Updated: Feb 10
Anyone who's ever had a puppy will know just how much hard work they can be!
I often see new puppy owners turning up at class completely exhausted! Overwhelmed by just how much hard work their new puppy has turned out to be. It's so easy for your puppy to take over your life. Before you know it, almost every waking minute is devoted to them - much of it stopping them from doing all the things you don't want them to, like chewing your favourite piece of furniture, peeing on your brand new rug, or terrorising the kids. The rest of your time is spent making sure they've been fed, they've been out to toilet, they've been trained, they've been walked, they've been socialised. It really is a full time job.
And puppies will be puppies! Of course they'll explore their boundaries, chew things they shouldn't, bite and nip constantly, have toileting accidents in the house. But there are easy ways to quickly improve your puppy's behaviour and make life with your puppy much easier. I've pulled my top five tips together for you here.
Number one: Don't Feed Your Dog From a Bowl
We can't deny that one of the biggest pleasures, and therefore a huge reinforcer for our dogs is food. If you feed your puppy two or three times a day, then on those occasions during that day, you're delivering your dog a pleasurable experience. And most dogs will wolf down that food within a couple of minutes.
Now consider a different approach. Instead of giving our puppies their daily food twice or three times a day in a bowl (short lived pleasure), we can instead use that food allowance to deliver pleasure regularly through out the day on the back of all the great behaviour choices we see. Remember, any behaviour that leads to a pleasurable response is much more likely to be repeated. By giving our dogs food following a particular behaviour, we are reinforcing that behaviour. The more we reinforce a behaviour - the more we'll see that behaviour. And because we are using their daily food allowance, we don't have to worry that we are giving our dogs too many treats - this is food that otherwise would have simply been given from their bowl.
I recommend splitting your puppy's food allowance between good quality wet food and dried kibble. The wet food can be used for stuffing kongs or can be spread on licki-mats - both of which are great enriching activities for our dogs. The kibble can be on hand wherever you are so that you can quickly catch and reward good behaviour choices and use it for training games through out the day.
This is brilliant way to see immediate changes in your puppy's behaviour. Believe it or not, all dogs tend to love to work for their food - puppies included. Knowing that they'll be rewarded for great behaviours is a fantastic motivator for them to deliver more of those behaviours.
Number two: Have a Safe Space For Your Puppy To Be
Puppies are super at sniffing out mischief. No matter how well you think you've puppy proofed your house, they'll quickly prove that you haven't done nearly as good a job as you thought you had! Giving your puppy too much freedom makes life stressful for both of you. You are setting your puppy up to fail and putting you on the path to a relationship where you spend most of your time telling them off. Not the best foundation for future training.
Giving your puppy a safe space to be where they can't do the things you don't want them to will be helpful for both of you. Remember that puppies don't know what we expect of them in the early days. The corner of that rug just looks super fun to chew. And you let them chew a chew toy - what's the difference?
Having a safe space that is a controlled area for your puppy, gives your puppy space to explore without getting up mischief (and gives you the opportunity to go to the loo in peace without worrying about what your puppy is chewing now).
A sturdy puppy pen is ideal. Your puppy can play with toys, relax on a comfortable bed, enjoy a long lasting chew but can't jump at the kitchen counters, chase the kids or chew the rug.
Alternatively, if you've got a room that you're happy to put a lot of effort in to completely puppy proofing, then a baby gate over the door is a great option. Your puppy's safe space is a great place for them to be if they aren't with you (or you can't give them 100% of your attention) or resting in their crate.
Number three: Make Sure They Get Enough Rest
This is the number one problem I see with puppies - in fact I'd say that around 90% of puppy issues that I see stem from puppies not getting enough rest.
Puppies need to rest a lot. They grow at a tremendous rate! They are also exploring the world around them which can be really taxing. They need plenty of rest to make sure they can keep up. In fact they need between 18 and 20 hours of rest a day. That's a lot!
The first problem is - your puppy won't always tell you when they need to rest. In fact, a little like toddlers, they'll spend most of their time trying to avoid resting. So they need you to help them to get the rest they need.
The second, and even bigger problem, is that puppy behaviour can easily trick you! An overtired puppy often displays behaviours that have most owners thinking they have too much energy. Like zooming around the house, bouncing off the walls. Tearing around the garden, digging up all of your favourite plants. Racing after the kids, nipping their ankles. Biting you - constantly! Jumping up, running in circles, terrorising other family pets. And the list goes on. You'd be forgiven for seeing your puppy behave like this and thinking, they have far too much energy - they need another walk, or to go play in the garden with a ball, or play an energetic game of tug.
When actually what your puppy is telling you is that they are so exhausted they don't know how to control their behaviour. Calmness is no longer an available option to them. And when they don't get enough rest day after day - this behaviour becomes the norm for them. And you just think you have a naughty, high maintenance puppy.
This is so much of a common issue, that I developed a formula specifically to help puppy owners to fix (or if they apply the formula soon enough to completely avoid) this problem. The Happy Puppy, Happy Owner Formula is a simple, easy to apply framework to help owners to ensure that all of their puppy's needs are met and they are living a happy and enriched life, without taking over family life completely and causing a world of stress and pressure. After all - having a puppy is meant to be a joyful time!
I can't stress enough, how important it is for you to make sure that your puppy gets enough rest - the difference you'll see in their behaviour is remarkable.
Number Four: Give Your Puppy Your Full Attention
This tip doesn't mean you need to give your puppy constant attention 24/7 - of course you have other things you need to do in life. But, when you are interacting with your puppy, then make sure you are giving them your full attention.
When you can't give them your full attention, don't let them have the run of the house, or even the room - it's a sure fire way for them get up to no good, and to make your life more stressful. Perfect example, if while writing this blog post, my puppy was out exploring the room then I'd have half an eye on her and half an eye on this. She'd manage to find mischief whenever I took my eye off her for a second, and I'd split my time between focusing on writing this and telling her to stop doing what she's doing.
Much better that she's in her safe space with a long lasting chew or her favourite toys while I give this my full attention, then I can give her my full attention as soon as I'm done.
Number Five: Help Your Puppy To Make Good Choices
Remember our puppies don't arrive knowing what we expect from them. They don't deliberately set out to do naughty things, just fairly often the those 'naughty things' are just so much fun (or lead to great things)!
Jump up at the kitchen worktop and they might find a freshly made chicken sandwich. Chewing the table leg might soothe their gums. Grabbing a sock from the washing pile always leads to a super fun game of you chasing them!
So try to move away from thinking about your puppy's behaviour as being bad and instead understand that they just spend their lives looking for fun things to do, great things to chew and yummy things to eat. It's your job to ensure that the only choices available to them are good ones. Compare this to caring for a toddler. You wouldn't offer your toddler juice, milk or fizzy pop to drink and then get cross with them for choosing the pop. You just wouldn't give them the option of the fizzy drink in the first place. Apply the same rule with your puppy. If there's something you don't want them to do - don't give them the opportunity.
Don't want them to jump at the kitchen worktop? Have a baby gate on the kitchen door and keep them on the other side of it. Or keep them on a lead when they are in the kitchen so that you can quickly redirect them if you notice they are about to jump up. If you don't want them chewing the rug, don't have them in the room with the rug unless you're giving them your full attention. Or the roll the rug up altogether and pop it away until your puppy is a little older and understands not to chew it.
It's always worth remembering that your puppy will repeat more of the behaviours that they rehearse often. So the more opportunity they get to chew that rug, the more likely they'll be to do that in future. The more they jump at the kitchen counters - they more likely they will be to continue to jump at the kitchen counter. So while your puppy is still young, remove the option to do those things altogether and instead give them plenty of opportunity to rehearse the good behaviours that you do want to see more of.
What to learn more about how to take the stress our and put the joy back in to you puppy raising experience? Grab your copy of the Settled Puppy Formula now.