Dogs bring joy, laughter and a deep sense of connection, like no other. If you’re lucky enough to start your journey with your dog from puppyhood, it can be a life-changing experience. As dogs go through stages of growth — from puppy to adult to senior — different challenges arise. Help them to be their best selves with care, patience, knowledge, observation and diligence. These qualities developed in you will then be reflected in your dog’s behavior through his lifetime.
The three most common issues puppies have, all have to do with learning boundaries, which include: playful biting, housetraining and chewing.
1 Playful biting: While this is normal puppy play behavior, they need to be taught that playfully biting on humans is not appropriate. It’s not so much about correcting the behavior but more about offering choices for play — doggie playdates, toys, games, etc.
The prey drive is the strongest drive dogs have, and when something moves, they go after it. So, when your puppy is biting your hand and you pull it away, you are inadvertently asking your dog to play like a dog, so he goes after the moving target — your hand, leg, face, etc. The easiest way to curtail this behavior is to freeze. Stop moving, make your hand into a fist and shut off all your energy including talking and eye contact.
He’ll bite for a few seconds longer. When he takes his mouth off of you, quietly and slowly offer/trade up with a toy and/or completely disengage. Let the puppy know that you are not interested in this kind of play, period. Remember, moving is engaging, freezing is disengaging.
Related: How to Survive a Puppy
2 Housetraining: Puppies are not capable of holding their bladder or bowels and need to be taught by being taken out frequently. When your puppy is awake and playful, take him out every 10 to 15 minutes to relieve himself. Give him the same cue, “Go potty,” “Hurry up,” “Do your business,” etc. Whichever cue you use, all members of the household must consistently use it. The simplest way to teach your puppy that going outside is best is to have all caregivers be consistent, feed on a regular schedule and wait for the pup to do his business before you go inside. Don’t be impatient; give him time to relieve himself.
If you see him start to potty in the house, immediately scoop him up and take him outside. Don’t scare him, but don’t let him finish his business inside. Bringing him out often is how you teach. As your puppy grows, you’ll increase the amount of time you can go between potty breaks, but the more the better when he’s a puppy.
There are a MINIMUM of 11 times to take your puppy out:
➼ First thing in the morning
➼ Before breakfast
➼ After breakfast
➼ Before lunch
➼ After lunch
➼ Before dinner
➼ After dinner
➼ Before bed
3 Chewing: Chewing is natural and necessary for puppies. Pups get to know their world through their noses and mouths. Supply age-appropriate toys before teething, during teething and after teething. Read labels, and buy accordingly. Supervise your puppy to learn his chewing habits, and have appropriate toys readily available. Unsupervised dogs are the ones who often become destructive.
To puppy-proof your house from your pup’s chewing:
✤ Remove all things dangerous or valuable.
✤ Remove things that are at puppy level — magazines, books, etc.
✤ Close doors to rooms you are not in to better supervise.
✤ Confine the puppy in the room with you, with a puppy gate or closed doors. Use an exercise pen or crate when you’re unavailable to supervise.
✤ Have enough toys on the floor in whatever room you are in, so the puppy has a choice and you can trade up when the puppy chooses something that’s not his.
✤ Bundle electrical wires so they are inaccessible.
Puppies need to be kept mentally and physically stimulated. Short puppy walks offer not only physical stimulation but mental stimulation, as well. Let your puppy sniff and explore his new environment.
Playing tug, fetch, flirt pole, puppy playdates, etc., are all great ways to exercise.
Keep training sessions short: three to five minutes, a few times a day. You can begin teaching obedience cues as soon as you bring him home, but don’t overwhelm him. Learning happens the minute you bring him home — teaching where to go potty, how to play appropriately, as well as teaching simple cues like Sit. Keep it simple, teaching only one cue at a time for at least three to four days before introducing a new cue. Puppy brains are like sponges, and it’s an opportune time to teach new things.
Enrichment activities, like puzzle toys, sniffing walks and socializing go a long way to engaging their inquiring minds.
Adolescence is between the age of 9 months to maturity, which is between 11/2 years to 3 years of age.
4 Testing boundaries: This time is all about testing boundaries — not because your dog is challenging you, misbehaving or dominating you — rather, it’s because of inconsistency during puppyhood. If puppyhood wasn’t managed properly, the dog’s behavior can get out of control. It’s important not to label this phase or the dog as being bad. He isn’t.
What is happening is that the puppy was given mixed messages, intermittently reinforcing behaviors like jumping, training has fallen by the wayside or it never got started. This causes the adolescent to keep trying/pushing, thinking this may be the one time you give in. For example: Every time a puppy is rewarded for jumping on you or anyone else during a greeting, he thinks it’s OK. When you sometimes tell the dog not to jump and other times give in, the intermittent rewards lead to continued jumping. Reteaching with patience and consistency will carry you through adolescence.
Adult dogs have learned what works and what doesn’t based on their experience up to this point in their lives. They are quite comfortable in their home and with their people. Any inconsistencies become unwanted behaviors, but it’s never too late to get them back on track. I find the most common issues in the adult phase are jumping on people, not coming when called/recall and pulling on the leash. This is the time to go back to basics in training, and making sure to follow through. Keep training a little every day for the rest of their lives in what experts call real-world training. This means practicing every day while living your normal life.
5 If your dog jumps on people: When greeting people, keep your dog on leash, wait for an appropriate offered behavior, either all four paws on the ground, a Sit, a Down or whatever the dog chooses. Only when an appropriate behavior is offered can the dog greet someone, including you. Tell the greeter not to talk to the dog, not to have eye contact or try to pet the dog until an appropriate behavior is offered. Then, and only then, can a calm and quiet greeting be had. If the dog jumps, stop the greeting, be still and quiet, and look away. This will take practice but with consistency, you’ll succeed.
6 Basic training for Come/Recall: Teaching Come from the beginning is the best way to ensure you are both on the same page. First, let me start by saying, never call your dog to you and punish him. Come is always followed by praise, a game, a treat — rewarding him for coming to you.
To teach Come from a Stay position, ask your dog to Come using a hand signal: your arm outstretched to the side, bringing it into your chest as you say “Come” at the same time in a neutral-to-happy tone of voice. Do this at home in an enclosed area, with no distractions. As soon as your dog starts to come to you, say “Yes” and praise all the way to you, rewarding him with his favorite treat, toy or game. Repeat this a few times, then practice on and off leash. Once he learns to come, you can begin to generalize it by adding distance and distractions, moving slowly so that each step is a success. If it’s not, you’re moving too fast.
7 Pulling on the leash: First, start on familiar turf, your own yard or street where there are little to no distractions, using high-value treats or your dog’s favorite toy as a reward. I find it best to practice leash walking with a human before you start working with your dog. It helps with coordination, and mistakes are made on the human not the dog. Start in a small, familiar place with little-to-no distractions and go at your dog’s pace. Keep the leash in one hand and treats in an easily reached pouch. Hold the leash hand against your belly and don’t take it off. Don’t let the dog pull your hand away from your belly.
Step 1: Using the word Yes as your marker, or a clicker if you so choose, and with the dog next to you say “Ready” in a high-pitched tone. When he looks at you, say “Yes” and treat. Do this a few times to get him ready for walking.
Step 2: Take a few steps, and as soon as your dog moves with you or just looks in your direction, say “Yes” and treat. Even the slightest movement with you gets a “Yes” and treat.
Step 3: Repeat over and over a few times and then start to add a few more steps, treating the entire time your dog is moving with you. Gradually take more and more steps in between “Yes” and treats. If the dog becomes distracted or confused, go back to just a few steps until he understands what you’re asking for, walking along with you.
Step 4: Then start making right hand turns, saying “Yes” each time your dog makes the slightest move, even just a head looking in your direction on the turn, say “Yes” and reward.
Step 5: Start changing direction — left, right, about face, varying your speed, faster, slower, faster again, always moving at your dog’s pace.
If your dog seems confused, go back to where he wasn’t confused and build from there.
Step 6: Next, take it to a larger area and a more interesting space and start at the beginning again, doing Steps 1 through 5. When the dog can handle Step 5 in the new space, move to another new space, starting over at Step 1 again, gradually moving to new spaces, with more and more distractions.
Senior behavioral issues are most often a manifestation of unresolved issues from adulthood, usually general disobedience. Going back to the basics, even for senior dogs, can make a world of difference. The dog has learned from our inconsistency and complacency that we are not to be trusted when it comes to follow-through.
8 General disobedience: The best remedy for this is getting back to basic training. This kind of one-on-one refresher training can bring you back to harmony and revitalize your dog’s mental and emotional well-being in just a matter of days. Your dog will thank you immensely for this undivided and well-
9 Grumpiness, aggression or stubbornness: Other issues common with senior dogs are more related to health — pain, hearing or vision loss, arthritis, etc. — and are often misinterpreted as being stubborn, dominant or lazy. These are best dealt with with compassion and understanding. Undetected health issues can lead to grumpiness or even aggression, so have twice yearly health checkups in your dog’s senior years. These golden years need to be cherished for all the years they gave us unconditional love. After all, “Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole!” — Roger Caras
Top photograph: smrm1977 | Getty Images