All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Puppy Problems

Dear Marie:
Well, we did it!  We got a puppy.  Frankly, I wanted an older dog that had gotten past that “puppy period”, but I was outnumbered in my family so we got a three month old shepherd mix two weeks ago, and now, I am at my wits’ end!  He is a sweetheart...but if you leave him alone for five minutes, he is a one dog wrecking crew.  Not to mention, I can’t stop him from play-biting.  The kids think he’s a lot of fun.  My husband says the pup will outgrow these problems.  But I say if one more shoe gets chewed, the puppy is going back to the animal shelter.  I feel like a big meanie for saying that, but what else can I do?  Please help.


Dear Fran,
Puppies are a lot of work.  They demand patience and time.  They also need a definite regimen of discipline.  I am not talking about physical punishment.  I am describing a strict routine that everyone in the family must follow.  Puppy training requires people training too, in equal measures.  Often the humans in a household are partially responsible for a puppy’s bad behavior.

First, I’d like to address the play biting problem.  You obviously want this to stop immediately.  A full grown Shepherd mix that is still play biting can actually cause some serious injuries so begin behavior training in this area now!

Everyone in your family needs to follow this procedure.  When playing with your puppy, encourage gentleness.  Anytime the pup mouths at your hands or ankles, give him an appropriate toy to bite instead and praise him if he does.  If he continues to go after hands, (or other body parts!), tell him “No!” in a loud and firm voice.  If your pet won't stop biting even when offered alternatives, he should be placed in a room by himself...preferably a room that has been puppy proofed so that he can do no damage and have a chance to calm down.  After five or ten minutes, bring him back out and pet him softly.  DO not resume play until you are sure he has calmed down.  Put toys all around the house that he can chew on and play tug of war with.  Praise him when he uses his toys or has a gentle game of tug with you. I say this again because praise for positive behavior is so very important.

Your puppy will not learn what you want immediately.  It may take a couple weeks, or more.  But you must be consistent.  The moment one of your family members encourages him to play rough, all the training you will have completed to that point will be for not.

Chewing shoes is associated with the mouthing behavior.  Puppies need to teethe for several months leading to maturity.  Give him actual chew toys that are suitable for teething.  It is recommended that you stay away from rawhide, as these traditional chew toys do cause serious veterinary problems in some dogs.  However, there are many great chew toys available at most pet supply stores.  Do not buy chew toys in the shape of shoes!  In fact, keep all of your shoes out of reach during your puppy’s developmental months. 

You did not describe the other “wrecking crew” behavior.  I assume they too are probably related to chewing and biting.  Again, keep all items that can fit in your dog’s mouth out of reach or off limits.  Closing doors to rooms with delicate items is always a smart idea during the puppy months.  If you have furniture that has been targeted, a product called “bitter apple”, which is available in a spray bottle, can be applied to many surfaces.  The taste is very unpleasant and most dogs will keep away from items that have been so treated.

Do not give up on your puppy.  He wants nothing more than to please you and receive your love...but you have to let him know what the rules are.  He’ll learn in time.

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