For 40+ years we've helped over 300,000 dog trainers just like you!

Learn more about Leerburg

$6.99 Flat Rate Shipping

Learn more
Ask Cindy Our Newsletter Free Catalog
Leerburg Articles How to Raise a Hard Puppy

How to Raise a Hard Puppy

How to Raise a Hard Puppy




Hard puppies are often labeled the “puppy from hell.” I have written an article on my website titled “Teaching Your Puppy the Meaning of the Word ‘No’.” This article could be titled “Teaching the Puppy from Hell the Meaning of the word ‘No’.” I am writing this article because a lot of nice pups are given back or worse, put down because the handlers simply did not know how to properly control them.

Hard pups are those that get corrected for being snotty and turn right around, after the correction, and go back to being snotty again. An example would be chewing on the kids or biting too hard on the older geriatric house dog. Do not confuse this description with normal puppy behavior. All puppies like to play. All normal puppies are bouncy, mouthy and rambunctious.

These hard puppies seem driven. They have very high pain tolerances and recover very quickly from a correction. The vast majority of people have never seen a really hard puppy because they are rare. Hardness is not breed-specific, nor is it size-specific. I have seen some of the terrier breeds produce very hard pups.

Soft puppies (like many golden retrievers) are easier to train, if you understand the principles of dog training. I often recommend a harder puppy for people who are just getting involved in dog sports of some kind because the harder puppy is more forgiving of bad timing and handler errors. New competitors in every dog sport make handler mistakes in training and a harder puppy recovers quickly from these handler errors.

A lot of people who read this article are going to think their puppy is a hard pup, when in fact they have a normal pup and their lack of handler skills leads them to believe that the problems they have with a new pup are dog-related when in fact they are handler-induced. Please do not email me with a documentary on how hard you think your pup is and what it did to make your life miserable yesterday or last week.

I am writing this article because I happen to have bred a lot of very hard pups over the years. Last night I took one back from a foster home. The puppy is 10 weeks old. It had lived in the foster home for two weeks with a mellow five year old neutered Golden Retriever. It was returned because it was terrorizing the retriever and the wife of my friend.

Hard puppies usually have strong prey drive. This is the drive to chase and bite. Prey drive is a genetically inherited drive, as is hardness. They do not necessarily go hand in hand. There are a million dogs out there with a ton of prey drive that are also very soft dogs. So don't confuse this issue. But as a general rule (and there are no rules in dog training) I have not seen hardness in pups that do not have a strong prey drive.

If hard pups don't have something to chase they will find something to bite. This often means biting ankles, biting hands, wrists, kids, and old dogs (if they happen to have one to terrorize). They are not biting out of aggression, they are biting out of prey drive. These are two totally different drives and people new to dog training confuse this all the time. They think that there is something wrong with their new family pet because it is constantly chewing on their hands and legs, when in fact there is nothing wrong with the pup except that it needs to learn manners. I explain to people all the time that “prey drive” is a necessary drive if you plan on training a sport dog.

Prey drive puppies are very mouthy. Normal pups can be mouthy and bite ankles, wrists, hands, and old dogs. But most pups will respond to a firm “NO” when the handler grabs the nape of the neck and gives the pup a good shaking. A normal pup will quickly learn to respond to their handler when told to stop doing something. The hard puppy will ignore a shake and either turn and try and bite the hand (in prey drive, not aggression) or it will go directly back to what it was just doing as if nothing had happened. A hard pup can get grabbed and receive a firm shake five or six times and continue to go right back to what they were doing as if nothing ever happened. These kinds of pups require different corrections.

Every puppy (hard, normal, or soft) needs to have the ability to be happy, have fun, and be a puppy. This means they have to be allowed to play. What the owner needs to determine is which actions are acceptable and which aren’t. Being too strict by correcting a puppy for not doing obedience exercises (i.e. the down stay, a sit stay) will destroy the pups temperament and drive. What I am talking about in this article is obsessive driven puppies that seem to have overly aggressive behavior.

I wrote an article on my website titled “Teaching Your Puppy the Meaning of the Word ‘No’.” If new dog owners do not get the desired response from the methods in that article, then they need to increase the level of corrections. I have hesitated to write about this for a long time because so many people will tend to misread their pups and go too far with corrections, but such is life. I justify this because people with these hard pups need to learn to deal with them.

Handling hard puppies begins with the proper demeanor and attitude of the owner. The demeanor during this training (or behavior modification) needs to be calm, firm, confident and loving. The handler needs to be capable of showing compassion and fond praise. Even though you may really be upset with what the pup just did, the demeanor SHOULD NOT ever sound mad or mean. The goal is to modify the behavior without killing the temperament. This means that after the pup is corrected it must immediately be praised when it has calmed down.

The equipment for this training requires a puppy prong collar and a drag-line that is 2 or 3 feet long (not knots, they get caught on furniture). The owners also need to leave toys laying all over the house. Balls-on-strings work well, but can be combined with any other mix of toys.

When a hard pup goes beyond normal play behavior, or when it shows unwanted behavior (i.e. acting overly aggressive to strange dogs on a walk), it needs to get corrected. The handler has to differentiate between normal play and obsessive play or negative behavior. The correction needs to be proceeded by a firm (not loud or mean-sounding) “NO.” In the beginning, the pup will act like it's deaf. It will ignore the handler because it has not yet learned that it must listen. The handler should have the drag-line in hand and give a very firm hard pop on the leash. This needs to come as a shock to the pup. Some hard pups need to be popped several times. Some really hard pups need to be popped hard enough to flip them over backwards. A tug or pull-correction is 100% wrong and counter-productive. New owners always have to be taught the pop correction because they all seem to want to PULL.

With the proper SHOCK correction the pup will scream and actually act stressed for a second. If it ignores the correction and immediately goes back to doing what it was just doing, you have not corrected hard enough. If the pup screams and almost goes into avoidance, the handler must remain calm. At that point the pup needs to be calmly praised and stroked. You need to show the pup that you still love him, that you are not mad at him, and that he will get a lot of praise and loving if he stops doing what he was doing when told “NO.” In fact, it is important to always remember to heap lavish praise on the pup for responding to the “NO” command once he starts to learn. This instills the desire to mind.

Back to the pop-correction for a second. Once the pup is corrected and then praised we look for it to calm down a little. When we see this begin to happen we get a toy and toss it for play.

The level of correction we are looking for is one where the dog will stop the undesirable behavior, get loved-up, praised, and then can still play with a toy. Learning that level of correction is key to all dog training. If the pup (or dog) will not play after being corrected and then loved-up, you have corrected too hard. Remember, a hard puppy recovers quickly from a correction, a soft puppy takes more time to recover from a correction. Softer dogs need a softer correction so they can be brought back to the point of play quicker. A soft dog will tuck its tail and not play for a long time if it is corrected too hard. This is a common mistake with new trainers, they cannot seem to find the middle ground on the correction level.

The really hard pups do not change when they mature and become adults. They are always hard. Often times they are a bit independent. In my experience, hardness and independence seem to go hand in hand. The handlers will always have to use prong collars when these dogs are adults. In fact, these dogs respond well to shock collar training. By that I mean “proper shock collar training,” not just putting a shock collar on and going out and burning (shocking) the dog every time it does something the owner doesn't like. But this is a subject for another article. I sell videos on how to train with electric collars.

Many puppy owners consider this method of training “too harsh or mean.” They don't understand the principles of dog training and they don't have the temperament to correct a hard puppy at a level to produce the desired results. These people should find a new home for their dog because these dogs are going to grow up to become un-manageable. People, like dogs, have hard and soft temperaments. Trying to match a soft temperamented person to a hard puppy usually does not work.

Taking control of a hard puppy from a very young age (8 to 10 weeks) can mean the difference between a really well-behaved, self-confident, manageable dog (as an adult) or a terror in the back yard. Too often these kinds of pups end up being mislabeled and the owners lose patience and have them put down.

For those people who argue that this kind of correction will kill the working drive, I say: “You need more experience training dogs,” because you do not understand drives and temperament well enough. Remember what we are talking about here. We are talking about obsessive, negative behavior, not corrections for training exercises.

If you are new to dog training or new to common sense dog training and would like some resource information beyond my website, I would recommend:

Your Puppy 8 Weeks to 8 Months
Basic Dog Obedience - sound principles of dog training





ASK CINDY YOUR DOG TRAINING QUESTION
Have a question you can't find the answer to?
Check out our Leerburg Questions and Answers
with nearly 3000 previously answered questions.

50% off Developing a Problem Solving Puppy streaming video 24 hour sale