Teaching Impulse Control to Pandemic Puppies

June 14, 2021

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By Dr. Sally J. Foote, DVM CABC-IAABC

Following a year of restrictions, pandemic puppies are presenting serious behavior problems at the clinic and at home. A recent Merck study noted that 73% of new dog owners are considering surrendering their dog as Covid restrictions are lifted and behavioral problems are the leading cause. Lack of puppy classes to learn good manners and play combined with a lack of socialization due to the shutdown have led to an increase in nipping, jumping up, and other impulsive behaviors.   

Impulse control is first learned during early socialization outings. Rewards for good manners when greeting people and other dogs, and rides in the car create both a mentally and physically calm dog. As the puppy ages, the body and the brain are rapidly developing to be more outgoing. Therefore, a quiet nice puppy at 10 weeks is the body slamming, grabbing, nipping, ball of fur at the next exam four weeks later. The pandemic’s constraints have prevented puppies from socializing to learn good manners.

Teaching impulse control is needed to prevent handling agitation, over exuberant greetings, and reactive play all of which will lead to aggression over time.

Where do you start with teaching impulse control? It will depend on taw he age of the dog. Young puppies learn impulse control through socialization outings, as they are rewarded for calm interactions. Older puppies, who are in their fear period, need daily training and socialization using both food and calming products to help focus. Adolescent dogs require calming products or medications, daily training for all greetings, handling, and play. By eight months of age, the puppy is now a young adult. To teach impulse control quickly, both the brain and the body need help to be calm, for effective learning.  

Recognize the Progression of Impulsive Behaviors

When you understand the progression of impulsive behaviors, you can provide effective early intervention. As the puppy ages, both training and mental calming products are needed to create focus and the ability to learn impulse control.

Here is the progression of impulsive behaviors in puppies with intervention solutions.

7–12 week-old puppy: Lack of socialization with rewards – puppy increases nipping, barking and pushy behaviors (solution: socialize to handling, leash with rewards).

12–16 weeks: Teeth are erupting, and more agile body – more mouthing, biting and intense exploring (Reward to distract while teaching manners).

16–24 weeks: Adult teeth in place and sexual maturity – increased physical activity, bites are hard, hierarchy challenges in multi-pet household may erupt (pheromones/supplements advised and use all food in daily training for manners).

24 – 32 weeks: As a young adult now, grabbing and body slamming shifts to bite attempts when agitated (try calming products like Composure™ Pro with daily training while using food for all interactions).

32 weeks plus: Head flip to bite, grab for exams, handling collar. Often dogs are surrendered at this point (medications/ calming products required for handling, greeting and socialization situations. All food earned in daily sessions).

Be proactive during your puppy exams. Use rewards, and calming products to encourage calm behavior and send these products home with the client.

Reducing puppy impulsivity is possible. Early intervention by understanding the progression will help our pandemic puppies. Consider adding a Certified Puppy Behavior consultant to your staff through my Better Bond – Better Behavior certification course to prevent the surrender of young dogs. 

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