3 Puppy Training Problems and Their Easy Solutions

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Puppies. They aren't for the faint of heart. Here at Faithfully Yours Dog Training, we get calls about "puppy problems" every day and it has come to our attention that people are usually calling about the same issues. The struggles of a puppy owner are real. Puppies will destroy your clothing and carpet in no-time flat. So, what is an new puppy owner to do? Here are our solutions for the three most common puppy training issues we get calls about.

1. Potty Training

The Problem: Potty training seems to be a hot topic with new puppy owners because it is stressful to think your puppy might grow into an adult without the proper skills to understand that using the bathroom outside is the best and most desired option. If a dog doesn't learn these skills, people usually find this to be a deal breaker and it is a major reason some adult dogs are rehomed later in life. 

At Faithfully Yours, we have found people stress out about potty training way too often and when they do, they overcomplicate the potty training process. A better approach is to keep things simple and understandable for your dog and stick to a pattern and schedule. No puppy will be completely potty trained in a week or two - no matter what your friends proudly told you about their puppies.

The Solution: Always keep it simple. Rewards for pottying outside are the most important step to this entire process for all puppies. They don't care where they go to the bathroom, as long as they get to go to the bathroom. However, we can make them care if they getting a delicious reward they only get when they go outside. Praise just isn't enough for most dogs.

Food rewards help you develop alerts that they need to go outside and a consistent habit. Most owners try to remove the treats too soon or think they aren't necessarily for success, but trust us, they can be the difference between a potty trained dog and replacing your carpets.

Our process is usually, when the dog heads outside, we say, "Go Potty" (or whatever you would like the cue to be) and we wait. Don't repeat yourself multiple times as it can distract your puppy from their business. Once they are in the act of using the bathroom, when they are finishing up, we mark the behavior with a clicker or a short word, like "Mark!" or "Yes!", followed by an amazing food reward. We usually suggest a very high value treat for this so, your puppy learns quickly that pottying outside is a rewarding experience.

We avoid all punishment when potty training since it can make things more difficult in the long run. Puppies that are punished for pottying in front of their owners will stop showing signs of needing to use the bathroom in front of you. Therefore you never know when they need to go and you lower your chances of getting them to alert you to anything. Many dogs end up behaving as if they have been punished for using the bathroom in front of you, not for going inside.

If you have a more complex potty training case, contact us for a Potty Training Plan phone session and we can get you on the right track.

2. Teething/Play Biting

The Problem:
Teething and play biting are normal behaviors for puppies. While many owners become concerned that their puppy might grow up to be aggressive due to this behavior, it is highly unlikely that it is a sign of aggression. Some puppies can be much more intense with these behaviors than other puppies and sizing your puppy's play biting/teething up with a past dog often isn't helpful.

Puppies will continue teething/play biting until around nine months of age normally and only past that point do we become concerned that the behavior was mistakenly reinforced and might continue into adulthood without intervention. This usually occurs when owners thought they were being helpful by using "Ow!" sounds, corrections, or swatting the puppy away to stop these behaviors, but the puppy thought these reactions were fun or exciting instead.

The Solution: Teething and play biting are two behaviors most puppies will outgrow by nine months of age. It will usually improve with very little intervention from the owners, but there are a few things you can do to make sure you don't have problems in adulthood.

Be careful about your reactions when the puppy puts teeth on you, especially if you believe they are doing this to seek attention. For example, they only bite you when you are watching your favorite show and ignoring them. Some puppies figure out this behavior gets a reaction from us. Even if it is a nasty reaction, many puppies don't care because they finally got your attention.

To prevent this, we like to use exercise pens as play pens for the puppy when we are busy or need a break. This way no one is tempted to correct the puppy and in turn, give the puppy attention after he/she has bitten. This also keeps the puppy out of trouble when they are not being supervised.

If your puppy is just practicing this behavior throughout the day, no matter if you are giving them attention or not, then switching out for an appropriate toy is a must. While it feels like you aren't doing much, keep in mind this is a normal development stage that all puppies must go through and your puppy is actually feeling a lot of discomfort during this time. We like to be proactive and have available toys to rotate through during the week to keep the puppy busy chewing on toys and not us!

3. Barking

The Problem:
Continuous barking could be happening for many reasons. Unfortunately, there are too many to cover this subject completely in this short blog, but the most common variety we see is puppies barking or whining in their crates. This usually stems for the puppy's original crate training being done incorrectly or too quickly.

Many owners purchase crates for potty training and for the puppy to sleep in overnight, but they do not realize this can take days of proper positive training to get the puppy used to. If your puppy doesn't enjoy being in their crate or hasn't learned to be comfortable when alone, your puppy will likely not fair very well overnight in a crate, which can result in distress barking or whining throughout the day and night.

The Solution: First, make sure your puppy isn't spending more than eight hours in their crate a day. This includes their time sleeping overnight. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing and if you are using the crate more often than this, it would be worth it to look into a doggie daycare or dog walker for your puppy during the day to make sure they have ample chances to explore the world.

When beginning crate training, we toss a favorite toy or treat into the crate and then wait. Some puppies will be more cautious than others. If your puppy has already had a bad experience with the crate, this might take longer than a puppy who has never seen a crate before. Rinse and repeat. Your puppy is allowed to flee the crate as they desire, but all goodies come from inside the crate. If your puppy can play fetch, that is what this game should look like. You say "Crate" once, toss the toy inside, puppy runs to get the toy and brings it back to do it again. This helps the puppy quickly gain confidence around the crate.

As for being locked in the crate, this is when most puppies start getting upset. We place a bowl of treats on a nearby counter, walk to the bowl, and bring back a treat for the puppy in the crate. Rinse and repeat again. You can move the bowl further away if your puppy is calm and quiet in the crate. You can move the bowl closer if your puppy is struggling inside the crate.  This helps your puppy understand that when you leave, you are going to get them something nice. You aren't leaving forever and you will be back shortly. So, it is worth their while to allow you to leave.

Keep in mind, some puppies will be more distressed in the crate than others and we should never allow a puppy to cry inside the crate for more than ten minutes. Usually we will cut this game short and let the puppy out if they don't settle down within two to three minutes to be safe. We want to make sure the puppy is having a good time to avoid making this behavior worse.

Sometimes people have bigger issues than they thought with the crate and if you are really struggling or have a puppy who has already had many bad experiences with the crate, it would be worth it to hire a professional trainer to help you.

*Photo by Alyssa Card Photography