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Top Tips for Staying Calm While Training Your Puppy

puppy looking up

Puppies are assholes. There. I said the quiet part out loud.

But those of you who have puppies are nodding your heads in agreement. Puppies are like a combination of a toddler with a Redbull and a teenager who has just been informed of a new curfew.

In reality, a puppy is no different than any other adolescent creature: they are exploring their world, testing boundaries, and learning about themselves in the process. So while I joke a lot about how training a puppy can be a total goat rodeo, the fact of it is, I love and respect their willfulness. I admire their stubbornness, because after all, stubbornness is just determination in an opposite direction. Why should my puppy come when I call them? Why shouldn't my puppy chew on my new leather sofa? Because I told them not to?

Let's start with a new mindset with your puppy's antics: Your puppy isn't against you; he's for himself.

Nothing your puppy does is directed at you (no, not even when he's biting and nipping at you). Right now he's a bundle of energy tied together with a very delicate string. He's holding it together as best he can, but it doesn't take much for that string to snap.

Puppy playing in grass

So how do you work through this behavior? Piloting your puppy rather than training them.

Piloting is a lot like parenting: there's a lot of Q & A. You sometimes feel like you've answered the same question about a million times, and sometimes you find yourself in the bathtub with the door locked at 12 am trying to silently eat a pint of chocolate ice cream in peace.

I guess you could say that the only difference between Piloting your puppy and parenting your kids is that at some point you are going to watch your kids launch into adulthood, no longer dependent upon you, but rather asking your advice rather than needing your guidance. They are adults now, living in a human world.

Your puppy, however, will never grow into a full fledged human, able to survive and completely understand a human world, so your dog will always be dependent on you to guide them. However, that level of dependency depends upon how you well you are able to Pilot/parent them.

So let's start at the beginning.

Two Most Important Steps to Puppy Training

Whether it's housebreaking, basic commands, leash walking or trying to get your puppy to stop harassing and biting you like a mosquito. No matter what behavior your puppy is giving you, you always start with these two steps.

1. Control Yourself: How Do You Look to Your Puppy?

Do you look like someone who can Pilot this plane called life for one of it's most confused and anxious passengers, namely, your puppy?

If you're angry, frustrated, rushed, or even hyper, ask yourself if that's how you want your puppy to be? How do you feel when your puppy gives you the same energy you are about to give them? Remember, the goal is a calm(er) puppy who is capable of rational though. Show them what that looks like.

Now, I'm not going to tell you not to get frustrated: that's hilarious. Remember, your puppy is an asshole. They revel in their assholerly and run gleefully amok. But if you're here to guide them through this confusing (and often overstimulating) human life, at least look like you're capable of the job, because yes, your puppy is gauging how they will react based upon how you are reacting.

So, Piloting your puppy is a job: put on your uniform. Lock up your emotions for just a moment. You know those fists you have clenched right now? Yeah... relax. Force yourself to calm down before you do anything to add fuel to your puppy's fire. Take a look at your body language. Are you standing up straight, or are you bending over, right at your puppies level?

And most importantly, how is the volume? Are you talking nonstop at your puppy? Yelling, even? You're just escalating the situation, and hoping that you losing control helps your puppy regain control of their behavior.

Noise and energy create more noise and energy. So when you're trying to Pilot your puppy's more unsavory behaviors, make sure you are in control of yourself. Stand up straight. Unclench the fists and make sure you are trying to communicate with your dog in a productive way. Remember, we're trying to communicate with them, not give them Stockholm Syndrome.

A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves a thousand moments of regret.

2. Control the Situation: Is Your Puppy in a Good Place?

If you've done dog or puppy training with me, you will constantly hear me repeating a very important phrase:

You can't add stimuli to a situation to gain control of a situation. And currently the situation is your puppy.

If your dog is barking and jumping at the door, get control of the current situation before opening the door (even if it means just locking your dog up so you can read this article about how to answer the door). Why would adding more energy and chaos end the current chaos.

That's like taking a drink of milk from the fridge, seeing it's gone bad, and putting it back in the fridge, hoping it gets better.

Stop and look at the current situation. Do you have control right now? Or are you trying to train a puppy who hasn't had breakfast and is all wound up from being in their crate all night? That's a losing battle. Make sure you have control of the situation.

And sometimes that means knowing the when to try to train your puppy and when to merely channel their current energy.

Let me give you a great example: the Witching Hour.

That's the hour when your puppy goes from an absolute angel puppy to a demon possessed by Satan himself. Your docile little furball has suddenly decided to zoom around the house with and jump and bite you with the intensity of a thousand burning suns.

The Witching Hour usually happens around sundown, and is the equivalent of a tantrum. Your puppy is completely out of control and cannot take in any new stimuli without redirecting upon said stimuli, and that may be you. So if you're puppy is jumping, clawing and biting you while you're trying to sit on the floor... get up! There's too much of you available to your puppy right now, and he's overstimulated.

By simply standing up you are removing your puppies options (ie., stimuli) so your puppy can better organize themself into some semblance of calm. Yes, your puppy may still try to jump up on your legs, or go for your feet, but you are in a better position to start to channel your puppies energy in the direction you want. And rest assured: that energy will be channeled, not negated.

The Witching Hour is the perfect time to utilize an enrichment feeder to channel your dog's energy (learn more in this article). Let them beat up their dinner instead of you. Engage it a game with a flirt stick, which is great at controlling the situation, as it keeps the action farther from you, while you still control the play (find out more in this article).

I always think of the Witching Hour like food poisoning: just let all that yuckiness out and it'll be better. That energy and pent up frustration from throughout the day need to go somewhere: channel it in a direction you want, and have a plan ready.

Also take in mind your puppy's current mental frame. If you've been working on the same 3 commands for 2 hours straight and your puppy is struggling, you need to take another look at your goal. There are only so many new things your puppy can process in a day without having a meltdown. If your puppy, who was totally engage with learning the "stay" command 10 minutes ago is now struggling, it doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. The problem is you're still doing it. Give them a break. Let them reboot. Go on to something that gets rid of pent up energy: a Kong, or a game of fetch. Let them reboot rather than melt down.

Remember Your Goals with Your Puppy

You aren't trying to have the perfect puppy. Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good. Frustration happens when we start to compare what we see in others without seeing the full picture. I see it all the time during pack walks, when my clients start noticing how "well behaved" another dog is on a during the walk, while they are still struggling with passing by people or bikes.

What they aren't seeing is that the dog who walks so well is has a huge issue with resource guarding. Or separation anxiety. Or perhaps they are destructive in the house, running like a freight train through anything in it's path.

So perhaps first an foremost, take a good hard look at your puppy. What are your goals with him? How do you want your relationship and your bond with your puppy to look? The only way you can figure that out is by looking at your puppy rather than the world around you, because for your puppy, you are their whole world.

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

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2 comentários

Stumpicus Kat
Stumpicus Kat
19 de jun. de 2023

Yes, the Witching Hour! My puppy, Maya, doesn't direct it towards me because she has learned right away that it is not something we do. She tried a few times to grab my pants leg, but I had her release and redirected her -- maybe a little tug with a rope instead of my pants.

What I see, however, is that she goes after my 2 1/2 year old lab, Stella. She nips her legs, grabs her by her jowls, her cheeks, barks at her, and is just generally obnoxious. Stella is extremely tolerant, which allows that behavior to continue too long. Sometimes she wrestles with the puppy or they run around, and nips back. Eventually, Stella gets tired …

Kerry Stack
Kerry Stack
20 de jun. de 2023
Respondendo a

There's a fine line to tread here, but it' easy to find it. If you don't like that behavior, you simply put an end to it. Give Maya a gentle, but clear, negative when she's overstimulated around Stella. Just because Stella tolerates it doesn't mean she should have to. By helping Stella set better boundaries with Maya, you are also averting potential disasters when Stella finally does decide she's had enough.

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