As a professional dog trainer, I hear this question a lot this time of year. The holidays are a very popular time of year to bring home a new puppy. The first few days and weeks can be overwhelming (puppies are A LOT of work!), but then most pet owners develop a routine and are less overwhelmed. After some of the novelty wears off and the new puppy adjusts to life in their new family, many owners start noticing some behaviors that are less than desirable.
It can be really easy to look at your puppy’s cute little face and chalk his naughty behavior up to puppy rambunctiousness. Maybe he’ll stop jumping on people when they walk in the door when he’s older. Maybe he will stop getting overly excited when he sees another dog across the street. Maybe he will stop chewing through my shoe collection when he’s past the teething phase. Maybe, but most likely not.
It’s true that all puppies go through developmental stages as they grow, and those developmental stages can have big effects on their behavior. For example, all puppies go through a teething phase where their sharp puppy teeth fall out and are replaced by adult teeth. During this time, your puppy’s mouth and gums will be sore and he will try to alleviate his discomfort by chewing. Chewing on appropriate puppy toys is perfect, and something that should be encouraged. Allowing your puppy to chew on anything that he finds is allowing him to develop lifelong habits of chewing on anything that he finds. It’s not fair to get upset with your dog for chewing on your belongings when he’s an adult when he was allowed to do it when he was a puppy because you thought that he would “grow out of it” once the teething phase was done. Adult dogs with good habits begin developing those habits when they are puppies. Make sure that you are using proper management and keeping inappropriate “chew toys” out of reach when your puppy is young so that he grows up to understand which items are appropriate to chew on and which ones are not.
It’s the same for jumping on guests and pulling on the leash. It’s very normal for puppies to jump up and pull against the leash when they are young. Jumping up is much more likely to get our attention when they are small and pulling on the leash allows them to explore the world around them much faster. The problem arises when your cute, tiny puppy grows into a 50 lb dog that launches himself at your face when you walk in the door after a long day at work, or when he is literally pulling your shoulder out of its socket as he makes a mad dash through the neighborhood park. Again, it’s not fair to get upset with your dog for jumping and pulling on the leash when he is older if you allowed him to practice those behaviors when he was younger. Dogs do not “grow out of” behaviors that have been reinforced in the past just because they get older.
Puppies are adorable and it’s easy to excuse their less than perfect habits because they are generally easy to manage when they are young and small. However, don’t assume (or hope!) that your puppy’s behavior will change for the better as he gets older without any intervention from you. All dogs have to learn how to live in the human world. It’s imperative that you start teaching your puppy what the rules are from a young age so that he has the best possible chance of getting everything “right” as much as possible so that he can have a long, happy life with you and your family.