Alright, the big day is finally here. If you’re like most new dog owners you have been counting down the days since you have made the big decision to bring a new puppy into your home. Are you ready? Rest assured, if you’re not, you’re not alone. Through this article I hope to accomplish two goals. First, let’s make your home a safe environment for your new puppy. Second, I’d like to give you a concrete set of techniques you can use to begin teaching your puppy to be a good citizen in his/her new home.
Most new puppy owners underestimate just how much mischief their little four legged friend can get into in a few short minutes alone. I cannot tell you how many stories I hear of “Missy” ruining an expensive Italian-made pair of leather dress shoes. My standard reply is, “Did you leave these shoes in a place where she could get to them?” To which they sheepishly answer, “Well, yea… I just thought…”. “Wow, those sure are expensive chew toys you’re leaving for your new puppy.” The point is this: When left alone, even for a few short minutes, a young puppy, with his razor-sharp teeth can ruin or destroy furniture, carpeting, etc. Worse yet, it only takes a single chew on a lamp cord to harm and electrocute your new puppy.
Puppy-Proofing Your Home
The simplest technique for puppy-proofing your home is to go about it the same way you would when making a home safe for a young child, except pay closer attention to items that a puppy can chew or scratch. Consider anything left on the floor or within reach of the puppy “fair game”. If you take a minute to look around your house, you should immediately see items that a young dog can chew on / destroy, or even worse, be harmed by. If you have not owned a puppy before, get down on your hands and knees and view your home from the puppy’s vantage point. Electrical cords, cabinet corners, carpeting, and shoes lying around are all in plain view of your new companion.
The simplest technique to teach a young dog what he is allowed to chew and what he isn’t is to issue a stern “NO” command and then replace the item he is chewing with an acceptable chew toy while praising him for changing his behavior. During this period, the puppy will be drilled many times on the “NO” command. It is very important to apply praise when you get the desired change in behavior. Make sure you have hard chew toys or rawhide handy when your puppy is loose so you can quickly make the correction and stop the undesirable behavior. Soon he will realize that he can only chew on the items you give him — toys. Be consistent in your approach. Don’t allow him to chew on one pair of sneakers and not another, that is sending mixed signals to the dog that will prolong the process.
All the puppy-proofing in the world is no substitute for keeping a close eye on your young canine while he is learning the difference between right and wrong. If you are unable to watch your puppy, it’s a good idea to confine him in an area where he cannot get into trouble. Fence off a part of the house where the puppy cannot get into trouble or better yet, use a crate to confine your young canine. If choosing to crate your dog, make sure you pick the proper size so he is comfortable. A crate that is too large will offer a puppy an opportunity to soil one area and lay down in the other.
Nipping and Biting – Normal Puppy Play
If you ever watched a litter of puppies in the whelping box you will notice that puppies play with each other by using their mouths. They wrestle and tug on each others ears, tails, legs, or whatever they can get their mouth on. When you take a puppy from his littermates into your new home, it is not uncommon for this type of behavior to continue with you and your family. This is absolutely normal behavior. Puppies rarely show aggressive behavior with the intent of harming their new owners. However, if this behavior is left uncorrected it can become annoying and can often escalate to more rough play.
The goal of working through this normal puppy behavior is to teach your puppy that mouthing is unacceptable and to encourage acceptable behavior.
Discouraging Nipping / Mouthing
How do I stop a puppy from nipping? This is a very common question from new puppy owners. The best answer I can give is to never let it begin in the first place. There are a number of techniques you can use to discourage nipping, the key is to maintain a high standard (hands do not belong in a puppy’s mouth) and to be consistent with your correction and/or praise. There are two techniques you can use to correct nipping:
The first works for about 75 percent of the dogs. It is simple and teaches the dog to be gentle with your hands and that nipping or rough play ends a play session immediately. After being nipped, look directly into your puppy’s eye and say “Ouch” in a high pitched voice, as if you have been seriously hurt. End the play session immediately and replace your hand with an acceptable chew toy. Since dogs are social animals, ending the play session once nipping occurs can be very effective, however, it will take many sessions to for this technique to work.
The second technique is to teach your puppy to be gentle with hands and nipping results in unpleasant consequences. Be ready to apply the correction quickly and firmly. Once your puppy begins mouthing you, grasp him by the scruff of the neck with the opposite hand, and take the hand that he was just mouthing and open it flat, with your fingers close together. Next, place your flat hand across his mouth where his bottom jaw meets his upper jaw. Don’t hurt him but put just enough pressure against the back of his mouth to elicit a gag reflex, while saying in a low growling tone of voice, “NO BITE”. If he begins to whine, gag and squirm around (trying to remove your hand from him mouth) hold your ground and repeat the command, “NO BITE”. Once your young pup has given in remove your hand from his mouth and pet him with the hand that was just in his mouth. Finally, replace your hand with an acceptable chew toy. This technique teaches the dog rather quickly that mouthing your hand causes an uncomfortable thing and quickly his preference will be for chew toys rather than your hand.
A Note About Children And Puppies
Often a child’s first reaction to being nipped or mouthed by a puppy is to shriek and quickly push the puppy away, only encouraging the puppy to play harder and act out further. It’s very difficult for children less than 10 years old to practice the techniques described above. For this reason during the first few weeks of puppy hood, dogs should never be left alone with young children.
Points to remember:
- Keep objects small enough for your dog to choke on, off the floor (such as coins, hardware, etc.).
- Electric cords should be tucked behind furniture or encased to prevent electrocution as a result of chewing.
- Keep cabinets that contain cleaning agents secured.
- Pick up after yourself (shoes, socks, etc.).
- Be consistent with what you allow him/her to chew.