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Dear Inquistive Canine - August 2012 - Helpful Tips for a Rambunctious Puppy

Joan Hunter Mayer on August 07, 2012

Dear Inquisitive Canine,

I recently adopted Tucker, my 4-month-old male border collie and lab mix, as a friend for my 3-year-old dog Polo, another male of the same mixed breed. Upon meeting Tucker I was taken over by his rambunctious behavior, but I figured he was a puppy and that this was something normal, and as time went on he’d begin to adapt to our family and his new brother Polo.

However, a few negative behaviors still remain. Tucker is constantly picking on Polo, which is at times a gesture to begin to play, which Polo accepts, but when he does not, Tucker does not understand that he needs to stop. I am afraid Tucker may injure Polo, as he bites his neck quite viciously, and sometimes, this playing will lead to a fight of barking, flying fur, and biting.

I feel as if they are two alphas under one roof, and while I want them to get along, I don’t want either of them getting hurt. Also, Tucker has a way of getting into anything and everything he can get his snout on, constantly jumping up on tables and eating things that are simply inedible by anyone.

I feel like I am at a loss, as me and my family have tried all sorts of ways to correct these repetitive and undesirable behaviors such as time-outs, pennies in a jar, a mechanism that makes click sounds, a low-deep "NO" command, and many other humane ways.  He also gets very defensive and vicious when passing by other dogs during a walk.

I fear these things will never stop and he may no longer be able to be part of our family. This is very troubling as I’m sure you can imagine.

Are there any steps we could take to trying to correct this behavior? A friend whose dog is incredibly well-behaved had mentioned doggy boot camp, can you recommend any that are in the Tri-state area as we live in Connecticut?

Thank you,

Lauren Pascoap

Dear Lauren,

Congratulations on the adoption of your new pup Tucker! He sounds quite lively, and one entertaining bundle of energy! To answer your question, yes, there most certainly are steps you can take to resolve the issues you are having in order to reach your chosen goals!

The behavior scenarios you’ve described sound like normal tendencies of a highly spirited puppy. I do understand your frustration, and reasons for wanting to correct these unwanted behaviors. As a reward-based, certified professional dog trainer, I suggest the best approach to reach your goals would be to replace these objectionable actions with those that you and your family members want. This way Tucker and all others involved will get their prospective needs met.

I have broken down your concerns into four separate areas:

  • 1) Puppy play and tips on socialization
  • 2) Jumping and scavenging or counter-surfing
  • 3) On-leash dog reactivity when on walks
  • 4) Assistance on locating local dog training services

My sidekick Poncho and I are breaking this advice column into two parts. For this installment we will address the rough-housing (or "ruff" housing!), followed by Tucker’s propensity to counter-surf and rummage through the home. In the next edition, we will provide training tips for leash-walking and resources on how to find local assistance.

  • Tucker and Polo’s dog-play session: Your young spirited puppy, who also happens to be a mix of higher-energy breeds, wants to play with his older brother, who has most likely mellowed with age. And although Polo is still on the younger side, he’s probably had enough play experience to know how much he’s willing to tolerate from a puppy. Also, if Polo was an "only child" for most of his life, he might need some time to adapt to having another dog in the house, as well as a younger tireless one.

A few tips to help both dogs enjoy life with each other during play would be:

  • Reward both dogs for any and all nice play behavior! Be a cheerleader for both Tucker and Polo when they are playing nicely - "happy talk" from you (and other humans) along with an occasional treat will send a message of "Nice play time boys!", then you’ll get more of it. You can also reward Tucker when he is "listening" to Polo’s requests for backing off.
  • Monitor play: Dog play can appear to be quite intense at times (and often is). You’ll know it’s consensual if both dogs remain together and interact. Watch for reciprocal behavior between the dogs. For more about interpreting proper dog socialization play, visit my dog training blog.
  • Puppy classes and socialization: Reward-based puppy training classes are key for helping younger dogs develop into well-mannered, well-socialized adult dogs. You’ll also want to consider setting up play-dates for Tucker with other puppies to help him develop good play skills. In fact, proper socialization for dogs is important at any age. But don’t take my word for it, check out what Poncho has to say about dog socialization.

Scavenging throughout the house: Hunting and foraging are normal behaviors of dogs. If given the opportunity he or she is likely to take it, especially with a younger pup. Dogs are quite keen at finding their own forms of entertaining, which makes it even more important for you to manage your environment, along with arranging specific outlets for Tucker to target his energy.

A couple of other handy tips would be to provide motivational interactive dog friendly toys that Tucker likes. (Not ones you think he should like but ones that he actually likes to play with). Reward Tucker for playing with his own toys. Yes, I mean give him a little treat and a "Good boy!" for all of those times Tucker chooses to pick up his own toy. As a double reward, please acknowledge with praise and a treat for those times when he ignores the forbidden items that were left out. This brings me to one of the simplest solutions: if you don’t want Tucker getting into something, put it away. Management may not teach Tucker exactly what you want, but it certainly sets him up for success by preventing him from practicing behaviors you don’t want.

For additional tips on counter-surfing check out this previous Dear Inquisitive Canine column. The woman who wrote in was having similar issues to yours.

Puppy behaviors can be exhausting, but remember, Tucker will soon outgrow many of them, becoming the well-adjusted and good-mannered adult dog you all want. With guidance in his play sessions, and providing alternate outlets for Tucker to help relieve all of his energy, I’m sure you’ll be reaching your dog training goals before you know it.

Remember to tune back in for the next installment of Dear Inquisitive Canine where we revisit the art of loose leash walking, and provide a few resources on where inquisitive dog guardians can find local dog training services.

Dear Inquisitive Canine is written by Joan Mayer and her trusty sidekick, Poncho the dog. Joan is a certified professional dog trainer and dog behavior coach. Poncho is a 10-pound mutt who knows a lot about canine and human behavior. Their column is known for its simple, common-sense approach to dog training and behavior, as well as its entertaining insight into implementing proven techniques that reward both owner and dog.

Joan is also the founder of the Inquisitive Canine and developer of the Out of the Box Dog Training Game, where her love-of-dog training approach highlights the importance of understanding canine behavior. If you or your dog have questions about behavior, training or life with each other, please email them directly.


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