or x-pen when someone can actively watch it.
That said, most puppies can learn pretty quickly with a consistent schedule. When it’s time to let puppy out of it’s crate, begin by taking it outside to potty. Keep it on leash, and stand in one place to minimize the cool things to sniff and look at. When the puppy potties, throw a mini party! Now you can let it off leash to play outside or bring it inside.
After about 45 minutes to an hour, it’s time to let the puppy take a short break in his x-pen or carte (15-20 minutes) before repeating the process again.
As a general rule of thumb, most puppies can hold their bladder roughly the same number of hours that they are months old — so a 3 month old puppy can likely hold it for about 3 hours. Of course, mileage may vary and every puppy is unique.
If a puppy seems to be having a particular rough time understanding they are supposed to potty outside, try cleaning it up and then bringing the soiled paper towels or poop outside with you, letting them smell it, and then throwing a party. Sometimes this can cause a lightbulb to click on in their brain. “Oh, this is where I’m supposed to do that!”
That said, rubbing their nose in it or using a rolled up newspaper to swat them on the behind when they potty in the house is likely useless. Dr. Ian Dunbar, a renowned dog trainer, shared the story of one of his clients in his book, “How to teach a new dog old tricks.” The dog routinely had his nose rubbed in it when he’d potty in the house; his owners insisted he knew what he was doing because he began to look “guilty” when they’d come home to find a mess.
Then they got a new puppy. And the puppy potties in the house. Their older dog immediately began to act guilty. What had he learned? That when their was poop in the house, his owners yelled at him and rubbed his nose in it. He’d never connected the dots that it was because HE was pooping there; he just assumed the presence of both his person and the poop meant trouble for him.
Most puppy owners look forward to the time when their puppy can hold it all night long. There are a few things you can do to increase the likelihood a puppy may give you a bit of extra shut eye.
- When they wake up at night, make their potty break as boring as possible. Out of their crate, carry them outside to potty; as soon as they’re done back in and into their crate.
- Some puppies wake up in the middle of the night because they’re used to a midnight snack from mom; so for some puppies giving them a tiny bit of kibble or a chew in their crates at night can help them sleep a bit longer or go back to sleep on their own if they wake up.
- Puppies often wake up with the dawn. The changing light makes them think it’s time to be up and doing things! Putting a thick blanket over their crate (or blackout lights on the windows) can help them to stay quiet a bit later into the morning.
- Teaching your puppy to like the crate
- Building duration over time
- Leaving door open
If you want to travel with your puppy, teaching him to be safely and happily confined is an important skill. The first thing you can do to teach a puppy to love his crate is to teach him all good things start out in there — put his dinner in there, put his toys in there, if you’re giving him a new kong, put the kong in there. You can (and often should) leave the door wide open — just put the good stuff in there and then let him drag it out if he wants to.
Once he’s comfortable, you can begin closing the door behind him (before this point, I recommend putting the open crate inside an x-pen). Gradually increase the amount of time you leave him in there, always making sure he has something yummy to chew or play with. Before long, he’ll go in there of his own accord to take a nap or hang out.
Games to play to teach puppy to love his crate
- Cookies in the back of the crate
- toss a cookie / come to visit (post coming soon!)
- Isn’t my toy better? (video coming soon!)
Chewing all the wrong stuff
- Break the chain
- Use “no chew” spray (apple/citrus, pepper)
As mentioned previously, puppies explore the world with their mouths — which often means they find things they aren’t supposed to chew on and try to eat them anyway. So, how do you prevent this?
When your puppy is chewing something he shouldn’t, try enticing him to play with his own toy or chew. If this doesn’t work, you need to remove access to the thing he wants to chew. You can do this by using an x-pen (either around the object OR the puppy), using a tether, or putting something in the way of the object he seems fascinated with (a small board or some other barrier).
The important thing is to break the chain of him chewing on that thing — or else when he gets older, it will just be habit. This is also why it’s important to have things around that he CAN chew at all times.
Finally, you can try “no chew” sprays, many of which are citrus based… but be warned, some puppies decide they like the taste of these sprays and, in these cases, using them doesn’t seem to help.
The key skills to master
- building a good relationship
The most important skills to teach a puppy are those your puppy will learn whether you teach them or not — things like greetings and walking on a leash, handling, what to do when you call him. Of course, if you don’t TEACH him what to do, the solutions he comes up with for these things is unlikely to be the ones you want!
Take greetings for example. If you don’t teach your puppy HOW to greet appropriately, it’s likely he’d decide he likes jumping up and trying to reach people’s faces — not a cute behavior in a 65 pound shepherd or even in a high-jumping full-grown terrier!
You’ll notice I didn’t include sit or down – while these are basic skills, once you have the rest of these things, those skills will be easy to teach, but these skills are things you’ll have to RE-teach if you don’t teach them right the first time; and reteaching is always harder than just doing it right from the start, since at that point your dog will have had many rewarding chances to practice doing the wrong thing.
In the puppy seminar, I cover a few games that can help puppy owners begin to teach these things to their puppy, demoing with my full grown dog so they can see what those games look like, while the puppies take a break — I like to let puppies play at the end, and I want them well rested to minimize the chances we’ll get any “stupid” or cranky puppy mistakes!
Socialization – What is it? How to do it right.
- Not just exposure; positive exposure.
- Puppy curiosity
- Reward bravest moments
Socialization isn’t just exposure to lots of new things — it’s positive exposure. Scary experiences can be just as impactful at this age as good socialization, so try to think hard about exposing them to things in a way that will leave a positive impression.
If you do find something that they’re afraid of, find their bravest moment and reward it then leave the scary thing alone for a little while. Puppy curiosity is a strong, strong thing — most of the time, it will overcome their fear, so long as you don’t make a big deal of the scary thing and don’t try to “force” them to deal with it.
For example, if they’re scared of the vacuum, try turning it on for 2 seconds, then turn it back off. Leave it off and invite your puppy to come check it out. Reward their bravest moment, whatever that may be.
Gradually, occasionally expose them to the vacuum for slightly longer periods of time, until they’re totally okay with it.
Reading puppy body language
- Stress signals
- Over-excited / aroused
I like to ask puppy owners to tell me what their puppy does when he’s scared and what he does when he’s over excited. We talk about things like their puppies ears, tail, and mouth, and how they can tell how their puppy is feeling.
I make sure to talk about how not all tail wags are good (ex: stiff wagging can mean the dog is about to go on the offense, and really low, quick wagging tail can often mean the puppy is trying to appease something scary).
I also talk them through some common signs of stress, and how stress signals can cue them in that their puppy is uncomfortable before they become scared or over aroused.
- overly hot
- lip licking
- whale eye
I usually reiterate my previous comments about rewarding bravest moments and then moving on, and remind people that if they’re scared of snakes, throwing them in with a pit of snakes is more likely to make them freak out than to help them stop being scared of snakes.
Puppy play – what’s ok & normal? What’s not?
- Short play periods
- Breaks (glances, drink breaks)
- Avoid corners
- No bullying!
I usually talk very briefly about what we want to see when puppies play (breaks, glances away, trips to the water bowl, etc) and what we want to avoid (one puppy dominating the session, a puppy getting cornered even if both puppies still appear to be having fun, etc) and then we let 2 puppies play and talk about what they’re doing as they do it.
This way the puppy owners can hear directly from me what their particular puppy is doing right and what they need to work on and watch for.
We make sure to keep play sessions super short, and I encourage them to call their puppies back, play with them for a bit and even work on a few simple behaviors between play sessions, to help remind their puppies that they’re lots of fun too!
I like to provide something for people to take notes on if they’ve forgotten (even if it’s just a hard book to lean on and a few sheets of computer paper with a pen). When we ran the seminar we charged $20 per puppy.
If anyone has any questions about any of this, feel free to email me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org and include “puppy seminar” in the subject line. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!