Pooping, Barking, Biting: The Ultimate Puppy Training Guide


This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Kes Holliday DVM, BSc

This guide tackles some common new puppy behaviour questions. By using positive-reinforcement training to address these issues, you will not only shape your puppy's behaviour but also strengthen your bond with one another!

Positive or rewards-based training is widely endorsed as the most effective way that dogs learn. This involves rewarding the behaviours that we want, while ignoring the behaviours that are undesirable. The use of punishment (such as smacking) is not an effective motivator for dogs and can actually be counterproductive in many instances.

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1. How to stop your puppy from biting and mouthing

2. How to help your puppy stop crying at night

3. How to reduce barking

4. How to stop your puppy from peeing indoors

5. How to stop your puppy from eating poo

6. How to help your puppy greet people calmly

7. How to help your puppy greet other dogs calmly

8. How to stop your puppy digging

9. How to stop your puppy from chewing on everything

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1. How to stop your puppy from biting and mouthing

Puppies explore the world with their mouths and commonly mouth or nip human hands, especially during play. While this is normal, it's important to teach your puppy appropriate play behaviour.

Biting, nipping or mouthing can be addressed in two ways. Firstly, you want to teach your puppy bite inhibition - essentially how to control his biting. Then aim to redirect his biting to an appropriate outlet, such as a toy.

To teach bite inhibition, when your puppy bites your hand, immediately let it go limp and ignore your puppy for a moment. This teaches your pup that biting means playtime is over! Try to avoid pulling your hand away quickly as this may seem like a game. These 'time-outs' should be consistently done by everyone in your household. Reward your puppy when he plays without nipping through lots of praise and continuing the game.

Next, when your pup starts to mouth, redirect him to a toy. Reward your pup for playing with the toy with praise or by a game of tug o war. If he gets too rough and starts to mouth you again, end the play session until he is calm.

What to avoid:

Never punish your puppy for biting such as by yelling, smacking or holding him down. Punishment creates fear in your puppy. Not only is this detrimental to learning, but can lead to other behaviours such as aggression. If you think your puppy is biting in aggression and not play, it's a good idea to seek the advice of a behaviourist.

2. How to help your puppy stop crying at night

Many, if not all, young puppies will cry when left alone for the first time. Your pup is likely to be scared and missing mum and her siblings. The main thing you can do is to provide a safe, warm and comfortable spot for your puppy to sleep. Consider using a crate, which taps into your pup's natural instincts to sleep in a den. Having a cuddly plush toy or soft blanket with your scent can help your puppy to settle. Similarly, using dog appeasing pheromone Adaptil may help your puppy adjust to her new environment. A white noise machine or a fan can block outside noise that may be frightening your pup.

Another possible reason for crying is that your puppy needs to void her bladder. As well as taking your puppy out last thing at night, you may need to take her out for a midnight loo break as most puppies won't be able to hold through the night initially. Alternatively, an indoor pet loo or puppy pads should be provided if you don't have easy access to outdoors.

What not to do:

Avoid yelling at your puppy for crying, as this will only increase her anxiety. When taking your pup out for a toilet break, approach when she is being quiet. Otherwise you may inadvertently reward the crying by giving attention.

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3. How to reduce barking

Puppies frequently bark at people for attention and rewards (such as play or food). They may also bark in greeting, at passers-by and other dogs. It's not really realistic to stop your puppy from barking entirely, but there are some methods you can use to help reduce it.

It's important never to reward your puppy for barking. Touching, eye-contact, looking at or scolding your puppy all constitute forms of attention and may reinforce the behaviour! Instead, use clear body language to indicate you are ignoring your puppy - for example by turning away or leaving the room. As soon as your puppy falls quiet, reward them with praise or a treat. You can continue this lesson by rewarding your puppy whenever they are resting calmly. Many dogs learn to be demanding barkers because they only receive attention when they are noisy - not when they are quiet!

It may also help to teach your puppy to be quiet on command. Or rather, to 'Stop barking and look at me instead'! First, couple the cue word 'Quiet' with a reward (treats). Repeat the command 'Quiet' and feed your pup a treat immediately afterwards. He will start to associate the 'Quiet' command with the reward. Next, you want your puppy to look at you when you say 'Quiet'. Reward your puppy as soon as he looks in your direction with a treat. When your puppy is consistently looking at you when you say 'Quiet', you can start to introduce the cue when he is barking. From here, you can gradually extend the time between the command and the reward. Remember to keep training sessions short and positive with puppies as they have short attention spans!

Clicker training can be really helpful for training puppies as it enables you to communicate very clearly with them.

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4. How to stop your puppy from peeing indoors

So you've just bought your new pup home and the first thing she does is leave a puddle on your carpet! Not to worry; toilet training is a rite of passage for all pups and she will learn in no time.

Puppies have very small bladders, so need to urinate more frequently than adult dogs. A good rule of thumb is that your pup can hold her bladder one hour per every month of life. Set your pup up for success by providing her regular opportunities to void. Take her out to the yard (or designated toileting area) after mealtimes, naps and play sessions. Praise her when she does her business in the right place.

Dogs will show pre-toileting behaviour such as sniffing, circling and squatting. When you spot your pup doing these behaviours indoors, immediately take her outside. It follows that supervision is key to prevent your pup from weeing indoors. It may help to have your pup tethered to you on a long lead, so that you can easily observe pre-toileting signs and intervene quickly. A puppy playpen or crate can also help keep your pup confined to one spot where you can keep an eye on her.

Some accidents are inevitable - clean up with an enzymatic cleaner to prevent your puppy from marking the same spot again.

What to avoid:

Never punish your puppy for weeing inside - they will not learn the association and instead may think you are punishing them for the act of urinating. This can lead your puppy to avoid toileting in your presence and make training much more difficult! Avoid cleaning any stains with an ammonia-based cleaner as this can cause your puppy to re-mark the area.

Top toilet training products:

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5. How to stop your puppy from eating poo!

A gross but common behaviour seen not only in puppies, but adult dogs too! The best way to prevent your pup eating their own poop is to clean it up immediately. However, if your pup is alone, providing plenty of toys can help to prevent boredom that otherwise might tempt them into poop-eating.

Consider a diet change if the behaviour persists. We recommend feeding a premium puppy food, to ensure your pup is getting a source of high quality and easily digestible protein. Cheaper pet foods tend to use less digestible and bioavailable protein sources - causing your pup to feel hungry and seek out other food sources! Consult our New Puppy Guide for our top diet recommendations for your new puppy.

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6. How to help your puppy greet people calmly

It may be cute when your 8 week old Lab puppy jumps up on visitors - but is not so cute when he is a solid 40 kg! Teaching your dog calm greetings will also teach him impulse control which is important in many situations.

Firstly, we want to avoid rewarding behaviours like jumping up or barking to greet people. As mentioned, looking at your dog or scolding him can inadvertently reinforce these behaviours. Instead, pointedly ignore your dog until he has all four paws on the floor. As soon as he has 'four on the floor' you can reward him by patting him or giving treats. From here, you can work up to having your dog 'sit' to greet you if you like.

For very excitable puppies, it may help to physically prevent them from jumping on visitors when they first arrive. This can be done by keeping him in a puppy playpen, behind a safety gate or on a leash. When your visitors are all settled, you can let your puppy out to sniff and greet them. Have treats on hand so you can easily divert his attention back to you.

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7. How to help your puppy greet other dogs calmly

Your pup will doubtless be excited to get out into the world and make friends! However, it's important for her to learn polite social behaviour. As not all dogs (or people!) want to be greeted, she also needs to learn how to walk past another dog without meeting them.

It's a great idea to start introductions with a friendly adult dog belonging to a friend or family member. Introduce your pup on leash, letting the dogs sniff each other. Some trainers advocate keeping greetings to three seconds or less, to avoid puppies getting over-excited. After your pup has greeted the other dog, call her name and reward her with a treat when she pays attention to you. Intervene if your puppy is playing too roughly, such as jumping up or nipping at the other dog's face. Some puppies won't be as food-motivated in the presence of another dog so really high-value treats may be required (cheese or chicken work wonders!) You could alternatively use your pup's favourite squeaky toy to distract her.

When walking past another dog walker, aim to keep your puppy's attention on you by distracting her with treats (or a toy). If the dog is amenable (check with their owner first) you can try the 'three second sniff' greeting as above. If not, continue to walk by, offering treats to your pup and praising her for ignoring the other dog.

8. How to stop your puppy digging

Does your pup love to dig craters in your lawn? This is normal behaviour for some breeds such as terriers - and particularly in puppies who have lots of energy!

Providing enough exercise for your pup can help to wear him out and reduce the likelihood of destructive behaviours like digging. Similarly, toys that offer mental stimulation can help keep your pup out of mischief. When your pup goes to dig, distract him with a game or toy instead.

If you're lucky enough to live near a beach, take your puppy there and let them dig to his heart's content! You could also try setting up a sandpit or designated dig zone for your pup, if he is very intent on digging.

9. How to stop your puppy from chewing on everything!

When you first bring your puppy home, she won't know the difference between her toys and your favourite sneakers! Chewing is a very normal behaviour for puppies so it's up to us to provide appropriate objects to chew, and supervise where necessary.

Set your pup up for success by removing all objects that you don't want to be chewed from her reach. If your pup gets hold of an object she shouldn't chew, immediately replace it with a toy and praise her for chewing the toy. Keeping a rotation of toys can help prevent your pup getting bored.

When you need to leave your pup without supervision, we highly recommend making a 'puppy proof' zone in your home so that she can't get into too much trouble. If you suspect your puppy is chewing everything because she is anxious, Adaptil may help to keep her settled.

Top chew toys for puppies

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While new puppy-parenthood can be overwhelming at times, rest assured in time your pup will grow out of many of these annoying behaviours. With a little patience and positivity you can shape your puppy into a calm and well-mannered adult companion.

Further Reading

From Pet Circle

Complete New Puppy Guide

Teaching your puppy to walk on a lead

References and Sources

What is reward-based dog training and why does the RSPCA support it?

ASPCA Mouthing, Nipping and Biting in Puppies

ASPCA Barking

Teaching a Dog to Stop Barking with a "Quiet" Cue

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