Happy, charming, squirming puppy – unintended training

(Photo credit: http://www.petian.net)

by Jeanine Renzoni

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”
Charles M. Schulz

I did some training with a great family who has a lovely puppy that is very wiggly. I do mean WIGGLY! Cute wiggle, but soooo wiggly. The kind of cute that makes puppy lovers coo and squeal and demand to touch. The kind of cute that…well you know what I mean…

And there’s a problem with having so much squirming each time you try to touch, pet, praise, greet, hook up the leash, offer a treat – the problem is too much movement. So much that what you wanted disappears in pawing, mouthing, dancing, wiggling delight, belly up and back on the floor and jumping springing friendliness. Which is alright in small doses, but doesn’t age well.

Puppies are cute and people want to touch and hold them regardless of what the puppy is doing, especially the small breeds like this one and this magnifies the issue because what is rewarded will be repeated.

The answer is a simple one and multifaceted, and ever so hard for those puppy lovers – touch briefly when the pup is still (see…difficult because the pup isn’t hardly ever still and because the touch needs to be brief). Offer treats when the pup is stationary.  Teach the pup hand targeting, so it comes and touches your palm with his/her nose for a treat. This will give them mission when greeting.

Put away your hands if the pup turns into gyrating bounces. If you already have a hold of the puppy continue to gently hold them turn them so they are facing away from you so they don’t just start chewing on you (they will settle in cycles-if you miss one another will come around until they calm into brief quietness )  then release – you can do brief gentle restraint til quiet then reward with intervals of retrieve or any other game.

If you’re holding and someone else wants to pet, use a treat to distract that lick-y busy mouth and help the pup learn to accept a hand coming towards them with happy calmness. I think many pups think they are supposed to lick, jump and paw and jiggle because that’s all they’ve practiced so far.

Coach the person who is petting, tell them you are training your pup and you want calm greetings, so it would help if they keep the petting brief and under an ear – not all over ruffling of fur. And please stop if the pup starts chewing or pawing at them – they won’t, but when you interfere they won’t be surprised.

If (OK, when) the pup begins getting too stimulated (aka wild) give them a break, distract them with a toy or treat or move away or put them in their playpen…they may just be tired and need sleep. Plus wild isn’t the calm pup you wanted…break time.

For hooking on the leash…add a bigger collar loop (a key ring works) so you can find it quickly, set up a peanut butter swipe on a plastic lid to distract the pup and connect the leash while the pup is working on getting a bit of peanut butter off the lid. When their sit is more stable it can be used as the solid action they will do when you wish to hook the leash on. If they are up on a step stool (small breeds), it’s also easier because there are obvious boundaries to where they should be and you can reach more easily.

A good thing to practice with this pup is rewarding them a lot for just observing people, dogs or any other action. They will tend to want to interact with everyone and everything – every time, and if they get to, it gets harder and harder to have them around when you need a quiet and calm puppy and harder to get them to come to you (stay with you).

This is a pup you will need to tell people is in training and so can’t be petted right now…I know, it’s difficult, but most random people will just train your puppy to be wildly silly instead of the dog you want to have. They will get what they consider to be puppy love and you will get a wild, foolish dog…not the best deal around.

Good luck and stick to your plan. Others will try to thwart you and make your puppy, that’s so friendly, dance to their tune…don’t let them.


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