Sunday, April 29, 2012

Help! My Puppy is a Terror!

Puppies are wonderful...cute, fluffy, and oh so loveable....except when they're not!  Some of the most common behavior issues that dog owners contact me to resolve are boredom barking and destructive chewing/digging.  99% of the time, these dogs are puppies and adolescent dogs (up to 1 or 1.5 years old).

Those of you who have human children understand that kids need to go to school, study, play with other children, do sports and other activities.  If you kept your kid locked up in a room all day with nothing to do and nobody to play with, he or she would go bonkers.  The same applies to puppies and adolescent dogs.

Below is a list of things you can do to channel your puppy's energy and prevent problem behaviors followed by more details:


Although I'm not a fan of some of Cesar Millan's behavior modification techniques, I like how he ecourages dog owners to give their dogs "Exercise, Discipline, and then Affection."

Unless you have a couch potato puppy, you will want to give your puppy daily exercise.  By exercise, I don't mean a 30 minute leashed walk.  A leashed walk is good for training and bonding, but it will be nowhere near enough exercise for most puppies and adolescent dogs.  Jogging or running is not usually recommended for puppies because their bones are not fully developed, and the repetitive motions of running can negatively affect their growth.

One of the best ways to burn a puppy's energy is Puppy Play.  Get together with other puppy owners in your neighborhood for daily play sessions if possible.  If you don't know of any puppies in your area, you can sign up for puppy classes.  Or you can set up play sessions with friendly adult dogs who won't be annoyed by a puppy.

For adolescent dogs that are fully immunized, I recommend off leash hikes.  If your dog doesn't have a good recall, or you don't want to let your dog off leash for some other safety reason, you can use a long line or retractable leash.  There's a product called Jerk Ease that you can attach to your leash so that you won't get pulled off your feet when your dog reaches the end of the leash.  Meanwhile you can start training a reliable recall in your pup.

The great thing about an off-leash hike is that the dog can vary his pace according to what's comfortable for him.  He can sprint for a little, sniff the bush a little, then walk a little, sprint again or run around in circles, and so on.

Swimming is a fun form of exercise that can be done even in the heat of day.  You can keep your dog on a long line if you are concerned about him running away or jumping on other beachgoers. Doggie flotation vests can help your dog can get maximum paddling exercise without worrying about staying afloat.

Playing fetch in the yard is another easy way to exercise a dog.  If your dog doesn't know how to fetch, you can teach it to him by putting treats inside a plastic water bottle or toy.  The only way your dog gets to eat a treat is if he brings the bottle back to you.  You can gradually throw the bottle farther and farther away.

Agility, nose work, Treibball, schutzhund, flyball, truffle hunting, herding, dock diving, etc. - There are all kinds of fun classes and activities out there to exercise your dog while also giving him a mental challenge. Which brings me to the next recommendation....


Obedience Training - Physical exercise is not the only way to drain a dog's energy.  You can also do so by challenging your dog with self-control exercises including obedience training.  You'll have the added benefit of having a better behaved dog.  I recommend keeping training sessions short (i.e. 5 minutes) and doing them throughout the day rather than doing one long session.

Out and About - Take your dog with you when you run errands or when you visit your friends.  Just driving around in a car with you or meeting new people can provide lots of mental stimulation for your dog.  You'll be surprised at how exhausted he will be when you get home.

Clicker Training - Teach your dog how to do fun tricks or useful tasks such as retrieving objects or closing/opening doors and drawers.  The cool thing about clicker training is that your dog has to figure out what he needs to do in order to get rewarded.  It's a lot more mentally challenging for a dog than being told what to do.  Service dogs are trained to do all kinds of complex tasks via clicker training.

Scent Work - Dogs have a really good sense of smell.  Nose games are an excellent way to mentally stimulate a dog, especially on a rainy day when you can't take your dog out for a regular walk. It can be as simple as hiding treats around the house or yard, or as challenging as teaching your dog to search for your car keys. If you have a food-motivated pup, why not feed all his meals through hunting games in the house?  At first, you may have to show him that you're hiding his food. Once he starts to understand the game, you can put your dog away while you hide the food, then bring the dog out and tell him to go "Find it!"

Dog Sports and Activities - As mentioned in the previous section, there are lots of dog activities popping up all over the world, including Treibball, where dogs are taught to herd yoga balls instead of sheep! Find the right activity for your dog based on his breed, temperament and personality, and you are guaranteed to have a happy and tired dog at the end of the day.

Toys - It's a good idea to rotate your dog's toys to prevent boredom.  For instance, you can give your puppy toys A and B today, toys C and D tomorrow, toys E and F the day after tomorrow, then go back to toys A and B the following day, and so on.  Squeaky toys might be more interesting than a non-squeaky toy.  I usually don't give stuffed toys to destructive dogs because they will tear them apart in minutes and leave a huge mess of stuffed cotton to clean up!

CHEW TOYS: Food Toys instead of Food Bowls, Raw Bones instead of Nylabones

Dogs are predators and enjoy hunting for food.  Why not challenge them with a food toy instead of feeding their meals out of a bowl?  For super high drive dogs, a Kong stuffed with kibble and wet food, then freezed overnight should be challenging.  Below is an article I wrote with ideas on different food toys and ways to stuff them:

Young puppies will also need something to chew on if they are teething.  Nylabones and other plastic or rubber toys are okay, but your puppy might lose interest pretty quickly because there's no flavor.  If your vet approves, you can try giving your dog a raw marrow bone or raw beef hoof instead.  I've yet to meet a dog that does not LOVE chewing on a raw bone.  It's safer than a cooked or smoked bone because a raw bone doesn't crack so long as it's fresh.  It's also good for your dog's teeth and gums.


A well-exercised and mentally stimulated puppy should do less destructive chewing and digging.  However puppies are puppies, and don't know that they're not supposed to dig and chew your belongings.  Just like it's necessary to babyproof a house, it's necessary to puppy proof a house, at least until the puppy is older and has gotten past the chewing/digging phase. Below are some things you can do:

~ Put shoes and slippers in a place that your puppy can't reach
~ Put away other "contraband" such as sunglasses, purse and cell phone
~ Use flexible wire fencing in your yard to close off areas with plants and other fragile objects
~ Use a deterrent product such as Bitter Apple for objects you can't put away such as furniture

Don't let your puppy practice bad behaviors because they'll turn into habits.  Instead, prevent the bad behavior and give him something better to do or chew. As he grows older, they will turn into good habits, and he won't even think about chewing the wrong thing.


When you are at home with your puppy, it's important to keep an eye on him or her at all times and prevent inappropriate chewing and digging.  If you see him about to do something inappropriate, redirect his attention right away and give him something appropriate to do or chew instead.

Don't scold your puppy because he won't necessarily understand why he's being scolded.  In fact, he may even start to do the digging/chewing only when you're not watching, because he knows he'll be "safe" then.


Crate, kennel or confine your dog when you can't monitor him/her.  As long as you give your dog enough exercise, attention and mental stimulation, there's nothing wrong with crating a dog.  In fact, it's good for your pup to learn how to calm down and have "down time."  It's also a good idea to get your dog used to being in a crate - if by some chance you have to go to a disaster shelter, they usually only accept animals in crates.  If you ever have to move for your job and you have to fly to the new location, your dog will need to be crated in the plane.

If your dog is new to crating or kenneling, make sure you associate the crate or kennel with good things so your dog doesn't start resenting it.  For instance, give your dog his stuffed Kong food toy every time he goes into his crate.  For more tips, please read my blog article on how to get your dog comfortable being in a crate.

It's a good idea to crate or kennel an unsupervised dog until he or she is one or 1.5 years old.  That's the typical age that a dog outgrows his bad habits of chewing and digging inappropriately.  I don't recommend crating a dog for more than 3-4 hours at at time during the day, because they will need to potty and stretch their legs.


If you have to leave your puppy or adolescent dog unsupervised for longer than that because of your work schedule, some additonal options include hiring a dog walker, using a dog daycare, asking your relatives to dog sit, or doing a daycare trade with neighbors or friends.


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