Puppy Blues!!!

My puppy is destroying the house, what should I do????

Raising a puppy can be the best experience you can possibly have, or a bit of a nightmare. Most puppies are like little energizer bunnies, and they need to be taught in a way that they understand what is allowed and what not. Good habits gets learned very quickly but unfortunately, just like human kids, bad habits also gets learned quickly.

The secret to raising a puppy is actually simple. You should create a stable, structured environment for him to grow up in, so how can I do that?

Puppies don’t know our right from wrong. It is up to us as their owners to guide them along and to teach them what we expect of them in a way they will understand. To do this however, you as owner should decide on all the rules and regulations well in advance. These rules should be applied with consistency. For example the puppy is not allowed to jump up on you. If that is the rule he should never be allowed to jump up on you. So what can you do should he jump up? Well a good idea is to teach him an alternate behavior from the start. If you teach you puppy to sit in front of you, he will not be able to jump up at the same time. The secret is to reward your puppy for the behaviors you approve of. We are very quick to let a puppy know when we are not happy, but what happens should they do something that we really approve of? We ignore it and that is where problems start. Let us look at Sam.

Sam is a 14 weeks old Spaniel. Sam is allowed on the couch and likes to sleep on the couch. Sam still has accidents inside but she mostly goes outside to do her business. We took advice from a dog whisperer now and each time we catch her doing her business inside we slap her with a rolled up newspaper. He suggested we push he nose into her urine as well to let her know we don’t approve of that behavior. Sam usually keeps herself busy with her chew toy or lying in her dog bed but the other day she made me so mad. She started chewing my slipper on the couch. After I gave her a good smack she ran outside. I don’t think she will do that again soon, I taught her a lesson. She also started biting me when we play. At one point it was really sore and I pulled away. I could see blood on my arm. I gave her a hard smack but my dog whisperer suggested I get a water spray bottle and when this happen I must squirt her in the face. I trust my dog whisperer friend, he grew up with dogs so he must know what he is talking about.

Sound familiar? Now let us have a look at this situation.

  1. Sam now and then still relieves herself indoors. That is not good but what about the other 80% of times she went outside to do her business? Did you tell her she is a good puppy and did you reward her for being such a good puppy? Or did you just ignore it? Did you keep an eye on her when she started sniffing around, a tell tail sign that she might want to go outside? Did you give her time outside an hour or two after her meals? Did you take measures to ensure that she cannot eliminate on the carpet when you are not there to supervise? Did you leave a door open so she has access to the outside world?
  2. Sam is playing with you. You tug with her and you both are having a lot of fun. Then she grabs your arm and you pull away. Her teeth are really sharp and you can see blood. Naughty puppy!!! Really? Ask yourself this, how many time did she mouth your arm or hand before that incident happen? What did you do? Just kept on playing? Smacked her for biting you? Flicked her with your finger on her nose? Sprayed her with water as punishment? Let us take a look from the puppy’s point of view. Yay we are playing, I am having so much fun with my owner. Oh he likes to play rough with me, this is so exciting, I am really enjoying this. (she bites a bit too hard and you respond with the spray bottle). OH wow what happened now? I thought we are having fun but now my owner looks really mad and he sprayed me in my face with that stuff. I don’t understand what is happening. I don’t think I can trust him that much.
  3. Sam has lots of chew toys. This one time however she used your slipper. You reacted with anger and punished her for it. What measures did you take to prevent this from ever happening? Did you put away your slippers after you took them off? If not why didn’t you? The puppy at that age will not know that your slippers is not a chew toy, so let us look at this from your puppy’s point of view. I really like my owner, he allows me to chew my toys inside the house. My gums are really itchy today, wait I will take that chew toy and I will chew on it for a bit. I am sure it will help. (you come into the picture). Why is my owner now mad at me? I don’t understand. Why is she mad at me? What is going on? I don’t think I can trust my owner anymore.

I am sure all of this sound familiar to many of us. These are only 3 examples of us humans setting your puppies up for failure. To top it all, your puppy did not learn a single thing. Even something simple as a rule to allow your puppy on the couch is important. Should you allow it, and suddenly one day you don’t allow it, your behavior will confuse your puppy. Later this confusion might lead to fear and even aggression in some dogs. The dog will also learn that you cannot be trusted, so a break down in the dog – human bond.

So what Should I do as a new puppy owner? Let us take the same 3 scenarios and figure out how we should have dealt with it.

  1. Sam is a good girl, she had an accident inside but I will have to watch her more carefully. I must remember to clean the place with a non-ammonia based cleaner, that will ensure there is not smell left over from it. I know she might go again if the smell is still there. I am going to take her outside more regularly and I am going to keep some nice puppy treats with me. I must reward her for doing her business outside. I know she will learn that she should only do this outside. I will also start crate training her. I know I will have to be somewhere else for an hour next week, I think I can crate train her in this time. If she is in her crate she will not be able to eliminate at any other place. I must just remember to hurry back, I don’t want to leave her for too long in the crate. That reminds me, I must get something nice for her to chew on for that time. I need to set my puppy up for success. Now lets look at this from the puppy’s point of view. I normally go do my business outside but I got really distracted by the cat. I will go over in this corner and quickly do my business. (You see it and clean it up and change your approach). Oh my owner now takes me outside more often, and wow each time I relieve myself I get a nice biscuit. I love this game. I did not get this treatment when I did it inside. This is fun, I love this game. I think this is where I will do it from now on. All the urine scent is out here anyway so I think this is where I must do all my toilet things.
  2. I love playing with Sam. I can see she really enjoys mouthing me. I need to be careful, I know her teeth are extremely sharp at this age. I also realize that she must learn not to bit hard on human skin. I will set up a play session to teach her this skill. I will play with her and will react with an “Ouch” as soon as she puts any pressure on my skin. I will immediately stop the play session for a few seconds. You set it up and Sam bites down a little bit too hard. You stop the play session after saying “ouch”. Let us look from Sam’s point of view. Oh good, we are going to play. I love playing with my owner. (The hard bite happens). Oh boy what happened now? I thought we are having fun. (after a few seconds you play again). Yay!!! we are playing again. (a few seconds later the same happens and you respond with Ouch and play stops). Oh NO what happened now? Wait a minute, we were having fun but every time I use my teeth my owner responds with “ouch” and then all the fun stops. My owner is really not that tough and I better not use my teeth on him from now. When I just mouth him we keep on playing but I better put my teeth away.
  3. Sam has lots of chew toys. I know she is teething and I can see she is experiencing discomfort. She is chewing a lot. I better be careful and just put all things I don’t want her to get hold of away. My slippers has my scent on them so there is a real danger she would want to chew on them, I must remember to put them away when I take them off.

In these three cases the puppy actually learned something. By manipulating the environment, and by rewarding Sam for more wanted behaviors, punishment was not necessary at all. In these cases we set Sam up for success.

Puppy – Proof Your Home

Even the best-trained puppies can have occasional hiccups in behavior as circumstances change and they are introduced to new things or you introduce new factors to the puppy’s environment. Setting your puppy up for success means setting up the environment in such a way as to not giving the puppy an opportunity to rehearse unwanted behaviors. It is actually very simple. Things you don’t want him to chew, out them away. Things you can identify that you cannot put away, don’t allow the puppy to get to such items. You can use baby gates for instance to cordon certain places off.

Reinforcing unwanted behaviours.

We are all guilty of this and it happens so easy. Say you are doing washing and Sam comes running into the room and grabs a sock. What do you do? The problem is, if you attempt to grab the sock now away from her it can very easily end up in a game of tug. Dogs love to tug. You might even think it is funny and laugh about it. Sam will see this now as a game, and we must remember that behaviors that ends in success for a dog will be repeated. If this ends up in a nice game of tug, this behavior might be repeated, and the more this happens the more it will be reinforced. Look accidents do happen and a puppy might grab something, this however should not end in a game. You can replace the sock with something else like a tug toy and that would work well. Punishing the puppy for grabbing a sock is also unfair towards the puppy as she has not learned the difference between a sock and a tug toy yet. Once again, prevention is better than cure. Keep her away from situations where this might happen. By doing so you set your puppy up for success.

The problem with punishing a puppy is that it will always have fallouts later in life. Let us have a look at some of these. This segment was taken from eileendanddogs , the fallout from the use of aversives.

  1. Escape/Avoidance: A punished organism becomes avoidant of the person who delivered the punishment,  the location in which it was delivered, and/or other elements of the environment associated with the punishment. The avoidance is negatively reinforced, which can cause a cascade of other undesirable behaviors. –Azrin, N.H, Holz, W.C., “Punishment” from Honig, W. (1966) Operant Behavior: Areas of Research and Application, 380-447.
  2. Operant Aggression: An organism attempts to eliminate the punishment contingency by seeking to destroy or immobilize the individual who is delivering the punishing stimulus.–Ibid.
  3. Elicited Aggression: (Also called redirected aggression.) An organism can be expected to aggress against nearby individuals who were not responsible for the punishment.–Ibid
  4. Generalization (related to #1 and #2 above): Fearful and aggressive responses evoked by punishment can spread to other entities. “When a stimulus shares properties with those present during punishment, it may evoke the same sorts of reactions as those that happened during the punishment. …The [subject] may respond with aggression toward or withdrawal from the punishing agents.” Sulzer-Azaroff, Beth, and G. Roy Mayer. Behavior analysis for lasting change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991, 486-7.
  5. Generalized Apathy: “If aversives are a common consequence of many kinds of behavior, the result may be a suppression not only of the punished behavior, but of behavior in general.”–Chance, P., 2008, Learning and Behavior, 5th Edition, 208.  The reduction in activity also reduces the organism’s chances for positive reinforcement. Chance cites the following original source– Warden, Carl J., and Mercy Aylesworth. “The relative value of reward and punishment in the formation of a visual discrimination habit in the white rat.”Journal of Comparative Psychology 7.2 (1927): 117.
  6. Conditioned Suppression/Learned Helplessness: An organism repeatedly exposed to a non-contingent aversive stimulus (that is, not under the organism’s control) will exhibit a fear response to the conditioned predictor of the aversive stimulus and a general reduction in the rate of ongoing behavior. –Estes, William K., and Burrhus F. Skinner. “Some quantitative properties of anxiety.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 29.5 (1941): 390.    When an organism is exposed to an uncontrollable (non-contingent) and inescapable aversive there is a general shutdown referred to as learned helplessness.  Maier, Steven F., and Martin E. Seligman. “Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence.” Journal of experimental psychology: general 105.1 (1976): 3.
  7. Injury: An organism can be injured from the application of an aversive in punishment or negative reinforcement.Grohmann, Kristina, Mark J. Dickomeit, Martin J. Schmidt, and Martin Kramer. “Severe brain damage after punitive training technique with a choke chain collar in a German shepherd dog.” Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 8, no. 3 (2013): 180-184.
  8. Reinforcement of the Punisher: The person who applies the aversive is strongly reinforced (negative reinforcement) when it succeeds. Applying punishment easily becomes habitual, and easily escalates. Powell, Russell A., P. Lynne Honey, and Diane G. Symbaluk. Introduction to learning and behavior. Cengage Learning, 2016, 358. Sulzer-Azaroff, Beth, and G. Roy Mayer. Also: Behavior analysis for lasting change. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1991, 489.

Let us set our puppies up for success. Dr Ian Dunbar believes that owning an animal should be seen as a privelige and therefore should be treated with respect and understanding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Force free science based behavior modification and training

Eden K9 Abilties

George van Huyssteen (DipCABT)
Practitioner Member CAPBT International
Garden Route, South Africa


Petra du Toit (CPDT-KA)
SABCAP Companion Animal Behaviorist (AB/013)
SABCAP Dog Training Professional (DT/015)