Puppies are excited and enthusiastic about exploring the world around them, and who can blame them! But sometimes this excitement can include plenty of barking, biting, and chewing.
Dog trainer Heather Laurence, PhD shares her advice for how to cope with these three aspects of your puppy’s development.
You and your trainer should always use positive, force-free methods to help your puppy understand what you’re asking of them.
Training can begin from the very first day you bring your puppy home. As well as barking, biting and chewing, you'll want to get your puppy's toilet training underway immediately and maybe consider crate training as well.
You should never expect your puppy to be completely quiet. Barking is a natural behaviour, and one way that dogs communicate with each other - and us. earning more about why your puppy barks is key.
Why do puppies bark?
“If you have a puppy who barks, it’s very likely that they’re trying to communicate with you or with anyone (human or animal) who is nearby,” says Heather.
She also mentions that it’s important for new puppy owners to remember that “puppies don’t come with a built-in sensor that lets them know that it may not be acceptable by those in their new home to bark at everything.”
How to stop your puppy barking
If your puppy barks a lot, Heather’s advice is to remember that “some puppies bark more than others, but all of them are trying to communicate something. Puppies often bark when excited, scared, hungry, cold, curious, anxious or when playing.”
She also reassures new owners that “all of these are normal behaviours.”
As a puppy owner, the responsibility falls with us to understand why our puppy is barking.
“Just as we don’t understand a newborn baby’s cry, we don’t always understand what our puppy is trying to say to us,” says Heather. “We need to learn what each bark or sequence of barks mean — in the same way that parents learn what placates their baby.”
Dos and don’ts
Do consider your puppy’s environment, and you may discover a trigger for their barking. “If a puppy is barking when excited or over stimulated, we can begin to change the environment to one of peaceful calm,” says Heather.
Don’t encourage play at this point. In a calm and quiet environment, your puppy’s barking will likely stop. As with any stage of your puppy’s training, don’t use physical punishment.
If you’re not sure why your puppy is barking or how to make them stop, it’s best to speak to your trainer for more advice.
Biting is one way for puppies to explore the world around them. The goal isn’t to stop your puppy from biting everything, but to gently teach them that chomping their new human family isn’t allowed.
Why do puppies bite?
“Biting is part of a puppy’s natural behaviour,” says Heather. “In their litter, puppies will chase, catch and pull on each other, often displaying rough behaviours.
If they get too rough with their biological mother, she will swiftly change the mood from play to settle, using calming body language which puppies innately understand.”
How to stop your puppy biting
“New puppy owners need to remember that when we offer our home to a puppy we become their new family,” advises Heather. “Your puppy will do what they have always done, and play with us in a biting, pulling, chewing way.”
Heather suggests that by adopting some of the behaviour of their mother, we can discourage puppies from biting. “Become calm, still, and no longer offer the body language of play. This will help teach your puppy that biting is unacceptable.”
Dos and don’ts
Do remember that training takes time, so don’t expect your puppy to immediately understand that they shouldn’t bite during play. Stay patient and offer plenty of praise when your puppy gets it right.
Don’t expect your puppy to automatically understand what you’re asking them. “Remember that puppies need time to learn your body language too,” says Heather.
Is your puppy a chewing machine? If your puppy has taken to destroying everything in sight, it’s time to take a closer look at why.
Why do puppies chew?
“Chewing is a way for puppies to experience taste, touch, and find out what they can and can not do with an item,” says Heather.
It’s also linked to teething. “As puppies approach approximately 16 weeks, they begin to lose their teeth, and often feel discomfort both for the slack tooth and for the new ones growing in behind,” she says.
“At this point, they will often desire something to chew on, to really bite down on and give themselves some relief.”
How to stop your puppy chewing
The goal here isn’t to stop your puppy from chewing, which is a very natural behaviour. If you’ve bought your puppy a variety of chew toys and then forgotten to put away your shoes, don’t be surprised if they chew those too.
In the case of chewing the training is more owner than puppy related! “Puppies cannot tell the difference between what they should and shouldn’t chew, so will often choose what we consider to be the wrong thing,” says Heather.
Dos and don’ts
Do offer your puppy plenty of toys to chew on. Check out our new puppy shopping list for some ideas. “Provide a variety of textures as well as flexible and inflexible toys,” advises Heather.
Don’t forget to tidy up! Heather says it’s important “not to get upset or annoyed if your puppy gets it wrong and chews something you left behind.” Just remember to put everything away next time.
More help with puppy barking, biting, and chewing
“In an ideal world, consult an expert before you bring your new puppy home,” says Heather. “That way you can ask any questions, plan ahead and have a trainer who you already know and feel comfortable with — before you’re faced with the challenges that a puppy can bring.”
Vet Tim Kirby also recommends that new owners book their puppy in for a clinical examination.
“I see puppies who have been labelled as ‘untrainable’ but upon examination I discover that many of these puppies are suffering from pain in areas such as their hips, jaws and skulls particularly,” he says. “In many cases these puppies have never had a veterinary clinical examination since they were acquired by new puppy owners.”
He also emphasises the importance of positive reinforcement training, to help puppies learn what their new human family deems socially acceptable. And if your puppy isn’t responding to training, “it’s always best practice that a behaviourist and veterinary surgeon work hand in hand at the very earliest opportunity.
“So many 'behavioural' cases have underlying medical conditions which can only be resolved with expert veterinary intervention,” he says.
All part of growing up
Barking, biting, and chewing are natural ways for your puppy to express themselves.
As you get to know each other better, Heather’s advice is to “relax and let your puppy grow up. They need to hit every behavioural milestone in life.”
And try to see the bigger picture and remember there may be light at the end of the tunnel: “It takes up to three years for your bouncy puppy to grow into the well trained happy, content family dog that you imagined when you took the leap into puppy ownership,” says Heather.