So, your new puppy is home and he’s adorable—when he’s sleeping. Awake, he’s high-energy and in constant motion. Now you are asking yourself, “What was I thinking?”
Puppies are a lot of work. At times, their energy seems inexhaustible. Everything is new to them, and they are more coordinated than human babies at this age. They not only have the curiosity to investigate, but the ability as well!
We tend to exaggerate the extent of the puppy’s behavior because we are exhausted. However, there is a difference between typical puppy activity and true “hyperactivity.”
Canine hyperactivity, a condition called hyperkinesis, exists in an extremely small percentage of dogs. Clinically diagnosed hyperactive dogs don’t learn well, cannot maintain a “sit” or “down” even with practice, don’t settle overnight and are overly alert to new things. They may have elevated heart rates, may salivate and bark excessively and could have trouble maintaining weight. Of course, only your veterinarian can diagnose this condition. If you see clear symptoms, make notes and discuss with your veterinarian.
Statistically, it is much more likely your puppy is not hyperactive, but needs appropriate exercise and training. Reset your expectations, and learn the tricks good trainers can offer.
Here are five ways to calm your life once you are smitten with your puppy:
Teach your pup to love “his room” — a place for naptime, downtime, time-outs and those times when you need to get something done without him under your feet. Dog crates are great places for puppies to learn to calm themselves, to feel safe and—sometimes, when we get lucky—to be still long enough to fall asleep. Remember, your puppy needs regular naps and good sleep to stay healthy. Letting the family constantly rev the puppy up to entertain them will not produce the calm dog you want.
Work a little in lots of areas rather than going long-distance in any one. Puppies’ bone structures are not complete for more than a year. Walking for more than a half-mile, jogging with humans or jumping frequently are not good activities for puppies. Explore four areas of exercise: physical, mental, sniffing and chewing.
The best physical exercise for puppies includes short spurts of running and play in safe places like fenced-in yards.
Provide mental exercise through training classes and at-home daily practice. Provide them mental challenges through treat-dispensing dog toys.
I categorize sniffing as a separate type of exercise because about 30 percent of a dog’s brains are geared for their sense of smell. Exercising that sense is a great way to tire them out. Offer unique items to smell and play with, such as an orange with a scored peel or a small pumpkin with some skin removed. Hide dog treats in cardboard boxes for him to find. Scatter a kibble meal onto the carpet or in untreated grass for foraging instead of using a bowl.
We all know puppies like to chew. Whether exploring the world through their mouths, or relieving the irritation of teething at around 4 months of age, they need safe items to chew. What you choose depends on how hard your puppy chews and whether or not he tries to consume what he chews. Hard rubber toys are good, but should be inspected often for wear. Some dogs enjoy chewing on whole fresh carrots, dried sweet potatoes, dried beef tendons or tracheas, or other organic items. Appropriate chewing outlets tire out your puppy and save your valued possessions!
3. Catch And Reward Good Impulses
New owners often think of catching puppies making mistakes and punishing them. Flip that—look to catch your puppy doing something you like and reward the heck out of that! You can use treats or “life rewards” to reinforce good behaviors. Keep his favorite toy out of reach until he sits or responds to your cue to “come.” Then present the toy and have fun.
4. Manage The Environment
Set your puppy up for success. You don’t let your 9-year-old drive your car, do you? If you remove options for things your puppy shouldn’t do, he is left with a much better chance of “being good.” Don’t want him to chew your shoes? Put them behind a closed closet door. You can put him in his crate while you tidy up.If your puppy pulls and darts on leash, take the edge off his energy before you go for your walk. In a safe area, throw a ball, play tug or get him to chase you around a bit. Once he has run off his “zoomies,” he will be able to walk better with a dog leash on.
5. Start Training Now! Repeat Often
All skills require practice. Repetition is essential. Repetition is essential. From the moment you bring puppy home, he is learning. Make sure he learns the lessons you want. Enroll in a reputable puppy class and practice skills in short sessions incorporated into everyday life. Channeling his energy into skills you want will turn “over active” into interactive!
Want to know more about bringing up your puppy? Check out:
Janet Velenovsky is a past president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Associate Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) with IAABC. She is also a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA, “knowledge assessed”). Janet owns Kaizen Pet Training & Behavior and is a co-creator of the patented Gentle Leader® “Come With Me Kitty” Cat Harness and Bungee Leash by Premier Pet Products, where she served as Training & Behavior Education Department Manager for almost eight years.