Congratulations! Rumor has it that you’re the proud owner of the cutest puppy in all of Groves, Texas—maybe the entire Southeast Texas region! Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of  Groves team is eager to meet your furry bundle of joy, but in the meantime, start them off on the right paw by following our quick-start guide to preventing your puppy from developing common behavior problems.

Preventing puppies from house soiling

Potty training is the first—and arguably most important—skill a puppy must learn. Establishing correct habits right away can help minimize accidents, and accelerate your puppy’s understanding of where to go when they need to go.

Puppies do not have physical control over their bladder or bowel, making holding their urine and feces impossible until their sphincter muscles develop. As a general guideline, the amount of time in hours that your puppy can last between elimination opportunities is their age in months, plus one (e.g., a 4-month-old puppy can wait five hours between trips outdoors). However, each puppy is different, and their elimination needs will vary—especially after being active.

Successful potty training requires patience, consistency, and praise—never discipline. Create a predictable routine that includes:

  • Anticipating your puppy’s needs — Puppies typically need to eliminate after they wake up, after they eat, and after activity. Maintain a predictable feeding schedule to ensure timely bowel movements, and watch your puppy for warning signs that they are about to eliminate—which typically include suddenly sniffing, circling, or wandering away—and immediately take your puppy to their designated toileting area.
  • Reward appropriate elimination — Generously reward your puppy with praise or treats when they eliminate in their designated location. Reinforcement encourages behavior, and increases the likelihood that your puppy will continue to eliminate in the appropriate spot each time.
  • Minimize opportunities for incorrect behavior — Limit your puppy’s opportunity to have an accident by keeping them confined (e.g., in a crate or pen) when they cannot be directly supervised. Use exercise pens and baby gates to restrict your puppy’s access to rooms used infrequently, which is often where puppies sneak away to eliminate.
  • Stay neutral when accidents happen— Never scold or shame your puppy during or after an accident, which can cause them to feel fear or anxiety, and may damage their trust in you. Instead, respond neutrally, and accept the accident as a lesson to take your puppy out sooner next time.  
  • Thoroughly clean up accidents — Lingering odors can tempt puppies to revisit soiled areas. Use an enzyme-based cleaner that completely breaks down biological stains, and deters repeat offenses.

Preventing puppies from inappropriate chewing

Puppies chew for good reason—to explore their world and to relieve teething-related pain. Unfortunately, keeping this reason in mind can be difficult when you find your puppy chowing down on your designer shoes. 

But inappropriate chewing is more than a destructive nuisance—this behavior can be dangerous, causing your puppy to choke, or experience an intestinal blockage or electrical shock. Protect your puppy—and your home—from unwanted chewing by following these tips:

  • Puppy-proof your home — Remove all hazards (e.g., electrical cords, window blind cords, trash cans), toxins, and valuable items from your puppy’s reach, and confine your furry bundle of joy when you cannot fully supervise them. 
  • Provide appropriate alternatives — Offer your puppy a variety of textured chew toys to determine the types they prefer. Check toys frequently for wear, and dispose of any toy your puppy can break or chew to tiny pieces.
  • Redirect when necessary — If your puppy is sinking their teeth into something inappropriate, avoid making a fuss or reaching for the item—which can initiate an exciting game of keep away. Instead, distract your puppy with an appropriate chew toy to redirect their focus.
  • Use bitter spray — If your puppy is a determined chewer, apply bitter-flavored deterrent spray to items they inappropriately target to make the object less appealing. 

Preventing puppies from nipping

Puppies nip and bite for the same reasons they chew—to explore their world, and to relieve teething-related pain—but also to communicate. As puppies play with other puppies or adult dogs, they receive valuable feedback that teaches them to inhibit or control their bite’s pressure and play nicely. If one of the playmates yelps a sharp cry and playtime takes a pause, the offending puppy is receiving a clear message to take the rough play down a notch.

Teach your puppy that skin contact is undesirable by reacting as a fellow dog would. If your puppy’s play becomes aggressive, respond by taking the following steps:

#1: Crying out or yelping when your puppy makes firm skin contact (i.e., bites or nips).
#2: Stopping all play after a bite, and counting to five.
#3: Returning to play at a lower intensity level.
#4: Redirecting your puppy’s focus to a toy or chew, away from your hands or skin.
#5: Repeating steps 1 to 4  if your puppy nips again, but this time walk or turn away.
#6: Ending the play session after a third nip or bite, and calmly taking your puppy to their crate for a nap.

Problems solved—finding a reputable puppy trainer

Training and socialization are critical to raising a well-adjusted puppy. Find a positive reinforcement-based trainer who is experienced in puppy socialization, behavior, and problem solving. Your puppy’s trainer can be an invaluable resource and guide on your puppy’s learning journey. Carefully choose your puppy’s trainer by following these tips: 

  • Certification — Find a trainer who is certified by the Association for Pet Dog Trainers or the Karen Pryor Academy.
  • Openness — Reputable trainers encourage you to observe a class without your puppy to ensure their teaching philosophy is the right fit for you and your furry friend.
  • Health requirements — Ask about the facility’s disinfection policy, and ensure the school requires puppies to have at least one core distemper and parvovirus vaccine, and flea and tick prevention.

Your puppy’s behavior problems and hijinks can test your patience, but early behavioral training can ensure a lifetime of well-behaved canine companionship. For additional puppyhood survival tips or to schedule an appointment, contact our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Groves team.