Puppies are adorable, but anyone who has had a puppy can tell you that they can be surprisingly frustrating at the same time! Everyone wants to keep things as positive as possible, and that is great, but what if that doesn’t seem to be working? Can you use negatives? What kinds of negative responses are appropriate and still create a great bond. Before you focus a lot of time teaching “sit”, let’s first help them learn about their new home, introduce them to their new name, while also providing limits and boundaries as they navigate their brand new surroundings by providing positives and appropriate negative responses.
The two areas to focus on:
1. The House rules (i.e. what is allowed and what is not allowed)
2. Learning their new name.
Before I get into house rules, I want say that even though housetraining a puppy to go potty outside is definitely top of the list for house rules, however, it a big enough topic that I will cover that in a separate blog post. For now, let’s go over how to help them learn what is and is not allowed in your home.
Here are the tools and supplies you’ll need to help guide your puppy to be able to successfully live in our human household:
a crate, portable x pen, baby gates, a chew-proof tether treats/kibble, an old leash, dog friendly chew toys, penny can, spray bottle, Bitter Apple or Bitter Yuck
Your puppy is learning how to live in a new “pack”. You and all of your family members are new pack members. Your puppy or dog is going to need your guidance to understand what is acceptable behavior and not acceptable behavior your home. They don’t come understanding anything about living in a human household. Think about your rules, like will they be allowed to sit on the couch or beds, or not? Also, understand that puppies or new dogs will experiment to see what “works” for them. Be sure to give them some feedback as soon as you see a behavior you don’t want. This includes positive feedback when you see them making good choices too. Also, be aware of accidentally encouraging behaviors you won’t want in the future.
Before we get into more house rules, let’s start with teaching him his name by playing the “Name Game”.
Since you’ll want your puppy to always respond to you immediately for his entire life, introduce his name in a positive way. Get him to learn his name and think that whenever he hears it, good things happen. Everyday carry around a few pieces of kibble in your pocket and randomly call the puppy to you. Don’t forget to always praise too! To make this easier to play, I put tiny dishes of kibble in rooms for fast access and this way, the puppy doesn’t hear cupboards and treat bags opening. You don’t want him to respond only because he sees a treat. Instead, he hears his name and a treat will be the result once he reaches you! If you have children, this is a great way for your child and your puppy to interact!
Once you have him responding to his name don’t use it in a negative way…more about this in the house rules.
Guidance for teaching house rules…creating limits and boundaries.
To set your puppy up for success you will need to use his crate for housetraining and use the crate and/or x pen for anytime he is unsupervised. This is especially important for busy households with children where there is a lot going on at home. A chew proof tether is useful to keep the puppy near you and not always use the crate or pen.
When you can supervise, let them explore, but be ready to give feedback.
Praise behaviors that you like when you see it happen to encourage repeating those behaviors. It may just be that the puppy is lying quietly and chewing on a toy or he just went potty outside. It is ok to praise in a quiet voice. Praise doesn’t always have to be in an excited tone.
So, what do you do if you see a behavior you don’t like?
There are a number of responses to try to communicate that you don’t want your puppy to do a certain behavior. Start with simple and lower level corrections to see if that works first, than increase your feedback as needed. Puppies experiment to see what works for them. One of the simplest things to do is ignore the puppy. For instance, if the puppy is demand barking, try to ignore and walk away. Sometimes negative attention is still attention, so don’t respond.
Also, be sure along the way you are not accidentally rewarding behaviors you will not want to see in the future. An example of this is when people pet a puppy when it jumps up on their legs. Even if you push him off with your hands, he will see this as rewarding. You can try turning away or gently bumping him off with your knee as you say “off” or give a verbal “eh eh” negative sound. Once his 4 feet are on the floor, you can softly praise and pet him. He will soon learn that the only time he is petted is when he has 4 feet on the floor. Puppies don’t generalize with people, so try to get everyone doing the same good behavior.
Puppies will also experiment by chewing on objects. It often works well if the object itself is perceived as negative to the puppy. By this I mean if you use Bitter Apple or Bitter Yuck on various household items(electrical cords, wooden table legs) your puppy he won’t like the result and see this as a negative thing. Hopefully, he will find an available dog chew toy instead. Be sure to have lots of appropriate toys handy so you can redirect him to something better for chewing.
Depending on the behavior itself and the puppy’s personality, different responses will work better than others. As mentioned earlier, in some situations and with some puppies you can just ignore the puppy but, other times you may have to add the negative verbal sound.
Initially to stop some behaviors you may first try to interrupt with an negative “eh,eh” verbal sound and if they stop for a second and look at you, redirect them to a toy or to yourself. Don’t say his name as you give your correction. You won’t want his name associated with anything negative. If you look at your puppy as you say , “eh,eh”, they will know you are talking to them. After a correction, try to call them by their name to you in a happy voice. If the Name Game worked, and they go to you, you can now praise them!
Sometimes, ignoring them or using simple verbal sounds won’t do the trick. If this is the case, you may want to try a “penny can” to help interrupt the unwanted behavior.
A “penny can” makes a sharp sound with no emotion attached. Use a soda can with 12 pennies inside and seal the hole with duct tape. Use the can by holding it in the middle of the can and move it up and down very quickly as you link it to your voice saying , eh,eh or “HEY”. Don’t use this as a threat or in anger. It is important to use this with no angry emotion attached. The goal is to make a sound to break the concentration of the puppy and give you enough time to redirect. You will only have a nano second after you break their concentration, so be ready to call them to you or to a toy in a happy voice. Praise as they start to do a new acceptable behavior.
A squirt water bottle can also help as a negative consequence. When using either of these tools, you need to catch the dog at the exact moment and not second after. Because you need to be ready to act, it is often easier to have the penny can in a pocket then carrying around a water bottle.
As mentioned earlier, another tool you can use is a leash or chew proof tether to keep them near you and away from doing the unwanted behavior.
If you have tried all of the above and you are at your wits end, a crate can be used as a cool down. Crates shouldn’t be used as punishment, however, if you can place them in without negative emotional energy on your part and allow a short cool down time, a minute or so, this may work and still keep your crate as a positive place. Puppies can’t learn how to navigate if they are in crates too much. They need to explore and you need to be ready with feedback, whether is positive or negative. This is how you will eventually have a trustworthy puppy that won’t need a crate in the future and can be trusted to have complete access to your entire house. I’ve done his with every dog I’ve owned and it makes life much more carefree as a dog owner to not have to eventually worry about what the dog is up to in the house!
Since all dogs (humans too) are driven by results, if they like the result they will tend to repeat the behavior. If they don’t like the result, they will try something else or stop the behavior. As a final note about negatives; I want to be clear that this does not mean to physically punish by hitting, slapping, pinching, or any other physically rough treatment. Even screaming and yelling in anger is not helpful for learning. You will only gain a dog who does not trust, is fearful or may eventually strike back with a bite and certainly does not want to work with you. Your hands should always be seen as something positive when you need to touch your dog. Keep in mind, in the dog world, anything not corrected, is approved. So, use appropriate feedback.
Think about your house rules and keeping things as positive as possible and your puppy will soon learn how to be a polite member of your family or in their eyes, their new pack.