Obnoxious Puppy

by | Nov 20, 2020

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Child of Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.

The love you have invested, the care for a perfect diet, the no expense spared bedding, toys, harness, bowls, food. Your pride, affection and joy have been poured into this essence of pleasure but today the only time you feel love is when He is fast asleep.

When pups first leave the litter they have an inbuilt reflex called the “touch me and I’ll bite” label. Siblings will take a chunk out of your backside as soon as breath on you, every unseen touch needs immediate and snarky protection. Boy those teeth hurt, even through puppy fur. This will fade as they learn hands can offer food and affection, but unseen grabbing will still evoke a memory of snark first, think later. Ensure this fades completely by avoiding any grab and pick up as much as possible.

Get your feet under the table

By 14 weeks they have learned your house, your routine, your patterns, food sources and toy boxes and place of comfort … the sofa.

You are so proud of them.

Now they can begin the serious learning of boundary testing. They will want to know what the boundaries are, and whether they are made of steel or paper, who will fold quickest and when. Lots to learn. This is achieved by full-on assault against the defences. Repetitive assault until steel is recognised for its impenetrable state.

This does mean, “no, you cannot chase my feet” is a steel, not a paper, law.

Normal, active puppy development is shaped by the try-it-until-it-succeeds strategy. The more determined to test the resilience of steel the more likely this is going to be a super learner. A pup that will be determined to find success no matter what barriers are presented. Those barriers are often our lack of skills in teaching, but these pups get through and become the “once in a lifetime” types of guy.

Adults and siblings are the barriers that assist with the heavy lifting. They may indulge certain assaults and then get pushed one inch too far and take the puppy out. Siblings, or young adults can get into a frenetic bickering match which may need some diversion, experienced adults familiar and comfortable around puppies should be allowed to deal with Child Obnoxious when it is supervised.

I see Merrick allowing Child Obnoxious to swing on her ears, but approach her when she is enjoy the evening bone ….. death growls demonstrate a quiet steel that is instantly recognised.

Fortunately Zip is only 2 years old and seemingly enjoys the regular, lengthy bickering as they sleep comfortably in preparation for the next bout.

Bicker all their waking moments but sleep side by side

Gear Up. This is war

If your household doesn’t have other adult dogs to assist with this process you will need to invest your own time and imagination.

This 12-16 week period is vital preparation of the next Obnoxious Stage 2 when teeth are changing (18-24 weeks) and will be followed by obnoxious Stage 3 when puberty hits (7-12 months).

Now is the (easy) time to establish the boundaries and avoid nuclear conflict over the next few months.

Crates for sleeping and chewing time to give everyone a rest are essential. Extensions to this in the form of pens where possible.

Door gates always beat door-closed to allow the pup to be nearby, as they chew and play, rather than on your kitchen table, round your head, or emptying your wardrobe. Being able to see you through a barrier is far more acceptable than being shut out, or excluded. This can lead to confused wailing, when that doesn’t work angry screaming, when that doesn’t work angry destruction on anything that they can bite or dig: plaster, skirting, flooring, doors …..

I have had the same gate across the kitchen door for the last 20 years ….. the tall one!

A voracious need to learn

You main aim will be on finding ways to soak up that voracious appetite to learn. If you ignore it, it will follow its own agenda and be testing every barrier that you can present. This learning appetite is like a fast running stream, building to a full scale river in flood and good preparation is needed because it WILL find its way down hill.

This learning-appetite also coincides with fast growing which needs regular, good quality food in quantity. This will become your best tool of defence. Food should rarely be an easy plate on the floor, it should be a learning adventure in itself.

If you feed raw, the meat-on-the-bone content will provide extra work soaking up the energy. Any raw bones are best served away from soft furnishing but can beneficially be paired with the “behind the barrier” locations.

Air dried bones and flesh can be sourced HERE. Do your research and please shop very carefully for chews and cooked bones. Many are just plain dangerous or ethically extremely questionable from where they are sourced.

I keep food on my person at all times. I need instant response when calling for redirection. My elderly dogs are seen as an easy-mark for learning how to bully the vulnerable. After they have done their time rearing the young of previous generations I consider they have now earned a peaceful retirement.

Emergency ammunition for interrupting obnoxious harrassment of the elderly

I have food stations around the house that are high up, closed boxes ready for Showers. I can launch handfuls to the grass or gravel for searching activities.

The adults enjoy these extra pleasures as well – and they earn it. Without their help I would not get ANY work done at all.

The recycling service would recognise the “puppy household” as everything is pre-chewed before it is offered for collection. All plastic containers can be re-employed.

Winter puppies do seem to be a hard challenge – perhaps the shorter daylight hours. Certainly time spend outside means more energy is used up absorbing all the scents and sights and sounds that travel through the garden.

I find the sparkling water bottles have an extra strength, empty, completely washed, shampoo bottles, and juice bottles on a daily basis.

I load them with small amounts of kibble or diced cooked meats (can’t use raw as it sticks to the insides and proves impossible to get at). The bottle will need to be flung around on a random basis to release the bounty. A noisy activity, but a small price to pay.

Remove all labels and the plastic ring around the bottle neck.

In preparation of when you want a sleeping pup ….

Meat trays seem to come in a corrugated sort of plastic – excellent for squishing meat into the corners and crevices. Homemade lick-it-outs, that you can then use as a slide-around-the-floor noise maker.

All cardboard packets can be crushed and folded around the dry-bone treats. Home delivery is a new source of imagination …. hmm, what can I hide in this ?

Build a learner

At the same time I am also presenting constructive learning packages:

  • climbing staircases,
  • stepping over poles,
  • along planks,
  • over and around bricks.

I plan and schedule at least one learning adventure every day. Vital learning for the puppy about how to move, awareness of feet placement, searching skills and self-confidence in our confusing world.

These are lifeskills.

Tracking food trails around the woodland, swapping this toy for that toy, exchange key rings for food.

This is laying down protocols for the next few months. I do not want daily battles when the next stage hits. The puppy that simply questions everything because they can.

Household items, favourite foods can be your puppy’s adventure playground.

Accepting affection and “out-of-sight” hand touches whilst No.2 hand is feeding.

Outings that offer amazing television. Parking up where much can be seen from the car, many scents and new noises whilst safe and observing.

That brain needs filling

This learning appetite is designed to expose this new brain to many experiences. The memory banks will be filling up with the reviews of success. Who, what and how will be remembered from single experiences. That one occasion you take them out for a last minute wee without shoes and your toes get tasted. (Hmmm … not forgotten, she can be made to dance)

This puppy brain needs to learn and it is up to you to decide WHAT they learn and HOW they learn: the difference between steel and paper. You get to write the rule books before the next brain takes up residence.

Steel barriers are not about being harsh, just barriers that will not collapse. I will divert you to more interesting and easy pleasures, and when I block you from chasing my feet, I will not let you do it “just this once”.

Design thoughtful and adventurous learning experiences, but never impossible or hasty.



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Key Reading

Think carefully

We cannot presume a cue is a reinforcer unless we can shape a new behaviour using that cue as the marker. Read carefully. Think carefully. Consider multiple perspectives. Sometimes it seems easier to let someone else do the thinking for you and just copy, but we need to become thoughtful trainers.

The choice of lure

Luring teaches trainers essential skills. We learn how to use suggestion and guidance to shape behaviours. We learn how to explain dynamic movement in the cues from our hands. In combination with reinforcement, luring has without doubt, been one of the skills I value most as a trainer.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

When we train a dog it grows

Most training starts from necessity. Management is a necessity but it usually benefits all parties by a reduction of conflict. Are they expanding their skills to benefit us or for their benefit?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

A Cue or not a cue?

With thoughtful planning and a good understanding of the relevance of antecedent selection we can teach the dog the skills of sorting the wheat from the chaff, finding the bones of the exercise. This skill is critical to being able to distinguish between distractions, which are just cues for an alternative reward opportunity, and cues which signify a guarantee of success.

The Answers Await Discovery

The idea that we’re responsible for our dogs’ learning might well seem strange when we consider how we conceptualise “training:”

The Spaces Between

At the heart of learner-centred education, the teacher acts as a guide whose role is to elicit rather than to impart, and learners quickly become empowered and equipped to transfer their knowledge and skills to new scenarios.

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

Going Shopping

This is a joint travelling adventure. It completely resets the learning and can easily extend the reinforcement process.

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Release cue or stay cue

Many of us begin with teaching sit or down, and this is one of the earliest experiences of training with reinforcement. Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

Duration or is it Breakfast in Bed?

Teaching duration has become a very muddied understanding or what it is and how to teach it. This is partly due to how we use words that are the same but have entirely different meanings.

Stop doing that ….

Can we teach an effective Cease That Behaviour? Absolutely. We can teach that positively, without harm, and we should teach them the skills of stopping that and doing this instead.

Luring: Hand lures

Learning hand-lure skills, Collect the food, engage, follow, feed.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.


  1. Helen Mayes


    • Nancy

      Perfect to prepare for new puppy coming soon

  2. Bren Axon,

    Oh yes indeedy. I’m a trainer/behaviour consultant with a 16 week old giant breed puppy. I also have an adult dog of the same breed who is 7. She’s really not that into puppy because he’s at the bitey in your face stage and runs around her yelling in her ear all the time.

    Puppy is very determined indeed. With the xpen, I’ve had to work out how to secure it so he can’t tip it over. He started by putting his head down like a battering ram and testing the whole of the xpen circumference to see whether it would give or not, after that, I had to secure it to the wall. I have also found that I can secure it either side of the back door and have the door open a bit so he can go in and out on his own with no excuse to pee inside.

    As soon as he sees you, he comes at you mouth open ready to grab. I’ve taught him “leave it” which seems to work pretty well a lot of the time, but sometimes if he’s really amped up it doesn’t. He knows watch me, down, stay, wait and is pretty bright. Sadly his breeder decided to put the puppies’ water bowl out of reach so the pups had to stand up on their back legs to have a drink. The reasoning? To help the puppies strengthen their back legs. Yep. So he came ready made to get his front paws on the counter tops which he now does with alarming regularity. He’s 42 pounds now and quite long, so he can reach quite a bit up there.

    I’ve got a lot of puppy clients and I’ve been giving them all the usual advice about the biting, housetraining etc. However, I’ve realised that some of that advice doesn’t always work. I’ve not been afraid to post about this on my business page because friends have said it helps them to know that a professional trainer STILL has problems so I guess it will help the clients as well.

    For example, Clients have come to me having already tried the high pitched ouch technique for biting, and have said it doesn’t work. So I give them an alternative. However, I found out quite by chance that yelling “ouch” in a very high pitched voice to my puppy, and immediately disengaging works like a freakin’ dream! Who knew? I tell clients that housetraining is all about observation, consistency and routine and it will work. Well, not for me it hasn’t. It’s been a nightmare of clearing up pee (granted it’s mostly pee and not usually poop).

    Thank God a trainer friend of mine also has a giant breed puppy around the same age as mine and is having the same issues. It sure helps to know that I’m not such a crap trainer after all!!!!

    The other day she posted that while teaching her puppy to ring a bell to go outside, he took a break to go and pee on his bed. I replied to her post saying “Oh thank God. You don’t know how good that makes me feel!” Her reply was “Oh, I think I do…….”

    • Kay Laurence

      Sounds like a Super Pup in the making !!!!!!

  3. karen rush

    Here in the U.S., tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I give so many thanks to you for your article! Perfect timing from having to start cooking for the holiday. I can’t stop grinning. Always hugely entertaining, insightful, full of knowledge & experience.

    I can’t wait to forward it to my 70 year old friend who now wants a puppy after having had only 20 lb. cats for years, all looking like doorstops.

  4. Janet Shelton

    Kay, I heard you many years ago at a Clicker Expo in Orlando. I was so impressed with you. I remember your presentation sometimes word for word! Since I maybe getting a puppy soon, this article is right on! Thank you

    • Kay Laurence

      We are just graduating onto Obnovious Stage 2 …. so good luck with your puppy!

  5. Chris Bond

    Thank you Kay! Exceptional information, as you always provide.

    Keeva is 14 weeks old now, so these reminders of the stages and options for teaching and managing are very timely. With a spring puppy, this process is SO much easier than with our last (winter) puppy.

    Minx, by the way, has turned out to be an exceptional adult and a wonderful big sister to the new arrival. Your guidance for raising a working collie made all the difference.

    You’re an awesome teacher of people and dogs. Thank you for sharing your unique and eye-opening insights with those of us who love learning about dogs.

  6. Tricia Dunlop

    I could not love this article more… So many of these tips I have already used with my new puppies, but you have added a few new ones for me that I can also pass on to puppy clients. Always love your writings – so much sense.


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