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Bad Behavior

Muddy DogA puppy problem behavior is a behavior that can be annoying or potentially harmful. It’s a lot easier to address these problems now rather than later. The more chances that your puppy has to practice undesirable behaviors, the more ingrained they will become.

Some problem behaviors are obvious. If your puppy jumps on your guests, it’s a problem. If she barks at every little sound she hears, it’s a problem. But sometimes puppy owners don’t recognize problems until they become serious issues. Here are some tips for recognizing and managing some commonly overlooked problem behaviors:


You may have an issue if your puppy growls or snaps:

•    When you reach for her food bowl
•    When you reach for her toy or chew bone or try to take them away from her
•    When you try to brush her, pick her up, or move her off furniture
•    When another dog approaches her or things that she perceives as hers

What to Do

Take your puppy to the veterinarian for a full checkup to make sure that the aggression isn’t due to a physical problem. If she is healthy, contact a professional reward-based trainer or applied animal behaviorist to assist you. He will personally evaluate your puppy and come up with a treatment plan.

What Not to Do
In the meantime, avoid these common mistakes:

•    Pretending there isn’t a problem
•    Punishing your puppy when she growls
•    Exposing your puppy to her triggers. It’s very important that you carefully manage an aggressive puppy. If she’s not good with children, do not take her to your child’s soccer game in the hope that she’ll get more used to kids. You are risking a terrible incident. If your puppy growls over special toys, don’t let her have them until you are trained in how to work with the problem. Manage her so that she doesn’t have access to things that trigger an aggressive episode.

Barking (Excessive)

Some puppies like to talk more than others. You may not mind your dog barking for a bit when someone rings the doorbell or comes into the yard, but too much barking can be a real problem.

Dogs bark for the following reasons:

•    They’re bored. They may have 100 toys available, but puppies can still be bored. It’s like having satellite or cable television—there are hundreds of channels, but you still flip from channel to channel, trying to find something good to watch.
•    They’re protective. Some breeds are more likely to bark at people or animals approaching their “territory” than others.
•    They’re afraid. Strange sights or sounds can startle puppies, and your dog may be telling you that she’s afraid by barking.
•    They’re announcing something. It could be a car going by, kids playing in the cul-de-sac, or a raindrop hitting a blade of grass. Some puppies feel a need to narrate things that they notice.
•    They’re trying to tell you something. All barking is communication. You may never figure out why your dog is barking, but she is definitely trying to say something to you.

Some trainers recommend using a shaker can to conquer an excessive barking habit. A shaker can is just an empty soda can filled with a few coins or small pebbles. The next time your dog starts barking, give her a command, such as “no bark,” and shake the can. The noise should startle her and distract her from barking. Once she has stopped barking, praise and reward her with a treat.

Be careful not to reward excessive barking with any attention—even negative attention! Instead, completely ignore the barking. Reward the dog with attention when the barking stops. You can also modify your dog’s environment to remove stimuli that trigger the barking (e.g., closing the blinds on a window facing a busy street).
-Phil Guida, Director of Training, Canine Dimensions In-Home Dog Training, Marlton, NJ (Top Tips from Top Trainers)


Some puppies are like four-legged bulldozers. Why do dogs like to dig?

•    Some breeds are more prone than others. Terriers, especially, have been bred to dig up vermin and kill them. So your terrier puppy is just exercising her genetic right to unearth invading critters.
•    They’re warm or cold. Digging a hole provides a warm spot in the winter and a cool spot in the summer.
•    They smell something down there. Dogs have keen senses of smell. If there’s something underground that’s caught their interest, they may be inspired to dig it up.
•    They’re good at it. Look at those paws. They were meant to dig!

So how can you keep your yard (or living room carpet!) from ending up with a bunch of holes in it? One approach is to provide your dog with a place where it's okay for her to dig, like a small sandbox in the backyard. Just keep in mind that digging is a natural behavior for dogs. With some supervision, you may be able to protect certain sacred areas from digging paws, but for a dog to dig is normal behavior and really shouldn't be punished.


If your dog begs for food at the table, you’re not alone. Begging can become an annoying habit, and if you don’t break the habit it will only get worse. Begging can turn into jumping up on the table, whining during mealtimes, and stealing food off family members plates. If you have become the weakest link at the table, here is a word to the wise.

The best way to prevent begging is to never feed your dog from the table in the first place. But if you are already past this point, the best way to get him to stop is by ignoring him. Do not give him a tidbit! When he gets bored because you are not giving him anything and moves away from the table, throw a tidbit to where he is sitting. Do not call him over to you. Rewarding him when he’s away from the table will encourage him to stay away from it and wait for good things to come to him.
-Elaine Coupé, For Pet’s Sake & Memphis Agility, Oakland, TN

House Soiling

Just like you have to teach a child to use a toilet, you have to teach your puppy to go outside to use the bathroom. You can’t expect a puppy to know that your carpet is off-limits.  Have patience, and follow the advice of these top trainers and you will have a well-trained puppy in no time.

No one likes to clean up after their dog, but when it happens inside your house, there’s no avoiding it. It’s important to housetrain your puppy as early as possible to prevent destruction to your carpet, rugs, and floors. Here is some advice from the pros on getting your dog to do his thing outside (or on a wee-wee pad): Take a very young puppy outside every time he wakes up, after every meal, and every hour on the hour otherwise. Take him out more often if he’s playing very actively. Don’t wait for him to “ask”—he doesn’t know how!
-Trish McMillan, MSc, CPDT-KA, ASPCA Animal Behavior Center, Urbana, IL

It can be helpful to take a long weekend to devote to housetraining. Stay home with your dog and go out every hour, generously rewarding each success. If you can keep it up for three or four days, progress is often very rapid.
-Jim Barry, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Reston Dog Training, Reston, VA

Most dogs prefer to have specific potty areas and like to avoid soiling their eating and sleeping places, so they respond well to an organized housetraining plan. You will need to prevent accidents in inappropriate areas and reward the dog for eliminating outside (or on a wee-wee pad). Of course, as we all know, pulling that off day in and day out until the dog is fully housetrained will take some time, effort, and careful attention to detail.
-Vyolet Michaels, CTC, PDT, CPDT-KA, Urban Dawgs, Red Bank, NJ

If your puppy/dog makes a mistake in the house and you don’t catch him, forget about it—there is nothing you can do or say that he will understand if you don’t catch him in the act. If you do catch him, yell “No” or “Stop” or something to startle him and immediately carry or escort him out to his spot and stand there.
-Jane Brydon , M.S.Ed., M.Ed., CPDT-KA, Jane Brydon, Dog Training Coach, LLC, Clifton Heights, PA

Jumping Up

We know it’s his way of saying hello, but being plowed over by a dog is never fun. It can also be dangerous when family pets knock over small children. Here are some tried and true ways to get your dog to stop jumping on you and your guests:

•    Don’t give him any attention—no eye contact, no talking. Simply fold your arms across your chest and turn away from him. The second he stops jumping on you, say “Good dog!” and immediately put a treat in his mouth.
- Jane Brydon, MS.Ed., M.Ed., CPDT-KA, Jane Brydon, Dog Training Coach, LLC, Clifton Heights, PA

•    If that still doesn’t work, while he is jumping on you, say a word or phrase that communicates to him “you blew it,” and leave the room. Continue until the jumping has stopped. 
- Nicole Corson, CTC, CPDT-KA, Wag This Way™, Salt Lake City, UT

•    The best way to stop a behavior you don’t like is to replace it with one you want. Teach your dog that sitting gets him everything he wants, and he’ll be too busy sitting to jump! 
-Laurel Scarioni, CPDT-KA, Pawsitive Results Critter Academy, Santa Rosa, CA

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