Puppy Problems? Here’s 3 Steps To Solving Them

The Puppy Stage: The cutest, double-edge sword you’ll ever encounter. It’s the cutest stage with puppy breath kisses, itty bitty tail wagging, and oh-so-much snuggling. But it can also be the most frustrating, tear-your-hair-out months you and your dog may ever spend together.

We talked to trainer and owner of Alternative Canine Training, Bonny Wainz, to learn the top 3 MUSTS for every puppy owner looking to set their puppy up for success and get them ready for a long, happy life as a balanced member of your family’s pack. All you need to remember is Socialize, Desensitize and Exercise.

#1: SOCIALIZE

“Socialize, socialize, socialize that puppy,” said Bonny. “You have certain critical fear periods with a puppy, and a critical socialization time which is around 3-6 months. So it is important to get that puppy out and socialized. The longer you wait the more a shy or more submissive, the more they’re going to want to stay shy or submissive. The more you get them out the more you integrate them with sounds and other people and dogs and children, the more comfortable and confident they’ll be as they age.”

So how do you Socialize your puppy? Bonny suggests arranging play dates once your puppy has all its shots, enrolling in a puppy training class, and having your puppy attend a dog daycare that closely monitors dog to dog interactions and allows for rest and nap periods through the day. At Canine to Five, we call it “Cuddle Time” when we bring the energy level of the pack down, keep the lights and noise down, and allow all of the dogs to take a break and relax. Our puppy pack is particularly good at Cuddle Time.

Another important aspect of socialization is introducing your puppy to social structure. As pack animals, dogs and puppies live as a pack, even with their humans, so the same rules apply.

“The structures are very important,” said Bonny. “The dog is going to start testing you really the minute they come into your home, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a 9-week old puppy. They’re still going to test you. They’re going to decide who are the members in the pack they can dominate, and who they have to be submissive to. Through training and establishing social structures, you’ll tell the dog psychologically who’s in charge. If they know you’re in charge, they’re actually going to be calmer. If they’re always ‘winning’ and succeeding at testing you, then it actually makes them nervous because they’re going to keep taking it to the next level. Implementing structure and training is one of the keys to having a well-balanced and developed puppy.”

So how do you implement Social Structures in the home?

  1. Never let the puppy lead you. You or any member of your family should walk through doors or narrow spaces before the puppy, while the puppy follows behind.
  2. Sit/Stay is your friend, and a puppy is not too young to learn it. It just takes practice. Make your puppy do a Sit/Stay before feedings, at doorways, or before being allowed out of their crate. Have you noticed that we have every dog do a Sit/Stay at the gate during Drop Off and Pick Up times? It’s one of the many ways we implement social structure in our pack.
  3. Feeding time is on YOUR time. Bonny suggests putting the food bowl down and leaving it for 15-20 minutes. Then pick the bowl back up along with whatever food is leftover. “You do this because first, the alpha in a pack decides who eats, how much their going to eat and who eats next. And if you just leave the bowl down, why does the puppy need you?”

These are some great first steps to implementing social structure into your pack at home, and all of this will help your puppy understand its role in the family. And trust us… they’ll be relieved they’re not in charge. Can you imagine a puppy trying to make sense of a utilities bill?

#2: DESENSITIZE

This goes hand in hand with socialization since socializing your puppy helps desensitize them to a lot including other dogs and humans. Walks through the neighborhood can help desensitize them to sounds, smells and different scenarios. “The more you get them out the more you integrate them with sounds and other people and dogs and children, the more comfortable and confident they’ll be as they grow up,” said Bonny.

There’s also some things you can do at home to help desensitize your pup and prevent them from developing anxiety or becoming fearful as they age.

Here’s some of Bonny’s suggestions:

Food. “Get your puppy used to hands being around their food bowl.” Start by placing small bits of hot dog or turkey into the puppy’s bowl while they’re eating. “If I’m eating chicken and you give me prime rib, I’m going to be a very happy camper.” This will help prevent your puppy from becoming food aggressive later on.

Toys. “Make sure you get them used to you taking away their toys. For some puppies, I’ll make sure I have a treat so I have a substitute. In other words, if your puppy has their favorite bone say ‘Drop,’ give the treat once they do and then grab the bone.”

Children. “Make sure to get them around kids. Your children or nieces, nephews, friends’ kids, etc.” Always prepare the child before any interaction with the puppy. Inform them of any training rules and social structures so the puppy doesn’t see them as a member to dominate. According to Bonny, it’s really important to incorporate any children into training to both desensitize and socialize the puppy. “That elevates the child’s social status. A lot of times puppies will nip at or pick on the children, especially the younger ones. But by involving them, it elevates their social status within the structure.”

#3: EXERCISE

Puppies NEED it. All dogs need exercise, but in order to have your puppy’s focus at critical times to train and teach them boundaries, they REALLY need it. The best kind of exercise for your puppy, according to Bonny, is Free Play.

“Be careful with a puppy. Let it be more free exercise. Don’t take a 12-week old puppy for a 2 mile walk. It’s too much pressure on their joints. Instead, get them outside running and playing. Set up playdates. Toss a tennis ball or toy down the hall so they can get that exercise.”

Walks are an important bonding experience for an owner and a dog of any age, but keep them shorter for puppies as they grow. It can still burn some of their energy, but not nearly as much as free play. “It’s sort of like walking instead of going to an aerobics class. You’re going to be tired, but not as tired.”

When a puppy’s puppy energy is drained, it will be a lot easier to effectively train them when it comes to housebreaking or crate training. “You could have the best trained puppy around, but if it doesn’t get that energy absorbed it’s not going to be able to calm down or focus.”

Still need a little help or know of someone who does?

Look into our Everyday Puppy Program where your puppy will socialize, desensitize and exercise while you’re at work so they’ll be ready and able to focus when you’re home. Also look into enrolling them into a Puppy Training Class. Alternative Canine Training offers Puppy Classes scheduled on a regular basis that meet in Royal Oak.


Bonny Wainz is the founder of Alternative Canine Training and is an expert in the art of training dogs whether competing in the obedience ring or out in an open field at an American Kennel Club or United Kennel Club Hunt Test. Bonny brings over 25 years of experience to every dog and client, whether through group classes or private in-home sessions. She feels her best attribute is that she loves seeing dogs and their owners living happy, joyful and peaceful lives together.

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