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Ask the Trainer: Breaking an Unwanted Puppy Behavior

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Dear Kevin,
Penny is a pit bull who has just recently started barking a lot (10 months old). She crouches down in a “I’m getting ready to pounce” position and then barks nonstop, essentially wanting us to chase her or pay attention to her. How do I break her of this habit?

Hey Rachel,

Being 10 months old she is right around what is referred to as the “terrible twos” for a dog. This means that she will probably be testing her boundaries and getting into a little bit of trouble. Also, being 10 months old she will just naturally have a lot of energy.

One thing I would recommend for anyone with a dog that has extra energy, is to increase the mental and physical exercise that it gets. Shoot for at least an hour of physical exercise a day. I say at least because in the grand scheme of things, one hour to a dog is not very much.When she is acting like this it tells me that she has some extra energy that needs to be released. I like to take these opportunities to do some training. Just some basic obedience like sits, down, coming when called etc. You could even take this opportunity to try to teach her a new trick. Basically, instead of trying to fight all that energy, try to take advantage of it and put it to use. It sounds like you guys can accomplish a lot.

Remember to stay positive and use lots of reinforcement when she does a behavior you like.

Thank you for the question!
Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA

Kevin is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT.org)  and is a Canine Good Citizen Evaluator through the American Kennel Club. He currently resides in Ohio with his dog, V, a six-year-old Shepherd/Lab mix, where he operates All Dogs Go To Kevin, LLC, specializing in helping build positive relationships between humans and their canine companions using clear communication, not pain and fear. For more training tips and tricks, and to meet his amazing dog, V,  follow him on Facebook by clicking here.

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  2. Avatar Of Jamie



    I have an almost 2 year old cockapoo who just recently had surgery to repair a torn ACL. Which was from running around with a bunch of toddlers & a soccer ball. Anyway, he is just now able to be fully himself again, so to say he has energy is an understatement. When he gets that, wild hare, as we refer to it, we let him run & get it out. His only problem is, he doesn’t know when he is done, physically & mentally. Which means he starts to get aggressive & wants to grab a hold of your leg & bite. To keep him from doing that, we tell him “enough! where’s your squirt bottle (spray bottle)?” To which he now uses as a visual & verbal cue, that ok, play time’s over. I’m assuming that the words “squirt bottle” now working as a verbal warning is a good sign. Along with showing it to him as a visual. I also will flip him on his side or back until he calms down. I won’t show him any emotion, just contain him until he stops seeing red. Sorry for the long rant.

  3. Avatar Of Dawn



    I have a 10 month old too, Lab mix, that does the same thing…and ignoring her DOES NOT WORK, which I bet is the case with Penny too. As tired as you may be and want her to stop, you really just have to get up and do something with her. Give her a Bully or take her for a walk. And if that is not possible, I put her in her crate for a bit to calm her down…not as punishment, I still give her a “crate treat”, but just to give her a little time out. And when she comes out in a few munutes she has moved on from whatever she was barking at.

  4. A much easier and clearer way to send a message to the puppy about its undesirable behavior is to get up and walk away. Ignore the behavior, the puppy doesn’t get a payoff, and the behavior extinguishes itself quickly. Make sure that you begin to make times for play with your dog, on your terms. Don’t engage with him when he’s trying to initiate, and he’ll understand that you are fun to be with, but you’ll decide when playtime happens, an important message to send your pup!

    • Yes ignoring is an option. That is what is referred to as negative punishment. I always try to find a way to do things that isn’t focused on punishment. So instead of doing nothing, why not take this opportunity to teach the dog something new.

      • Avatar Of Megan



        Ignoring is not negative punishment, it is negative REINFORCEMENT. In this case, the word negative means removal of a stimuli (you), not that you are giving the dog a bad thing or punishing them. You are removing their desired goal (your attention), and thus reinforcing that they do not get attention when they are using innapropriate behaviors. Once they get your attention appropriately, give them tons of praise (positive reinforcement). This way you are reinforcing that barking/jumping/scratching, etc are not a way to get your attention, but coming up to you nicely with a toy is how they can get you to play with them. Just wanted to clear that up because “planned ignoring” is an extremely effective way to reduce problem behaviors. Stick with it, your dog may bark (or whatever the behavior is) a lot more right before it finally sinks in. This is called an extinction burst, right before the problem behavior goes away, the dog will try it more and more since this behavior has worked to get your attention in the past, whether you are aware of it or not. It’s not easy, especially when all you want to do is give in, but you can do it! And your dog and you will be much happier for it!

        • The removal of something good is referred to as negative punishment.

          • If the human is a reward to a dog, or something the dog enjoys, and the human ignores (taking the human away) the dog is negatively punished. You have your quadrants backwards. You are right in regards to extinction burst etc.

          • Avatar Of Kevin Duggan Cpdt-Ka

            Kevin Duggan CPDT-KA


            As I reread this, you did describe negative reinfircement technically because you are awaiting the desired behavior so you can reward. Strictly ignoring which what I was describing is just negative punishment. Just wanted to clear that up.

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