New Owner's Guide To Puppy Behavior

Puppy behavior is often irresistibly cute... at other times it can be frustrating, confusing or even downright worrying!

rottweiler puppy with kitte

Cute as they are, puppies aren't perfect (well, who is?) and every new owner has times when they wonder what on earth is going on in their pets' head... and whether everything is okay.

I've seen, and heard, just about every type of puppy behavior there is, and over the years I've also learned how to handle them.

Sometimes you don't need to do anything except love the little furball.

At other times you need to correct his behavior in a way he'll understand, or get some professional help from a dog trainer or veterinarian.

Those tiny little play barks, wobbly legs and general puppy clumsiness, a 'shadow' that follows you everywhere.... this is all normal puppy behavior, and who doesn't love all that?

But not ALL their 'little ways' are adorable.

Problem behaviors such as barking, nipping and biting, chewing, peeing indoors, crying all night, acting 'aggressively' (and many more) are pretty much an accepted part of puppy parenting.

Of course, most of these are perfectly normal too, but they're still definitely less than cute!

Then there are the things puppies do that worry their new momma - endless hiccups, sleeping puppies who twitch, whine and breath erratically, upset tummies, hysterics when left alone....

On this page you'll learn all about what's generally considered to be normal puppy behavior, and what's not - plus how to know when you need help.

This way you'll get to enjoy the short-lived days of puppy-hood more... and worry less. That's got to be a good thing!

Normal Puppy Behavior - What Does It Look Like?

Although we love our puppies like children, they're not children - they're baby dogs, and dogs do things that their human family members often doesn't understand!

What's normal for a puppy and works perfectly well within his canine family, often isn't such a good fit once he's in his new forever home.

So, just because a certain puppy behavior is 'normal' in the canine world, that doesn't mean it's okay or that you shouldn't discourage it.

For example, many common puppy behaviors such as biting/nipping, growling, chewing, whining when alone, submissive urination, jumping up to lick faces (to name but a few), are perfectly normal for a dog - but they can cause havoc in your home.

Before I go into some of these issues in more detail, I want to let you know that during your pup's first few days in his new home, his behavior will be quite different to what you may have seen before, or will see afterwards.

Why? Because he's a tiny baby and leaving his momma and siblings to live in a strange house that's full of strange (in the nicest possible way of course!) people, pets, smells, sounds etc. is very scary and traumatic for him.

Many puppies withdraw into themselves during the first few days and may sleep more than usual and/or lose their appetite.... they may even lull you into thinking that they are models of immaculate behavior.

BUT, this is an adjustment period, and as soon as your pup starts to feel less homesick and more confident you will begin to see his real personality shine through. So be ready.

You can learn more about what to expect during the first week or so with a new puppy on my Bringing Home A New Puppy page.

It's also worth knowing that many puppies are especially anxious and 'clingy' when you first bring them home. As pack animals they instinctively know the importance of staying in a group when their survival is at stake. 

But allowing 'velcro-puppy' syndrome can lead to separation anxiety and other behavior issues, so it's important to get the balance of love & attention and alone-time right.

It's natural for a pup to be a little anxious and scared, especially at first, but there are things you can do to help him feel more confident, check out my Helping A Scared Puppy page for lots of easy tips and advice on this.

There are a huge number of different dog breeds, and a potentially infinite combination of mix breed options. Each breed was designed with a specific purpose in mind and has it's own set of strengths and weaknesses.

happy puppy cartoo

Certain puppy behaviors are more obvious in some breeds than others. For example, puppies from the herding breeds tend to be more stubborn about, and dedicated to, biting and nipping.

Terriers that were originally bred to hunt vermin can be incredible 'diggers'. Greyhounds can't resist chasing small, fast moving animals (or objects).... and so on.

The more you know about your puppy's heritage the easier it will be for you to understand his behavior and figure out how to reshape it in a way that will keep you both happy.

Common Puppy Behavior Problems

With little puppies, their behavior is purely instinctive and it's motivated by their basic needs, which include sleep, food, water, attention and elimination.

Your new pup is like a little sponge who is just waiting to soak up all that you have to teach him. He doesn't understand why he shouldn't 'potty' in the house or why you get upset when he uses your dining room table as a chew toy.

So, it's up to you to teach him how to fit in with his new family and what the 'house rules' are.

Puppies are creatures of habit, they love routine and learn best through experiencing 'cause-and-effect' in a consistent way.

This means that once you choose a way to correct a certain behavior that you need to stick with it.. and so does everyone else in your family.

Your puppy will get confused if there is inconsistency in the way he's disciplined or if mommy says 'no' and daddy says 'yes'!

Also, puppies have very short attention spans. They need plenty of time to learn new habits (and to forget old ones), so don't expect overnight success with any behavior issues.

It can weeks, of constant, consistent corrections for your little guy to learn what you expect and to obey instinctively.

He may start to improve within a day or two, but if you stop correcting him or stop being consistent, he'll slide backwards. You have to give him time to make the correct behavior his new instinct (or habit).

Here are some of the most common 'normal' puppy behaviors which can cause trouble or irritation at home:

Excessive Or Nuisance Barking

Barking is normal - it's how dogs communicate.

When your puppy barks it's most often to get your attention, because he wants to tell you something - sadly, since we humans don't speak 'dog', it sometimes takes a while for us to get the message and even then something is often lost in translation!

Perhaps your little one is bored or hungry, maybe he needs to go 'potty' or hears a stranger at the front door.

Does he always get loud when he's been inside or in his crate for too long? Then perhaps an extra walk and a bit more playtime is the answer.

Do you feed him at the same times every day, or is it a bit 'hit and miss'? Then perhaps his little tummy is grumbling.

A bit of barking is normal puppy behavior, but excessive barking is not.

Your puppy will probably bark, whine and howl when left alone in his crate to begin with. That's normal, and if you ignore it he will soon learn that he can survive for short periods alone and that you always come back.

dogue de bordeaux puppy barkin

However, if your puppy becomes totally hysterical when separated from you, or he doesn't improve and adjust to short periods alone within a few weeks, then it could be a sign of separation anxiety and a bit of extra help may be needed.

Excessive barking, or barking for no apparent reason, definitely needs to be discouraged. And in that sort of situation you need to find out why he's making such a fuss and treat the cause in order to cure the symptom!

For older dogs who are stubborn about nuisance or excessive barking, a no bark collar can really help. You can choose from tonal, impulse or citronella spray correction designs so that there's one to suit every individual dog.

To find out more, and see the most popular models on our Petsafe dog training collars page.

Biting Or Nipping

One of the most common puppy behaviors that I get asked about is puppy biting.

New owners seem to constantly be surprised by how often, and how actively, young puppies use their teeth!

But when you realize that this is one of the main forms of communication between puppies in a litter it doesn't seem so surprising.

ALL puppies bite/nip/mouth when they're young, but some breeds and personality-types are more prone to it than others.

The word 'biting' can be a bit misleading because young puppies rarely bite aggressively, intentionally or with the intent to cause pain. Nipping or 'mouthing' is more accurate.

Of course those tiny little puppy teeth hurt, and hurt more than you might think, but they are not being used with that aim in mind and a puppy who's nipping like this is NOT being aggressive or 'bad'... he's simply following his instincts.

Although it's very common, this puppy behaviour needs to be stopped while your puppy is still young (and small).

A 10lb puppy nipping playfully at your hand hurts but it's not serious, but if that puppy is still doing it when she weighs 50lb it's a whole different ball game!

You can learn all about why puppies bite (and why it plays an important role in their development), and how to discourage it in a way that your little guy will understand on my Puppy Biting page.


When it comes to problem puppy behavior, this is a 'biggie'! But just as all puppies bite, all puppies chew!

Some breeds tend to go at it with a bit more intensity and persistence than others and these are often the breeds that use their mouths for the work they were designed to do.

As with nipping, this includes herding breeds and terriers and also gun or hunting dogs such as Retrievers.

Chewing is a basic need for your puppy, he doesn't know why he needs to do it - he just knows that he does!

This is especially true during the puppy teething phase, when he absolutely HAS to get his mouth on everything.

puppy chewing a boo

It actually strengthens his jaws, helps to keep tartar and plaque from building up on his teeth, minimizes the pain of teething and is a great stress reliever - but this is news to your pup.

Because chewing is a puppy behavior that is necessary to her health, your aim isn't to stop her chewing (that would be impossible) but to teach her what she's allowed to chew on and what's off limits.

All the help you need to keep your pup's teeth busy while saving your home and possessions from destruction are on my Puppy Chewing page.

Potty Training Issues

potty training problem

It's much easier, and quicker, to potty train a puppy if you have a step-by-step guide to follow... and you understand how your puppy's little brain works and how he learns.

Dogs are den animals and their inborn instincts are to keep their den clean, so normal puppy behavior means that your little guy will try not to eliminate where he sleeps.

This is why crate training a puppy is the quickest and simplest method of housebreaking.... it works WITH your puppy's natural inclinations rather than against them.

Obviously your home is much bigger than a crate, so you need to help your puppy to understand that your home is his den and that it's not OK to 'potty' indoors.

This can take several weeks of dedicated supervision and training... but it's totally worth the time and effort!

Once your pup gets into the habit of eliminating outdoors and his bladder/bowel control life will become much easier for everyone.

Housebreaking problems are often given as a reason for a pup or dog being surrendered to a shelter or pound.... very sad, and totally avoidable.

Although not directly related to puppy potty training, there is another elimination-related puppy behavior problem that I get many questions about.. it's called 'coprophagia', more commonly known as poop-eating!

Disgusting as it sounds,many puppies eat their own stools from time to time, it's a habit started when they are still with their siblings and occasionally a dog will continue this into adulthood.

You can find out exactly why your little one likes to indulge in this puppy behavior, and how to stop him, on my "Why does my puppy eat poop?" page.

And then there's submissive urination....

Usually it's seen in anxious, timid or submissive dogs and is an involuntary reaction to being stressed by the presence of an 'authority figure' (this could be another dog, a family member, a stranger etc. etc.)

This isn't something your little one has any control over, and if he wees when he's scared, getting mad at him is only going to make matters worse.

Luckily, there are ways to deal with it and to help him overcome his worries..... check out my Dog Submissive Urination page to learn more.

Resource Guarding

bernese mountain dog puppy with a bon

Guarding food, toys, treats and so on is another normal puppy behavior - after all, many puppies have anywhere between 4 and 8 brothers and sisters, so it's understandable that they feel the need to fight to keep 'their' stuff.

But although this behavior is understandable it can be dangerous and needs to be dealt with firmly, and while your pup is still small and eager to please.

The desire to guard or protect 'his' people and property is going to come naturally to your puppy as well.

Guardian breeds such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chows etc. have more developed protective instincts, but ANY adult dog will usually protect what his family if they are threatened.

The desire to protect home and family usually doesn't develop until a puppy reaches adolescence (the age this happens depends on the size/breed of dog), and no pup should ever be encouraged to bark, growl or to be aggressive or defensive.

What is necessary will come naturally, and regular socialization and training will make sure your little guy learns only the appropriate behavior.

Guarding food and possessions however, is just as common in young puppies as in older pups or adult dogs.

Dogs (even puppies) often realize that the adults in the home are in charge and in their minds children are their siblings and equal in status.

That's why a puppy or dog may be fine with adults, but 'bossy' or dominant around a child.

Very (VERY) few puppies are truly aggressive, so don't panic or think the worst if your little guy is 'nippy' or 'bossy'!

It's important to make sure that your puppy realizes that every human (regardless of age/size) is higher up in the pecking order than he is, be sure to involve your kids in feeding, playing and training sessions.

Dogs respect those who are in charge of the resources of life, and food is a biggie, so having your children share responsibility for feeding, training etc. will reinforce their superior position.

As well as teaching basic obedience commands and manners at home,taking your puppy to training classes will help him to learn to respect, trust and obey you instinctively.

It will strengthen the bond between you and help you to learn to handle any puppy behavior problems that arise.

Find out what types of 'aggressive' behavior worries other puppy owners, and see my suggestions for handling them, HERE.

Separation Anxiety

Click here to learn all about separation anxiety.

If your puppy or dog gets hysterical when you go out and leave him at home, or even when he's simply in another room where he can't see you, he might be suffering from something called canine separation anxiety.

Although this is a real behavior issue, it can be difficult to be sure whether your dog is actually suffering from true anxiety or is simply nervous or unsettled when you're not around.

Almost all puppies whine, cry and/or bark when left alone even for short periods and this is absolutely normal (and is an inborn safety mechanism which keeps them safe in the wild).

As your little guy grows older and more self-confident this clinginess will disappear.

For more on this, visit my page on Separation Anxiety In Puppies.

True separation anxiety is quite different, and dogs who suffer from it can have mild, moderate or even severe anxiety attacks which leave him (and you) very upset, even frantic.

So, how can you tell if it's separation anxiety? Here are a few clues:

  • Your dog gets so upset he loses control of his bladder/bowels and pees or poops in his crate, his playpen, the room, or wherever he's been left
  • He howls, barks or whines endlessly
  • He destroys his toys, carpets, furniture... anything that he can get to when left alone. Dogs who are very anxious can do an incredible amount of damage - usually mostly with their teeth
  • He paces, pants or drools incessantly
  • This behavior happens every time you leave him\her alone

If you have an adult dog with this issue, check out this page Separation Anxiety In Dogs.

Puppy Behavior & Illness

sad little puppy

The way your puppy behaves can also tell you when something is wrong and he's not feeling well.

YOU know your puppy better than anyone else, so it's easier for you to tell when he's 'just not himself' and it's important to always trust your instincts on this. If you're in doubt always make sure you get your little guy to your veterinarian for a check up.

Here are a few clues that your pup might show in terms of unusual behavior if he's sick....

  • He's MUCH more tired than normal, sleeps a lot and doesn't seem to be interested in anything or anyone
  • He loses his appetite
  • He's restless - pacing, panting, whining, clingy...
  • He's more irritable than normal, doesn't want to be touched, cuddled or petted

Of course, there are lots of other symptoms that a sick puppy might exhibit, but these behavioral changes can also be an early-warning system that it's worth paying attention to.

Related pages............

The importance of socializing your puppy

› Puppy Behavior

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