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.

31 thoughts on “How Do You Stop A Puppy From Doing Unwanted Behavior?”

  1. You really want to open a can of worms…bring up training collars, specifically prong & e-collars. Yikes! People are so black and white about certain things causing fear and pain vs a joyful willingness to please because they feel loved and perhaps fed. Like those are the only options.

    I agree with your statement that a simple “no” can be taught without scaring a dog and is helpful throughout their whole life. And all dogs are different. Norman will respond to a quiet no while Kaya will usually tune me out unless I say it firm in a deeper voice. Neither is ever scared or worried, they just simply stop what they are doing and sometimes even come over to me to get some attention instead.

  2. My answer is basically the same as yours with one addition:

    For a puppy who is having no trouble with crate-training, I also will say “no” or something else to mark the unwanted behavior and immediately use the crate for a temporary removal of attention (e.g., 5 minutes). I save this for the one or two behaviors I care the most about extinguishing quickly.

    I find it really useful because you can’t usually ignore the puppy entirely and remove your attention otherwise (they need to be supervised – they are puppies!). Either the puppy will be excited to be released in 5 minutes and hopefully realize “when I do x, I don’t get to play/have fun/get attention” anymore. Or the puppy falls asleep instantly, which often means your “bad” behavior was a result of an overtired puppy anyway (<- this is very easy. People often underestimate how much sleep these pups need!).

    I do not advise this for any puppy that has problems with the crate. If they are still whining or barking or trying to escape the crate or resisting going in under normal circumstances, by all means, do not use this technique! Those puppies still need treats and encouragement for crating every single time. .

    Otherwise, yeah, it's just "no" and redirect or prevention in the first place. If you find yourself saying no all the time, you probably aren't managing your puppy's environment enough in the first place.

    1. in my opinion a big part of training requires an understanding of what motivates your particular dog. With that said I had an experience with a rescue dog, that I adopted where she did something I really wanted to stop that I “over corrected” the behavior I was trying to stop, but I took it to mind and we had much better results after that.

      With that said, a small amount of “negative” attention when used properly DOES motivate most dogs to correct unwanted behaviors quickly, but you need to look at dog behaviors such as parent to pup interactions.

      example a mother dog does not spank or hit upside the head a pup that does something bad. however they do nip, pin, or grab their snout when they need to discipline the pup.

      with my current dog there have been a few times where I have resorted to “disciplining” her for unwanted behaviors as a combination of “time out” and stop that.

      My current dog is an ~60lb” Siberian husky or Alaskan Malamute. when I rescued her, she was just over 18months old (~18.5 months)
      My dad has a rescued terrier of some kind. and the two of them love to play any chance they get. unfortunately my current schedule isn’t the best for that…

      so the other night I came home from work (around midnight) and Okami my husky was getting worked up playing with dads dog. I grabbed her, looked her in the eye until she looked away (submitted) and pinned her until she calmed down ~1-2 minutes Okami was a whole lot calmer for the next day or so.

      so what did I do as far as she was concerned? I let her know there was a behavior (excessive playing) that I did not appreciate at that time, and reasserted that MY position was more dominate than hers in our “pack” so she needs to do what I want.

      The incident I had with my previous dog, another husky rescue she was ~4 years old, and found a comic book and was proceeding to shred it. I found this unacceptable (not the comic book per say, but that she “found” and decided on her own to shred something. My reaction? I took it away, told her NO! curled it up (into a stick) and went to bop her on the top of the head with it.
      nothing too extreme, and no intention to hurt her in any way. her reaction when I went to bop her she cowered and tried to dodge so hard that she basically fell down. which to me indicated that she had most likely been abused/beaten that way.

      so I never did that again as that dog “over reacted” to correction but on the other hand she also did not go looking for things to tear up, but was happy when I gave her toys to play with.

      the point to all my rambling is positive reinforcement of desired behaviors is GREAT, negative reinforcement of undesired behaviors combined with redirection to a preferred behavior especially if tailored to your particular dogs psychology is great also. on the other hand beating them for doing something bad doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot, other than possibly damaging them in the long run.

  3. I have a 6 month old puppy who sometimes starts biting my shoes and pants during a walk. I am reluctant to give her a treat to direct her attention to me in case she thinks she is being rewarded for biting my shoes. I have tried anticipating the behavior but I am not always successful. Also I do reward her when she does loose leash walking well.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      That’s a tough one when they bite the leash on walks! So annoying sometimes! I usually do some sort of combo where I say a firm “no” but also carry treats to get the pup to focus on me and reward nice walking. It’s hard!

  4. Wow, you’re a brave woman. Because I can imagine what kind of storm TF’s questions started.

    I’m with you exactly. The one difference is that my “no” varies depending on the pup.

    Honey was very soft and attentive as a puppy. So a mild “eh” was all I had to do to stop her. It continues today when I ask her to stop licking her bandage.

    Some of my foster puppies were wired differently so I might speak louder or tap my foot a couple of times so the motion could get their attention.

    I think what TF’s problem was is that he wanted the dog to “know” he had done something wrong. That’s a very human concept. We don’t need the dogs to know right from wrong. We just need them to know that behavior that fits in with our lives will benefit them while benefit that doesn’t fit in with our lives won’t.

    In truth, many dogs pick up such things on their own without the humans knowing anything about training. Our bigger problem is training them to do what we don’t want them to do. By accident.

  5. Stop and redirect is our solution. We used antlers with Bailie. Every time she chewed on something she shouldn’t she got an antler. She loves antlers and never chewed up stuff as a pup. Unfortunately, later she got into shredding but that is another story.

  6. One idea I feel is important is to reserve “no” for seriously dangerous situations. Overuse will dilute or negate the word’s effectiveness. Eh Hem or un uh and proving your intension is to protect and nurture the pup goes a long way toward building a trusting relationship. Make sure the pup understands you have it’s best interest at heart and that you love it even when you’re displeased.

  7. Our current challenges with our 5-month-old lab mix puppy are jumping on me when I get home and putting paws on the kitchen counter while we are prepping meals or doing dishes.

    Right now, I’m trying the “ignore” method when he jumps on me; I give him no attention and turn away, and then once he has four on the floor and has calmed down, he gets a greeting from me. I’m not sure this will work because it never did for our lab/beagle mix who passed away last spring.

    For the kitchen counter, we tell him “off” when he puts his paws on the counter, but again, I’m not sure it will work well because of experience with our deceased dog. He knows that “off” means to get off, but it seems that he is missing the part where it is not acceptable to start with. It’s hard to catch him in the act of starting to put his paws up because we don’t know he’s doing it until we see paws on the counter next to us… he starts out from behind us.

    Our 12-year-old lab mix that is still with us has never had issues with either of these things, and our 4-year-old 13″ Beagle is too short to have these issues.

  8. I do the same. I calmly say no and redirect the puppy. I think sometimes people are frustrated with this method, because it takes some time for the puppy to learn. Well, try doing this with littermates. I swear I have angels helping me when our dogs were puppies. I never knew I had that much patience.

  9. All I can say is that at the dog park, which I go to every day, the worst dogs are the ones that never get scolded. Humping other dogs, running and barking after bicycles, simply leaving their owners and taking themselves for a walk and yes getting in fights while their owners just stand there smiling indulgently or wringing their hands ineffectively. Different dogs need different disciplines and only the most egregious of faults will get them in big trouble at our house. Our aussie who is slavishly devoted only got in big trouble one time when he showed food aggression at around 7 months and my 11 year old daughter whipped around and put him on his back and yelled NO! Never happened again. My other dog is a mix with Lhasa apso in her and is the complete opposite, she is very food oriented, but when she was young would actually stop and “think” about any command you gave her before she did it. Realizing that this was just her quirk, we just let her, now she’s 5 and very obedient, but her big trouble came when she went into the garage and tore up the garbage out there. Took 2 or 3 times of bad dog yelling before she learned, but she did. I still have to put cayenne pepper in the trash cans in the bathroom as she will take out anything interesting, like a Q-tip with ear wax on it and eat it. The thing about puppies is that the earlier you train them the easier it’s ingrained. I don’t remember that far back what we did, but we were never heavy handed or domineering, just consistent and lots of exercise. Many people comment on how they like that we don’t command our dogs in loud voices, but just can use a soft command or a hand wave to tell them what to do. My motto is: “A good dog is a tired dog”

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Haha, I hear ya on the naught dogs running around at the dog park. Pure chaos sometimes!

      I also strongly believe in tiring the dogs out to help them have good behavior.

  10. We have a Lab/Shepard mix that we rescued at 1 1/2 years. Fortunately for her and us it appears that she had never been abused. She is quite intelligent and we only needed to repeat no or that is enough a couple of times for her to know what to do; the exception is barking at us. If she wants attention she barks and even if we say no she continues. I guess we will be working on this for a while. I have found that if you catch them doing something wrong, tell them no, and distract them you will eventually win. Being mean with a dog only makes them defensive and mean.

  11. I have 4 dogs–2 amazingly well behaved senior dogs who both came from unimaginable backgrounds to us as older puppies, a puppy we fostered who is catching on to great behaviors, and one real pain senior dog who came to is as a puppy as a stray when she showed up at our house one day.

    We have used similar techniques with all the dogs and three are amazing one is my nightmare (I still love her) she tries to jet every oppurtunity, she tries to steal the kids food, and she sometimes decides to be over protective of toys when it comes to the other dogs (never humans)

    Well with all we have done “no” and positive reinforcement and have been consistent with what is expected. I could (but don’t) walk my 2 older dogs without a leash and they wouldn’t leave my side. The puppy will do more intensive training in January.

    As for the rebel senior dog, idk I’m at a loss–she is motivated by food but she is also motivated by the good she gets when my neighbors feed her (ugh) we thought about An e-collar for her but I know she will defeat it. I asked other trainers and they won’t work with her. I love my dog and she’s amazing with my children and probably my most loving dog but definately my most defiant.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh, I can tell how much you love your “challenging” dog, but she sounds like she knows how to push the limits! Haha. I know it’s not funny, but I have to smile anyway because she sounds adorable.

      At least she is motivated by food. That must help some.

  12. Dogs are not mind readers, even if that would make things easier, we tell ours no when they are being bad and praise them when they are good.

  13. When our Goldie was a puppy we learned that we had to put away most everything possible that she wanted to chew on. And she was definitely crated when we weren’t home so she wouldn’t get into trouble. But by removing a lot of temptations, it helped until she got older and more relaxed.

  14. yep a simple stern No for me has never caused any problems with my dogs, they even test you by looking at you when they want to do what it was they did before, great fun.

  15. Lindsay is right, most folks try to Over Think dog training and give up early in the process. Redirect and reward seems to work with our Razor and it’s about as basic as it gets!

  16. My dog loves me so much, she want stay out of my lap, i love her, shes a lapppp dog ,She want let any one els touch me , she want bite but growls at any one whw dose. Is this nomal? Izzis mom

  17. 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.

  18. Sandy Weinstein

    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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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!

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