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Jumping, Chewing, Playbiting, and Other Destructive Behavior Problems in Puppies, Young Dogs

Pediatric Behavior Problems in Dogs

Behavioral issues commonly observed in puppies and young dogs, such as jumping, chewing, and play biting, are clinically termed as pediatric behavior problems. While these behaviors might seem typical for a puppy, they are often unacceptable in a household pet. It’s crucial to address these issues early on through behavioral modification techniques, especially when the puppy is still in its formative stage.

Genetics do play a significant role in a dog’s behavior, with puppies often inheriting traits from their parents. Certain breeds are predisposed to specific problems; for instance, working breeds may exhibit unruly behavior or excessive activity. However, these behavioral issues are more frequently seen in urban settings where opportunities for exercise and play are limited.

Symptoms and Types

Destructive Chewing

Initially, the puppy may engage in chewing and causing damage to furniture or other household items when family members are present. Despite being caught and disciplined, the destructive behavior may persist when no one is around.

Playbiting

Playful biting may be initiated by a family member initially, but it can escalate further or occur spontaneously afterward. This behavior poses a problem because puppy teeth are sharp and can cause injury if they bite the hands, legs, or clothing of family members. Growling and barking may also develop, although they typically differ from behaviors associated with fear or justified aggression.

Jumping on People

Jumping on people and placing paws on visitors or family members commonly happens during greetings or when the puppy is excited. However, it may occur when the puppy seeks attention or desires something in the person’s hand.

Getting on Counters/Furniture

The puppy may climb onto counters or furniture to retrieve objects to chew or eat. Additionally, they may jump on furniture during play, to seek attention, or to rest.

Causes

While many behavioral issues in puppies are inherent to their species, certain factors can exacerbate these problems, often stemming from inadequate supervision, control, training, exercise, and/or the puppy’s overall environment. Specific contributors to the aforementioned categories include:

Destructive chewing

  • Poor nutrition or insufficient food provisions
  • Presence of mice or other small mammals in walls or flooring
  • Spilled food on carpet or furniture
  • Lack of engaging or stimulating toys
  • Attempts to escape confinement

Play biting

  • Teasing and rough play that encourages biting
  • Extended periods of confinement, particularly in cramped spaces
  • Overly enthusiastic greetings from visitors or family members

Getting on Counters/Furniture

  • Lack of engaging or stimulating toys
  • Presence of desired foods or objects left on furniture
  • Uncomfortable floor surfaces or inadequate sleeping areas

Diagnosis

To diagnose your dog’s behavior issues, it’s essential to provide the veterinarian with a detailed history of your dog’s health, including when the symptoms began and their nature. The questions will concentrate on aspects such as your pup’s environment, any recent additions to the family (including other animals), and relevant topics. Laboratory tests are typically unnecessary unless there’s an accompanying disease or condition.

Treatment

Your veterinarian will discuss various behavior modification techniques such as using rewards and punishments. However, it’s never advisable to physically harm your pet by hitting, shaking it by the scruff, thumping its nose, rolling it onto its back, or squeezing its lips against its teeth to stop mouthing or biting. These approaches can worsen existing behavioral problems and may lead to increased fear and aggression.

Engaging in vigorous exercise can also be highly beneficial for puppies experiencing these behavioral issues. Participating in healthy games like fetch or drop helps establish human control over the pup. In some cases where behavioral therapy isn’t effective, certain medications may be prescribed.

Other tips your veterinarian may suggest include:

To Discourage Destructive Chewing

  • Experiment with different toys and find ones that interest your pet, particularly those with compartments for food.
  • Keep forbidden objects out of reach.
  • Close doors to prevent access to forbidden areas.
  • Interrupt any unacceptable chewing with a firm “no.”

Play Biting

  • Provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Use toys to distract the pet during playbiting.
  • Consider using a leash and halter for minimal restraint.
  • Avoid games that encourage playbiting behavior.
  • Enroll your puppy in puppy classes as early as possible.
  • Establish control over resources and train your pup to sit before receiving toys, food, attention, etc.
  • Ignore any demanding social behavior such as barking, whining, or pawing for attention.

Jumping on People

  • Teach the pet to sit on command.
  • Avoid games and activities that may encourage jumping.
  • Redirect your dog’s attention with a loud, sharp noise when it attempts to jump.
  • Consider using a head halter for minimal restraint.

Getting on Counters/Furniture

  • Keep counters and furniture free of food or objects that may attract the pup’s attention.
  • Confine your dog to a designated area when it misbehaves.
  • Provide stimulating toys for mental enrichment and ensure a comfortable living space.

Living and Management

It’s crucial to follow up with your veterinarian to assess the effectiveness of the behavioral therapy program. In most cases, the prognosis is favorable, and the frequency and intensity of these behaviors generally decrease as the dog matures.

If the dog continues to misbehave despite several weeks of intervention, your veterinarian may suggest consulting a trained behavioral therapist for a more intensive training program.

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