Five tricks for raising a peaceful puppy
Our new puppy, Parker, is a great little dog. Like all puppies, though, Parker has a crazy streak. It comes and goes in waves; one moment he's snuggling and adorable, but the next he's trying to chew your hand off. It has been a frustrating few weeks as we've learned to work back and forth with Parker to maintain a happy home. I feel like we've made a few breakthroughs, and I'd like to share them with you!
I'm by no means a pet training expert. I've owned dogs through the years, and I can say with assurance that Parker's behavior is not the mark of a "bad dog" -- he's just being a puppy! Especially during these early months, where they are growing and exploring and teething, I would expect most puppies to behave the way Parker does: chewing, barking, getting into things he shouldn't and just generally being "wild" with bursts of energy. The goal, I've found, is not to punish the dog for his excited puppy energy but to redirect it.
So, without further ado, here are those tricks!
1) Don't raise your voice to an excited puppy. As much as it pains me, when Parker is chewing on a very expensive pair of leather boots for the four-hundredth time, I know I can't shout excitedly and get him to stop. When he's biting my hands incessantly, I can't yell and flail and make a fuss to show him that biting is wrong. Especially when he's barking at the top of his lungs at 2:30 AM, and I haven't slept in two nights, I can't attempt to control him by becoming louder than him. It just won't work.
I've found the best way to start redirecting these types of behaviors is to become as calm as I can be. It's actually a trick I picked up from my friend who teaches elementary school children; if I bring my voice down to a softer volume (while maintaining an assertive tone) Parker needs to focus more in order to listen. Usually, that distracts him from the bad behavior he was enjoying, and gives me the brief moment I need to redirect his energy.
2) Start training young. I've found that once I have Parker's attention, I've only got a few seconds before he'll return to his bad behavior. The best thing I can do in those seconds is run him through a few of his tricks, such as sit, shake or lay down. That exercise turns the tables from him simply listening to my voice to him responding to my commands, and once I've accomplished that I'm back in control.
We adopted Parker from a local rescue that places all of their dogs in foster care prior to adoption. Parker's foster owners had trained him to sit before we adopted him, and that was at 8 weeks of age -- proof that you can effectively start training at a young age! We continued to work on "sit" for the next couple of weeks as we also added "lay down" and "shake" to his repertoire. We're lucky that Parker is eager to learn and responds well to training; most dachshunds are not as motivated to perform!
3) Respond when your puppy has a need. One of the hardest things about adopting a new puppy is breaking the communication barrier. Within the first few days of being home Parker learned that he should relieve himself outside, but he had a hard time getting us to recognize when he needed to go out. He would begin whining and biting our hands, and we would in turn scold him and ignore him for "bad behavior". He would get frustrated, and bite harder, and the situation would escalate quickly.
Now Parker knows to go scratch at the door if he needs to go out, so we've overcome this one problem. However there are still times where he'll act up and begin barking or nipping, and it turns out he's trying to tell us that his toy has rolled under the sofa, or that his water bowl is empty, or that he's feeling sick and needs to be let outside at an irregular time (like 2:30 AM). Once we resolve the issue, his bad behavior disappears.
4) Recognize when your puppy is bored. Parker's worst behavior starts when we've failed to give him enough attention and direction, especially after a long day cooped up in his kennel. He will bark, bite, and get into the things we don't want him to have (shoes, electrical cords) simply because he knows those things will draw our attention.
When I know Parker is on the verge of boredom and even his favorite toys won't cut it, I'll try to find a new experience for him. Since he's only a few weeks old, those things are still easy to find! For example, I'll offer him an empty 2 liter soda bottle to chase around the house, or I'll put a treat under a Solo cup and let him work it out. (Note: you should only do things like this under supervision. You'd hate for your dogs new experience result in a trip to the vet!)
5) Finally, know when your puppy is tired. Parker's behavior also takes a turn for the worst when he's tired. As a growing puppy he sleeps a considerable number of hours every day, and sometimes he needs to sleep more than he needs to play. While we've set up a crate as a safe, private dog-only space, Parker still hasn't recognized that he has the right to enter it whenever he wants. When I recognize that he's listless and tired, I'll take him to his crate and suggest "Go to bed?" (his command for entering his crate) and, more often than not, he'll walk right in, curl up and fall fast asleep.
Well, that's it! I hope these tips help, and if you have other ideas, please feel free to leave a comment below. There are still plenty of "new tricks" we'd love to learn around here!