How To Understand What Your New Puppy Is Telling You

By PetMD Editorial on Apr. 13, 2011

The getting-to-know-you phase with a new puppy is one of the joys of pet parenthood. Each day brings opportunities to figure out your pup’s likes, dislikes and adorable quirks.

Learning to read your puppy can help you get a handle on common challenges, like potty training and nipping.

The more you know about what your new puppy is saying to you, the better equipped you’ll be to respond to her quickly and appropriately in the following situations.

Knowing When Your Puppy Needs a Potty Break

The number one goal of every new pet parent is fast-tracking the potty training process. Although it might seem like your puppy stops and squats without giving you notice, it’s likely that she exhibits a series of easily overlooked clues beforehand. Once you learn these puppy behavior cues, you can start to prevent messes.  

One of the subtlest pre-potty puppy behavior cues is a puppy that seems distracted. While a puppy’s typical attention span is brief, you’ll notice that your new puppy will be even less able to focus than usual if she needs to go out for a bathroom break.

For example, if you’re playing fetch, and she drops the ball and wanders away a few times in a row, it could mean that she’s feeling the urge to eliminate.

Anytime your puppy disengages from you, whether you’re hanging out and petting her or working on basic training, there’s a chance that she needs a potty break. Similarly, a puppy that tries to wander into a different room is probably ready for a visit to the yard.

Puppies want to be close to their people. If you notice your pup trying to sneak away, it’s a signal that she needs to go out. Using dog gates, constant supervision and a dog crate when you can’t keep an eye on your pup can prevent her from disappearing to another room and leaving a surprise behind!

Circling and sniffing the ground are also major pre-potty signs, but once your puppy gets to this stage, you’re only a few seconds away from squatting. Picking up on your puppy’s earlier, more subtle hints that potty time is near will enable you to get your puppy leashed and ready for a trip to the proper spot outside.

Learning to Read Fearfulness in Your New Puppy

Your puppy will be encountering a new world of experiences with you, and every social interaction is an opportunity to help build her confidence.

Some pups greet the word with a brave smile, while others are more tentative in new situations. That’s why it’s important to learn to recognize if your puppy is feeling nervous or uncomfortable as you work through socialization scenarios.

Early signs of fearfulness aren’t always obvious, and picking up on your pup’s subtle signals can prevent her discomfort from escalating.

Signs That Your Puppy Is Scared or Nervous

A nervous pup will signal fearfulness with her body language. Some common signs of canine unease include: 

  • Posture: If your puppy is feeling scared, she might keep her head down with her ears held back, her body hunched and her tail tucked.

  • Looking away: Your puppy might be unable to look directly at the unfamiliar person or object. She might peek so that the whites of her eyes are exposed—also called “whale eye.”

  • Panting or yawning: An abrupt change in breathing patterns can signal fear. If your puppy suddenly begins or stops panting without any difference in activity level or temperature, she could be nervous. Frequent yawning is a sign of unease as well.  

  • Freezing: Puppies are bundles of energy, so if her whirlwind of activity suddenly stops, she might be feeling nervous. Cautious pups might also keep their back feet planted and only move the front part of their body towards the new person or object.

  • Shaking off: Dogs that shake off their fur—as if wet—are “resetting” an interaction, meaning they’re attempting to decrease anxiety after a stressful meeting.

How to Help a Fearful Puppy

If your puppy seems hesitant to approach a new person or scenario, she’s signaling that she’s not ready to interact. Rather than forcing her into a meeting, you can help her gain confidence by putting some distance between her and the scary thing and then encouraging her with happy talk and a few dog treats.

To help your dog overcome her fears, you can act like the person or object is no big deal, talk in an upbeat tone and praise your dog for signs of bravery. However, if your puppy’s fearfulness seems excessive—meaning she’s scared about every new situation—reach out to a positive reinforcement dog trainer to set up a training plan.   

Reading the Overtired Puppy

Sometimes, a puppy’s boundless energy tips over from silly to inappropriate. Much like children, when puppies get tired and hit their saturation point, their behavior begins to deteriorate, and you end up with a barking, nipping tantrum on four legs.

Puppies are always on the go and learning constantly, so it makes sense that they quickly get worn out, both mentally and physically. After a long training class or round of play, your overtired pup might turn into a bit of a brat.

A punchy pup will probably be more nippy than usual, and when you try to pet her, pick her up or even play with a toy, you might end up with puncture wounds.

Overtired pups can also be barkier and more mischievous than normal, so if your normally sweet best friend suddenly develops a nonstop case of the run-bark-bite zoomies, it’s likely that she needs to rest.

How to Help Your Puppy Wind Down

It’s important to note that overtired puppies usually don’t know how to downshift without an assist from you. Rather than waiting for your puppy to escalate the situation into a full tantrum, it’s best to anticipate the approaching meltdown and get her settled before she spirals out of control.

Although your pup might protest at first, the best remedy for a punchy pup is nap time in her crate.

Take your pup outside for a potty break, then place her in her crate with a dog treat toy, like the Dogzilla dino dog toy, to keep her occupied as she calms down. Your pup will probably fall asleep within minutes!

Learning to read your puppy is a great way to get to know her better and become her advocate as she adjusts to life as a member of your family. Your translation skills will strengthen your bond and will help you understand your new best friend on a deeper level.

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