Puppy Advice

Learning Good Manners

Bad manners occur when a puppy has not been taught how to behave in a way that is socially acceptable to others that it lives with or comes into contact with. Puppies that are allowed to please themselves often turn into adults that act on impulse without worrying about the consequences of their actions and can be extremely difficult to live with.

Puppy jumping at child

What can go wrong?

Puppies that are bad mannered will often barge people out of the way, jump up and use their paws or mouth to get what they want, whether it is food on a surface or attention from a person or child, and are usually unwilling to consider doing what you want but prefer to do what they want to do instead.
  • Bin raiding pup

Prevention is better than a cure

If your puppy does not yet have bad habits, try very hard not to let them find out how rewarding it can be to behave badly.  This means, for example, never allowing them the opportunity to jump up and raid kitchen surfaces or the table, preventing them from jumping up when visitors call at the house,  and never allowing them to chase the cat or bark at birds in the garden.   

Try to think ahead and predict what could go wrong, then make sure it doesn’t happen.  Stopping your puppy from behaving badly and learning how good this feels for the first year of their life will mean that they don’t attempt these unacceptable behaviours at a later date.  The bad habit simply won’t be there.

  • Using a house line

Stop bad habits

If your puppy already has a few bad habits, it is important to find ways to cease the unwanted behaviour immediately.  You can do this by managing your puppy’s movement around the house and garden by means of training aids such as stair gates and house lines.  Punishment isn’t necessary if you can prevent the bad behaviour from being practiced in the first place.  

Ideally prevention of unwanted behaviours e.g. jumping up or leaping onto work surfaces or tables searching for food, involves stopping the behaviour either before or while your puppy is thinking about it, rather than after they have started trying to do it.  This is the first step in removing the bad habit from their mind. 

  • Greeting  at door

Show your puppy how to be good

At the same time, teach your puppy what you would prefer they do instead.  Train them to sit and wait instead of barging you out of the way at the door, or to wait patiently for their dinner instead of knocking it out of your hand as they charge forward to get it.

Start with the small bad habits that you can manage easily and be insistent and persistent to make sure it is very clear to your puppy what you want.  Then tackle more difficult issues later.

As soon as your puppy does what is required, reward them well with whatever it is they wanted, whether that is freedom to go outside, praise from you, a game or a tasty treat.  Make sure the reward is as good or better than the reward they would have got if they had behaved badly.  This will ensure that, over time, as you begin to change bad habits by not allowing them to occur, the new rewarding habits will quickly take hold.

  • Waiting patiently in kitchen

Long term improvements

If you teach your puppy how to behave well in this way, they will gradually begin to behave more acceptably.  You are likely to have setbacks along the way where they seem to have forgotten everything, but this is normal (especially when they reach their teenage stage).  But gradually you will see big changes and because you have trained them positively so that they enjoy behaving well, those changes will be permanent.

Nicole Harris
Saying 'no' to a puppy doesn't give them any information about how you would like them to behave. If your puppy is doing something you don't like, ask yourself - what would I prefer they were doing instead? Focus on ways to reward this as much as you can.
Nicole Harris
Puppy School Tutor
Norman - bull terrier

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