Animal Resource Library » Behavior & Training » Puppy Care: Avoid Mixed Messages

Puppy Care: Avoid Mixed Messages

A young puppy is a clean, new slate: wide open, full of possibilities and just waiting to be filled with information! Good early training of your puppy when he is between six and sixteen weeks of age will make future training much easier and teach your puppy good manners. Training classes are extremely valuable for proper socialization. It is much easier to teach a good habit than to erase a bad one, so don’t wait to begin your pup’s education. spcaLA’s Animal Behavior & Training Department offers Puppy Preschool classes year round.

All dogs need to chew. To avoid giving your puppy mixed messages do not give him or her old slippers or shoes to chew on. Your puppy will not be able to tell an old shoe from a new one. Instead, give your pup items that are approved for chewing and things that are unlike any of your belongings. Give your pup a few toys of his own (more than four at a time may confuse a young pup, making him think everything is a puppy toy). Rotate his toys frequently so he doesn’t get bored with the same toys week after week.

Play Time
Keep all games positive and focused on toys and sharing; i.e. retrieving games. Avoid games that promote conflict or unhealthy competition with humans. Do not wrestle with your puppy as this may encourage nipping and biting. A pup can get carried away with rough play which can be problematic when there are children that live in or visit the home. Combining playtime with training time can facilitate the learning process (puppies learn a lot through play) by making learning fun for both you and your puppy.

Obedience Training
In utilizing playtime as training time you’ll be best served by teaching puppy to “come when called” and to not jump up on people. Impulse control exercises are essential in maintaining positive control over the behavior of your dog. For “come when called,” you’ll want show the puppy what goody or toy is waiting for him, start to run away and then call the puppy to you. As soon as the puppy come towards you, stop and bend down slightly turn sideways and let the puppy catch you. Immediately start stroking your puppy telling him what a good puppy he is. Then quickly offer the yummy tidbit or toy. If you are using a toy engage in play (a short game of tug, not tug of war works well). Any toy you use in training should never be left on the floor for the puppy. He should only have access to it during your play-training sessions.

Good Dinner Manners
Sharing resources is another important life lesson for your young puppy to learn. The following exercises will help prevent your puppy from becoming possessive of his food bowl. Start by approaching the puppy while he is eating and place extra special tidbits in the bowl, do this for a few days. Next, only put small portions of your puppy’s meal in the bowl; as soon as he finishes, pick the bowl up and add more food. When there are no more portions to add, leave the bowl on the ground until the puppy is out of sight. After a few more days, start filling the bowl with the puppy’s full portion. Pick up the bowl after the pup has eaten a little bit, add a tasty treat, give the bowl back to the pup and praise him. Do this consistently in the beginning and your puppy will be optimistic when someone reaches for his food. If your puppy appears aggressive around food or has tried to bite someone while eating, DO NOT try to fix this problem on your own. Seek professional help immediately from an experienced training and behavior specialist.

Good Leash Manners & Polite Greetings
When you take your puppy for a walk on a leash, he may start to pull ahead. If the pup does this, simply stop, turn around and go the opposite direction. Praise the pup with kind words as he turns with you. When the puppy turns with you offer him a yummy treat for not pulling. You will have to repeat this lesson a few times, but soon your pup will realize that you are the leader and will keep his eye on you instead of racing ahead. Dogs pull because we obediently follow. If you are patient and consistent, your pup will quickly learn that pulling doesn’t accomplish much and walking with you is the best way to go places.

To avoid teaching your puppy to jump up on people, do not pick up your pup and cuddle him from off the floor. Always greet your young puppy on the puppy’s level. Puppies like physical contact during greetings and learn to initiate it by jumping up on people’s legs. If that behavior is rewarded by petting or picking up the pup, he will think you enjoy being jumped on. While your puppy is still young and small, teach him that a proper greeting begins with sitting, not jumping. This will be much easier than trying to break the jumping habit in a big, rowdy adolescent dog.

Potty accidents indoors can be avoided if you know that puppies usually have to relieve themselves shortly after resting, eating, drinking, and playing. Young pups up to 12 weeks-old don’t get much advance warning before they have to go. A puppy that eliminates in the house is doing what comes naturally and doesn’t know the house rules. Shouting at the pup only confuses and frightens him. Make it a firm policy to take your puppy to an appropriate area at least once every two hours during the day, as well as after eating, drinking, napping, and play. Put your pup on a leash so he doesn’t run off to explore. Tell him “go potty” and then stand quietly until he does his business. It shouldn’t take more than three to four minutes. Don’t play or take a walk until your puppy has eliminated. Calmly praise the pup after he’s finished.

The positive messages during everyday interactions will teach your puppy to be gentle and well behaved. Teach good habits before bad habits can form. Your young puppy will learn fast as you fill his slate with good training. He will get into less trouble as he grows and you’ll enjoy him so much more when you teach good manners as part of your daily routine.

Additional Tips:

All puppies need:

  • Blankets (different sleeping surface then potty surface)
  • Chew toys
  • A good healthy diet (a good diet helps brain function which can facilitate the learning process)
  • Daily physical contact with a variety of people
  • Trips out into the world (avoiding contact with strange animals)
  • Leash control
  • Good manners training (i.e. sit, no jumping, etc.)


Daily handling and restraint exercises:

  • Check and handle teeth, mouth and ears
  • Handle the feet (to prepare for regular nail trimmings which should be given every few weeks)
  • Gently cradle puppy. Puppies need to accept being restrained
  • Bite inhibition needs to be a priority for all puppies

Puppy training should be fun and non-confrontational. It is important that a puppy has as many positive experiences with people and training as possible. Everything a puppy learns early on will stick for life.

Please note, articles in the Animal Resource Library are for reference only, and are not meant to diagnose or treat any medical or behavioral issues your pet may be experiencing.