How to Prevent Common Puppy Behavior Problems

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If an owner wants an adult dog that will not jump up on them or their visitors, they should simply instruct all who meet the pup to “turn into a tree” or “turn to stone” or to simply walk away. If jumping up is not rewarded it will not be propagated.

If a dog is already jumping up because it has been rewarded for doing so and attention is suddenly withdrawn, the behavior will get worse for a few days before it gets better. This exacerbation is referred to as an extinction burst. Many owners don’t know this and so they give up too soon. It may take days or weeks for the behavior to fully extinguish.

Some puppy owners, in desperation, turn to the wrong type of dog trainer for advice on how to correct the jumping up problem. Owners are taught to knee the dog in the chest, cup it under the chin, or stand on its back paws as a way of eliminating the behavior. These physical punishments are rude and wrong and, while they might produce the goods on occasion, are uncalled for and compromise your relationship with your dog. A more acceptable technique is to hold the pup by both paws and remove them from your person but do not let go until it is clear the dog is keen to be released. This is a form of negative reinforcement and the pup will increase the frequency with which it greets you with four feet on the floor in order to avoid a negative consequence of you holding onto its paws.

While an owner may ignore or negatively reinforce jumping up behavior, there is one other component of training this behavior that is frequently overlooked. That is, rewarding the behavior that you want. You should always reward your pup with praise, petting, and your attention, for greeting you with four feet on the floor. And reward it for getting four feet back on the floor after a bout of jumping. Timely reward is important if non-jumping behavior is to be maintained.

The bottom line: ignore the behavior you don’t want (jumping) and reward the behavior you do want (four feet on the floor). It’s as simple as that. If you want to add a word cue or command, the one to use is Off! Do not tell a dog that is jumping on you Down! as this is a different behavior and the utterance of this word on this occasion will simply confuse the dog. Using a non-specific word, like no, or the wrong word, like down, are common mistakes that owners make when trying to retrain a jumping dog.



Excessive Barking

The old saying goes that “If you don’t like a dog that barks, get a cat” because all dogs (with the possible exception of Basenji’s) will bark, at least, on occasion. The idea is not to prevent the dog from barking, because barking is a natural behavior and a means of communication for dogs, but rather to train the dog to stop barking on cue.

In other words, you don’t punish barking, you reward silence. It’s just a different approach and one that many owners and some trainers fail to appreciate. There are many benign ways of training a dog not to bark. Most of them involve utilizing a voice command, such as No bark! Some of them simply entail patience, where you wait until the dog eventually does stop barking and then you reward it with some highly sought after treat (e.g. a piece of hot dog).

The duration for which the dog barks will be progressively reduced over time if you stick with this technique. You can interrupt the barking tirade even after issuing the commandNo bark! by diverting the dog with words that indicate a treat is imminent in the event of silence. You could say, for example, “Would you like a hot dog?” Such an interruptive technique may hasten the arrival of silence.

A common misperception about food training is that once a behavior has been taught, you have to reward the dog with food every time it obeys. If you do reward your dog with food every time it responds, it will only work for you when you have food. Instead, sequester the food on your person, issue the command, and when he stops barking, sometime simply praise and pet him. At this stage of training, hot dog pieces should arrive on an intermittent schedule, which will powerfully reinforce the behavior of stopping barking.


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