No No! Uh-Uh! New Puppy and Total Confusion

We get a new puppy with the belief that it must fit in with our family life. He must learn what is acceptable right from the start.

No No leaves puppy confusedThis sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

What most people do is to try to teach the puppy what is NOT acceptable instead.

Cocker Spaniel Cookie is nine weeks old, and they have had him for just two days.

They have three very young children too. There are toys everywhere. The children have furry animal slippers. They run about and they make lots of exciting noise.

Imagine what a huge adjustment this is for a puppy, away from the only world he’s known.

Cookie gets excited and bites a child’s foot. Screams from a very upset child.

Dad goes ‘No No!’.

Cookie chews the carpet. ‘No No!’ A loud sound from a human. Or ‘Uh-Uh!’ It temporarily stops him. It’s possible he doesn’t even know the barking noise is aimed at him, but it’s very loud.

The most important message I can give this family in my first visit is to be creative. To find all sorts of ways of showing Cookie what he can do instead.

I showed them how to teach the puppy to come when called – for food. ‘Cookie-COME’ in a kind and bright voice. This then puts him on some sort of remote control unless, of course, he’s too aroused. Instead of ‘No No!’, they can call him away from what he’s doing and reward him for coming.

Then they can give him something else to do instead. It’s hard work and constant while puppy is awake.

The second important message is, when Cookie uses his teeth on something inappropriate, to keep showing him what he can chew. This means they need many more small and chewable objects to hand. 

A puppy needs to chew.


They also need pockets full of tiny tasty rewards – to reinforce everything he does right and to reward him.

Cookie has run of the downstairs and the quite big garden. He charges around, chasing the children as he would other puppies. With space comes uncontrolled wildness.

Parents are continually having to rescue their children from a puppy hanging onto their clothes.

So, the third most important thing in this very first visit was to lend them a puppy pen. Having had complete freedom for a couple of days Cookie may object for a while of course. They can make the pen into a kind of wonderland with, for instance, lots of stuff from their recycle bin for him to chew and wreck.

This will be Cookie’s safe place. Children don’t go in there.

Even outside the pen, they should let sleeping dogs lie. This is hard with youngest not yet two years of old. Cookie needs protecting too. I suggested the little girl imagines Cookie, when asleep, is in a bubble. If she bursts it a horrid smell comes out. She drew me a picture.

Cookie’s Bubble

One forgets how exhausting a tiny puppy can be.

I shall be going again in a few days when Cookie has had time to settle in. There is a lot to cover to make sure a puppy gets off to the very best start. We will be pre-empting possible future issues like resource guarding or separation problems.

They should be ‘socialising’ him to life outside – other dogs, cars, bicycles, people of all ages, shops and so on. This even before he has finished his injections because the earlier they do this the better. He’s so tiny they can carry him.

‘No No!’ is confusing. Correction and crossness can at best result in a puppy that is unmotivated to do what we want, scared of us even. At worst it can lead to confrontation or aggression. Focussing on trying to stop puppy doing puppy behaviours means everyone will be frustrated.

‘Yes Yes!’ is motivating. The puppy will want to please. Focussing on and reinforcing what puppy does right means everyone will be happy.

First Time Puppy Owner

cockermaisy2 Cocker Spaniel Maisy, age 11 weeks, has been ‘helping’ the gentleman to do a little planting in the garden.

They are first time puppy owners and want to get things right.

Yesterday we spent the entire time I was there, between other chat, using food and fun to occupy Maisy’s usual mad hour or two in the evening where she will delight in grabbing shoes, trousers and biting ankles. The look of devilment comes into her eyes! Soon this wonderful puppy was sitting for clicks and we taught her ‘down’ almost instantly. She was learning that biting shoes and ankles caused no reaction (ouch) but that as soon as she stopped she had food.

She so obviously needs to be ‘fighting’ and tugging, the sort of play she would be doing with siblings, that I showed them how to play ‘tuggy’ in a controlled way. This is a brilliant game done right – not a ‘dominance’ thing you have to ‘win’ in order to prove you are ‘Alpha’ as outdated notions would have it. Maisy learned quickly to ‘take it’ when invited, to have a really good play and tug to vent some of her energy, and to ‘let go’ when asked too. She will also learn in this way to avoid teeth on human flesh, because that will cause an instant end to the game.

The days have been starting on the wrong foot starting when the man comes downstairs and lets a hysterically excited Maisy out of her pen. As he puts his shoes on as she ‘attacks’ his feet after which she usually pees on the kitchen floor. Having been outside and fed, this behaviour continues. Exasperating for the man but great fun for Maisy.

The plan is to adjust the environment to start with. Maisy will gradually learn that she needs to be reasonably calm before being let out. Family members will deliberately walk up and downstairs first thing in the morning, taking no notice of Maisy until she gets the message. Dad will put his shoes on and open the back door before letting her out of her pen. Then, straight outside, the toileting will hopefully be in the garden. Maisy should also be calmer.

Many situations require home visits so that someone objective can see what is happening. It is hard to see things clearly when you are living in the middle of them.

This morning I received this email: ‘Thanks for all your wonderful advice yesterday evening, this morning has been an absolute joy and the first early morning I’ve really enjoyed since we collected her 3 weeks ago’.


NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Maisie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)..


Cocker Spaniel Growls at the Puppy

As Flo becomes more tolerant of young Wilson they can spend more time together

Flo and Wilson

I was called out because, as the people interpretted it, three-year-old Blue Roan Cocker Flo was ‘aggressive to puppy Wilson because he wouldn’t leave her alone and kept wanting to play with her’.

The situation was different to what I expected. Dear little 4 1/2 month Wilson was frequently going to Flo in a polite, appeasing ‘I want to be friends with you’ sort of way, making himself low and licking her face. Every time he does this, Flo growls. Flo simply seems not to want her personal space invaded or to be interfered with by Wilson, who simply aches to interact with her.

As time went on I gradually got more clues. Flo is a bit like this with people also.

She gets everything she wants on demand. She paws insistently. ‘What do you want now, Flo?’ and they cast about seeing how they can satisfy her. She won’t eat her food when given it, only when later  its produced as a result of the pawing. Unless slightly intimidated by a loud command, she doesn’t very readily do anything that is asked of her; she has learnt that interaction is under her own terms. She can be nervous which is hardly surprising.

Flo’s life has changed a lot since the arrival of Wilson a couple of months ago. Her food no longer can be left down all the time, she isn’t hand fed any more, Wilson has taken over her bed and her walks have to include a playful puppy. She can’t now even go outside to toilet in peace (this can be rectifed straight away).

Growls at the puppy

To add to the problem, they have been so keen for the two to get on that they have been trying to force her to accept Wilson. She is scolded for growling and Wilson is told off for pestering her. They have even used a water spray. The gentleman is jovial and quite noisy, and when he shouts ‘leave it’ at the puppy or ‘Oi, that’s enough’ or ‘bed’ to Flo, he doesn’t mean to intimidate them but he realises that he does.  Just as with dogs’ behaviour we need to take breed characteristics into consideration, we need to take into consideration human personalities also and work with them! I found both dogs reacted instantly to a soft request followed by reward.

Sleeping Cocker pup


I have advised keeping the two dogs apart for now unless closely supervised, both indoors and in the garden, reinforcing and marking all good interaction. Wilson being calm near Flo or lying down quietly by her deserves a silent food reward. Flo, quiet when Winston aproaches her, deserves a silent food reward. No scolding. If Flo’s not happy, Winston can be called away and given something else to do.  As she becomes more tolerant they can spend more time together. Slowly slowly catchee monkey!

Flo needs the security of consistent rules and boundaries and relief from the burden of decision-making. Another saying: ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’. She should then relax and open up to Winston who really is a very self-controlled puppy.

The more Flo has been forced, the more defensive she has understandably become. Her growling is merely saying, ‘please keep away, I don’t want your attention’. How else can she convey this? We expect our dogs, in silence, to put up with so much more than we would tolerate ourselves. Ignored or scolded for trying to be understood, it’s quite surprising in the circumstances that Flo has remained so patient.

It’s not the growling itself that needs dealing with – but the cause of the growling.

If Flo is ‘helped’ through this and it is treated sensitively and given time, I am sure the two will end up the best of friends.