Understanding how to properly discipline a puppy is crucial to making sure they grow into an obedient, happy, and well-adjusted dog. When training a puppy, discipline doesn’t mean punishment – it simply means teaching your puppy right from wrong! This article will discuss the best tips for disciplining your puppy the right way.
How to Discipline a Puppy for Bad Behavior
Puppies will naturally misbehave and it’s important to know how to discipline them properly. The golden rule is to only ever correct unwanted behavior when it’s actually occurring and never afterward. Many pet owners say ‘they looked guilty’ or ‘they knew they did something wrong’ but this actually isn’t the case…
Your puppy or dog is reacting to your tone of voice and body language in this situation and producing a ‘fearful’ look, which we interpret as guilt. They know you’re mad or upset but don’t realize it’s because they chewed up a pair of shoes two hours ago, so there is no benefit to this approach.
If you catch your dog ‘in the act’, you should still never yell or physically punish them. A firm ‘no’ — loud enough to make them look up, but not so loud as to scare them – is usually enough to stop the behavior. You can then show them what you want them to do instead by swapping their chewing onto a toy, taking them outside to go pee, or asking them to lie down, and reward them for doing the right thing.
How to discipline a puppy without punishing them
Positive reinforcement and rewards
Rewarding your puppy for good behavior makes them much more likely to repeat it. This is known as positive reinforcement. Good behavior isn’t just performing a ‘sit’ on command – it can be any time your puppy is doing the right thing, like using their chew toy and not one of your shoes!
Treats are most commonly used as a reward and should be ‘high value’ – something your puppy is really excited about and not just their regular kibble. When training with treats, make sure to give very small amounts each time to avoid giving your pup an upset tummy.
Remember that treats are not the only type of reward. Every dog is different and some dogs prefer praise, cuddles, or toys, so it’s important to find out what your puppy likes
Time it right
Training sessions should be fun so keeping them short and exciting is the way to go. Less than 10 minutes at a time is ideal, especially for young puppies. Remember that training is also an important part of bonding for you and your new puppy and should always be a positive experience.
Timing is also crucial when rewarding positive behavior. The reward needs to follow immediately. For example, giving your puppy a treat within seconds of performing a ‘sit’ so they correctly associate the reward with the desired behavior.
Consistency is key
When training puppies it’s important to make sure the cues and responses are consistent every time. Puppies will learn quickly but it’s important to make sure the whole family is on board and knows which cues or commands to use (for example ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘wait’).
We need to make sure the whole family is giving clear consistent responses to unwanted behavior. If Dad is making a fuss of puppy when they jump up but everyone else is trying to ignore this behavior, it’s difficult for puppy to understand if this is right or wrong.
Redirect unwanted behavior
If you catch your puppy in the act of misbehaving, this is the time to intervene. A sharp and firm reprimand such as ‘no’ is usually effective, followed by redirection to an appropriate behavior. you could swap the shoes for one of his favorite chew toys, or take him outside to finish his business.
Wrong ways to discipline a puppy
Punishment or negative reinforcement
It can be frustrating to come inside and find your puppy has urinated all over the floor or destroyed the furniture but it’s important never to lose your cool. You should never yell, shout or physically discipline your puppy in any way. Not only is this very frightening for puppy but it can also hinder their training and lead to long-term issues with fear and anxiety.
Dogs are also highly aware of our body language, far more than us humans and it’s important to keep this in mind as we may be inadvertently giving off the wrong signals.
Encouraging unwanted behavior
Certain behaviors might seem cute when your puppy is small, like nibbling your fingers or jumping up. But think about these behaviors again with a fully grown Great Dane that weighs over 100 pounds! This would completely inappropriate and is why it’s important that unwanted behaviors, like biting, are consistently discouraged from a young age
To discourage jumping up try crossing your arms and turning your back on your puppy to completely ignore the behavior. This teaches them that jumping up fails to get them any sort of attention or interaction from you. Once they are quiet and sitting calmly, give them your full attention and a reward!
‘Rub their nose in it’
This has become a popular saying when pet owners found their puppy had urinated or defecated inside the house. ‘Rub his nose in it’ so he realises his mistake and doesn’t do it again. This is something you should never do to your puppy.
This technique is only going to frighten them and can even damage their relationship with you and lead to long-term anxiety issues. It can also make house-training even harder for you and your puppy and may lead to poo-eating behaviors that are very hard to break.
How to discipline a puppy not to bite
For young puppies, chewing and biting is an important way of exploring and investigating their environment but this shouldn’t apply to people’s hands or clothes! Nipping and biting needs to be quickly and effectively discouraged from a young age to make sure it doesn’t become a problem when they’re older and can cause serious harm.
If your puppy nips your hand, try saying ‘ouch’, calmly and slowly removing your hand and ignoring them until the behavior stops. Once they are quiet and settled reward them with your attention and a treat. It’s important not to pull your hand away quickly or use an excited or high-pitched voice as some puppies will think this is a fun game!
If puppy is on your lap, try putting them down onto the floor or even leave the room if they’re trying to nip your legs or feet. Again, ignoring the unwanted behavior and rewarding the good behavior when they’re settled and quiet is key.
While mouthing and nipping is a normal phase for most pups, if you are concerned your puppy is acting aggressively it’s best to contact your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. The sooner you can get professional help to work through these issues, the better the chance of them growing into calm and well-behaved adults. Biting and aggression should be taken extremely seriously as it puts people and other animals at risk, not to mention your dog’s life if they were to cause injury.
How to discipline a puppy not to poop in the house
Housetraining young puppies can be frustrating but remember to be patient – your puppy has a lot to learn! Young puppies are unable to hold on for long periods of time and need to pee regularly, so make sure to take them out to toilet every 2-3 hours and after every meal.
Each time your puppy toilets in the designated area, make sure to give them a reward to positively reinforce the correct behavior. If you find pee or poop in the house, don’t punish them! Simply ignore the behavior and calmly clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner to remove the smell.
Yelling at a puppy or ‘rubbing their nose in it’ is only going to make them frightened and fearful of you. It can also create long-term behavior problems. As we previously discussed, many pet owners say their puppy ‘looked guilty’ or ‘knew they’d done something wrong’ but they’re simply reacting to your tone of voice and body language.
Crate training is another technique that can be useful when housetraining your puppy but it must be done correctly. The idea behind training your pup to sleep in a crate is that a dog doesn’t want to pee or poop where they sleep. The following tips are important for successful crate training, but remember you veterinarian will be able to provide you with further resources and advice:
The crate should be a safe and positive space that feels like a den. Your puppy should never be locked in their crate as punishment.
Dogs should never be locked in a crate for long periods during the day.
Crates should be big enough for your puppy to lie down comfortably, stand up and turn around. They should also fit their bedding and water.
Set-up the crate in a quiet relaxing environment, not a noisy part of the house.
Keep it positive. Your puppy should slowly start to explore the crate with the door secured open – rewarding them with toys, food puzzles, and treats.
Build up slowly. Try closing the door while they are eating a meal in the crate and opening it up again before they finish. Once they are comfortable you can gradually start to increase the time the door is closed, making sure they are comfortable before increasing this time.
Finally, it’s important to remember that there are other reasons for difficulty housetraining or breaking housetraining when everything was going well. Medical conditions like urinary tract infections will make your puppy pee more often and have difficulty holding it in. If you have any concerns about your puppy’s toileting behavior, it’s best to contact your veterinarian so they can check them over thoroughly.
How to discipline a puppy that won’t listen
It can be frustrating trying to train a puppy when everything seems to be going in one ear and out the other! Try to be patient and consider the reasons why your puppy might not be listening to you. One of the most common reasons is distraction.
When walking outside or in a crowded place, there are lots of amazing sights, smells, and sounds. Many of these might be new experiences that your puppy finds overwhelming and listening to you is the last thing on their mind! Start by training your puppy in quieter, less stimulating surroundings where they can focus, before slowly starting to increase the level of distraction around them.
Remember as well that puppies will be tired after a big training session or puppy pre-school class. They’ve just had an hour or more of intense sensory overload and may not have the capacity to concentrate like they usually would.
It’s also important to make sure that your puppy clearly understands what you want from them. Use the same verbal command and hand gesture every time you ask for a particular behavior so your puppy doesn’t become confused. Practice makes perfect so keep working on their basic commands with high value rewards until it becomes second nature.
Sometimes we find our puppies aren’t listening or following our commands outside of training sessions. Picture this, your puppy has probably learned to ‘sit’ with a verbal command and hand gesture while you’re holding a treat. Now you’re asking your puppy to ‘sit’ without the treat in your hand – there’s no obvious motivation for them to perform this behavior so it seems like they’re not listening.
This doesn’t mean that holding treats during training is wrong —, quite the opposite, it’s the perfect way to begin training your puppy. Over time we want them to learn that just because they can’t see a treat, it doesn’t mean they won’t be rewarded for the right behavior. Try this:
Start by hiding treats in your pocket or a treat bag
Give your usual verbal command and hand gesture for ‘sit’.
When your puppy does sit, reward him immediately from your bag or pocket.
Once your puppy has the hang of this, you can begin to alternate high-value and lower-value treats, and then to skip occasional treats. This is important as you want your dog to respond to you even if he doesn’t get a treat every time. In fact, for both humans and animals, a behavior becomes ingrained most strongly overtime when the reward becomes intermittent or unpredictable.
What to expect as your puppy grows older
As your puppy gets older it’s important to continue consistent and regular training sessions but make sure to switch them up to keep them challenging and exciting. If your puppy goes to obedience or training classes there are usually advanced levels when they’re ready, just make sure the club uses positive reinforcement training techniques.
Puppies will also go through a ‘teenage’ phase around 5 to 6 months of age – just when you thought you had everything figured out! This period coincides with increasing hormone levels and appears earlier in small breed dogs. During this time it’s common for puppies to stop responding to commands they had previously mastered, like coming when called.
Though it can be frustrating, it doesn’t last forever. Take the time to continue to train these behaviors consistently in a distraction-free environment. If your puppy is no longer coming when called, make sure to keep them on a leash when walking for safety reasons.
During adolescence, puppies may also start to behave differently around other dogs, become more boisterous or difficult to handle, and may even become anxious or fearful of things that never used to bother them.
Continue to socialize your puppy, just like you did when they were small, safely and gradually with positive interactions. A consistent routine and regular training will also help get you through this difficult time but remember if you have any questions, your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist is there to help you navigate the teenage phase!
Training should be centered around positive reinforcement of good behavior, while ignoring and redirecting unwanted or ‘bad’ behavior. Putting the effort into correctly disciplining your puppy from a young age using these techniques will help them grow into a happy, calm, well-behaved dog and beloved family member.
Dr Ellen grew up in Australia, and after graduating worked as a vet in New Zealand before travelling to the UK. She now works as a relief vet, covering holidays and helping clinics out when they’re short staffed. She loves all things animals, and is passionate about animal health and client education.