Blog - So your puppy is a nightmare, but please don't give him up!

Posted Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Don't panic. Puppies can seem awful, but if you get the right help, it can be easy!

It's distressing (but not surprising) to hear that in Ireland, already rescue centres are taking in unwanted puppies purchased as Christmas gifts. This situation is not helped by the likes of the Beckhams and the Rooneys who saw fit to buy their children a puppy for Christmas. Dogs are not toys, and they are not the responsibility of kids!
If you are struggling with a new puppy at the moment, please don’t despair and please try to work through it. The painful stage is short lived. If you are taught the right methods, you will find having a puppy a very rewarding experience. They are so very easy to train when you know how. Put in the effort at the beginning and the rest of the journey is easier.

See - Puppies can be very good!

Firstly, go and find yourself a registered dog trainer who knows what they are doing. In the main, you will not find the answers on the internet unless you already have a pretty good idea of what the problem is. The internet is smattered with varying quality advice.

Let’s take an example of how an expert can help you more than the internet.
Take puppy “play” biting. This is something that upsets many puppy owners, and especially distressing if you have children, who can become scared very quickly. Puppy teeth can really hurt. In fact, one of the worst injuries I have incurred as a dog trainer came from a friendly puppy Springer Spaniel on a home visit. She leapt up to greet me and mouthed my hand. Unfortunately, she caught her tooth on the inside of my little finger and her sharp tooth dragged down the length of it. My goodness me; there was a lot of blood and pain and (I confess) a bit of screaming on my part. So, I know how painful puppy bites can be.
This is a genuine example of advice that I found online from the ASPCA (American equivalent of the RSPCA). You would hope the quality of information would be good. But this is a rescue organisation, not a professional dog trainer.

“When you play with your puppy, let him mouth on your hands. Continue play until he bites especially hard. When he does, immediately give a high-pitched yelp, as if you're hurt, and let your hand go limp. This should startle your puppy and cause him to stop mouthing you, at least momentarily.”

Not being funny, but it is not good advice; apart from which, this is setting up the puppy to fail because it advises revving the puppy up until it DOES bite! What the heck? In fact, research conducted by Sarah Whitehead’s team found that NOT ONCE did puppies stop biting each other when one squealed. They studied hundreds of puppies and there is NO evidence at all that squealing stops biting. In fact, in my EXPERIENCE, it can get them really revved up; it can make them even more bitey.

What would a pro dog trainer do differently?
A professional dog trainer will do a full workup; something along the lines of this.

Work up for puppy biting.

1)    What is the breed? Retrieving breeds “mouth” a great deal as they are bred to pick things up with their mouths. Terriers use their mouths differently, as they are bred to kill vermin. A Labrador mouthing should be softer as their mouths should not damage a bird that is retrieved from the field. A terrier, on the other hand, can be harder of mouth because they are bred for specific purposes – killing vermin. If you squeak when a terrier hard mouths you, they can get very excited at the sound of a “kill”. A flock guardian can be practising adult behaviours (biting- they are guarding dogs, and this is their job). So, each case would need to be looked at individually to assess motivations and ongoing potential for risk.  I NEVER advise that owners squeak when the mouthing hurts as it doesn’t really work. One of two outcomes are likely from startling the pup as suggested by the ASPCA:

a.     The pup will eventually get used to the sound and ignore it, continuing to bite hard.
b.     The pup will be scared of you and associate close proximity to you with fear.

2)    Is the puppy tired? A tired puppy mouths people much more than a rested one. This shows irritability.It might surprise you to find puppies need around 18-20 hours sleep in 24 hours.

3)    Is the puppy bored? If the puppy isn’t getting enough mental stimulation, they can mouth people because it is something to do. Nothing much more entertaining for a bored puppy than their owner running around the room squealing! 

4)    Has the puppy been on their own for hours and has become very excited to see you when you return? These puppies are so relieved to see you come back they become over excited and can’t seem to help themselves biting as puppies have very little self-control.

5)    Puppies can mouth when they don’t want you to touch them. It’s a gentle warning, not a play bite. Watch to see when the puppy mouths you. If it is always when you touch them, consider reasons why the puppy might not want to be touched by you. Are they tired, sore, are you over handling them or handling them to roughly? Does your dog have an aloof or independent personality? If so, the pro trainer will help you to develop a better bond. 

6)    Puppies can mouth you if you have not noticed them ask you for something, such as going out to potty. If you don’t notice their signals, they can get frustrated and mouth you. Communication has failed and a trainer will educate you how to read canine body language.

7)    Puppies with ear infections can mouth excessively as it seems to help alleviate discomfort.

8)    Teething puppies can mouth you to bring relief to sore gums.

9)    Is the puppy being defensive? Have you just told them off sternly and then tried to pick them up? This kind of mouthing is not play, although they may lack confidence for a full bite, they could be working up to that.

10)  Are you trying to do too much with your puppy? Do not over train your puppy as they just can't cope. They should be emotionally learning at this stage. E.G. They learn it is safe on their own. They learn the vet is a great place. They learn that people are lovely. They learn what fun can be had with play and exploration. They learn where their own space is in the home, etc. Over stimulated puppies can be bitey as they can get over stimulated and frustrated.
This is not an exhaustive list. As you can see, it can take  investigation to identify the best approach to resolve any problem. If you have a professional to work with you will be able to resolve these issues quickly, kindly, and easily as they will be able to work out how best to deal with the problem.

There should never be any need to return a puppy if you know how to raise one. There are, however, so many little issues that can feel overwhelming when you add them all up that it really is best to seek an accredited professional to help you.  Rather than spend hours trawling the internet and various forums of pseudo professionals (where you will probably not get the right advice), it is far better to attend well run puppy classes where you can get a lot of good quality advice. You will not feel so isolated when you realise that everyone is in the same boat. You can also meet other like minded people there and meet up for puppy play dates outside of school.

Every problem you have with your puppy could have multiple potential causes, which need to be fully investigated before deciding on the best approach to resolve the problem. Accredited dog trainers will have undertaken high-quality education and supervision before being registered. To find a list of registered dog trainers in the U.K please check Animal Behaviour and Trainers Council

There are many good trainers not on the ABTC register yet. There are some really good ones that are not on a register at all. However, other dog trainers and vets will be recommending these people. Don't take the advice of forums as often these people will be promoting friends or family.  Always ask your vet to suggest a trainer.

Alternatively, look for people registered with a dog training organisation who has assessed their trainers and where you can see the trainer has been listed on their website, which gives you EVIDENCE that this person is suitably qualified to help you with your puppy. Examples of good organisations include:

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)-members listed on ABTC register

The Canine Behaviour and Training Society (TCBTS ) - members listed on ABTC register

The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) - members listed on ABTC register

Institute of Modern Dog Trainers  (IMDT)

Victoria Stillwell Pet Dog Trainers (Positively)

The Pet Professional Guild (Pet Professional Guild)