It’s a Puppy, not a Problem!


Denise and Brito

Left to their own devices, what do puppies like to do?

They like to bark, play, run through the house (sometimes with muddy feet), jump on people, put things in their mouths and chew on them, eat tasty foods, explore, sniff things, dig holes in mud and sand and dirt, and a host of other things that I don’t have time to mention.  They do these things because they are baby dogs.  Fortunately we can train our dogs to show more appropriate behaviors, but it takes time and the natural outcome of maturity.  Puppies are a challenge.

Left to their own devices, what do small children like to do?

They like to yell, play, run through the house (sometimes with muddy feet), jump on people, put things in their mouths and  chew on them, eat tasty foods, explore, look at things,  dig holes in mud and sand and dirt, and a host of other things that I don’t have time to mention. They do these things because they are baby humans.  Fortunately we can raise our children to show more appropriate behaviors, but it takes time and the natural outcome of maturity.  Children are a challenge.

In the past, I trained pet dogs.  The first session would almost always go something like this:

Student would pull a list of problem behaviors out of their pocket. Meanwhile, their four month old puppy chewed on the leash and pulled various directions, causing the student to express obvious irritation.  The student would then lay out all of the problems that they wanted to fix.  

“We’re having problems with barking, wanting to play all the time, running through the house with dirty feet, jumping on people, chewing stuff up, excessive interest in human food, constant pulling on the leash to get to things, and digging holes in the garden.  Oh yeah – could you teach a reliable recall, off leash, so that when I’m ready to leave the park we can go without me having to chase my dog?”

In short, could I make their young puppy behave like a grown up dog?

I’m curious about something.  Since many of my clients also had human children (that the dog  may have been nipping when the kids ran and screamed and behaved like children), did they take a similar list of problems behaviors to the pediatrician?

“Doctor, my toddler has a lot of problems that I want to stop.  He talks really loud, wants me to play all the time, runs through the house with dirty feet, jumps on people, puts stuff in his mouth that he finds on the ground, shows an excessive interest in sweets, and is constantly pulling on my hand to get to things when we go places.  And also, can you make him listen to me when it’s time to leave the park, so I don’t have to go and get him when I want to go?”

In short, could the doctor make the young child behave like an adult?

My guess is that the first thing the pediatrician would tell the person is that these are NORMAL behaviors for children and that they will go away with a combination of time, maturity, and appropriate direction and training from the parents.  It’s not a problem for a child to act like a child.

How about that puppy?  Are those problem behaviors or normal ones?  And if we don’t like them, can we just get rid of them to save ourselves the inconvenience, whether they are normal or not?

Well, sort of.

If you use punishment, you can suppress behavior, whether or not you’ve actually taught anything at all.  “Suppressed” behavior doesn’t mean the dog or child is trained, simply that by virtue of not moving too much its hard to be annoying to others. This is true for both children and puppies.  For example, I recently sat in a restaurant where I watched a father with his three young children, ranging in ages from about five to twelve.  They were all eating their meals in silence (which one clearly didn’t like) while dad looked at his phone.  The kids were told to shut up and sit down if they tried to do anything to entertain themselves or expressed an opinion.  Even the smallest one was behaving.  Dad didn’t even have to raise a hand – they listened and did what they were told.  Which was….nothing.  Do nothing.

Wow!  Amazing.  He had obedience, and at a very young age! Good, obedient children who made no trouble for anyone, anywhere. They did nothing, a truly abnormal state of existence for anyone, least of all for small children.  On the other hand, those children never looked at their dad.  They stared at their plates, or looked around vacantly.  He had effectively taken the child out of the children, leaving behind a well behaved shell.  I doubt he knew or even really cared that the oldest children clearly disliked him.  He had what he wanted – a peaceful evening with his dinner and his smartphone.

Punishment works for dogs too.  If you keep on top of your puppy non-stop, physically or verbally correcting him for all of the things he does wrong while instilling a solid foundation of obedience, you can eventually end up with a puppy who exists quietly, staring vacantly at nothing.  A good, obedient puppy who makes no trouble for anyone, anywhere!  You can effectively take the puppy out of the dog and leave behind a well behaved shell.  On the other hand, that puppy will make no effort to spend time with you, which brings up the question – why did you get a dog in the first place, if not to enjoy each other?

The vast majority of parents simply accept the fact that they’ll have to hold their children’s hands when they walk on busy streets.  They accept that their meals won’t be too peaceful for awhile because they’ll have to chase their children down just as they try to sit down and eat.  They accept that children need to use the bathroom at inconvenient times and that they’ll get sick and disrupt their lives.  There will be messes, noise, and disruption.  And while parents often experience frustration and look forward to the coming stages when life is a little easier, they won’t refer to this phase as the “toddler problem,” and they won’t ask the pediatrician to fix these annoyances.  It’s just the nature of small children.  They aren’t adults yet.

When you bring home a puppy, get used to the fact that you’ll have to keep them on leash to keep them safe for awhile.  You won’t be able to have peaceful conversations because they’ll want your attention too.  They’ll need to use the bathroom at inconvenient times.  They’ll get sick and disrupt your life.  There will be messes, noise, and disruption. There is no “problem,” there’s simply a puppy who still has to grow into an adult dog.  These behaviors will not resolve in days or weeks; it takes many months before you’ll see glimmers of the adult dog that your puppy will mature into.

With time, consistency, maturity and well thought out raising, both your dogs and your children will make it to adulthood, and life will be a lot easier and smoother.  How you choose to get there – whether you use structure and positive interaction for good choices or focus on punishment to suppress all behavior – will have both short term and long term effects on your relationship.

Your decisions early on will influence how much time your charges choose to voluntarily spend with you.  How much time they try to engage you for interaction.  How much they use you as a resource when they aren’t sure what to do.  In short, how much they like you – if at all.

Of course, there are very forgiving puppies and children.  In some cases, no matter what you do, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful outcome.  But don’t hold your breath on that one.  Most of the time, you’ll get what you give.

When my children were small, I removed valuable and breakable objects from the house.  Same with my puppies. No more fights about “don’t touch this” or “don’t chew that.”  When my children were small, we ate most of our meals at home; no more fights about how to behave at a table in public.  If I don’t want puppies underfoot when I make food then I remove them from the room.  When my children shared their toys or talked quietly with friends or remembered to remove their dirty shoes before entering the house – I told them I appreciated that!  And the puppies?  I help them too – they’re puppies.  Doing their puppy best.  But they still need to be given a chance to express their puppy natures.

I’m not perfect with my kids or with my puppies.  I get frustrated.  I get mad! But at the end of the day, I know perfectly well that I am the adult – the one who is responsible – and that there is nothing wrong with my child or my puppy for behaving like a child or a puppy.  There is no problem.

My kids are doing fine.  They are growing into interactive confident young people with excellent manners and joyful personalities.  My puppies are doing fine as well, and consistently grow into entertaining, interactive, confident dogs with lively natures.  No one is breaking things or chewing up the wrong stuff anymore.  The best part is that the kids and the dogs seem to like me!  They choose to spend time with me, which is why I wanted them in the first place!  It’s working out okay, in spite of the fact that I spared the rod all around.  It does not appear that I have spoiled anyone. 

When you’re frustrated or mystified by your puppy, consider how you raised your children and you might find a comparable technique that will work just fine.  Think of puppies as pre-verbal children.  Show patience.  Structure the environment for success.  Accept that inconvenience will happen.  Remember that what you do now is going to determine the type of relationship you will have into the future.  What are you looking  for?  Do you want to be seen as an accommodating person who creates opportunities to do interesting things, or as a domineering tyrant that is best avoided? When you ask your dog or child to come see you, do you want them to come running with enthusiasm, or to experience worry and anxiety about your presence?

If you hit your small kids, yelled a lot, and considered their childhood a problem to be solved, then it would make sense that you would do the same with your dogs.  But if you raised your small children with patience and you accepted that small children are not little adults, then you might find that you have all of the tools you’ll need to raise your puppies very very well.  Now you just need a few tricks of the trade to give you ideas for how to manage specific situations and you’re on your way.  That’s where a good dog trainer will be able to help you.

Find a trainer who focuses on what is right for both you and the puppy!  Find a trainer who can help you understand appropriate management strategies as your puppy works through his more challenging phases.  Find a trainer who can listen to you complain about how hard puppies are, and who helps you see the light at the end of the tunnel!  Add a few skills like walking nicely on a leash and a solid recall, throw in a healthy dose of time and maturity, and you’re on your way to having a very rich and interactive relationship with a well behaved adult dog.

But start by understanding that there is nothing wrong – there is no problem.  There is only a puppy, and training to be done.   What happens now is up to you.

Good luck.


This blog is brand new.  My hope is that this article will give you an understanding of the foundational framework from which we’ll start.  From now on, we’ll take a look at the practical stuff that I mentioned above- how to take that normal puppy and eventually develop him into a fabulous adult, filled with personality and ripe for relationship with a caring and involved human.  I’ll try to go “in order” of the most pressing issues, so keep an eye on this site for the next month or two while I get up to speed.


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.
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39 Responses to It’s a Puppy, not a Problem!

  1. amyeran says:

    My puppy and I thank you!


  2. Anika says:

    What a fantastically simple article, and a great reminder that patience and consistency are key to successful relationships with anyone — of any species and any age. I look forward to more pet-related articles. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Roxanna Sanchez says:

    This is Perfect!! Love how everything makes sense.. have got to share. I will be definitely following this thread! Thanks so much! Love all your insight!! It just all makes so much sense! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Shlomit Harrosh says:

    Beautiful and wise words to all dog owners who struggle with a puppy or a rescue dog that has not had the experience of a home and proper training. Terrific writing too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Peri Norman says:

    Nice blog post Denise

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Carol Herbert says:

    The information you shared was precise and honest. There is no magic pill or bullet that will miraculously cure every training issue. Looking forward to future stories. Seems it boils down to the owner’s common sense. Keep up the good work.


  7. Bonnie says:

    Good advice. I have three wonderful dogs and although the same breed they were very different as puppies. What was easy for one might be difficult for one of the others.


  8. nicolb says:

    All very true and very honest! It’s easy to be lost in the fray of “bad” behaviour, be it puppy or any dog, and forget why you wanted a dog in the first place!


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  10. Perfect timing! The “Firecrackers” are now 8 weeks old…..lots to do before they go off into the world with their new families


  11. Jo-anne says:

    I had my first baby at 35. The nurse told me she never saw a 1st time mother as comfortable with her new baby as I was. I told her it’s not that different than raising puppies. And I had had lots of GSD puppies by that time.


  12. Jeannine, JoyZee and Deqs says:

    Deqs and I say “Thank you, Denise!!”
    Whoops…gotta go; it sounds like we’re having a newspaper shredding party in the kitchen…..


  13. sambasue says:

    Thank you for the blog! Very wise words about the wild times that are puppyhood. We can do our best to manage, guide, protect and begin to build a relationship or we can become frustrated and upset. It is up to us to learn about raising these babies of another
    species well! Than You for the help!


  14. K9kranz says:

    As always you beautifully address an important concept. One thought I’d like to add is that every age has its positives. And to that father of three, I’d remind him the time he has with his children before they are grown and gone is precious and relatively short. So each of us would be wise to enjoy every day we have with both our children and animals….just as they are on that particular day.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Karen Groth says:

    Thank you. Love this. My 7 mo old JRT is a handful but this reminds me it’s temporary and enjoy the journey.


  16. Teri Geer says:

    Great article.


  17. I totally agree. My method was very similar. They way you raise a puppy (or an older dog from a shelter) is the blueprint for life. It takes a lot of energy the first year but you will have a dog that truly bonds with you and will behave in any situation. My dogs seldom needed any command or correction. I.e. when they heard noises of dinner plates they would go their bench volonteerly. I always made the bench a fun place to be and a safe haven. I thought my children to never disturb the dog when in its bench. I put the puppy in the bench when I could not watch her like during night time to prevent her from learning unwanted stuff like chewing my furniture. I would only recommend a puppy if there is somebody at home all the time though.


  18. Deb Braun says:

    Such powerful words! Sharing this article.
    Thank you, Denise, for your words of wisdom!


  19. This is brilliant. What a great comparison. I also love the idea of a blog for pet dog owners. I follow your other blog and there is some great stuff on there, but I can’t really share it with clients because they’re not into competition or the lingo is too technical for them.

    I get a lot of new puppy owners contacting me, and they all tell me “my puppy chews, digs holes, nips the children, and pees in the house. How much to fix it?” And I tell them, “Congrats, you have a normal puppy!” 🙂


  20. Jenn Merritt says:

    As a professional dog trainer that works with families with small children, I could not agree more. Very well said!! This is simply the best blog entry about puppies, kids, and expectations.


  21. Muriel Nally says:

    I think this article should go home with every puppy. I wish it had been given to me when I got my first puppy, Molly.


  22. Linda Groff says:

    Great piece that should be handed out with every puppy that goes to a new home, and every rescue dog who goes into a new home with first time dog owners!


  23. Leslie says:

    This is a fantastic article! All dog owners even experienced dog owners should read this article. Expectations for puppies the first few years is often not realistic. Thank you.


  24. Monika says:

    My experience as a trainer. Thank you well written


  25. Sue jones says:

    Needed to read this, have an 11 week old puppy and I am struggling when he plays, he keeps biting, even when I ignore him, it’s upsetting, because whatever I do or say I don’t know how to make him stop other than put him in his playpen. I am starting puppy training on the 23rd, so hopefully I will learn how to deal with the problem.


  26. Amanda says:

    Thank you! I have a six month old cockapoo and although she has been an EXCELLENT puppy, we still have issues that come up that scare me (she recently started barking and lunging at everyone at a distance). I have done weekly training classes since she was 10 weeks and LOTS of socialization but because she is my first puppy I am constantly freaking out. I only use positive training methods and work with her daily. Crossing my fingers it will all work out in the end!


  27. Barb Sahl says:

    Great timing! I am considering, for the first time, getting a puppy. I’ve only rescued adults before and have no personal experience with puppies. I’m scared to death, but excited too. This blog helps put a lot into perspective.


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  30. Erica Daniel says:

    This is excellent, thanks so much! I give puppy classes and will be forwarding this to all my puppy owners.


  31. Excellent Article!! If only all new puppy owners had a copy of this 🙂


  32. Emma says:

    Sure, but when I was raising my daughter I didn’t allow her to run wild because it was “normal” for her to want to do all sorts of antisocial things! Same with a puppy. Whilst I don’t expect my puppy to be anything other than a puppy (and I give her a lot of slack because she’s only a baby) I will also ask my trainer’s advice for things I’m struggling with (like barking and jumping up) because, whilst quite normal they’re also habits I don’t want to encourage. (Also, I have to worry about excessive barking laws and dog baiting if my puppy is too loud which I never had to worry about with my daughter!)

    So whilst I agree with you that people can expect too much, I think in saying that you’ve written an article that says that we shouldn’t expect anything. (Or perhaps your talking eight week old puppies and I’m reading with my five month old puppy in mind.)


    • dfenzi says:

      A 5 month old is very much a puppy. I don’t think I suggested that you ignore the behaviors?

      I think you may have overlooked this paragraph:

      “With time, consistency, maturity and well thought out raising (management), both your dogs and your children will make it to adulthood, and life will be a lot easier and smoother. How you choose to get there – whether you use structure and positive interaction for good choices or focus on punishment to suppress all behavior – will have both short term and long term effects on your relationship.”

      So yes, you need to train your dog and while you are training, you need to be managing situations to prevent disaster – for both kids and dogs. Actually, the purpose of this blog is to provide resources to help you do that – links to articles and videos on a wide range of behaviors that need to be addressed.

      But I do not consider it a problem when the puppy exhibits normal puppy behaviors that haven’t been addressed in training or through management. It all comes together – with time, training, maturity and plenty of management. All of them together will do the trick.


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  35. A very appropriate article which all prospective puppy owners should read and take note of.
    A link has been placed on the Puppy page of Wheaten Health Initiative to reinforce this message.


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