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Problems With Puppy's First Year


Digging is a normal canine activity and dogs dig for many reasons. Dogs have a wonderful sense of smell and your puppy may smell a mole or chipmunk in the flowerbed. He may want to bury and hide a favorite bone. He may make a game out of tugging on a shrub or plant root. If it is too hot, he may dig a hole under a bush or shrub to stay cool. Unless you are outside to stop the behavior, digging is a very difficult problem to solve. If you can determine why your puppy is digging you can usually correct the behavior. If there is a chipmunk in the flowerbed, expect your puppy to continue digging until you get rid of it. If he is too hot, consider a plastic, child’s wading pool to cool him as well as some type of shaded area. If he is bored, provide plenty of chew items.


You can build a digging pit by digging up a three foot by three foot area of soil and mixing a lot of sand into the soil to make digging easier. Next bury items for him to dig up such as a large, non-splintering, tasty bone or rawhide. Start by partially burying the item so it is easy to find. After he gets the idea, bury them deeper. His reward will be to chew on the item he digs up and this good behavior will hopefully keep him from digging up desirable areas of the yard. If you catch him digging, a stern “N0 Dig!” may suffice, or startling him with a loud noise such as an “air horn”, will get his attention. If you go outside and find a new hole, do not scold him. You have to catch him in the act of digging for the punishment to work.

Jumping Up and Pawing

When your puppy jumps up and places his paws on you, he is seeking your attention. If you allow him to jump up when he is a puppy, he will want to do the same thing when he is a larger, adult dog. If you push him down or “knee” him in the chest, he is still getting your attention, even if it is a negative type of attention. The best response is to turn and walk away without saying anything. When your pup next approaches you, make him sit before he has the opportunity to jump up, and then reward and praise him for sitting. He must sit prior to receiving attention from anyone. Your puppy must always sit for everything he receives and then you must reward him for his good behavior.

Rough Play

When you play physical games with your puppy, such as “play fighting”, you are teaching him that hands and arms are fun things to chew on. If the person playing with the puppy is an adult or older child, and there are younger children in the family, they will pay the price for the rough play. The puppy may grab them by their sleeve or pant leg to encourage them to play, or he may bite on their hands or arms. It is better to use toys as play objects and have your puppy learn to fetch them when thrown. Karen Overall DVM, from the Behavioral Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania College of Veterinary Medicine says, “Rough play is appropriate only if the owner can recognize the difference between a playful and a non-playful growl; can interpret canine facial signs, and always in a tug-of-war, is able to win with the puppy releasing the toy”. If your puppy steals an item such as a sock or piece of clothing, and you chase him, he will soon learn that stealing things is a good way to get your attention and have you chase him. For some, it is fun to interact with their puppy in this manner. If you don’t enjoy this game, the next time your puppy steals an item and runs from you, turn and walk in the opposite direction and your puppy will probably stop running away. Exercising your puppy with games and walks will help curb undesirable behaviors due to “puppy boredom”.


Barking is a normal response for all dogs to some external stimuli in their environment. When outdoors, your puppy may see other dogs, strangers, kids, a cat or any number of things to bark at. As a good neighbor, you should never leave your dog outdoors unattended if he is a barker. You should always monitor his activity and bring him indoors if his barking might bother a neighbor. If your puppy barks for attention, give him a stern “NO BARK”, make him sit and praise him for sitting. If he continues to bark, isolate him in a room where he is left alone so he will learn that barking will get him banished from family activities.

Destructive Behavior

A puppy is unable to use his paws to pick up items so he resorts to chewing on them instead. Chewing is a very natural behavior for a puppy so it is important to direct him to chew on items which you provide for him. Until your puppy is older, and you can trust him not to be destructive, you should never leave him unattended. If you leave him unattended, eventually he will destroy something important. Never scold your puppy after the fact if he chews or damages an item when you leave him alone or unattended.


If you leave home and allow your puppy to be loose unattended, and then return and find he has destroyed a cherished item, the natural tendency is to take him by the scruff of the neck, drag him over to the item he chewed up and give him a good scolding or spanking. Unfortunately, he will not have a clue why you are so mad because he probably chewed up the object hours ago. Stay calm, clean up the mess and don’t leave him unattended until he can be trusted not to chew on things. You must catch him in the act of chewing for punishment to change his behavior. A good stern “NO CHEW” is adequate punishment if caught in the act. Make him sit, praise the sit and then give him something that he is allowed to chew on.


Providing a supply of items to chew on is the key to preventing destructive behavior. i recommend pigs ears for small to medium sized puppies and larger rawhide items and natural bones from the store for larger puppies. If eating these items causes any problems such as vomiting or diarrhea, try a different item or a larger rawhide which he cannot chew up as quickly. Every time you see him chewing on one of the items you have provided, praise him. It is a good idea to give him an item to chew on when he is left unattended in his crate or dog cage. Buying several different items, and rotating them on a regular basis, is a good way to keep him interested in chewing.

Eating Feces

Nobody is absolutely sure why dogs eat their own feces. Some feel there are ingredients in the feces that have nutritional value. It is unlikely there is a deficiency in a dog’s diet if he is being fed any “name brand” food. Some puppies left confined in crates or cages for long periods may eat their own feces due to boredom. Puppies should not be left in a crate all day. If a puppy cannot be taken out of his crate to eliminate during the day, he should be confined to a small room with his cage door open. Place newspapers on the floor so if he has to eliminate he can leave his crate and go on the papers. If your puppy is eating his own or another animal’s feces, you must catch him in the act and try to startle him as soon as he even sniffs the feces. i prefer to use a hand-held air-horn. You can also use a can with pebbles or a loud noise to startle him. Don't let him know you are the one making the noise. If he associates you with the noise, he will wait until you are not around to eat the feces. Picking up the feces before he has a chance to reach them is the best prevention.

Mounting Behavior

When one dog mounts another dog it is not always a sexually motivated behavior. Dogs mount other dogs in order to show control or dominance. If small children are the target and they cannot defend themselves, you will have to intervene. If your puppy is mounting a small child, say to the puppy in a stern voice "OFF". If adults or older children are involved, instruct them to turn and walk away without saying anything when the puppy first attempts to mount their leg. Your puppy will soon get the message.

Biting On Hands and Mouthing

Puppies must be taught to be gentle when their mouth and teeth come in contact with a human. If your puppy puts his mouth on your hand, and he is being gentle, that’s okay for now. As he gets older, around twelve to sixteen weeks of age, you should discourage him from placing his mouth on your hands. If he bites down on your hand a little too hard, you should “yelp” very loudly, turn and walk away. Your puppy will learn that if he bites a human too hard, he will lose his playmate. Be sure to provide him with plenty of items he is allowed to chew on.


© Gary L. Clemons DVM

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