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How Do You Stop A Puppy From Doing Unwanted Behavior?

All it takes is a simple dog-training question to bring out The Crazies.

Recently, the author Tim Ferriss posted this question on his Facebook page:

I’m all for positive-reinforcement dog training, but most experts seem to dodge a major question: What can you do when pups do something “bad” … besides ignoring it? Re-directing is one way to get them to temporarily stop, but it wouldn’t seem to teach them that something isn’t allowed. Anyone with experience out there? Thanks!

Of course, this totally legit question brought out all kinds of drama as people started getting emotional over different training techniques. You know, how you should never scold a dog because you could scare him and that sort of thing. Please.

I thought it was a good question.

How to stop a dog's bad behavior

When people truly have questions about how to train a dog, I think it’s important to offer down-to-earth solutions without going into attack mode.

I’m not worried about Tim Ferriss, but I’m a little worried for other new dog owners who ask innocent questions.

So, I thought I’d ask all of you the same question.

What do you do when a puppy does something “bad”?

Leave your answer in the comments.

My answer:

If a dog or puppy is doing a behavior I don’t like, I’ll calmly say “no” and then re-direct the pup to a more appropriate behavior and reward that. I also do all I can to prevent the unwanted behavior in the first place.

That’s pretty much it.

Is this positive reinforcement? Is it, God forbid, aversive? I don’t really know or care.

I think we tend to overcomplicate dog training, which is probably why so many people do not bother to train their dogs at all. They truly think they can’t because everyone is flooding them with advice, and that advice is often conflicting.

I actually try really hard not to give people dog training advice unless asked.

Pitbull puppy

Yes, my blog posts are often written about training, but people are free to take or leave the information or adjust it for their own unique dogs and unique circumstances. I never want to tell anyone else what’s best for his or her own dog.

A good example is the post I wrote earlier this month on electronic dog fences. I loved the responses I got form that post. Lots of positive comments even though we don’t all agree. Not a single person became overly emotional or rude in the comments. Not one.

I think it’s because we have a great, open-minded online community here.

That’s a rare thing.

Thank you.

How do you stop a puppy’s unwanted behavior?

Let me know in the comments! This will be a great resource to share with new puppy owners and first-time dog owners.


Monday 5th of June 2017

I want to let you know how much I appreciate your site, it has been very helpful to us especially regarding puppies. It has reassured me I'm on the right path or simply different issues and different ways of approach. We have had several dogs throughout our time ranging from puppies to rescue to inherited and now all of a sudden after so many years having a puppy and wondering what the heck were we thinking. The breeds have ranged from Barney a malamut/lab cross, Crystal,lab/collie, Jesse, border collie/collie cross, Shiva,just plain cross with we were sure sleddog breed as that dog loved to pull from the chest area - used to harness her to the toboggan when the kids were little, we would be asked where is Shiva taking me and we would answer just roll off if she strays off the road - never happened and they learned alot as kids. From there we had Zoey a shepherd cross who loved to swim and our last was Tatsa a Rottweiler/Doberman Cross - majestic lady. We had hoped to get a puppy before our last two passed on but didn't work out and now we have a six month old Border Collie/NewFoundland Cross. One thing we have learned in the discipline area is sensing the dogs personality as a simple no or the gentle nabbing of the scruff of their neck has works the best across the board. The rolled up paper smacked across the palm of your hand was sometimes too much for the timid ones. Being consistent was always the main thing of importance regardless of the issue taking them to the problem and firm no always worked with all of them and then divert and get on with the day with love. Lily loved to jump up on the couch to sleep, granted it looked cute but didn't want her doing it uninvited so had to remind ourselves to drag her off as down or no didn't seem to be good enough for her, touching the scruff of her neck now gets the motion happening - don't have to grab or anything just a motherly reminder of who the boss is. We so far have been very fortunate with her attitude and yes she does have times of retesting the lines. Tatsa was our famous counter cruiser - being tall helped - if I had no choice but to leave something out on the counter to cool and couldn't monitor it the whole, we had a trap system set up with various cooling trays so that if she did attempt it would make one heck of a racket - she did come around and could be trusted, but we never wanted to knowingly leave something out to tempt her. Her main weakness was butter left to soften and breads left out to cool. Sorry for rambling, but really appreciate all the tips and ways and means that have work with a positive attitude and it has all been very helpful. Thank you!

Lindsay Stordahl

Tuesday 6th of June 2017

Thank you so much, Carol! It sounds like you have a lot of knowledge and experiences with dogs as well. Congrats on your new pup!


Thursday 27th of April 2017

We foster for the local animal shelter and hundreds of puppies and dogs have been in our home. We try to be very positive and also spend significant time petting and praising our puppies. Treats are often given for good behavior. A young puppy usually learns not to bite by playing with it's brothers and sisters but many of ours were removed too early from their litters. We use a firm "no" and redirection to change the behavior. They seem to have the attention span of a gnat, so this is usually all that is needed. Older puppies that haven't been socialized may need more to understand that biting isn't acceptable. If playing with the puppy and bite is accidental, I just say "no bite" in normal voice and hold my hand up in stop position followed by stopping play and redirection. I try to keep a toy within reach. If intentional, I am more firm with NO and have sometimes rolled dog over and held her down or given time-out in her kennel depending upon the dogs personality. Lots of chew toys always help with puppy training. Our own dogs or other puppies in our home usually help educate but when play is inappropriate we clap our hands, say "NO", cross arms and when possible we stand between the dogs facing the offender. If we can, we physically separate the dogs to assure behavior change. Just holding and petting a puppy for a few seconds is enough to redirect and show something positive. Our most recent foster a 4 month old boxer mix with 3 legs gave kisses when held near my face. She just needed to know what is acceptable and what isn't. Praise is a wonderful tool. It needs to be used as much as 10 times for every time a puppy is corrected. BTW: Tammy, we had a rescue Lab who we knew was a counter surfer when we adopted her at 10 months. We quickly learned to keep counters clean or suffer the consequences. We loved her very much and accepted that some things can't be changed.

Sandy Weinstein

Wednesday 2nd of November 2016

i try to get their attention doing something good. i try to direct them from chewing something they are not supposed to chew to a toy. my girls know the meaning of uh uh and know to stop. i have also used the can with rocks in it to get their attention as well as the red can that you spray. now if they just see the can they stop whatever they are doing that they are not supposed to be doing. my middle child does not like strangers coming to the house, she barks at them. and she will bite at their heels. if they let her smell and pet her, she is fine. but my girls are very protective of their territory and house. that does not bother me since i live alone in the country. they bark when cars come down the road, so they are my doorbells. if they start to jump or get too excited when i get home, i just turn my back and ignore them. they get the message. however, i am just as excited to see them as they are me.

Jean Patterson

Thursday 27th of October 2016

Lindsay, I can't thank you enough for all the wonderful posts. For people like me they are the only help and guidance I have. In the area I live in we have absolutely no trainers for literally 100 miles. Then the trainers that are 100 miles away don't do "Rottweilers". So without your posts I would be lost. I do use you tube but, you actually answer our questions. So thank you for being our support. Jeannie


Wednesday 26th of October 2016

Love this site