Do You Have Barking Puppies? Teach Them To Be Quiet!

by | Breeding, Dog Training

How cute is it when you walk into a room full of barking puppies jumping on the side of the pen saying “Pick me, pick me!”? Don’t you love that your new puppy is so excited to see you that he barks and jumps when you walk in the room? How bad can barking puppies be when they are only babies? It doesn’t really affect how those puppies will behave as adult dogs, does it?

I started to think about this when one of our Your Litter A to Z students said she had no problem getting the puppies to sit for their meals but wondered how she could get them to be calm and quiet when she entered the room rather than jumping on and barking from the pen.

Whether you are a breeder or a new puppy owner, your barking puppies can learn to be quiet with a few simple steps!

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Gayle’s blog Puppies Learn Best What They Learn First lists four behaviors breeders unintentionally teach their puppies. In this blog I will discuss a behavior that breeders deal with all the time–puppies demanding attention by barking and jumping on the side if their pen, and how to stop it.

Is that a behavior we want to teach our puppies? Of course not. But if we don’t want them to jump up, and we don’t want a default sit, what should we teach them? We use this early training to start teaching self-control. What does it look like? Quiet puppies keeping all four feet on the floor when you approach. Whether you want to call it self-control, impulse control or demanding, teaching puppies how to ask for things in ways we want them to is a vitally important skill for puppies!

Puppies are ALWAYS learning, whether you think you are teaching them or not. Which would you rather own, a puppy that waits quietly to get out of the pen or one that is jumping and barking at you? I’m pretty sure I know your answer!

Not all training is done when we set up a formal training session. In fact, whether we intend it or not, learning is going on 24/7 so we should always be thinking about what our puppies are learning. Despite the cute factor of a puppy with a fast-wagging tail whining while happily jumping up on the side of a pen, it should not be rewarded because the whining will soon turn to barking! And, as those who have lived through it can tell you, barking gets old fast! Breeders and puppy buyers alike will benefit greatly if you teach your puppies some impulse control.

If having litters that are quiet and calm when they see you or when you enter the room appeals to you, read on!

Miss Yellow Demanding Attention!

Miss Yellow Demanding Attention!

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Getting Started

We begin teaching impulse control very early in our puppies’ lives – from the time they begin responding to us entering the room, which is once their ears open, starting around day 17. Once you are getting a response when checking for ear function, you want to be mindful of what you do when you enter the room.

In training we reward what we like, right? So what reward do we have to offer 2.5-week-old puppies? It could be a touch or our voice, but the best reward is mom! To be honest, though, there is little rewarding needed for puppies this age. Since their nervous system has not fully developed, will they understand the connection between their behavior and the reward at this point? The truth is, we don’t know. So why would you want to start rewarding quiet puppies at this age? So you can start being mindful of your behavior!! If a puppy is crying in the pen, the first reaction our visitors have is to pick up that puppy. Rather than letting them pick up the puppy, we ask them to observe what is happening. Did the puppy crawl to the backside of mom? If they pick up the screaming puppy and put it on the milk bar, a puppy this age may learn that screaming solved his problem. Instead practice some impulse control of your own–watch the puppy figure out how to get to the milk! This practice will help you be more aware of your behavior so you can help your pups learn self-control once you are able to reward them for calm, quiet behavior.

Once the pups are 3.5 to 4 weeks old our value to the puppies increases, not because we are the source of their food, but because we are doing more with them every day, which they love! The more we do, the more excited they will be to see us! This is the time you need to really be training them that they get your attention by greeting you politely. The challenge is to be consistent in your behavior so the pups figure out what works to get what they want – your attention!

If you’ve raised a litter before, here is a scenario that may be familiar to you: You come down in the morning to fix breakfast for the puppies and the adult dogs. The puppies are screaming and jumping at the side of the pen as they watch you make breakfast. You continue to prepare breakfast and once done you set the bowls down to feed them. If you have done this, you need to understand that you just rewarded the puppies for screaming and jumping.

So what do you do instead? You wait for them to be quiet, even if only for a moment at first, before you appear with the food. If you do it consistently the pups will learn that you, and their food, will show up when they are quiet. I know what you are thinking: “There is no way they’ll be quiet until they have had their breakfast.”

The Challenges

In dog training there is a saying, “You cannot reward a behavior you cannot get.” I have no idea who first said it, but it is so true!! So how can you get the quiet behavior to reward? In a word, management! The many variables breeders are faced with can make teaching puppies to be quiet and calm in the sight of something they want a real challenge. Some of those variables are:

  • The setup of your puppy room
  • The size of your litter
  • The other people living in your house
  • People coming to visit your puppies

So let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to get your puppies on the road to understanding self-control in the puppy pen.

Your setup

The best possible setup to teach the concept of quiet to puppies is having a physical door between you and your litter so you can open the door and move closer to the pups when they are quiet and leave, move away and close the door when they are screaming. The door gives you the ability to clearly communicate with them by entering and leaving the room based on their behavior.

Don’t have a door? Try hanging a dark sheet in the opening between you and the puppy area and use the sheet to “disappear” when they are noisy. They may still be able to hear you but they cannot see you. To do this, we love these 3M Command hooks which stick to the wall without doing any damage. All you have to do is put safety pins along one side of a sheet and hang the pins from the Command hooks. Then you can then open and close the sheet depending on their behavior. Be sure not to talk to them behind the sheet – you want their behavior to make you appear and disappear.

If you have an open floor plan the setup will be harder to communicate the concept to your puppies but it can be done. Try getting a room divider that you can step behind when they are noisy, or simply leave the room without comment.

Criteria

We do not ask our pups to sit to get rewarded, they simply have to keep all four feet on the floor and not be noisy. You will pet and give treats to the pups with their feet on the floor. You will completely ignore the raucous, jumping puppy. While rewarding the “good puppies” keep a close eye on the noisy, pushy puppies to catch a moment that any have their feet on the floor so you can reward with immediate petting. If the puppy keeps feet on the floor and is quiet for another second, quickly reward with food. If the pup jumps up, pull your hand away. Keep repeating rewarding the quiet pups with feet on the floor and you will see the puppies quickly figure it out how to get what they want.

Timing

In training, timing is everything! When training a litter, it will be more difficult to get all of them quiet at the same time. Understand that trying for perfection is asking for failure, so you will be looking for “progress.” Because timing is so important be sure to enter the area with a plan and food rewards cut into tiny, bite-sized pieces. This is not the time to have to break apart your treats before doling them out.

A tip on timing is being able to toss food into the pen from a distance. Oftentimes the pups are quiet and as you walk over they start jumping and making noise. If you are able to toss food into the pen as you are walking, the pups will be able to be rewarded as you approach. Very young puppies may not understand to look for food on the floor of their pen, so you will want to teach them while you are up close that food can drop from the sky on to the floor so they know to look for it.

Rewards

Remember that you need to know what things your puppies find rewarding. Most of our litters think that kibble is crack – they LOVE it! Our last litter would not eat a piece of kibble. You could put it in their mouths and they would spit it out. So be sure what you are giving your puppies as food rewards are foods they like!

Attention is something puppies seek, so giving it to them is a reward. So be careful about how you give them attention. If they are noisy and you look at them… you guessed it, you just rewarded them! So don’t look at or talk to noisy puppies!

A variety of treats ready to use

A variety of treats ready to use!

The size of your litter

As you can imagine, teaching a litter to be quiet with a small litter is much easier than with a large litter! The more pups there are, the greater the odds are that one or more of them will be noisy. So when starting just accept the fact that some pups will be rewarded for being noisy by you entering the room. The key to success is to break things down and reward progress. If one puppy is screaming and all the rest are relatively calm, enter the room and only reward the quiet puppies with feet on the floor with attention and/or food while totally ignoring the noisy puppy. The easiest way to get success to start is to enter the room when the pups are sleeping, that way you can reward all of the puppies. Remember, if you are potty training your litter be sure to greet them at the potty box!

Family members and visitors

Make it a point to talk to everyone who interacts with your puppies, whether family members or visitors, about the criteria for giving them attention! Consistency is key in training, so the more people you have on board, the more success you will have with your litter. Most people are more than willing to help, you just have to give them some direction. Those who live with you have a particular interest in your success since it will make living with the puppies a lot more enjoyable!

When visitors arrive, after they have washed up, talk them through the rules for greeting the puppies. We have found our visitors are more than happy to help us train our puppies! What is important is that you tell them what to do, not what not to do! Here’s an example: instead of saying, “Please don’t let the puppies jump up on the pen” say, “Please greet the puppies very low to the ground so they can keep all four feet on the floor.” In all the years we have been breeding dogs, we have yet to see someone not want to pick up the puppy demanding to be picked up! It is not a crisis if they do, but it undoes all the hard work you have put into their training. Some visitors are really hard to train, such as young children, so if need be, set up another area away from the pen where you can bring the puppies, or toss LOTS of treats into the pen so the visitors can get into the pen and seated while the pups are busy getting all the treats. Then the pups can greet visitors who are sitting in the pen.

Family members and visitors

Make it a point to talk to everyone who interacts with your puppies, whether family members or visitors, about the criteria for giving them attention! Consistency is key in training, so the more people you have on board, the more success you will have with your litter. Most people are more than willing to help, you just have to give them some direction. Those who live with you have a particular interest in your success since it will make living with the puppies a lot more enjoyable!

A visitor doing just the right thing

A visitor doing just the right thing!

When visitors arrive, after they have washed up, talk them through the rules for greeting the puppies. We have found our visitors are more than happy to help us train our puppies! What is important is that you tell them what to do, not what not to do! Here’s an example: instead of saying, “Please don’t let the puppies jump up on the pen” say, “Please greet the puppies very low to the ground so they can keep all four feet on the floor.” In all the years we have been breeding dogs, we have yet to see someone not want to pick up the puppy demanding to be picked up! It is not a crisis if they do, but it undoes all the hard work you have put into their training. Some visitors are really hard to train, such as young children, so if need be, set up another area away from the pen where you can bring the puppies, or toss LOTS of treats into the pen so the visitors can get into the pen and seated while the pups are busy getting all the treats. Then the pups can greet visitors who are sitting in the pen.

Teaching your pups to be quiet and greet politely in the pen is the very first step in the concept of impulse control. By itself it will not teach an adult dog never to bark or jump, but it will give your puppies a great start to understanding the concept of self-control. Spending your time on this concept will not only make your puppies easier to live with, but will set your puppies up for success in their new homes. Of course, it will be up to the each puppy owner to continue building on the lessons you have taught.

Have you had problems with your litters being noisy? How have you successfully taught them to be quiet? We’d love to hear your experiences!

Teaching your pups to be quiet and greet politely in the pen is the very first step in the concept of impulse control. By itself it will not teach an adult dog never to bark or jump, but it will give your puppies a great start to understanding the concept of self-control. Spending your time on this concept will not only make your puppies easier to live with, but will set your puppies up for success in their new homes. Of course, it will be up to the each puppy owner to continue building on the lessons you have taught.

Have you had problems with your litters being noisy? How have you successfully taught them to be quiet? We’d love to hear your experiences!

Want to know more about raising healthy, stable puppies?

Check out our 8-month, self-paced online course to raising a healthy, stable litter of pups, from before breeding until sending your pups home.

3 Comments

  1. Raylin Sutter

    This is an amazing article! We just got three puppies for sale here in town and hope to begin training them. I am really interested in working on their impulse control and feel that that will be very important. I like to take them on walks around the block and notice that they are very curious. Are there any activities that would be good for their training that we could work on with them while we walk them?

  2. Joyce

    Another great article. Happy to be reading this before our next litter arrives. I can see the mistakes made in the past and now have a new plan!

    • Lise Pratt

      Great! I hope all goes well. Let us know!

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