There are several things we as puppy parents unintentionally do that mess with our dogs’ emotions. No matter how hard we try in our effort to be perfect, some of our human ways can lead to one confused pup. And sending mixed signals to our pups will make them more likely to misbehave. But is it really bad behavior, or just bad communication?
Here are fifteen common puppy-parenting missteps you can easily avoid.
1. Confusing commands
How many of you have called to your dog and a wild west standoff ensues? Well, what exactly are you calling them for? We often expect our pups to come even when they know there’s no incentive to do so. Instead, ensure that “come” works every time by rewarding your dog with a puppy party every time they obey this all-important command.
The key-word here is reward. Puppy parties should involve anything your dog finds rewarding–a nice belly rub, a yummy treat, their favorite toy, etc. The key-word here is reward. Unless your dog absolutely, 100 % lives to take a bath, a puppy party should not involve bath-time. They most certainly won’t want to come when called if they’re punished once they get to you.
Never punish your dog for coming when called. Even if your dog is coming back after an hour-long escapade through the neighborhood, they still get a puppy party. Remember to always issue a recall command with a pleasant tone and a smile on your face; no dog wants to come running to an angry tone and a scowling face.
Do not allow your dog to jump on guests, period. Even if you have a friend that insists “Oh it’s okay! I’m a dog person!” don’t allow your dog to jump up and greet them. Your pup doesn’t know the difference between a twenty-year-old who is a “dog person” and seventy-five-year-old Grandpa who just had a hip replacement.
If you have a dog that jumps, warn your guest before they come over. Ask your guests to turn away from your dog and ignore them until your pup is sitting quietly. Teach your dog that they get lovin’ when all four paws are on the floor, and not before.
3. Rubbing Their Nose In Their Mistake After A Potty Accident
Rewarding your dog for going potty outside is an integral first step to house training. A key part of house training your dog, however, is preventing indoor accidents from happening in the first place. Yelling at your dog, rubbing their nose in their mess, or giving them a spanking doesn’t teach your dog to potty outside—it teaches him to be fearful of you and to have those accidents out of sight. (And come on, you paid good money for those bath rugs.)
While house-training, Tinkling Tucker should always be within sight and constantly monitored. Kennel your dog or puppy while you can’t monitor them, keep them on a leash, or if they are small, have them in your lap while you are on the couch or at the computer. Don’t wait for your dog or puppy to do the potty dance or assume the squat position—set your dog up for success and offer your pup plenty of opportunities to go potty in the right place.
4. Playing Fast And Loose With Leash Rules
Pulling on the leash is inherently rewarding for dogs. Why? Because it gets them where they are going. Don’t allow your dog to strain the leash and drag you from place to place. If your dog is pulling, make like a tree and stand still. Once the leash relaxes and your dog is looking at you, continue your walk.
Another option is to turn around and walk the opposite direction. Don’t forget to mark and reward your dog when they’re walking politely on the leash. A dog that walks at the side and offers eye contact is a dog that deserves a reward!
Remember loose-leash-walking takes practice and patience! Your dog may look like a yo-yo for a while while they’re learning that pulling won’t get them where they’re going. Also note, your dog will NOT learn how to loose-leash-walk on a retractable leash. If your dog pulls forward on a retractable leash and the leash extends, your dog just learned “pulling gets me there faster!”
5. Potty Time Is NOT Play Time
It’s not the time Fido gets to sniff all sixteen rocks Buster from next door peed on yesterday, or their personal time to roll in the grass by Coco’s house. Potty time is potty time. Your dog only needs the length of the leash to do their business. Teach your dog that social hour starts after business gets done.
This is especially true for those night time potty-breaks. It might be cute the first time, but eventually you won’t want to take Fido out at 3 A.M. to look at the stars. Take your dog to do their business and put your pup right back to bed. You will thank yourself later.
6. Using a crate as a punishment
So, your dog is less than eager to spend time in their kennel… well, how many times have you used the kennel as a form of punishment? The kennel should be a comfortable place that your dog is eager to visit. The kennel is that magical place where your pup eats their dinner or gets a peanut butter-stuffed Kong. Never use the kennel as a form of punishment!
7. Reinforcing barking with talking
Petting, talking to, playing with, and even scolding a barking dog, reinforces the dog to bark. Do not give a dog attention while they’re barking. The best remedy to a Barking Betsy is the good ole’ cold shoulder. And don’t forget to praise the peace and reward Betsy when she is being quiet!
Remember, barking can be inherently rewarding for some dogs, especially for many smaller breeds. Make sure the reward you give your dog is more rewarding then the barking itself. You may have to test out several treats and toys to find out what your pup goes absolutely bananas for.
8. Giving In To Their Begging
Those big eyes peering at you from under the table can be pretty hard to ignore. It can be especially hard when you find a warm, fuzzy face in your lap. Do yourself, and your guest, a favor and never feed your dog from the table. You are wrong if you think your pet won’t remember you giving them that piece of steak fat during last night’s dinner. It only takes one time!
Not feeding your pet from the table doesn’t mean your pup can’t enjoy some healthy human scraps every now and then—it simply means that your pup doesn’t get to enjoy them at the table or while you are eating. Reward your dog for staying away from the table during mealtime and consider teaching your dog “Place.” Ask your dog to go to their bed, or “place,” and provide them with a treat-filled toy or their own dinner once they’re lying down. Teach your pup that it is more rewarding to be away from the table during mealtime, rather than under it.
9. Permission To Counter Surf
If your dog finds food on the counter, it won’t be long before he comes back looking for more. Prevention is key here. Reward your dog for staying out of the kitchen when you are home, and keep the kitchen closed off when you aren’t around to monitor your pup. Keep food out of paws reach by storing it in the pantry or in the fridge. If you have kids, remind them not to leave their half-eaten snack or dirty dishes on the counter.
10. Play Is Important
Dogs need an outlet for their energy. If you aren’t providing one, your dog will provide one for himself and, odds are, you won’t like whatever they choose. Make sure you are giving your dog plenty of exercise. A large majority of dog-related problems can be attributed to your dog not getting enough stimulation or exercise. If your dog is running around the house and has a bad case of the zoomies, it’s time to take them out to play.
Does your dog only listen if you have a treat in your hand? Do you keep your hand in the treat pouch during a training session or move towards the cookie jar before you issue your dog a command? If you answered “yes,” you are one of many hoomans guilty of bribing your dog. Many people begin training a behavior by luring their dog into position. Using a lure is okay in the initial stages of training a command, however, there is a fine line between a lure and a bribe, so it’s important to phase out the lure as soon as possible.
Think of positive reinforcement like a slot machine. If you play the slots and win the jackpot on your first, second, and third try, you just learned that the slots can be very rewarding. Odds are, you’re gonna keep playing even if you don’t win much on the fourth or fifth try.
You keep playing because you won in the past, and you want to win again in the future. The casino doesn’t have to guarantee a win for you to keep playing the game. Rate of reinforcement with dogs is similar. Teaching your dog to work without a bribe is important because a treat might not always be available.
12. Chew on This
Dogs don’t just have a desire to chew, they have a need to chew! Providing your dog with plenty of chew toys is the first step, but unfortunately not the last. Dogs need constant reminding of what is okay to chew and what isn’t. Keep anything you don’t want your dog to chew off the floor! If you do catch your dog chewing on something off-limits, redirect him with a few cues (sit, down, touch), and then replace the item with one of their chew toys.
As soon as they start chewing on their toy, reward them! While your dog is learning, reward them with treats and praise each and every time you catch them chewing on one of their toys. Your pup will soon figure out that their Nylabone means chew time AND treat time. Keep your pup interested in their toys by putting them on a rotated schedule—an old toy can become a new toy if your pup hasn’t seen it in a while!
13. Nipping Enabler
Mouthy puppies can be sweet and funny when they are little, but nipping can become dangerous fast. Don’t allow your dog to make teeth-to-skin contact with anyone, ever. When dogs first learn how to play, their litter mates and mother teach them what an acceptable mouthing pressure is, and what kind of wrestling is tolerated among other dogs.
As a puppy parent, it is your job to teach your dog the appropriate way to play with humans. Even if it’s a playful accident, let your dog know that nipping isn’t okay by exclaiming “OUCH!” and by walking away. Don’t play with your pup for fifteen to thirty seconds. Your dog will soon figure out that if they don’t play appropriately, the game will end.
14. Escalating A Growling Situation
Growling is one of the few ways a dog can communicate that they feel threatened or scared. You should never punish a dog for growling. If your dog is growling at something or someone, immediately remove your dog from the situation and DO NOT punish them.
Your pup just let you know that they feel threatened or scared, and that is something you should be grateful for. A dog that doesn’t growl is a dog that bites without warning. Additionally, don’t encourage your dog to growl during play. Growling should mean one thing, and one thing only: “I’m uncomfortable and I need to get out of here.”
15. Punishing Submissive Peeing
If you have ever been greeted at the door by a dog that stops and pops a squat, you have been greeted by a dog that submissively pees. Submissive peeing is one way little Buttercup can say “I’M BUTTERCUP AND I AM NOT A THREAT!”
If your dog submissively urinates, there are a few things you may be doing that unintentionally make the matter worse. Petting, talking to, or even looking at a dog that feels the need to submit can drive the pup to submissively urinate. If you think your dog is about to submit, look away and ignore him. Give Buttercup a couple seconds to calm down and allow some of the excitement to pass. Never scold your dog for submissively urinating, as that can make the matter much worse.
This article was reviewed by professional dog trainer Shelby Semel, an advocate of Positive Reinforcement Dog Training.