Ask Piper - Our new puppy is driving us crazy!

Ask Piper

Advice from a Mini Aussie, Mystical Muse, Mistress of the Sofa

Q: We have a new puppy and she is driving us crazy.  

I'm trying to do everything right but she still has potty accidents sometimes, bites our hands, and keeps chewing on the couch. We've been to puppy class and I thought if we followed our trainer's advice, our puppy would settle down and start listening, but it's still hit or miss. When will she calm down and learn what she can and can't do? I can't take much more of this!


Puppified in Phoenix

A: Dear Puppified,

I am sorry to say that your puppy is defective.

Most puppies potty only outside, seek out their own chew objects, ignore all other temptations, sit politely to ask for anything, and always go to bed on time without waking up and whining.

...just kidding. I believe the correct diagnosis here is "you are raising a baby animal."

The thing is, you can do everything right, but puppies are still tiny baby creatures with growing brains and a very strong desire to seek out anything that gives them comfort or pleasure in the moment. Learning good habits takes time, and lots of it. And... motivation.

How about some introspection. You, human, have Human Teeth that require regular care in order for them to remain healthy.  You, with your large brain and ability to make Good Decisions, know this. you floss every day?

...twice a day?


That's what I thought. 

The thing is, everyone messes up sometimes. The fact that your TinyBabyAnimal still does stuff that bothers you is SO normal, you can look up "normal" in the dictionary and there's a picture of a puppy voraciously attacking a pair of shoelaces.  Go look. Now.

Ok, I lied, but at least you opened a dictionary for the first time since high school.

Anyway, just like raising kids (I hear that's a whole nother ball of fun), you can do All The Right Things and your puppy still has the capacity to seek out reinforcement from the environment, to act on their natural urges, and to make their own decisions.  This does NOT mean you should give up.  Keep doing the right things. This means:

  • Setting up an environment where it's hard for the puppy to make mistakes (colloquially: puppy-proofing)
  • Providing approved enrichment options within this puppy-safe environment (just go buy stock in the Kong company)
  • Consistently reinforcing appropriate behavior with food rewards, praise, and petting
  • Redirecting inappropriate behavior without yelling or physical punishment
Yeah, that's basically it. There's your puppy manual. You have GOT this. I think you know what you're doing, you just needed a Mini Aussie to cry on.  And I'm here for you. Raising a puppy is hard. Well, heck, I've never done it, but that's only because my owner says you should "adopt dogs in need" and blah blah blah. But I'm still here for you.  You keep on doing that stuff your trainer told you, and before you know it, you'll have a 2 year old dog who chews her own stuff, sits nicely for patting, sleeps all night in her kennel, and only jumps on the table to steal snacks when you leave bacon on it.  Cause...bacon.  
Encouragingly Yours, 
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Last modified: Thursday, 16 December 2021, 10:04 PM