Written version (with helpful links)
This one’s for all the struggling puppy parents out there. Raising a puppy is hard work, but does it have to be THIS hard?
Here are five signs you’re accidentally making your experience harder than it needs to be:
1. Your puppy bites constantly, and everything you try, from saying ouch, to ignoring them or punishing them just seems to make it worse.
2. They’ve started running away or avoiding you when you approach, maybe even pooping on the carpet in the other room where you can’t see them.
3. Every time you try to do a training session, they don’t learn much and instead just end up biting you or walking away. Even if you’re using really good treats.
4. Taking them for a walk can be really frustrating and disappointing because they totally blow you off or keep stopping and staring at people, or they bite you and their leash. It feels like they’re the one in control, not you.
5. Your other pets are not adjusting well, and their feelings about the puppy seem to be getting worse because they’re always being attacked and chewed on.
If any of those sound familiar:
I’m willing to bet you feel like you spend 90% of your time saying “no don’t do that!” and you don’t know why you bother because they never listen anyway.
You’ve probably put a lot of focus on exercising them because “a tired dog is a good dog,” and teaching them obedience commands and making sure they see you as the leader.
And all that’s doing is stressing you and preventing you from actually enjoying life with your puppy.
And look I get it, and you’re not alone. We specialize in helping people overcome the puppy blues (aka the WTFWIT phase) after all. So we’re happy to be the first to tell you that this shit can be tough.
But it doesn’t have to be THIS tough.
All those symptoms we just talked about are signs you might be making mistakes that make your puppy’s behavior worse.
Let’s talk about the 10 most common mistakes we see our students making when they first come to us.
Important note: mistakes do not equal permanent damage.
And I’m certainly not judging – I have done every one of the things on this list!
In fact, if you have made these mistakes, that’s a good thing, because it means there is a solution to your problem. This is not just how life with a puppy has to be.
So as long as you change your approach to stop these mistakes from happening and stop the behavior from getting worse, you’re good.
Most of the things on this list are actually things that the dog training industry has been advising for years. So, I’m sorry on behalf of my industry.
(I feel like I’m constantly apologizing on behalf of my industry. What can I say. It’s a dumpster fire)
1. That thing where you say “ouch” or yelp when the puppy bites
The idea is that the noise mimics the correction another dog might give when bitten too hard.
And that’s great… in theory.
I raised a Belgian malinois puppy, aka an actual landshark. You can bet that making squeaky noises would NOT have made her stop biting.
There’s also a variation on the yelping thing where you sit in a room with the puppy and every time they bite, you say “ouch!” and get up and leave the room. Then you come back, rinse, repeat. You have to do this like fifty times in a five minute session.
I actually taught this myself in the first edition of our online program.
We eventually scrapped that method because yes, it might technically work if you keep at it long enough, it’s such an infuriating experience for everyone involved. It’s not worth it.
So I’m giving you permission to stop doing this. You’re welcome.
2. “Ignoring them” when they bite
That probably lasted all of three seconds because it’s very hard to ignore a cannonball with needle sharp teeth, sinking those teeth into your flesh.
And ignoring them can create more distress, which leads to more biting.
3. Too much handling, cuddling, or getting in their face
This can be really disappointing, because when you get a puppy, you just want to hold them and cuddle them and squeeze them and tell them how much you wuv them. But that can really frustrate a lot of puppies.
When one of our Academy members, Kathryn, first came to us with her puppy Vinny, she could not touch him AT ALL without him biting her. And it turns out that Vinny had come from a rescue foster home where he lived with a couple small children who loved to carry him around all the time.
And this puppy was just completely “touched out.” He had learned that human hands approaching meant that he was going to be manhandled and have no say in what happened to him. Which would drive me crazy too.
4. Exhausting yourself by exercising the crap out of them in an attempt to get them to calm down
A tired dog is a good dog, right? Welllllll….
If your puppy gets more hyper after exercise, or if they always seem unable to settle down, throwing more exercise at them isn’t the answer, and it’s probably making things worse. Think of how a three year old kid might have a screaming meltdown after a few hours “exercising” in Disneyland.
Of course exercise is important, but the key is in choosing the right kind of activities, and structuring those activities in a way that helps puppies calm down and sleep instead of just getting more crazy.
5. Walking your puppy like you’d walk an adult dog
If taking them for a walk is really frustrating and disappointing because they:
- Totally ignore you
- Plant their butt and refuse to move
- Bite you and their leash
Then I’m guessing you’re attempting the traditional dog walk. That is, walking at a brisk pace in a relatively straight line for 15 or more minutes. Puppies under six months of age, and sometimes older if they didn’t learn the right skills as babies, are just not at a developmental stage where this is appropriate.
And if you force it, it could lead to aggression or fear issues, or an inability to focus as an adult.
The way we teach our students to walk their puppies doesn’t really look anything like a normal dog walk, it’s all about exploring and teaching them about the world in a way that makes them capable of paying attention to you despite distractions.
6. Scolding them or using physical corrections
Tapping on the nose, spray bottles, pinning them on their back, etc. Sometimes it just amps them up more, and makes them growl and bite harder.
Other times, it may put an immediate stop to the biting or other unwanted behavior, but it creates other problems for you. For one thing, you can’t control what negative connections your puppy is making, or the emotional conditioning that’s happening.
It’s likely your puppy won’t associate the correction with their behavior, and they’ll associate it with you instead.
They may become hand shy, or avoidant, or aggressive, or have a hard time learning to come when called or pay attention to you, or start having accidents where you can’t see them.
7. Constantly chasing them around to pull forbidden objects out of their mouth
I’m not saying that you have to just let your puppy eat your shoes or whatever, but if you feel like you’re always saying “no don’t do that” and taking things away from them, something’s gotta change.
This dynamic is a big contributor to problems like food aggression and resource guarding, not listening or running away when you call them, and it makes it very hard to build a trusting relationship.
And a directly related mistake:
8. Giving them too much freedom too soon
Letting the puppy have the run of the house, or letting them have access to the kids when either the puppy or the kids are in a crazy mood. This let’s them both practice bad behavior.
Too much freedom also means the puppy gets into more trouble, so you have to spend more time taking things out of their mouth.
9. Giving them too much access to your older dog – or too little access
If you get a puppy when you already have an older dog, I can almost guarantee that three things are gonna happen:
- That puppy is going to want to constantly harass them.
- The older dog is going to seem a little overwhelmed or depressed.
- You’re gonna feel like the worst person in the world for doing this to them.
And when students in this position come to us, we can pretty much divide them into two camps: those who have been letting the puppy sort of loose in the house with the older dog by default, and hoping they work things out themselves, or on the complete other end of the spectrum, those who have been so worried about potential negative interactions that they’ve kept the dogs completely separate for two months straight.
Neither scenario is ideal.
Puppies are exhausting, and we don’t want our adult dogs to be subjected to that all day long. We don’t want to put them in a position where they feel like they have no choice but to escalate to harsh corrections. Repeated negative interactions do not bode well for their future relationship.
On the other hand, keeping them completely separate doesn’t allow them to form a relationship at all, and it can just make the puppy more and more obsessed, because not only is the adult dog super cool, now they’re all forbidden and mysterious.
So. We gotta find a better balance. Like letting them interact when the puppy is in a relatively calm mood and keeping them separate when puppy’s in Hyper Attack Mode, which is a term we use in our program to refer to the times when puppies get REALLY wild and crazy.
It may also mean finding bonding activities they can do together that don’t involve direct interaction, like going on adventures together.
10. Trying to get them to follow commands or walk nicely on leash when they’re distracted in public
If your training is primarily about obedience training, like sit, stay, come, or loose leash walking, and your puppy started out doing pretty good but doesn’t listen anymore, or if you have to say the command so many times it turns into white noise, and you can’t get them to listen even if you’re waving cookies in their face…
That’s probably a sign you’re focusing on the wrong things, or trying to level up too quickly.
Obedience commands are useful, of course. But to me, they’re a low priority when it comes to raising a puppy.
Again, it’s more important to let them explore the world in a way that makes them capable of listening to you, and you also need to work on some simpler foundation training first.
Trying to get your puppy to listen by practicing commands is like building a house by starting with the walls. If you don’t have a foundation first, your house is going to be on struggle street.
If you recognize yourself in any of these, that’s great. That means there is hope!
This isn’t “just the way life with a puppy is.”
You CAN break the cycle of frustration and overwhelm, you CAN train your dog and enjoy life with them. Even if you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing. We know what you’re going through because we’ve been there ourselves and because we’ve helped hundreds of dog owners break free of the
puppy doom and gloom with our courses and coaching programs.
Want us to help you?
Then you should come hang out with us in Puppy Survival School.