Friday, February 17, 2012

Wild Puppy Moments

Many of my clients have adolescents or puppies. Most of those have a regular complaint of the puppy going wild, either in the house (often in the evening) or on walks. The puppy runs around, tail between his legs, as fast as he can, frenzied, sometimes jumping and nipping at people as he passes.  This lasts a few minutes at a time and it's almost impossible for them to stop the puppy.

First things:
  • This is normal puppy behavior. Some dogs do it even as adults.  It does not mean your puppy is broken or wild or evil.  
  • We can reduce it and teach your puppy appropriate ways to express himself.  
  • In 10-12+ years when your dog is a senior with increasingly limited mobility, you will say "I would do anything to see him do that again."   Smile and enjoy it.
Second things:
  • Note patterns. Most puppies do this at a specific time of day or specific location on walks.
  • Find appropriate ways for your puppy to run wild. Maybe this is in the yard playing fetch or setting up a playtime with a dog friend, or playing recall games at the park.
  • Make decisions with your family about how much you will limit this behavior. Maybe not in the house but it's okay outside. Maybe in the yard, but not on walks.
Third things:
  • Walks:  Often this will happen at specific locations or with specific triggers.  If you aren't feeling so great or if you are wanting to train an alternate behavior, avoid this area/those triggers for now.  Luna will always start doing laps around me at a specific location. If I'm not up for it, we don't walk there. If you absolutely must walk through/past the area/triggers, start a Treat Transport (constant nibbling of a treat in your hand, practice at home, from my favorite book) -before- you're at the trouble area.  For Luna, that would start 30' before The Area.  Continue for a safe distance past before giving a few treats and continuing on the walk.
  • Encourage it: If the timing is appropriate, use this behavior! It never lasts long.  Think of how you and your dog will feel if you're doing this together rather than battling each other.  With Luna, I would say "RUN RUN RUN" as I walked in a circle and she went around me.  Sometimes I would encourage her to change direction or freeze in position, getting a response freeze from her and she would dart off again.  If your puppy is mouthy, pull out a toy.
Prevent It:
  • In the house, with small kids, this can be very inappropriate.  We often see the running wild in the evenings as the family settles  It's really annoying for most families.
  • Provide exercise and entertainment 30 minutes before the normal "wild time.".  Meet your puppy's exercise/energy needs ahead of time. 
  • Provide structure and feedback on what to do.  Maybe while you're watching TV, be feeding your puppy his dinner, a few pieces at a time, for lying at your feet.  Start out with a stream of treats and then gradually slow down the stream.
  • Prevent access:  Before run-wild time, put your puppy in his crate with a great chew toy.  This isn't a punishment, it's a preventative measure. In some households, this is a key to preventing frustration with the puppy and to prevent the puppy from practicing inappropriate behaviors. Some puppies are wild when they are tired and don't know how to settle themselves. 
If your puppy have a few options:
  • Encourage it: With your voice, body language, and toys.  They can't keep it up for long. Your dog will enjoy this time with you and only be more interested in you in the future.  
  • Leave the room: Not as a punishment, but to prevent the humans from reinforcing the behavior. The yelling, grabbing, pushing, and having clothing to nip can all be things puppies love.  If you are inaccessible and non responsive, your puppy won't be getting further enjoyment.  The wild-ness will run it's course and your puppy will likely soon settle.
  • Stop it:  If there's a true reason (glass on the floor, elderly visitor just arrived, ?), toss a handfull of really great treats on the floor in front of your puppy as he is passing. He will stop to eat them. Grab his collar. Let him eat a few more. And then Treat Transport him to his crate. The intent is not to punish him, but to put him in a safe place for the moment.   Yes, throwing treats at him may reinforce the behavior.  But if it is truely important to stop him, this is probably the safest, fastest, and least confrontational strategy.  If you are having to do this more than once every 7-10 days, you will need to revisit your training and management plan.

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