How to solve common puppy problems

From barking to jumping up, here's how to solve 10 of the most common problems you may have with your puppy.

Twix a black and brown Crossbreed puppy, outside, in enclosed area, standing on grass.

Puppies aren’t born knowing how they’re expected to behave. This is why you may find some of their behaviours problematic. Don’t worry – this is normal and puppies simply need to be taught in a careful and positive way. That way, they learn what they can and can’t do.

Most common puppy behavioural issues

To help, here’s a list of behavioural issues alongside the solutions. These will help you to understand your dog’s behaviour and deal with any problems.

1. Barking

Solution: It’s normal for dogs to bark. But, if they do it constantly – or always at something in particular – it can be problematic. It’s important to act early. Doing so will prevent normal barking (or the reasons for barking) from developing into something more serious.

The key to reducing and even preventing barking is to understand why your dog is barking in the first place. Then remember:

  • don’t tell your puppy off for barking
  • ignore them and wait until they stop
  • reward them when they remain calm and quiet, not only as soon as they stop barking
  • if they bark because they are scared, try and avoid the triggers for this
  • show your pup there’s a calmer way to tell you what they want
  • make sure they are getting enough exercise and don’t get bored.

You need to teach your pooch to be confident and calm from when they’re a puppy. Your pup should experience the hustle and bustle of life early on, in a positive and gradual way. This includes learning to be calm when alone and getting used to people coming in and out of the house.

This will give them the best chance of coping well in future unusual and unexpected situations.

2. Frequently seeking attention

Solution: Dogs are social creatures. But, is your pooch clingy? Do they follow you around the house? Are they constantly seeking attention? Then you need to teach them how to spend time alone. This is important to avoid separation anxiety from developing.

You could use a baby gate to do this, so you can introduce time apart while allowing them to still know you are there.  Make sure they have a cosy bed and a long-lasting treat with them. Then, gradually move further away from the gate and slowly start to increase the time you leave them for.

3. Unsure when being handled

Solution: Your pup will need to interact with, and be handled by, various people throughout their life. But, whether it’s a vet or a dog groomer, it can be worrying or confusing. This is why you need to teach them to feel comfortable when being handled.

To do this:

  1. Handle your pup on parts of their body they are comfortable with.
  2. Keep an eye on their body language to ensure they remain comfortable. If they stay calm and relaxed, move your hand away and then reward them with a treat.   
  3. Gradually increase the length of time you handle them for. Stop if they move away, use their mouth on your hand or show signs of worry.  
  4. Once they are comfortable, move to other parts of their body such as ears, tails and paws.  
  5. Over time, you can introduce grooming equipment and new people. You can also do it in different environments. 
  6. Touch their collar (increase the time you hold it for and reward them.) Plus, teach them to wear a harness.   

4. Hide or move away when approached

Solution: If your pup appears to lack confidence or is a little shy, don’t worry! There are lots of things you can do to help: 

  • learn to recognise when your pup is feeling worried and avoid things they find scary
  • if your pup is worried, don’t force them to interact and give them space
  • provide a cosy den at home so your pup has the option to hide away for some quiet time should they choose to
  • reward bravery and don’t be tempted to coax your pup into a scary situation 
  • train your pup using kind, reward-based methods, and avoid telling them off 
  • have fun with your dog and engage them in things they enjoy. This will build up a bank of positive experiences that boost their confidence.

5. Pulling on the lead

Solution: It’s not unusual for dogs to pull but you need to teach them to walk calmly and on a loose lead. Firstly, continue to use the comfortable collar or harness you already have, to do this.

Now, start the training at home, rewarding and praising your pup for being close by. Then start to walk around, continuing to reward your pooch for staying by your side.

By this point, your pup should be walking nicely next to you. But, if they happen to pull, it’s important they don’t find this behaviour reinforcing. If they do, they’ll be more likely to do it again.

If the lead tightens, stop walking. Stand still, keep quiet and don’t move forward again until the lead is slack. Don’t jerk the lead back or tell your dog off – just stand and wait calmly and quietly. If your pup doesn’t turn back to you, try walking a couple of steps in the opposite direction to get their focus back.

Then, reward your dog when they walk nicely by your side again.   

6. Mouthing, biting and chewing

Solution: Mouthing, biting and chewing are all normal behaviours. But, some pups can start doing it to you (or your furniture!) Although they won’t mean to hurt you, their little teeth can be very sharp. Here’s some do’s and don’ts to stop your puppy mouthing.

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7. Going to the toilet inside

Solution: It may take puppies a few months (and the odd accident) before they are completely housetrained. Don’t worry if it seems to be taking a while. Their bowels, bladders and the muscles that control them are still growing, after all.

  1. To stop your dog going to the toilet indoors, you need to show your dog where they should go. Then, reward them for doing their business somewhere appropriate. This will help them form good toileting habits.
  2. Give them plenty of opportunities to go to the toilet outside. This is particularly important while they’re learning to control their bowel and bladder.
  3. Learn to recognise the signs that show your pup needs to go to the toilet. This includes sniffing the ground, turning in a circle and starting to squat.
  4. If you see these signs inside, gently interrupt your pup, and take them outside to see if they’ll go to the toilet.
  5. If they go, reward them. If not, just quietly return indoors. But make sure to give them enough time to do their business before returning inside – patience is key.
  6. It’s important that you give your pup a reward as soon as they have been to the toilet. Then they’ll know that you are really pleased with this behaviour.
  7. Don’t tell them off if they have an accident indoors. This could make them anxious about you and make the problem worse.
  8. Make sure to clean up with a biological cleaning preparation. You want to ensure the smell is completely broken down and removed from the area.

8. Jumping up

Solution: Many dogs jump up when they are excited. It’s tempting to give puppies attention when they do it. But, this will encourage them to keep doing this into adulthood. Don’t tell them off – instead, stay calm and quiet. Teach them to keep all four paws on the floor and then reward them for doing this.

9. Ignoring you

Solution: Does your puppy always ignore you? Then you need to do focus training to get their attention.

Make sure your pup knows their name first. Then:

  • say their name once, then when they look at you, mark and reward them
  • repeat this until your pup is responding quickly when they hear their name
  • if they’re not able to pay attention, avoid saying their name over and over again as they may learn to ignore it
  • instead, try again in a quieter place with fewer distractions
  • alternatively, use a treat to gain their focus - then say their name, mark and reward them
  • remember that saying your dog’s name should always be positive for your dog. 

Does your dog now know their name? Once they do, you can use it to gain their attention before asking them for something else, such as “come” on walks.

It’s also important to reward them when they voluntarily ‘check in’ with you. This will encourage them to offer attention. It will also help to build their focus on you when you’re out and about. On walks, simply watch your dog. Whenever they look at you, mark and reward them for ‘checking in’ with you.

You can also make your walks engaging by bringing your pup’s favourite toy. Get it out halfway round and ask for some basic, known behaviours at random timepoints. Alternatively, play a ‘find it’ game where you sprinkle some treats on the floor. This will all help to keep focus on you. 

10. Not coming when called

Solution: If your pup ignores you when you call them then you need to brush up on their recall training.

  1. Teach your pup to respond to their name.
  2. Then use a recall cue such as “come” or “here.”
  3. Start in your garden and always reward them for coming back. Give them tasty treats, a fuss or play a game – use whatever reward your pooch likes best.
  4. Gradually increase the distance and add in distractions.

Don’t get angry if they don’t come back. We want to teach our dogs that coming back is always a good thing. That way they’ll be more likely to do it again.

Check out our Dog School classes where your pup will learn vital life skills. These will help prevent behavioural problems from occurring in the first place. Are you really struggling with your dog’s behaviour? Speak to a vet and they will be able to refer you to an accredited behaviourist. 

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