There's something I like to call The Witching Hour. If you have a puppy or have trained your puppy with Darwin Dogs, you probably know what I'm talking about. It's a nightly occurrence during which your sweet, adorable puppy goes full on Regan.
While it usually happens between the hours of 6-8, it can happen sporadically throughout the day as well. Your ordinarily well-behaved, rational puppy suddenly isn't interested in a damn thing you have to say. Jumping, nipping, and general mayhem ensues. Nothing you do seems to calm your puppy down, and pretty soon, you are dreading the sun setting as The Witching Hour is about to start.
So what can be done alleviate this frustrating and sometimes dangerous behavior?
Why Your Puppy is Acting Out
A mantra I need you to always remember with your puppy (and when training your dog for that matter) is that they are acting normally...for the situation they currently find themselves in.
Your puppy isn't giving you a hard time; your puppy is having a hard time.
Typically with dogs and puppies, it's an issue with overstimulation. A long day of "puppying" can take a toll mentally. Too much activity or too little activity can cause it. Not enough mental stimulation or too little mental stimulation. When everything is new and exciting, a little tip or deviation from NoRmAl can wreak havoc on their ability to cope, and boom - you're calling in the OG Men in Black and burning sage.
So let's break this frustrating puppy behavior a part and learn how to manage The Witching Hour.
Getting Ahead of Your Puppy's Behavior
The most important aspect of the Piloting method of dog and puppy training is that it's adaptive to your puppy's behavior. And the mantra of Piloting is three simple steps:
1) Control yourself - No yelling or adding energy to the situation. Body language is important here, so make sure you are standing up straight. If your puppy is already going bonkers, don't add to that energy with the nonstop yelling and flailing.
2) Control the situation. This is the most important aspect to getting ahead of your puppy's game. You don't add stimuli to a situation to get control of it. Don't fan your puppy's fire, in other words.
But even more, you can set your puppy up for success well before The Witching Hour. By giving your puppy the activity and mental work they require throughout the day, they aren't going to try to glut themselves on it last minute right before bed.
3) Pilot your puppy. Start to answer their questions regarding your puppy's behavior. If your puppy is being an asshole throughout the day, then at The Witching Hour, of course they're going to turn into a phenomenal asshole.
By simply Piloting your puppy's behavior throughout the day, you are building up "money" in that Piloting Piggy Bank (learn more about it here and here). Each time you answer you're puppy's questions about their behavior, whether it be about jumping on you or even just not respecting your personal space, you are building up clout. It snowballs into a thing of beauty. The more you answer, the easier each answer is accepted by your puppy.
Piloting your dog and puppy's behaviors when it's easier (ie., not The Witching Hour) makes it possible to start working through your puppy's behavior when they're at their worst.
I'm always reminded of parents who take their kids out to restaurants and are shocked and disappointed by their kids' behavior. Not sitting still, yelling, and being disruptive. But these same parents didn't help their children through these behaviors under easier conditions: at home during dinner time. In other words, the first time these expectations are set shouldn't be in a situation where there is tons of stimuli.
The same thing applies to your puppy. Don't start trying to manage your puppy's behavior for the first time when your puppy is at their worst. You start when they toggle a little left or right of the path.
If your puppy jumps on you when you call them during the day, that is the time to work on jumping. If your dog doesn't take treats nicely, that's the time to work on the mouthiness, not when your dog is wound up and nipping. Don't chalk it up to "puppy behavior'.
It's called puppy behavior because they need help growing out of it, not passive permission to normalize it. Behavior tolerated is behavior encouraged. By setting the bar so low, your puppy is actually tripping over the bar. Expect better, and help you and your puppy work through those expectations.
Your Puppy's Behavior During The Witching Hour
Now that you've used these three steps to get ahead of The Witching Hour, let's do some damage control, because no matter how you batten down the hatches, that storm is still coming. But it's up to you decide how bad that damage is going to be.
Your puppy will have energy. It may be from pent up frustration, or it could be "your-not-the-boss-of-me-itis". Regardless of the reason, we're going to start back with the three steps. It's 6:00 pm, so let's get ready to rumble.
1. Control Yourself
How do you look? Are you presenting calmly? Or are your hands clenched at your side while you alternate between yelling "NO NO STOPJUMP NO BITE NO!!!!"
Take a moment. Be silent. I don't care what your dog is doing, you WILL not add energy to that situation by yelling and screaming. Even better, don't even talk. Not even to say, "No". Because you sound like a broken record player with your "STOP OR I'LL SAY 'STOP' AGAIN".
Also, take a look at your position. Are you sitting on the floor all crumpled up, wondering why your puppy won't stop using you as a chew toy?
Stand up! Stop giving your puppy motive and opportunity! Rather than deflecting your puppy over and over (and over), simply standing up states that you are no longer a passive victim in this game we call life.
2. Control the Situation with Your Puppy
Like I said, that storm is coming. You can't stop it, but you can channel that energy into a more appropriate outlet. You will still be negating your dog's behavior, but immediately channeling it into a different direction the moment they cease their behavior.
Example: Your dog is jumping on you. You will still negate that behavior as outlined in this video, but the second they deviate from jumping on you, replace that behavior with something more appropriate. And no, I'm not talking about that sad, old bone that's been laying on the ground all day, ignored. If it wasn't interesting for the past 9 hours, it's not going to be interesting now.
I always had a box of toys specifically for The Witching Hour. They were only accessible during certain times, so they were always very interesting to my dogs (learn more here), or at least, more interesting than using me as a parkour session.
Again, you aren't trying to get rid of that energy (you won't), you are merely channeling it into other directions.
There's that old saying that if you and your friend are out hiking, and you come across a hungry bear, you don't have to be faster than the bear, you have to be faster than your friend.
Well, right now you're the easier and more interesting target. So create a new target, and you will have that bear tamed.
My favorite toy for helping to manage the energy levels during The Witching Hour is definitely a flirt pole. It keeps the energy coming off your dog away from you, but easily wears your dog out.
Another great toy to help is an enrichment feeder. I know I go off about these all the time, but seriously, let your dog blow off some steam and get some mental work as well. The best enrichment feeders for The Witching Hour are Kong Wobblers and Outward Hound Treat Tumbler. Again, these toys should only come out specifically to manage The Witching Hour, otherwise they lose all effectiveness.
Bonus Tips for Training an Unmanageable Puppy
The Witching Hour is all about impulse control. Your puppy does not have a lot due to their age (and your dog may not have ever needed to utilize any). As I mentioned above, the time to start working with your puppy's impulse control issues is not during The Witching Hour, but rather, well before. Here are some tips to get you started.
Teaching Your Puppy Tricks
Yes, there is tons of impulse control involved in learning how to do the most simple tricks. Your puppy has to stop and think of a way to get from Point A (no treat) to Point B (treat). That alone helps with impulse control.
Not only does it burn a little bit of energy, it's simple and easy to do at home, and it provides a lot of impulse control, similar to learning a trick. For a crash course in how to do it, check out the video below. Start very, very small. Remember, this is fun, not another task to accomplish.
Use the Leash and Collar
Go for a short walk (for leash walking tips, check out this link). Like, around your backyard. Or maybe down the street. When you get back inside, leave the leash on (supervised) so you have an easier way to control your dog's reactions and behavior. The leash is there to add a level of control during a walk; use it the same way during The Witching Hour.
Your Puppy: Managing the Unmanageable Behavior
The Witching Hour is definitely a huge pain point for most puppy owners. The chaotic jumping, nipping and general mayhem is a lot to manage. But again, it's a symptom stemming from impulse control issues with your puppy, which is natural (if not unsavory). By helping your puppy learn impulse control, as well as setting your puppy up for success through activity and mental work, The Witching Hour starts to lose it's magic,, and you stop cringing when you see what time it's getting to be, until pretty soon you start to simply refer to it as "bedtime".
For more information on how to Pilot your dog or puppy, or to inquire about our unique 30 Day Best Dog Ever training packages, visit our FAQ's here.
Kerry Stack Darwin Dogs
Dog Training and Behavior
Greater Cleveland Area