Q&A: Help! My Puppy Won’t Take “NO” for an Answer.

My 5 month old Westie is in to everything. Nothing is safe if he can reach it with his teeth; glasses, remote, loves anything paper, etc. There’s nothing he won’t grab.” NO” doesn’t work nor does spray or time out. If you try to push him away, he’ll nip your hands. We’ve moved everything we could at least three feet from the floor and leave nothing on end tables. Sometimes, we forget then the fun begins with “catch me if you can”. He has lots of toys which he does play with frequently but walks around just looking for anything to snatch from the time he gets up. Help!!! ~Catherine 

Hello Cathrine! Let me sum this up if I can, then address each aspect.

You have a 5-month-old West Highland Terrier puppy that has a chewing issue, possible slight resource guarding (potential aggression when taking his ‘resources- toys, food, etc), and likes to play ‘chase’.

Quick Note: Before reading any of the following, avoid any physical punishment corrections with your puppy. Absolutely no uncomfortable aversives before adulthood. Now that that is out of the way-

Puppy Proof
If your pup gets into everything, the first thing you want to do (and it sounds like you’re on the right track) puppy proof any area your westie can access. Make sure to place any electrical cords or small, hard choking hazards out of reach- especially important!

5 months is past the teething stage, so at least you have that working for you.

Puppy Energy
First, you have an energetic breed for a small dog, and puppies that age are very high energy in general. I’m sure your westie becomes bored very easily. I know exactly what that is like! Puppies can seem like a full-time job.

About an hour a day of exercise is recommended for an adult West Highland Terrier, but puppies are a whole new ball game. Don’t just stop at walks, if you walk your pup. Provide individual attention and enrichment activities. You can follow this link for some fun possibilities, or this one.

If you tire your pup out this won’t be as much of an issue. Again, I know very well how hard it can be to tire a puppy!

Lasting Toys
If your westie is easily bored, have you tried longer lasting toys? You could try the occasional ‘Kong filled with frozen peanut butter, yogurt, or banana mixture’ treats. He’ll have to work at getting the contents out of the Kong, and even more so after a night in the freezer.

Bite Inhibition Training
Puppies learn to control their bite pressure with their littermates in those first few weeks of play. Consider this- one pup clamps down a bit too hard, the other pup yelps and scurries away; play stops. This is the last thing the biter wants- he wants the game to continue- so he doesn’t bite so hard next time.

But this isn’t enough for you. You want him to avoid your skin altogether. Also called ‘soft mouth’ training, if you want to look it up, this method simulates that puppy play behavior exactly!

Kind of let out a small yelp next time your pup bites at you like you’re actually injured. If you are playing a game and your westie is focused on the game, not the toy, immediately stop playing. If the game is what your pup wants, he will learn to avoid your skin if he wants it to continue.

If you can safely, take away whatever toy he is playing with. Don’t ‘try’ to take it, take it. If you can’t take the toy safely, then don’t try. By successfully using his teeth, your westie could learn those teeth can solve problems. That is the last thing you want.

You can resume playing 20 or so minutes later.

Resource Guarding
From what you’ve described, this is my biggest fear for you and your little one. Countless larger dogs end up suffering because handlers don’t know how to cope with this behavior, which can turn from innocent play biting to actual aggression biting.

Many dogs feel a natural instinct to guard their possessions (food, toys), and can react aggressively if you try to threaten those possessions. Thankfully, your westie is a small breed, and resource guarding is easy to treat!

If your pup was protective of his food, you would offer a more valuable treat when coming around that food. Your pup would learn that you aren’t a threat to his food and he doesn’t need to fear you taking it away, but rather your presence means good things!

Reward Success, Don’t Punish Failures
If you’re having trouble getting that object out of his mouth, teach the ‘drop it’ command followed by rewarding with a treat. Eventually, your pup will learn that reward is coming when he relinquishes the toy upon your request.

The Chase
This is a mistake I made many years ago with a Jack Rusell/Border Collie mix, so I understand exactly what you are going through! If you chase your pup, ‘the chase’ itself could become a game more fun than any treat or toy he has. The entire point for him is to get you to chase him.

At the time, I was caring for two very high energy, prey driven breeds rolled into one. The combination of personality traits made this especially troubling. No matter the value of the food, he would rather run. I could have tossed a prime rib and it wouldn’t have mattered!

Thankfully, your situation probably isn’t so extreme. The most valuable lesson I can teach from that is -Don’t Chase. Don’t play the game. Lure your pup to you with some type of food reward if you can. If you must chase, make sure it ends abruptly and your pup doesn’t have time to find enjoyment.

Crate Training
Finally, I would always heavily recommend crate training for absolutely any puppy, but especially one that loves to put anything in his mouth.

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Junior Watson

Junior is the DogTrainingBasics.com resident "Top Dog". He enjoys walks in the park, chasing invisible cats, and of course... bacon strips!

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