Although puppies don’t speak our language, they do have common behaviors and body language that they use to get our attention. They can and will let us know what they want from us if we pay attention and learn to interpret their behavior, cries, and actions.
Some behaviors, like repeated or severe diarrhea, vomiting or lethargy, can mean your puppy is sick. Other behaviors are simply puppy behaviors that need to be properly addressed so you raise a socialized, happy, well-adjusted dog. As your puppy ages, like teenagers, their behavior will change and they’ll go through a rebellious phase, challenging your dominance, and even appearing to revert to pre-training behaviors as they test your relationship. Don’t worry. It’s all normal and like any parent, you’ll get through it all if you pay attention to what their behavior is trying to tell you.
The most important behaviors that owners need to learn to recognize quickly are:
- Gotta go potty behaviors (circling, whining, sniffing, agitation)
- Pain or distress (whining, barking, whimpering, howling)
Here are some common puppy behaviors and what they mean, or sometimes mean. All puppies are different, so one puppy or breed’s behavior could mean something different. It’s up to you to learn what your puppy’s specific behavior means for them.
If you see your puppy circling and sniffing the floor, it’s most likely time to take them outside for an immediate potty break. These are universal signs your puppy needs to go potty. Wait too long (even a few minutes) and you may be cleaning up a puddle, or a pile, of puppy waste. Whining, going to the door, looking at you are all also signs they need to go outside.
Just like with children, whining means your puppy wants or needs something from you. It’s up to you to distinguish what kind of whine means what. Whining and/or crying generally means a puppy wants or is experiencing one or more of the following:
- To go outside
- To go potty
- Attention from you
- To eat or drink
- To get a treat
- To play
- To be held
- To be walked
- That they’re bored or frustrated
- That they’re feeling overstimulated
- That they’re feeling anxious, scared, or nervous
- They have separation anxiety
Are you feeling overwhelmed yourself just reading that list? Relax. Pay attention and you’ll quickly learn exactly what your puppy’s cries are telling you. Go through the list and make sure they have water, food and have gone potty. Then see if they respond to a toy, a walk, playing, being held or petted. Eventually, you’ll both learn exactly what each cry, whine or bark means.
Puppies bark for the same reason dogs do:
- To get your attention
- To alert the household (their pack) of danger (or perceived danger or threat)
- Because they’re bored or anxious
- When they want something (to go outside, to get a treat)
- They’re not getting enough exercise or stimulation. Tired puppies are quiet puppies. Excessive barking may mean your pup isn’t getting enough stimulation, attention or exercise.
- They’re in pain. They may be injured, have been stung by a bee or hurt. Puppies who have been hurt will more often tend to howl, yip, or even “scream” rather than bark, but some will bark.
Biting and chewing
Puppies love to chew, bite and nip. Sometimes this is accompanied by growling, sometimes not. Biting, nipping, mouthing and chewing are normal, natural behaviors in dogs, but undesirable in a human environment. That means these behaviors should be restricted or redirected in healthy, appropriate ways through proper training. Puppies chew for a variety of reasons:
- It’s how they explore their world. They don’t have hands, so they chew to understand objects. If they like the smell or taste of an item - like shoes, or your favorite clothing - they may continue to seek them out and chew on them.
- Pent-up energy. Puppies with pent-up energy need an outlet, so they chew, bite or nip.
- They’re teething. Just like chewing relieves human babies teething pains, so it is with puppies.
- They’re bored. Humans eat when they’re bored. Puppies, who don’t have opposing thumbs or the same access to a fridge or food as their owners, chew on things instead.
When your puppy chews on your favorite shoes (especially if they’re leather), they do so because human smell, especially yours, is exciting. They want to be close to you and if you’re not around, your clothing is the next best thing to you.
Your puppy’s breathing can and will change depending on how they’re feeling physically or emotionally. Heavy panting or breathing can mean:
- They’re tired
- They’re hot or overheating
- They’re scared, anxious or nervous
- They’re excited
Sleeping puppies often seem to breathe very fast. They may even seem to 'stop' breathing for a few seconds, or to cry, whine, twitch or even bark in their sleep. This is normal. Breathing problems when a puppy is awake, or that are accompanied by severe lethargy, weakness, dizziness or disorientation, coughing, panting excessively, etc. means your puppy probably needs veterinary attention.
Jumping up on you
When dogs meet, they sniff each other's faces. They like to do the same with people, so they jump up on us. That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable behavior, it’s just what they are trying to do - greet you.
Smelling people’s crotches
It’s embarrassing but completely normal for a puppy (or adult dog) to smell people’s crotches and other animal’s butts. A dog’s sense of smell is extremely powerful and by smelling a person’s more complex smells they can tell a lot about the person or dog they’re smelling. Basically, they’re just being dogs and seeking information. They will tend to smell people whose bodies express complex smells, such as those who have recently had sex or given birth or are menstruating, pregnant, or in poor hygiene.
Running around and “freaking” out
Puppies, like children, get excited and sometimes just go nuts, running, barking, chasing their tails, dashing through the house, jumping, or just “spazzing out,” as some would say. This is usually short-lived and means they’re happy, excited, deliriously overjoyed at seeing you after a long day.
Depending on the breed, age, and origin of your puppy (breeder, puppy mill, rescue, dog pound etc.) their behaviors will vary, but all puppies experience these basic behaviors.
When considering any puppy or dog for your home, consider what you’ll need when he comes home and how you will handle potty pad training. Try a free sample of WizSmart dog pads and see the difference the right pad can make!