What counts as normal puppy behaviour?

In this article I’m going to discuss some of the behaviours that are ‘normal’ to see from a puppy.  I will explain why the pup is doing this behaviour and whether it is something that you can expect them to ‘grow out of’ or whether you will need to take action to remedy it.  These are the behaviours I will tackle.

  • Nipping
  • Chewing
  • Toiletting
  • Jumping up
  • Sleeping a lot
  • Refusing to walk
  • Crying overnight/when left
  • Always trying to get food

If there is anything not on this list that you aren’t sure whether is normal or not and want to know more about.  Please post a comment at the bottom of the article and I will reply and tweak this article accordingly.

Nipping behaviour

A lot of puppies nip.  This is normal.  They are exploring things with their mouths, and they don’t immediately know how hard is too hard to bite.  If they were left with their brothers and sisters, they would be play fighting a lot and this would involve nipping and biting.  They have more protection than us (fur and thicker skin) so they aren’t aware that how hard it was okay to bite another puppy isn’t okay to bite a human.

Puppy biting normal behaviour
Biting is a normal puppy behaviour.

In fact you would probably prefer that they didn’t bite you at all!  That’s a perfectly acceptable preference, so it is up to you to show your puppy that – while this behaviour is certainly normal, it isn’t desirable.  Every time they nip stop the attention straight away.  Remove your hand or whatever they are nipping, but really calmly.  If, despite this sign that you aren’t going to play while they are being nippy, they continue to persevere – calmly either walk away into another room and close the door, or pop your puppy into an area that is suitable for a “time out”.

This nipping is part of a bigger picture too.  It’s an exploration of where they fit in the pack. Who is in charge…? More on that later!

Chewing behaviour

Puppies will chew.  Especially when they are teething, as this helps to relieve the pressure on their gums.  That is normal and they should grow out of it.  You will most likely have a preference as to what they chew in the meantime and that is fair enough! If you see your puppy chewing something that you would rather they didn’t, gently move them away from it and hand them something that they are allowed to chew.  Do all this very calmly.

If your puppy goes back to the original item, repeat.  If they continue to do it, you can calmly isolate them to show them that there will be a consequence if they continue to ignore the guidance they are being offered.

Chewing can also be a Separation Anxiety.  This is something that they won’t just grow out of.  Separation Anxiety is because they are worried that when they are left that is a problem.  There are many articles on Separation Anxiety on this website.

Toiletting

There are two challenges when it comes to puppy toiletting behaviour:

  1. The puppy learning to go in the right place and being able to make it there in time.
  2. The puppy understanding that they don’t need to ‘mark’ the territory

The first one is the common training scenario that new puppy owners are expecting to have to deal with.  It is normal to have the odd ‘accident’ while their bladder control is improving, and they are working out where you want them to go.  To help, encourage them to the right area often, and praise and reward if they get it right.  If you catch them getting it wrong, calmly move them to the right area.  Do not chastise.  If you find the toilet after the event, there’s nothing you can do on that occassion that will be of any help, so just clean it up calmly.

The second point is still normal behaviour in that dogs are animals whom understand having a territory and marking it so that competitors know that it is not up for grabs.  However it would be the Alpha of the pack that would lead the way with this marking behaviour.  You do not want your puppy to think that it is the Alpha.  This is unhelpful for your puppy and you.  So if your puppy is choosing to mark, then some help will be needed.

Jumping up

Jumping up is a normal behaviour in that dogs and puppies alike understand that raising your height means raising your status.  Puppies will instinctively jump up to see what happens when they do.  When they were with their litter they would have all been jumping over one another from time to time, to work out who is the strongest and most dominant.

If you allow your puppy to jump up at you, then you are essentially saying that you are happy for them to dominate you.  This is setting a precident that, trust me, you do not want to set.  So while it may be absolutely adorable to have a puppy run up to you and jump up, just bear in mind whether you want a dog that rules you.  It’s also not great for a dog to think that they are in charge.  Being in charge means responsibility and most likely, stress.

When your puppy jumps up, just gently place them back down onto the floor again.  Do this calmly and without making anything of it.  No need to say “no” or “down”, as your puppy will just learn that jumping up gets them attention.

Sleeping a lot

Yep, this is totally normal and a good sign.  Your pup is doing a huge amount of growing.  Plus processing untold amounts of information.  He or she is going to need a lot of shut eye to help them deal with all of that.  Let them have their naps.  It’s a good idea to have periods of time where you don’t interact with them, so they feel that it is okay to go and have a nap now.  It’s also okay for adult dogs to have a lot of naps as well.  This is a much better sign of doggy wellbeing, than a dog that is always on the go.

normal puppy behaviour sleeping
It is normal for puppies (and adult dogs) to sleep a lot

Refusing to walk

A lot of people think that refusing to walk is abnormal.  I would argue that it’s actually more normal than getting on with the walk straight away.  For a puppy, they have just got to grips with the idea that they live with you now and that this house and garden are their new territory, and now you want to take them out into no-mans land?!  Not only that but you want to restrict their movements using a lead.  “No thanks!  It’s much safer in our territory, I want to stay here.”

normal puppy behaviour walking
It is normal behaviour for a puppy not to want to walk

Now some puppies will grow out of this, but not in a good way.  They will simply learn that the walk is happening so they’d better get involved and be ready for what it may bring.  I have written lots of articles about the walk and what it really means for a dog, because it’s not what we think.  The walk is a major area where things go wrong.

Crying when left/overnight

This is normal behaviour for a puppy in their first few days with you, because they will never have been on their own before.  That can be very scary and worrying for them.  They don’t know if they are safe and whether or not you will come back.  Make sure you have little separations from them every so often during the day and evening, so they can gradually get used to being left.

Some will grow out of this.  Others won’t.  The ones who don’t develop separation anxiety and you will need to work on overcoming that.  It’s another big issue that I help a lot of dog owners with.  It is again connected to the understanding of who is in charge, which you may have noticed is a central theme for this article.

Always trying to get food

In the litter there is competition for food. Whether that’s for milk from mum, or from the bowl of food that gets put down for them all to share.  Whether your dog was first in, never got a look in, or somewhere in between – it’s quite normal for your puppy to expect that there is competition for food so believe that it could be scarse.

normal puppy behaviour
Puppies are used to competing for food

They may grow out of it, but it’s important that you stick to your intentions around feeding, rather than allowing yourself to be persuaded by your puppy to hand over more food.  Guilt is our enemy here, but you aren’t doing yourself or your puppy any favours if you give in.  This will simply teach your puppy that they can get food on their terms, so they are in charge of getting food.  And thus in charge overall.

In summary

Puppies will be puppies, and they are more challenging and testing than adult dogs.  This is because they are working out their place in the world.  This formative part of their life is a huge opportunity to clarify early on (before the real problems start!) that the leader is you, not him/her.  When you clarify this, normal puppy challenges will continue until they are grown out of, but deep problems will not develop.   THIS is the important bit, and I hope it’s what you’ve taken away from this article.

All behaviour is a symptom.  It’s a symptom of a dog either working out who is in charge, or a symptom of them believing that they are in charge.  I’d recommend that you explore this further by reading “The Puppy Listener” by Jan Fennell.  I am in the Essex area.  Based in Leigh on Sea, but I do travel out a fair bit if you would like some 121 help.

Finally, if there are any specific questions you have, or different behaviour not mentioned here, please post as a comment in the section below and I will reply within a couple of days.

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