Dealing with common problems in puppy’s first year

How can such a cute puppy be so-o-o bad?


In order for punishment to be effective, it must be administered at the time the offense is committed. Physical punishment of a puppy is rarely necessary. Startling a puppy with a stern “NO” or rattling a can containing pebbles or coins is usually adequate.

A remote correction is used so the puppy doesn’t associate you with the correction. This can be achieved with a hand-held air-horn. An example of a remote correction would be if your puppy is digging a hole or barking and you blast the air-horn and don’t let him know you made the noise. This way he won’t associate the punishment with you.

Never punish your puppy after the fact. He will have no idea why you are correcting him because the offense he committed occurred too long ago. Whenever you correct your puppy, always make him sit and then praise the good behavior of sitting.

Jumping and pawing

When your puppy jumps up and places his paws on you, he is seeking your attention. If you allow him to jump up when he is a puppy, he will want to do the same thing when he is an adult. If you push him down or “knee” him in the chest, he is still getting your attention, even if it is negative of attention. The best response is to turn and walk away without saying anything. When your pup next approaches you, make him sit before he has the opportunity to jump up, then reward and praise him for sitting. Your puppy must always sit for everything he receives, and when he sits, you must reward him for his good behavior.

Rough play

When you play physical games with your puppy, you are teaching him that hands and arms are fun things to grab. Younger children in the family pay the price for the rough play instigated by older children or adults. It is better to use toys as play objects and have your puppy learn to fetch them when thrown.

Karen Overall DVM of the Behavioral Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine said that “rough play is appropriate only if the owner can recognize the difference between a playful and a non-playful growl; can interpret canine facial signs, and always in a tug-of-war, is able to win with the puppy releasing the toy.”

If your puppy steals an item such as a sock or piece of clothing, and you chase him, he will soon learn that stealing things is a good way to get your attention. For some, it is fun to interact with their puppy in this manner. If you don’t enjoy this game, the next time your puppy steals an item and runs from you, turn and walk in the opposite direction.

Biting hands and mouthing

Puppies must be taught to be gentle when their mouths and teeth come in contact with a human. If your puppy gently puts his mouth on your hand, that’s okay for now. As he gets older, around 12-16 weeks of age, you should discourage him from placing his mouth on your hands. If he bites down on your hand a little too hard, you should “yelp” very loudly, then turn and walk away. Your puppy will learn that if he bites a human too hard, he will lose his playmate. Be sure to provide him with plenty of items he is allowed to chew on.

Destructive behavior

A puppy is unable to use his paws to pick up items so he resorts to chewing on them instead. Chewing is a very natural behavior for a puppy so it is important to direct him to chew on items which you provide for him. Until your puppy is older and you can trust him not to be destructive, you should never leave him unattended. If you leave him unattended, eventually he will destroy something important.

If you leave home and allow your puppy to be loose unattended, and then return and find he has destroyed a cherished item, the natural tendency is to take him by the scruff of the neck, drag him over to the item he chewed up and give him a good scolding or spanking. Unfortunately, he will not have a clue why you are so mad because he probably chewed up the object hours ago. Stay calm, clean up the mess and don’t leave him unattended until he can be trusted not to chew on things. You must catch him in the act of chewing for punishment to change his behavior. A good stern “NO CHEW” is adequate punishment if caught in the act. Make him sit, praise the sit and then give him something that he is allowed to chew on.

Providing a supply of items to chew on is the key to preventing destructive behavior. I recommend pig ears for small to medium sized puppies and larger rawhide items and natural bones from the store for larger puppies. If eating these items causes any problems such as vomiting or diarrhea, try a different item or a larger rawhide that he cannot chew up as quickly. Praise him when he chews on the items you provide. It is a good idea to give him an item to chew on when he is left unattended in his crate or dog cage. Buy several different items, and rotate them to keep him interested in chewing.


Barking is a normal response for all dogs to some external stimuli in their environment. When outdoors, your puppy may see other dogs, strangers, kids, a cat or any number of things to bark at. As a good neighbor, you should never leave your dog outdoors unattended if he is a barker. You should always monitor his activity and bring him indoors if his barking might bother a neighbor. If your puppy barks for attention, give him a stern “NO BARK,” make him sit, and praise him for sitting. If he continues to bark, isolate him in a room where he is left alone so he will learn that barking will get him banished from family activities.


Digging is a normal canine activity. Your puppy may smell a mole or chipmunk in the flowerbed and try to dig it out. He may want to bury and hide a favorite bone. He may make a game out of tugging on a shrub or plant root. If it is too hot, he may dig a hole under a bush or shrub to stay cool.

Unless you are outside to stop the behavior, digging is a very difficult problem to solve. If you can determine why your puppy is digging you can usually correct the behavior. If there is a chipmunk in the flowerbed, expect your puppy to continue digging until you get rid of it. If he is too hot, consider a plastic, child’s wading pool to cool him as well as some type of shaded area. If he is bored, provide plenty of chew items. You can build a digging pit by digging up a three foot by three foot area of soil and mixing a lot of sand into the soil to make digging easier. Next bury items for him to dig up such as a large, non-splintering, tasty bone or rawhide. Start by partially burying the item so it is easy to find. After he gets the idea, bury them deeper. His reward will be to chew on the item he digs up and this good behavior will hopefully keep him from digging up desirable areas of the yard.

If you catch him digging, a stern “NO DIG” may suffice. If not, try startling him with a loud noise such as an air horn. If you go outside and find a new hole, do not scold him. You have to catch him in the act of digging for the punishment to work.

Motion sickness

Do not feed your puppy prior to a car ride. Take him on many short trips and gradually increase the length of the rides once he becomes accustomed to the motion of the car. Take plenty of paper towels or newspapers to shove under him if he starts to vomit. If he is still getting sick when you take him in the car, you can administer an over the counter, human, motion sickness drug by the name of Bonine, Meclizine or Antivert. These drugs are usually sold as 25 mg tablets. For puppies under 10 pounds, you can give 6.25 to 12.5 mg (1/4 to 1/2 tablet if 25 mg tablet); 10-20 pounds give 12 to 25 mg (1/2 to 1 tablet if 25 mg. tablet); and over 20 pounds, one whole 25 mg tablet, one hour before going for the car ride. If you take your puppy on frequent short trips in the car, he will eventually not get sick and you will not have to administer medication.


Eventually all dogs will need to have their toenails trimmed, their ears cleaned, their hair combed or their teeth brushed. If you try to trim a dog’s nails for the first time when he weighs 80 pounds, good luck. You will most likely have a wrestling match on your hands with both you and your dog becoming very unhappy.

How do you get a dog to become accustomed to these types of procedures? You need to start doing nail trims and ear cleanings when your puppy is eight weeks old. Get him used to having just the tips of his nails trimmed. Do one or two nails at a time and trim just the sharp tips so you don’t cut them too close and make them bleed. You don’t want to hurt your puppy and have him become fearful. After trimming a few nails reward him with a food treat or play his favorite game. Help him associate the event with something he really enjoys. You want him to know that every time he gets his nails trimmed, you are going to play fetch with him. Do the same thing when you clean his ears or brush his teeth. When your puppy is near you, handle his feet, look in his ears and open his mouth. If you do this every time he is around, he will become desensitized to having it done.

Anything you will ever have to do with your dog when he is older, you must first get him accustomed to between eight and 16 weeks of age. Repeating these things frequently and making a game out of them will make these chores much more pleasant when he is older. Start now and get him desensitized to potentially unpleasant procedures.

Mounting behavior

Mounting is not always a sexually-motivated behavior. Dogs mount other dogs in order to show control or dominance. If small children are the target and they cannot defend themselves, you will have to intervene. If your puppy is mounting a small child, say to the puppy in a stern voice “OFF.” If adults or older children are involved, instruct them to turn and walk away without saying anything when the puppy first attempts to mount. Your puppy will soon get the message.

Eating feces

Nobody is absolutely sure why dogs eat their own feces. Some feel there are ingredients in the feces that have nutritional value. It is unlikely there is a deficiency in a dog’s diet if he is being fed any name brand food.

Some puppies left confined in crates or cages for long periods may eat their own feces due to boredom. Puppies should not be left in a crate all day. If a puppy cannot be taken out of his crate to eliminate during the day, he should be confined to a small room with his cage door open. Place newspapers on the floor so if he has to eliminate he can leave his crate and go on the papers.

If your puppy is eating his own or another animal’s feces, you must catch him in the act and try to startle him as soon as he even sniffs the feces. I prefer to use a hand-held air-horn. You can also use a can with pebbles or a loud noise to startle him. Don’t let him know you are the one making the noise. If he associates you with the noise, he will wait until you are not around to eat the feces. Picking up the feces before he has a chance to reach them is the best prevention.

By Gary L. Clemons DVM Milford Animal Hospital

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