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Puppy and adolescent canine behavior problems (Proceedings)


Canine behavior problems can be a real challenge to correct, but with a little forethought and the right information, owners can easily prevent most common problems.

Canine behavior problems can be a real challenge to correct, but with a little forethought and the right information, owners can easily prevent most common problems. Many owners begin their relationship with the new pet armed with misinformation and an idealistic view of the pet-owner relationship. Individuals in the pet health care profession have many opportunities to help owners get off to a good start. You can't take for granted that the owners know how to properly shape behaviors or handle problems, you need to ask what they know so you can help them promote good behavior and a good relationship with the new family member.

Rules for training young pets

I. Don't take good behaviors for granted

The best way for the pet to learn to do what the owner wants it to do is by rewarding it when it has done something acceptable. The owner should actively look for desired behaviors so that the pet can be praised.

II. Set the pet up to succeed

Most and puppies engage in quite predictable behaviors. They are active, inquisitive and get into everything. Puppies will eliminate anywhere and chew on everything until trained. It is up to the new pet owner to prevent mistakes by moving things out of reach and providing proper training. Close supervision or appropriate confinement may constantly be necessary for some pets until they reach two years of age. The young pet has a short attention span and is easily distracted. Owner's set it up to fail if they train too long or ask it to do something in the presence of a strong distraction. Owner education concerning what behaviors to expect from young, growing pets and how they should be handled is of utmost importance.

III. Don't take good behaviors for granted

Actively look for and reward all desirable behaviors.

IV. Be consistent

The whole family needs to sit down and agree upon which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. It is very important that all members handle specific behaviors in the same way. If the family or an individual is inconsistent, the pet will be confused, learning will be delayed and anxiety may result in serious behavior problems.

V. Avoid punishment

Owners must understand that if they strike the pet, the consequences can be disastrous. Handshyness, fear-biting, avoidance of humans, aggression and submissive urination may all result from physical punishment. One of the most important things that the pet must learn is that the human hand is a friend. A loud, abrupt, semi-startling reprimand is usually adequate to interrupt an undesirable behavior by a young pet. To be effective, the correction must be given during the behavior, every time the behavior occurs, should be intense enough to stop the behavior without causing significant anxiety and should stop when the behavior stops. If necessary, the owner can use a shake can, air horn, whistle or other device if the pet ignores verbal corrections. The owner should not rely on punishment alone to shape the pet's behavior. Alternate, desirable behavior should always be reinforced.

For behaviors that occur when the family is not present, environmental devices can be used to keep a pet away from areas where undesirable behaviors might occur.

     • Upside down mouse traps

     • Scatmat ®

     • Scraminal ® - motion activated alarm

     • Spray Barrier ®


     • No physical punishment

     • Timing

     • Intensity

     • Consistency

     • Must stop when the behavior stops

     • Avoid association with the person

Always reinforce alternate, desirable behaviors

Leadership exercises

     Purpose of these exercises

          • Gain more control of the pet

          • Increase the pet's dependability in responding to commands

          • Provide structure and consistency in the interaction between the pet and family members

          • Reduce impulsive behavior

You will want to keep these rules in place until you have good control of the pet and it dependably listens and responds to commands. In most cases, this will be at least four to six weeks before going back to your usual interaction with the pet. Consistency is very important. The whole family must participate and follow the recommendations in the same way.

1. Nothing in life is free

     • Ask the pet to respond to a command, such as "Sit," prior to getting anything it wants or needs. (Before putting food down, giving treats/toys, beginning play, petting, allowing on furniture, picking up, etc.)

2. Don't tell me what to do

     • Do not allow the pet to successfully solicit attention from you.

     • Any nudge, whine, bark, push, nudge, lean, etc. for attention must be ignored. Pull your hands in, lean away from the pet and look away from it. Get up and walk away if the pet is exceptionally pushy and difficult to ignore.

     • Do not scold, say anything or push the pet away from you.

     • Once the pet stops soliciting for ten seconds, you can ask it to sit or sit/stay and give it some attention.

     • Another strategy is to take control by asking the pet to sit as it walks up to you, but before it attempts to be pushy for attention.

3. Don't move without permission

     • Anytime you begin to move from one area of the home to another, ask the pet to sit/stay and wait for a release command to follow you.

     • Also request a "Sit/stay" prior to going up and down stairs, as well as in and out of the home.

     • You only need for the pet to stay for one to two seconds, and you do not need to walk away form the pet during the stay to do this properly.

     • It is not as necessary to be as rigid about this rule as the previous two. It is understandable that it may be difficult or impractical to have the pet sit/stay every time you move.

Food lure obedience training

There are many advantages to teaching the puppy to come and sit on command during one of its early visits to the veterinary hospital. Using food-lure-reward methods, this can be done in about five minutes. Stand two feet away from the puppy, show it a piece of food held between your thumb and forefinger and wiggle your fingers. As the pup approaches, say its name and call it. When the pup reaches the food, slowly and deliberately move it over the top of its head. As the pup moves its head back to follow the food, he will move into a sitting position. As he does this, say "Sit." Be careful not to hold the food too high over the head as this may encourage the pet to jump up for it.

Why spend exam room time to teach obedience commands? Well, when the pet learns to obey commands at a very early age, it will help the owner establish leadership, gain control of the pup and serve as a tool for socializing. Teaching the "Come-sit" decreases jumping-up behaviors because the pup learns to approach and greet by sitting. It also decreases handshyness by associating an outstretched hand with a food reward. That's a big return for a five minute investment!

Most of a pet's learning occurs by simply having stimuli it likes or dislikes associated with the behavior. Behaviors of the pet that are associated with something it likes have a high likelihood of being repeated and behaviors that are associated with something aversive are likely to disappear. Timing is very important. Punishment that occurs too late (more than a few seconds after the behavior) will be ineffective and may lead to other problems. For example, a destructive dog that is harshly disciplined for its misdeeds when it greets the owners each day may start submissively urinating near the front door in anticipation of the daily beating. On the other hand, when a reward is given at an inappropriate time, undesirable behaviors may be reinforced. The owner who gives an energetic greeting to a pup that is excited and bouncing off the walls is reinforcing unruly greeting behaviors.

Play Aggression

     • Exercise

          o Walks, 'Monkey in the middle'

     • Mental stimulation

     • Play

           o Fetch, Soccer

     • Obedience

     • Leadership exercises

     • Socialization

     • Don't sit on the floor with pup

     • Distract with a toy

     • Hard bite → Yell "Ouch" and stop play

     • Interrupt with shake can, water gun, compressed air

     • Drag line – indoors and outdoors

     • Head halters

     • Muzzles

     • Time out

     • Stop mouthing on command


Housetraining can be very smooth if the owner follows these simple rules

I. Teach the puppy where to go

The speed at which the pup learns where it is supposed to eliminate depends on how consistently the owner accompanies it to the proper elimination area and praises it.

II. Control access to food and water

Feed the puppy twice daily (three times for small breeds) at the same time every day. Only leave the food down for twenty minutes. Do not feed for three to four hours prior to bedtime. Take the water up one to two hours prior to bedtime.

III. Adequate supervision and confinement

Until the puppy has not soiled in the house for four consecutive weeks, it must either be under constant supervision by a family member who is actually watching it at all times or must be confined to a crate or a small room. A leash can be an important tool for preventing the pup from sneaking away. Inadequate supervision and confinement are the most common reasons for failure to housetrain the puppy.

IV. Teach the pup to signal when it has to eliminate

This can be done by frequently keeping the pup on a leash indoors, especially during times when it is likely to have to eliminate. Puppies quickly learn to sneak away from the owner to eliminate so they can avoid a scolding. When the puppy is prevented from sneaking away, it will become anxious and vocalize or fidget. Since the owner is nearby, these behaviors will be noticed and the pet will be taken outdoors. It doesn't take too many repetitions of this scenario for the pup to learn that being close to an owner and vocalizing or fidgeting results in a trip outdoors.

V. Odor control

Use a good commercial product made specifically for pet elimination odors. I have found K.O.E.™ (Thornell Corporation) to be an inexpensive, very effective product. (For very strong odors, it can be mixed to a concentration of one ounce of the product in one quart of water)

VI. Punishment

Punishment should be avoided. The only correction permitted is a loud "No" used to interrupt the pet when it is caught in the act of eliminating in an inappropriate area. Submissive or greeting urination should never be punished.

Puppy classes

One of the most beneficial and appreciated services that you can offer to owners of young puppies is a puppy training class. Working with puppies in a class situation has special advantages. You get a better idea of how the pup interacts with the family in situations outside the exam room. It allows you to closely follow the pup's progress and help the owner as problems arise. The classes are also very good for socializing the pups to humans as well as other puppies. The other benefits of puppy classes are that they teach the puppy to look forward to visiting the hospital, they generate revenue and they make good press for a public relations program.


Even though dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, each new puppy that comes into our world must learn about humans. Socialization is the process during which puppies develop positive relationships with other living beings. The most sensitive period for successful socialization is during the first three to four months of life. The experiences the pet has during this time will have a major influence on its developing personality and how well it gets along with people and other animals when it grows into adulthood. It is very important for puppies to have frequent, positive social experiences during these early months in order to prevent asocial behavior, fear and biting. Puppies that are inadequately socialized may develop irreversible fears, leading to timidity or aggression. This is not to say that socialization is complete by four months of age, only that it should begin before that time. Continued exposure to a variety of people and other animals, as the pet grows and develops is an essential part of maintaining good social skills. It is also extremely important that your new puppy be exposed to new environments and stimuli at this time (e.g. sounds, odors, locations) to reduce the fear of "the unfamiliar" that might otherwise develop as the pet grows older.

Attending puppy classes during this primary socialization period is an excellent way to ensure multiple contacts with a variety of people and other dogs. This relatively new concept in training involves enrolling puppies early, before they pick up "bad habits," and at an age when they learn very quickly. Puppy training and socialization classes are now available in many communities where, in some cases, puppies can be admitted as early as their third month. These classes can help puppies get off to a great start with training, and offer an excellent opportunity for important social experiences with other puppies and with a wide variety of people.

It is important for every puppy to meet as many new people as possible in a wide variety of situations. It can be beneficial to ask each person who meets the puppy to give the puppy a biscuit. This will teach the puppy to look forward to meeting people and discourage hand-shyness since the puppy will learn to associate new friends and an outstretched hand with something positive. Once the puppy has learned to sit on command, the family should have each new friend ask it to sit before giving the biscuit. This teaches a proper greeting and will make the puppy less likely to jump up on people. The family should make certain that the pet has the opportunity to meet and receive biscuits from a wide variety of people of all ages, appearances and both sexes during the early formative months. Every effort must be made to see that the young pup has plenty of opportunities to learn about children. Kids can seem like a completely different species to dogs since they walk, act, and talk much differently than adults. Puppies that grow up without meeting children when they are young may never feel comfortable around them when they become adults.

And last, but not least, the family should avoid physical punishment and any interactions with people that might make the puppy anxious. Harshly punishing a young pet will damage its bond with the person and weaken its trust in people. Techniques such as swatting the pup, shaking it by the scruff, roughly forcing it onto its back, thumping it on the nose and rubbing its face in a mess should never be used. Pets that are raised using these methods may grow up to fear the human hand, and are likely candidates to become fear biters. In general, any interactions with people that might make a puppy anxious should particularly be avoided during the early months of its life.


Whatever you do in the way of counseling new pet owners, remember that early information about behavior can make a big difference in the relationship between the pet and the owner. Behavior problems are much easier to prevent than to correct and owners need reliable help to weed through conflicting and inappropriate training information. Everybody wins when we take the time and effort to provide timely behavior counseling. The owner are more likely to have a well behaved pet, we are more likely to have a manageable patient and the pet is more likely to remain an important part of the family.

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