Puppies are amazing. That's it. That's the whole blog.
Just kidding, of course, puppies are amazing and so cute, but their behaviors can be a mystery to new dog owners.
What's normal behavior, and what is a sign of something that needs professional attention?
We'll walk you through the meanings behind some of our puppy's more head-scratching behaviors and give you the warning signs to look for any problem behaviors that will require your attention.
Don't worry; most behaviors fall into the "normal" range even if it looks a bit odd on the surface.
Sometimes our dogs are just weirdos, and that's why we love them. They're full of silly personality quirks and surprises, just like us!.
Even many "bad behaviors" can be considered normal, but you will need to address them in training and help your pup mature into a well-behaved adult dog.
Things like nipping, barking, whining, accidents, and chewing on furniture are all very common puppy behaviors that can be improved in time and with training.
If you recently brought your dog home from a rescue organization or a breeder, please realize that they are going through a huge life change, and it's going to take them some time to adjust to living in your home.
With the right love and care, your puppy will get used to their new life and will likely act less erratic over time and begin to show their true personality.
Mouthing/Nipping is a super widespread puppy behavior. All puppies do it, but some breeds and personality types do it more than others. It can be challenging to break the habit, but you must do it to avoid deeper behavioral problems later in your dog's life. Think of puppy mouthing and nipping as the equivalent of teething behavior in babies.
Some owners wonder, "Is my dog trying to bite me?" Not at all! Young puppies will rarely actively attempt to bite anyone. Nipping or mouthing is a much more accurate term for this behavior, and it's the main way puppies in a litter communicate with each other. When your puppy is nipping at you, it's them doing their best to communicate!
They are not aware of the fact that nipping can be quite painful to our skin. You want to discourage this behavior before your tiny pup becomes a full-sized dog, and it can become more aggressive.
One way to discourage your puppy from nipping is to hold a chew toy in one hand and pet them with the other. Offer them the toy, and if they still go to nip your hand, instead say "Ouch" and stop petting them immediately. Ignore them and leave the room if necessary. By leaving, you teach them that mouthing is a poor behavior and will not be rewarded with more attention. Once your dog has calmed down, you can try the exercise again.
Never hit or slap your dog for engaging in this type of behavior. Even if you feel that you're not actually hurting them, it's an ineffective training method and teaches all the wrong messages.
Be aware that hitting, slapping, or tapping on your dog may result in them becoming fearful of you and begin avoiding you. Dogs can become "hand-shy" and start avoiding hands in general. This will make the rest of your life together much more difficult.
They may see it as an invitation to roughhouse with you more, which can increase the nipping behavior. Please, please don't do this. It's harmful to your dog both physically and mentally and can trigger future aggressive traits.
Chewing, The Good and Bad
Related to nipping/mouthing, all puppies have a propensity to chew. Some breeds will engage in the behavior more than others, especially those who come from herding or hunting breeds like terriers, heelers, and retrievers.
Chewing is an instinctual behavior in puppies; this is especially true when they are teething. We don't want to stop them from doing it entirely; we just want them to chew on the appropriate items (chew toys) while leaving alone the off-limits stuff (our homes, furniture, clothes, etc.)
Giving your dog chew toys is a great way to relieve their stress during this stage of life. Chew toys also work to improve your dog's dental health by keeping tartar and plaque off their teeth and by strengthening their jaws.
Do everything possible to keep items you don't want chewed upon out of reach of your dog. This means not leaving vulnerable objects out in the open like shoes or children's toys and by crating them when you are unable to give them your undivided attention or if you have to leave the house, and they'll be unsupervised for a few hours.
Make sure you're able to give your dog plenty of exercise so they don't try to take out their pent up energy on anything they can get their mouth on.
Jumping On You
Dogs jumping on people is another normal but less desirable puppy behavior. Dogs, and puppies especially, want our attention. Puppies are tiny, and their mothers are big in comparison. Jumping up to greet them and get attention comes naturally. Since we're replacing Mom as their caregivers, they want to be close to us as well. They love us, and they'll jump up on their hind legs to show it. However, it can be somewhat annoying, unwanted, and inappropriate. It can even become dangerous as they get older, and it's not something you want them doing to any unfamiliar house guests.
Teaching your dog the "off" and "sit" commands will come in handy here. Ideally, you want them to remove themselves from your body on their own. Ignore your puppy if they try to jump on you, as any form of engagement will increase the behavior. For dogs, even if you’ve moved them off of you, and they sit calmly after jumping up on you, it is best to not provide a treat or praise beyond saying the word “good”. The reason for this is dog’s view things as a pattern, if they jump up on you in the beginning and the pattern ends in treats & praise, they will likely continue the behavior. Only reward your puppy when they approach calmly and consistently keep all paws on the ground or sit. This is a process, so don't expect your puppy to get this one down in a single training session.
There are many wrong ways to discourage this behavior. Pushing your dog away with your hands, grabbing their paws, or blocking them with your legs do work to get them off you, but they don't teach them proper manners. Remember, this is an attention-seeking behavior so acknowledging them in any way reinforces it -- this even includes when guests come over!
For some dogs, us not giving them any attention is enough for them to give up their pawing behavior. Other dogs, gently using your knee to pump them off of your leg does the trick. If you need some extra help with this, reach out to us for more one on one help!
Accidents And Housebreaking Issues
All puppies will need to be housebroken, no way around it. But how easy and efficient the process is depends on you! Crate training is beneficial because dogs instinctively don't like to relieve themselves where they eat and sleep. Getting your dog comfortable in the crate environment teaches them where they cannot eliminate and makes it that much easier to reinforce where they should eliminate when you start house training.
It can take several weeks or months to reinforce this behavior fully, but your carpets and floors will thank you! It's unfortunate, but too many dogs are given back to shelters because of bathroom-related issues. In almost all of these cases, they could have been avoided by the owner training properly and seeking professional guidance when needed.
Be patient with your pup; they don't intentionally misbehave and want to keep you happy. Just be sure to do your part in the process and guide them to the proper rest stop.
Some dogs will urinate not because they have to eliminate but due to what's known as submissive, or even excitable, urination. This can happen when a dog is nervous, stressed, or even just over stimulated with excitement.
This behavior is best addressed by not over-stimulating or over-stressing your dog. They will grow out of this behavior soon enough.
Too Much Barking!
Most dogs will bark from time to time, and it's their preferred mode of communicating over long distances. At least until doggie cell phones hit the market, that is… haha, just joking. But Verizon, if you’re reading this, give us a shout. We have a couple ideas for you.
Dogs will sometimes bark at their humans to get their attention, but since we're not native speakers, we sometimes have to consult our translation guides.
Like whining, dogs will bark to communicate that they need a potty break or would like some attention in another way. They may be trying to express their boredom or that they are tired of being in their crate.
These kinds of barks, and excessive whining, are something you want to ignore because you don't want to reinforce the behavior as an effective means to get what they want. But if your dog is excessively fussing, it may be a sign of a deeper issue such as separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety can become a more serious issue, but it's not necessarily abnormal if your dog experiences some mild separation anxiety as a puppy. If your dog gets visibly nervous or stressed when you leave them alone for even brief periods, it may be separation anxiety. This issue can be prevented through a regular crating routine to give them some decompression or alone time, even when you’re home, and not letting your puppy sleep in the bed with you (we know this can be difficult!). It is unrealistic for us to be home 24/7, so creating the expectation that you will be away from them sometimes, or cannot consistently watch them, will set them up for success! It's harder to diagnose puppies with separation anxiety because there are many reasons why they may be acting out, but as a dog gets older and they're still showing signs of anxiety, it's much more likely to be the case. Look to work with a professional trainer to develop a plan of action to lower your dog's anxieties and address these behaviors at the source, early on.
A lot of people are curious about a behavior known as the "zoomies." The zoomies are when a puppy will spontaneously get hyper-active, usually later in the day, and run into circles around a room or even the whole house. It will seem like your dog is training for a marathon all of a sudden and didn't tell you they were now a track star.
Some dogs will also bark and jump onto furniture while experiencing zoomies, and you may have to correct them before they knock anything over.
If your dog cannot calm down, you may have to move them into a separate room or invite them into their crate until they relax. There are special relaxation tapes for dogs you can try with your dog if they seem anxious.
It's all part of growing up. Puppies' nervous systems are still growing, and they can get over-taxed during the day. The zoomies are a response to feeling overtired and overstimulated and acts as a release valve for their excess energy.
You can't necessarily prevent the zoomies from occurring, it's part of everyday puppy life, but by making sure your dog gets frequent walks, playtime, naps, and exercise, they won't feel so pent up or taxed later in the day.
Our best advice is to let them get the zoomies outside during playtime. It’s never wrong for the dog to get the zoomies; all you need to do is teach them that there is a better place to have them.
What is resource guarding? Resource guarding describes behavior where a dog is acting territorial over something they perceive to be "theirs." Resources could be food, toys, even a person.
Resource guarding can become a serious problem, but it's not considered abnormal. In a litter, puppies do squabble over resources, mainly access to mom, and that behavior can then translate to being possessive of other things later on in life.
When a puppy is young and most moldable, it's the best time to deal with resource guarding. You can do this by training a "leave it" command that instructs your puppy to drop anything they may be holding on to as soon as you order it.
Once your dog readily complies with a "leave it," it's relatively easy to get a handle on resource guarding before it becomes a larger issue.
With food guarding, you can train it away by making your dog wait before chowing down. Place their food in front of them but instruct them to stay until they are calm and giving you eye contact. Only then allow them to eat freely. You can even completely remove this issue from happening by hand-feeding your dog’s meals to them while practicing obedience routines. Having your dog earn their meals through training can increase their attentiveness and creates a unique bonding experience.
If you have children in your home, it's vital to include them in the training process. Dogs are pack animals, and they always need to know who's in charge and who's not.
They should understand that every member of your household "outranks" them, including children. This will prevent your pup from getting possessive over you when your kids are around and allows your kids to take an active role in caring for the family pet.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Sick?
All the above behaviors are considered normal for young puppies, but you may be wondering what behavior is actually a cause for concern? How do I know if there's something really wrong with my dog?
If your dog is experiencing an illness or another medical condition, they will probably seem "off" to you somehow. You're around them day after day, so if you notice a change in energy level, appetite, or stress levels, those are warning signs.
Your dog may be acting irritable and engaging in anxious behaviors like panting, pacing, and barking. You can try examining them to see if there's a physical issue going on and check if they are nipping at an area on their own body. When in doubt, a trip to the vet could provide a lot more information, so make sure you have one you trust in your address book.
Most puppies don't become aggressive, but you have to be dedicated and attentive as an owner and deal with any behavior issues that do crop up. If you feel like you are dealing with any aggression in your young puppy, you need to contact a vetted, balanced trainer as soon as possible.
If you have any questions about your puppy's behavior that we didn't cover here, please send us a message in the bubble below. You can also reach out to schedule a training evaluation with our team.