So you got a puppy… but your other pets are not real enthusiastic about it.
Puppies are super adorable, yes. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, they can also be super annoying.
Puppies play by jumping, biting, and tackling relentlessly. It’s normal, but it can be too much for your resident pets to handle. Your cats, chickens, or older dogs probably long for the days when they could go about their lives without being accosted by a puppy-sized tornado.
Here’s how to get your puppy to stop bothering your other pets so they can have some peace.
See also: Is This You? 5 Types of Struggling Puppy Parents (+ 5 Ways to Break Free of the Puppy Blues)
There are three parts to this plan:
1. Prevent the problem – physically prevent your puppy from bothering the other animals when you’re not available to train and supervise.
2. Wear the puppy out (the right way) – a correctly-exercised puppy is a less obnoxious puppy.
3. Finally, train the puppy – teach him appropriate ways to behave around the other pets.
Part one: manage, manage, manage
Physically prevent little Chomper from getting a chance to chomp on your other pets.
When you can’t directly supervise and train good play habits, he needs to be kept separate from them. Why? Because tackling and biting the cat/chicken/older dog is a ton of fun. It’s naturally reinforcing. The more the puppy does it, the more fun he has, the more he gets reinforced, the more likely he is to do it again next time.
Basically, the more you allow this habit to happen, the harder it will be to get it to stop.
With the use of Chomper’s crate, baby gates, leashes, and other management tools, it’s possible to completely prevent the puppy from getting to the other pets.
This is where a lot of people go wrong. They let the pup have way too much freedom before he’s learned good habits. This causes all kinds of bad habits to develop.
Want Chomper to leave the cat alone? Don’t give him access to the cat.
Part two: exercise your puppy the right way
Exercise is important for getting your fluffy demon to stop harassing your poor old cocker spaniel.
But! When it comes to exercise think Goldilocks: not too much, not too little.
You’ve heard the old saying “a tired dog is a good dog,” but we find “a tired puppy is a wired puppy” to be much more accurate.
Too much exercise can make puppies overtired and cranky. Just like a five year old who spends a couple hours running around Disneyland, getting more and more hyperactive, until suddenly they’re having a screaming meltdown in front of Mickey and Minnie.
So we gotta be smart about it: the right blend of exercise, mental stimulation, and rest will dramatically improve Chomper’s behavior. In our virtual coaching program, we work with all our clients to find the right activities and routines to help their puppies be calm instead of more crazy.
The best place to start? Pick activities that make him think. Forget fetch – nothing tires a dog out more effectively than putting their brains to work. This is true of all dogs, but especially young puppies.
The thing is, if you want your pup to grow up to become the most well-mannered, stable adult he can be, he needs lots of socialization and training. So you should be putting his brain to work anyway.
How to wear out (and develop!) your puppy’s brain
Throw away his food bowl. Use his food for training sessions throughout the day. Put the rest in puzzle toys. There’s no easier way to keep him busy and out of trouble.
Teach him some tricks and important obedience cues like sit or the recall.
Have Chomper forage for food or play indoor agility.
Take a puppy socialization class, or set up a play date with a puppy-owning friend. Chomper will get an outlet for his natural play behavior, exhaust himself, and get to practice communication with his own species, a skill that many pet dogs are sorely lacking.
Take Chomper on adventures: to the local pet store, to friends’ houses, on short hikes.
When you’re not doing anything with him, give him a puzzle toy stuffed with soft dog food, peanut butter, or cream cheese.
You don’t have to do all this in one day, of course. But a couple hours a day of exploration, learning, and working for his food will work wonders. He’ll be less likely to take his boredom out on the cat.
Plus, he’ll grow up to be a mentally stable dog. I don’t know about you, but I do like my dogs to be mentally stable.
Part three: train the puppy
Teach the puppy how to behave around the other pets.
It took us more than 700 words to get to this point. That’s because the first two parts are important prerequisites. Work on them enough and this part will be much, much easier.
The point of this training is to teach Chomper that good behavior makes fun things happen, but attacking the other pet makes fun things end.
(There’s a video demo of this exercise, plus other tips for helping pets coexist, in Puppy Survival School)
You will need:
- A container of really delicious, pea-sized treats. Chopped-up cheese or meat works well
- A leash
- A plush squeaky dog toy like this or this (this will serve as your cat/chicken/old dog substitute)
- The cat/chicken/older dog in question (for this blog post, we’ll be using an imaginary cat named Puff)
- A tired, relatively calm puppy. Don’t start this training when Chomper is in Hyper Attack Puppy mode – it won’t work out well
Figure out exactly what you want your puppy to do instead of harassing Puff. You know exactly what you don’t want him to do, but that’s not enough. We’re going to be rewarding him for good behavior, so you need a clear idea of what that good behavior is. Good behavior includes:
- Lying down
- Sniffing the cat without attacking her
- Looking away from the cat to you
- Walking away from the cat
- Trying to go for the toy instead of the cat
Put Chomper on leash, and bring him and Puff into the same room. Get close enough that Chomper can see the cat, but not close enough to touch.
Let Chomper see the cat, then get his attention by saying his name or making funny noises. Watch for any of the good behaviors. If Chomper knows the sit cue, have him sit. When he does a good behavior, say “good dog!” and give him a treat. (If you use a marker word or clicker, mark-and-treat)
Then bring out the plush toy and offer Chomper a game of tug.
The lesson we’re trying to teach Chomper: Calm behavior around the cat means I get treats and I get to play!
After about 30 seconds of play, take the toy away, and repeat from step one.
Repeat this exercise about three times per session, then take a break. No session should ever last more than five minutes.
Increase the amount of time Chomper must show good behavior before getting to play. Look for three opportunities to reward good behavior. For example: tell him to sit, treat. He continues to sit, treat. He looks away from the cat and makes eye contact with you, treat. Then play.
Do at least three 5-minute sessions of this training before moving on to step five.
Make it harder. Bring the other pet closer. Repeat the same training as before, but this time, stand close enough that Chomper could reach the cat if he wanted to.
Since this is harder, you need to increase the reward: as long as Chomper is not going after the cat, offer a steady stream of treats, like one per second.
After five seconds, break out the plush toy for a game.
If Chomper goes after the cat at any time, that triggers a time-out. Take the puppy away, by the leash, stand in a corner and be “boring:” stand still, no interacting with the pup. Let him be bored for 20 seconds, then take him back and try again.
The message is: if I go after the cat, fun times end.
Do at least two sessions of this training per day for a few days. When you can get through a whole 5-minute session without the puppy going after your other pet, then you can start training off-leash.
Chomper will not stop going after Puff, and does not exhibit any of the “good behaviors.”
You’re probably working too close to Puff. Increase the distance enough that Chomper gets his brain back and can listen to you. This might mean working all the way across the room, putting a baby gate between you and the cat, or having an assistant hold Puff up out of reach.
As Chomper gets better at this training, gradually bring the animals closer to each other.
Also, make sure you’re using really good treats. Regular kibble or dog biscuits are probably not going to cut it for this.
Finally, make sure the game you’re offering as a reward is fun enough. You want Chomper to learn that playing this game with you is much more fun than harassing the cat, so make it AWESOME! Crouch down on the floor with him, gently shove him, make high-pitched noises, drag the toy away enticingly, run away from him – whatever it takes.