Discipline Your Puppy
Puppies have to learn a lot as they grow into adult dogs. This means that they'll occasionally show bad behavior as they test limits and learn their boundaries. You'll need to learn how to react to such bad behavior, as well as how to reward and foster good behavior. Taking the time to discipline your puppy will help him become a good canine citizen.
Reacting to Bad Behavior
- Start early and be consistent. You should start disciplining your puppy as soon as you bring him home. Puppies learn quickly and should be shown what behavior is unacceptable in your house. This also means that you must be consistent when responding to bad behavior. If not, your puppy will be confused, making it harder to prevent the bad behavior.
- For example, say your puppy barks at the neighbors and you command him to stop. Then, he starts barking at the postal carrier, but you say nothing. Your puppy will be unsure about when he shouldn't bark, making it likely that he'll bark whenever he feels like it.
- Use reward-based training for self-rewarding behaviors. Reward-based training uses discipline to help the puppy understand that he's made a bad choice. Any type of reaction can be a reward in the dog's mind, so often the advice is to completely ignore bad behavior. However, if your dog is exhibiting behavior that's self-rewarding (for example, the dog enjoys chewing shoes) then this doesn't really work. That being the case, a short but sweet guiding command is appropriate. When he exhibits behavior you don't like, simply say "Not that" or similar words in a disapproving voice. The aim is not to scold him, but to guide him.
- Ignore bad behaviors that aren't self-rewarding. When your puppy tries to get your attention by barking, jumping up, or nipping at your fingers, it's best to ignore him. Consider what reward your puppy is trying to get when engaging in bad behavior in order to determine when to ignore him. If he's jumping up on you when you come home, he probably wants your attention. Withholding your attention sends the message that he needs to act differently to get your attention. Eventually, your puppy will learn that good behavior earns your attention and affection.
- For example, if your puppy starts barking at you, turn your back to him and take away any attention. He'll learn that he gets nothing from you when he behaves poorly.
- Distract and redirect your puppy. Get your puppy's attention by making a loud noise. You might try clapping your hands and firmly saying "no" when you catch your puppy doing something undesirable, like chewing on your shoe or squatting to urinate on the carpet. The noise and disapproving tone will distract your puppy from the bad behavior. Redirect your puppy's attention on desirable behavior.
- For example, if your dog was urinating inappropriately, pick up your puppy and immediately take him outside to the appropriate toilet spot.
- Use time-outs effectively. If your puppy is engaged in bad behavior, remove him from whatever is causing the behavior and place him in a different environment. You might put him in a quiet room in the house away from distractions or outside in the yard. Leave him in time-out for 10 to 30 seconds, then remove him and act as though nothing happened, if your dog has stopped the bad behavior (like barking). If your puppy hasn't stopped, wait until he does.
- Respond immediately and consistently to the bad behavior. As soon as you see your puppy acting up, remove him to the time-out spot. Be sure to do this every time you notice the bad behavior.
- Stop your puppy from barking. Ignore your puppy's barking. If he's just trying to get your attention, he should soon stop. But, if he continues barking despite your inattention, figure out why he's barking and remove it. For example, if your dog is barking at the traffic out the window, pull the blinds. If the behavior continues, remove your dog to another room for a few minutes.
- You can also try to quiet him by giving him something to chew like a rope toy.
- Keep your puppy from nipping. Puppies are naturally playful and have to learn limits when it comes to playing rough. As soon as your puppy nips, say "ouch" and yelp. Ignore him for up to 20 seconds after he lets go of your hand. This will teach your dog that you won't tolerate rough play.
- Avoid pulling your hand away when your puppy nips. Your puppy will see this as part of the game and will continue to chase you.
- Avoid using physical punishment. Studies have shown that physically punishing your puppy (like hitting, kicking, growling, or staring down) actually increases aggression in your puppy.
You should never use physical punishment to correct undesirable puppy behavior.
- Physical punishment could injure your puppy and ruin your relationship.
Encouraging Good Behavior
- Understand what motivates your puppy. Puppies are very social creatures. They want your attention and affection, whether it's simply a glance, talking to them in a fun, upbeat voice, giving them a special toy, rubbing and petting them, or giving a delicious treat. Pay attention to what your puppy best responds to. When you notice your puppy showing good behavior, immediately reward the action, so you puppy makes a positive association with the behavior.
- Be consistent when you positively reinforce good behavior. Your puppy will quickly learn what behaviors you approve of and which won't get him your much-wanted attention.
- Create a routine. Puppies like knowing what to expect. Establish a daily routine with set times for meals, toileting, walks, and training sessions. This way, your puppy knows what is coming and what to expect.
- A routine will help regulate your puppy regulate his behavior. For example, if he knows a walk comes after mealtime, he may save his energy for the outing.
- Reassert your dominance over your puppy. Your puppy will respect you more and respond to your discipline if you take clear control over him. To do this, give your commands in a stern tone of voice. You may also want to make him follow commands outside of training sessions. For example, make your puppy sit and wait briefly before setting down his food dish.
- Give your puppy time to fulfill your command. If it looks like your puppy isn't going to respond to your command, don't back down and give in. You need to show your puppy that he has to listen and obey your commands. Project your authority in a calm and assertive manner.
- House train your puppy. Once you have a routine in place, make sure regular outings to eliminate are included. For example, try taking your puppy out to eliminate first thing in the morning, 15 to 20 minutes after meals, and consistently after naps or play periods. Your puppy will learn to understand when it's appropriate to eliminate, reducing chances of accidents.
- You may want to start by crate training your puppy if you don't plan on taking him outside to eliminate.
- Train your puppy. Teach your puppy a few basic commands (like "come," "sit," "stay"). This way, when you notice your puppy engaging in bad behavior, you can immediately redirect his attention. For example, if you notice your puppy running up and jumping on someone, you can quickly command him to "come." He should stop jumping up on the person and come to you instead.
- Teaching your puppy a few simple commands can also keep him safe. If he's about to do something dangerous, like run into traffic, you can command him to "sit" or "stay" so that you can reach him.
- Get help. If you've been patient with your puppy, but he still resists training or responding to your discipline, get help. You can ask your veterinarian to recommend a professional trainer or canine behaviorist.
- You might want to enroll your dog in an obedience training class taught by a professional. You'll learn helpful tips and your puppy will begin to understand what you expect from the training sessions that you also do at home.
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