Bringing home a puppy is a time of joy and apprehension! When I brought my new puppy home a few weeks ago, I spent a lot of time and energy scrutinizing his every move. Was this behavior normal? Would he grow up to be a happy, confident dog? Did I need to worry about anything? What are the behaviors to look out for in a new puppy?
It was exhausting. There are certain problem behaviors that are incredibly common and normal puppy behavior: chewing, crying when alone, having potty accidents, and biting at hands, to name a few. But there are also some red flags you can see in your puppy’s behavior, and it’s good to know what to watch for.
Extreme versions of normal puppy problems.
It’s VERY normal for puppies to chew lots, bite at hands, have some accidents, and cry when they’re alone. But these behaviors can still be a worrying sign if they’re extremely severe in the context of your dog’s breed. For example, Malinois puppy is likely to be extremely bitey; the ”normal” amount of mouthiness for this breed is very different from the “normal” amount of mouthiness. If your dog does fall outside of the normal or expected range for their breed, this could be a sign of something to work on. If your puppy is normal for the breed but still overwhelming for you, find an appropriate outlet for your puppy’s natural instincts rather than suppressing their genetic needs.
Get to know your dog’s breed and what’s normal for the breed before worrying too much. Ideally, you did this research before bringing your puppy home and you’re prepared for these challenges. If not, now’s the time to get help! Seek out a qualified behavior specialist with the IAABC or CPDT to come up with a plan.
In my practice as a dog behavior consultant, it’s not uncommon for my clients with extremely fearful or even aggressive dogs to say, “I don’t understand, he was such a good puppy until he was (insert age between 6 months and 2 years old).” Puppies that are extremely quiet and calm, especially for their breed, are often masking fear. This fear can bubble over once the puppy hits social or sexual maturity. Of course, some puppies are simply very quiet, calm, or reserved. This is more common in dogs bred to be companions or show prospects. But if you notice that your puppy isn’t all that interested in meeting people or dogs or exploring their world, they might actually be nervous of the world around them! Seek help to teach your puppy that new things are good and exciting. Remember: annoying, boisterous puppies are normal puppies.
Aggression when being handled.
Another behavior to look out for in a new puppy is aggression when being handled. Most puppies don’t mind being picked up or handled. Some puppies might find it uncomfortable and get a bit squirmy, but if your puppy shows signs of fear, avoidance, or aggression when being handled it’s time to get help right away! Teach your puppy a hand target so that you can move them around without picking them up in the meantime. Then work with a qualified humane hierarchy-based trainer to teach your puppy that being picked up is awesome.
For large-breed puppies that don’t like being carried, you may not need to take the training route and simply work to find non-carrying solutions for puppy problems. You won’t be able to carry around your St. Bernard or Australian Shepherd anyway! But if your puppy is a small breed or is aggressive with brushing or nail trims, you’ll want to get a head start on training right away.
Aggression when being removed from a prized possession.
It’s relatively normal for your puppy not to want their stuff taken away. No one likes sharing their dessert! However, it’s one thing to see a puppy move away with a treasured object (even if they stole it) and another thing to see a puppy’s eyes go flat and hard as they growl or snarl to prevent their treasure from being taken away. Teach your puppy that you approaching their treasure makes even better things happen. Start by giving your puppy some boring kibble in a slow-feeder bowl, then tossing pieces of chicken into the bowl while you walk by and they eat. However, in many cases it’s better to get a pro trainer on the line right away – it’s easier to do this right the first time around with their guidance. Again, we recommend going with IAABC or CPDT trainers that base their training methods on the humane hierarchy.
Fear of people or dogs.
It’s pretty normal for your puppy to be a bit overwhelmed by the world, especially at first. Most puppies haven’t met many adult dogs or other puppies when they first come home. However, there’s a difference between being a bit of a wallflower at the first puppy playtime and a puppy who consistently hides behind you and cowers whenever anyone approaches. You can help your puppy out by going to a local walking path, setting yourself up a fair distance away, and feeding your puppy tasty snacks whenever people or dogs walk past. Don’t let people or dogs approach you, though! That invasion of space can quickly backfire. Again, you may want to get professional help. This problem is much easier to fix in young puppies than in older dogs due to how their brains mature!
My puppy Niffler sat in my lap and watched apprehensively at our first puppy class; by 20 minutes in, he was playing with the quieter puppies. The next week, he was roughing it with the best of them! That’s normal.
Fear of sounds or surfaces.
If you notice that your puppy is freaked out by shiny floors, stairs, beeps, crashes, or any other sounds and surfaces, you have a good chance to help them through that right away! You can play socialization playlists on YouTube or Spotify while your puppy sleeps and plays – just make sure that you start at a low volume that your puppy barely notices before increasing the volume. For surfaces, avoid pushing, pulling, or otherwise forcing your puppy to brave them. That won’t help them learn to confidently navigate new surfaces – it will just teach them that you might scare them! Instead, let your puppy investigate at their own pace and reward them generously for bravery. You can put a treat on the new surface, but let your puppy go collect it at their own pace. Most puppies quickly learn that a variety of surfaces and sounds aren’t so bad after all! Sound sensitivity, however, can be a bit more serious. If you notice that your puppy isn’t improving, get help sooner rather than later.
Constant ingestion of non-food items.
It’s very normal for puppies to explore the world with their mouths. They don’t have hands, so mouthing things is how they learn about the world! It’s pretty normal for puppies to want to eat some things that gross us out or surprise us. I’m still teaching Niffler that horse poop isn’t a free snack! If you notice your puppy bee-lining for items on walks or continually eating things like rocks or socks, it’s time to get help. Sometimes, compulsive eating of non-food items is actually related to GI upset. Talking to your vet about changing your puppy’s diet may help. In other cases, it’s more behavioral. This often is because your puppy has learned that dashing around to eat things makes you play a fun chase game! In many cases, it’s a combination of these issues. I’ve known several puppies who died from eating non-food items, so don’t just hope your puppy grows out of this. Get help sooner rather than later!
The bottom line is that it’s never a bad idea to hire a qualified professional dog trainer to ensure that your puppy is on the right track. Even normal puppy behavior can be annoying and it’s worth getting help learning to live together. However, be careful when hiring a trainer – dog training is entirely unregulated and a bad trainer can cause damage as well. Check out this guide for finding a good dog trainer if you’re lost or overwhelmed.
Did you find these puppy behaviors something you have dealt with in the past? Share your experiences with us in the comments below or with us on social media.
You can also find more puppy training tips and general dog owner info on our blog.