Originally published: November 18, 2011. Last updated: February 7, 2021.
Dear puppy owner,
So you’ve adopted a puppy who has turned out to be a little terror, and you’re thinking of finding her a new home. Despite your best efforts, some problem has come up: the puppy won’t stop biting, won’t stop pooping all over your house, or maybe she just requires a lot more work than you were expecting.
I feel your pain. And this letter is not a guilt trip – I’m sure you’ve heard the “Ohmygod how could you! A dog is a lifetime commitment!” lecture already. That kind of thing doesn’t help you, and you will find none of that here. This is just some friendly advice from someone who has been there.
I’d like to introduce you to my puppy, Friday.
For as long as I could remember, I had wanted a dog. I did tons of research. I saved money. I built a kennel in the backyard. If anyone was ready for a puppy, man, it was ME.
Finally the day arrived to start searching animal shelters for the Perfect Dog. I found her at the first shelter we looked at. In the very last kennel was an eight-week old German shepherd mix, casually chewing on her feet as she waited for someone to rescue her from her situation. She was everything I was looking for.
Fast forward two weeks. Friday was the puppy from hell, as far as I was concerned. She would bite, tear at clothing and chew on everything. She never listened. She had an attention span of about three seconds. She whined all night long. She peed on my bed.
I thought I’d somehow ended up with the worst puppy in the world.
Does this sound at all familiar?
It seems that no amount of research can truly prepare you for the challenges involved in bringing a new puppy into your life. Challenges like:
“If this puppy doesn’t stop biting me, I’ll no longer be responsible for my actions.”
“How am I supposed to house train this puppy if she has an accident every time I look away for five seconds?”
Biting, chewing and house training: the leading cause of newly-adopted puppies being put up for sale on Craigslist.
The biting thing was the biggest issue with Friday. She never. Stopped. Chewing. On. People. It seemed like anything we did to stop it just made it worse. My family came really close to finding a new home for Friday. So I understand being totally frustrated by this kind of behavior.
There is a lot of advice out there for dealing with these issues, and it can get pretty complicated. It doesn’t have to be complicated. To deal with each of these issues (and more), remember this simple strategy:
Prevent or ignore undesirable behavior. Show the puppy what you want instead, and then reward good behavior.
How this looks for biting:
Essentially, your puppy has to learn that when she bites too hard, good things end. “Good things” are whatever she wants at any given moment. Usually, it’s play. So when she bites, you end playtime. To end playtime, stand up and turn away instantly. This has to be clear and consistent. No nagging, no “if you bite me one more time I’m leaving” kind of stuff. “But what if my puppy just attacks my feet?” So what if she attacks your feet? Wear closed-toe shoes. For her, attacking your feet while you stand completely still is much less fun than you playing with her. After a moment, show the puppy what you want instead by offering a toy and playing tug.
If your puppy is biting your children, teach your kids how to be a tree.
For house training:
That “What have I gotten myself into? I can’t do this!” feeling? That’s normal
Like I said, no amount of research can prepare you for the experience of your first puppy. It’s a kind of culture shock, and the only way to really learn is to do it.
The “what the **** was I thinking” phase is something that most people go through when they get a new dog. It’s usually worse for first-time dog owners, but it can affect even the most experienced dog people.
The doubts usually set in a few days after your puppy comes home.
You might start to think that this is way more work than you were expecting. You might be put off by the disruption that having a new baby dog brings to your family. You might be afraid that you’re doing everything wrong.
Chewing, biting, house training and everything else that goes with raising a puppy can seem like huge problems. I know it felt that way with Friday. However, after many years, and after helping countless dogs and their people, I can tell you that these issues are not as big a deal as they seem right now.
Puppies eventually stop trying to bite everything that moves. They eventually develop the bladder control to “hold it” for more than five minutes at a time. Eventually they grow up and no longer need 24/7 care.
It gets easier.
If you are seriously considering finding a new home for your puppy, my advice is to wait it out for a while. You will settle into a routine. You’ll work out what you’re doing as you go. The overwhelm will go away.
This post now has a sequel: New Dog Making You Miserable? You’re Not Alone.
This too shall pass
Friday lived to be eleven years old. She was the sweetest dog you’d ever meet. All those horrible puppy behavior issues that made me so angry are now a very, very distant memory – a memory that I can laugh at. I loved her dearly and can’t imagine how I ever considered sending her back to the pound.
Puppyhood is a crazy time. It requires a lot of work and it will probably drive you nuts. But it doesn’t last very long and when it’s over, you will miss it. So enjoy it while it lasts, keep your sense of humor, and take lots of pictures.
All the best,
Update February 2021: We now have an online program based on this post!
I know puppy-raising can be hard, and weirdly lonely. But you don’t have to go it alone.
Puppy Survival School is a comprehensive system for raising a happy, well-behaved puppy without losing your mind.
- Eight online courses, with lots of video tutorials, that tackle all the major elements of puppy life.
- Community forums where you can ask questions, vent about your puppy troubles, and connect with other people who are going through the same thing.
- Achievement badges! This is a meant to be a fun way to track your progress and celebrate all your hard-earned training successes.
The forums are a newly added feature in the program, and I’ll be hanging out there a lot this month to get the community off the ground. Come say hi! Click here to learn more.