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The 2018 STAR Puppy Challenge

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AKC STAR Puppy Testing in Providence, RI | Spring Forth Dog AcademyAre you ready to commit to the training and socialization your puppy deserves?

Join our AKC STAR Puppy Challenge! Any puppy under 1 year of age can participate. Read more about the test here.

The STAR Puppy test makes a fabulous training goal for new puppy owners. It will set you & your puppy up for a lifetime of teamwork, solid communication, & fun! By meeting the criteria for the test, you’ll provide your puppy with a foundation of basic manners and age-appropriate socialization.

Preparing for the test will expose your puppy to many situations he’ll need to be comfortable with for the rest of his life. The test includes scenarios like grooming, being handled by strangers, wearing a collar or harness, going for walks, and more.

This test is a great first step toward the Canine Good Citizen program, trick dog testing, or dog sport competitions – but it’s also a great way to make sure you’re being an active participant in your puppy’s education.

So, we’re challenging you to commit to taking the test with your puppy. To be eligible for the STAR Puppy test, you must attend at least 6 manners classes with your puppy. Our goal is to test at least 25 puppies in 2018. Will your puppy be one of them?

Puppies are eligible to take the STAR Puppy test after attending six manners classes with their owners, and the test is free as part of your Flex Class Pass.  You can take the test after class on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. We’ll also be adding special “STAR Puppy Testing Events” to our group class calendar, too.

Upon passing the test, you will receive a special medallion from us and we’ll take your pup’s “graduation photo” and post it on Instagram and Facebook. You will also receive a certificate, medallion, and puppy handbook from the American Kennel Club.

To sign up for the challenge, contact us or talk to one of our team members at the front desk!

Training Your Dog to Come When Called

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Coming when called is a behavior that dog owners almost universally desire. A great recall means the difference between participating in a lot of fun activities – such as romps on the beach, playing at the dog park, hiking off-leash in the woods, competing in dog sports – and sitting on the sidelines. We get asked about it so often that we have a class, Come This Way, devoted to building and maintaining this skill!

It is also the behavior that dog owners take for granted in their new puppies, or inadvertently punish by making simple mistakes. Building a strong recall means avoiding these common pitfalls and maintaining a specific, positive association in your dog’s mind to his recall cue.

Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called | Spring Forth Dog Academy in Providence, RI

My Name = AWESOME!

Imagine how most dogs react when they hear a potato chip bag crinkle. They stop what they’re doing and come flying into the room! Hearing that sound is the highlight of their day. THAT is the response you want to your dog’s recall word.

The response to the crinkle sound is so strong because the potato chip bag almost always means a salty, oily, tasty special snack, and it definitely never means playtime is over, nail trimming time, or some other form of discomfort.

Recalls always need to be a positive experience for your dog. Be sure not to call him if you have to do something he doesn’t like. Common examples of things that are punishing to dogs include bringing him back inside when he’d rather be playing in the yard, calling him to groom him or trim his nails, and calling him only to pat him on the head (which most dogs don’t enjoy, but that’s a different topic). More info

AKC STAR Puppy Program

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AKC STAR Puppy Testing in Providence, RI | Spring Forth Dog AcademyAre you a responsible puppy owner? The American Kennel Club’s STAR Puppy program is designed to reward owners who take their puppies to training classes. “STAR” is an acronym for the four critical parts of puppy raising: Socialization, Training, Activity, and Responsibility.

The AKC recognizes that well-trained puppies make better companions and are less likely to be relinquished to shelters. In fact, behavior problems are the #1 reason for giving up a dog to a rescue. The STAR Puppy program is an incentive program for responsible puppy ownership. Working towards this goal will give you and your puppy a head start toward a lifetime of great behavior.

In order to be eligible for testing, puppies need to attend at least 6 group dog training classes with their owner. The program is open to all puppies up to one year of age, regardless of breed or mix.

Once your puppy has attended at least 6 classes with us, we can test your puppy immediately after any of our Flex Classes. It doesn’t take long, and many of the test items can be observed during class time.

STAR Puppy Test Items

The STAR Puppy test consists of “20 Steps to Success,” a total of 20 test items. The first six are owner behaviors, and the other 14 are puppy behaviors. The items are:

Puppy Day School | Puppy Training in Providence, RI | Spring Forth Dog AcademyOwner Behaviors

1. Maintains puppy’s health (vaccines, exams, appears healthy)

2. Owner receives Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge

3. Owner describes adequate daily play and exercise plan

4. Owner and puppy attend at least 6 classes by an AKC Approved CGC Evaluator

5. Owner brings bags to classes for cleaning up after puppy

6. Owner has obtained some form of ID for puppy-collar tag, etc.

Puppy Behaviors

7. Free of aggression toward people during at least 6 weeks of class

8. Free of aggression toward other puppies in class

9. Tolerates collar or body harness of owner’s choice

10. Owner can hug or hold puppy (depending on size)

11. Puppy allows owner to take away a treat or toy

Pre-Canine Good Citizen Test Behaviors

Puppy Training in Providence, RI | Spring Forth Dog Academy12. Allows (in any position) petting by a person other than the owner

13. Grooming-Allows owner handling and brief exam (ears, feet)

14. Walks on a Leash-Follows owner on lead in a straight line (15 steps)

15. Walks by other people-Walks on leash past other people 5-ft away

16. Sits on command-Owner may use a food lure

17. Down on command-Owner may use a food lure

18. Comes to owner from 5-ft when name is called

19. Reaction to Distractions-distractions are presented 15-ft away

20. Stay on leash with another person (owner walks 10 steps and returns)

What Comes Next?

After passing the test, owners mail the completed test form to AKC to receive an AKC STAR Puppy Medal, a certificate, and the AKC Puppy Handbook. The STAR Puppy program is a stepping stone to the three tests of the AKC Canine Good Citizen program.

If you have a new puppy, check out our Flex Class program to get started in training classes. You can start any time, and begin working toward your goal of a STAR Puppy!

Puppy Day School Success Story: Alice [VIDEO]

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Puppy Day School Success Story - Alice | Puppy Socialization in Providence, RIMeet Alice! She is a 9-month-old Border Collie mix puppy. Her owner enrolled her in our Puppy Day School program to work on her socialization skills around other dogs.

Alice missed her critical socialization period while waiting to be adopted. Then, shortly after coming to her new home, she broke her leg and had to be kept quiet for several weeks. She was nervous of new places, unfamiliar people, and most other dogs.

This is a typical outcome when puppies are underexposed to the “real world.” As the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior puts it in their position statement on puppy socialization:

The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior.

(Click here to read the full statement.)

Alice had already been rejected by a doggy daycare due to her antisocial behavior. She also refused to take treats in unfamiliar places. Before she started in our program, her training progressed at a glacial pace.

This video shows how in just a few short days, she went from wallflower to wild child. We’re thrilled with her progress and think you will be, too!

These results are quite typical for our Puppy Day School program. This immersive socialization experience is unmatched by group classes or private lessons. Socialization results are seen in days, not weeks, for dogs in this program. If you’ve got a nervous or fearful puppy, this is for you. Or, if you’ve got a brand new puppy and you want to prevent problems before they occur, Puppy Day School is the right choice!

Alice went on to graduate our Basic Dog Manners group training class with her owners. She continues to make progress every day. Way to go, Alice!

Choosing A Best Friend: What to Consider When Finding a New Dog

00Helpful Hints, PuppiesTags: , ,

There are so many choices when it comes to adding a new dog to your household. There are hundreds of breeds to choose from, not to mention the thousands of wonderful dogs in shelters across the country. If you have never had a dog before, or haven’t had one since childhood, it can be overwhelming! Here are some things to consider when adding a dog to your family.

Not all dogs would be so tolerant of this child’s advances! (Photo Credit: Giulio Nepi)

Do you have children? Dogs weighing less than ten pounds are not recommended for homes with very small children as they will not handle roughhousing well.

Terrier breeds can get nippy with small children due to their heightened “prey drive” – they have a strong desire to go after small, fast moving things that make high pitched noises. Toddlers fall into that category. For that reason, I also don’t recommend terriers for households with small pets.

When choosing a dog for a home with young children, consider a medium to large sized dog with a stable, easy-going, happy-go-lucky temperament. Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, and mixes of those breeds, are popular choices because they tend to fit this description.

If you are a busy parent, consider adopting or purchasing an older puppy or an adult dog. Puppies require lots of socialization and training, and most working parents are just too busy to add that to their to-do list.

Consider the dog’s energy level and compare it to yours. If you are busy and don’t have a lot of time to be active with your dog, consider a smaller laid back dog like a Bassett Hound or some of the larger toy breeds.

If you’re just looking for a buddy to hang out with around the house, consider adopting a senior dog. Older dogs are often dumped into shelters once their owners decide they can’t handle their special needs such as increased vet costs, medication, and physical ailments. They are less likely to be adopted than younger, spritely dogs, but they make wonderful companions.

If you are active and love to go for walks or hikes, or could imagine spending your evenings playing fetch in the backyard, consider a dog from the Herding group, such as a Border Collie or Shetland Sheepdog. Shelters are full of these high-energy dogs that are surrendered for being “crazy” or “too much dog” for their laid-back owners. In reality, most of those dogs just need more exercise and a bit of training.

Dalmatian in Window

Not all dogs are suitable for apartment living. (Photo Credit: Daniel Sancho)

What are your living arrangements? Many home owners’ insurance policies have a “blacklist” of breeds they will not cover. Check with your insurance agent before adding a dog to your household. (I cannot have a Yorkshire Terrier under my policy!) This also makes renting tricky. I spoke with a dog-friendly landlord who grew up with German Shepherds but cannot allow them to live on her properties due to her insurance policy.

Are you living in an apartment now, or could be in the future? Often apartment complexes have policies that dogs must be under 20 or 25 pounds, so consider a small dog. Avoid breeds that are known for excessive, loud barking. Many hounds are notorious for barking and are not a good choice for apartment living.

What kind of grooming are you prepared to provide? So-called “non-shedding” dogs (which actually DO shed) such as Poodles and Poodle mixes require frequent grooming as their hair type mats easily and must be trimmed often.

Professional grooming costs vary from location to location, but expect to spend about $50 plus a tip for a good grooming for almost any dog in this area (Rhode Island). Long coated breeds such as Irish Setters, English Springer Spaniels, and Collies need to be brushed out a couple of times per week, and professionally groomed every 5-6 weeks. And don’t forget the drool that comes with many giant breed dogs such as Newfoundlands and Great Danes!

Before bringing any dog home, be sure you are committed to caring for that dog for its entire lifetime. Ask yourself: am I financially prepared for a sudden vet bill? Do I have the time to devote to training this dog? Is this dog a good fit for my lifestyle? Is now a good time to add a dog to my household? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, you are setting yourself and the dog up for failure. Dogs are not disposable! Surrendering a dog to a shelter should only be done as an absolute last resort. Be sure you are truly ready for the responsibility of dog ownership.

Top Tips for Housebreaking

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At Spring Forth Dog Academy, I work with a lot of dogs that are relieving themselves in the house. Housebreaking seems to be one of those things that either goes smoothly or is really troublesome. A lot of it depends on how your dog was raised, both before and after you acquired him.

Fire Hydrant by Rachael Voorhees (rachaelvoorhees on Flickr)

Photo Credit: Rachael Voorhees

Puppies raised on wire floor pens, such as dogs sold in pet stores, learn to relieve themselves where they sleep, making crate training and housebreaking difficult. Often new owners bring their puppy home and set them up in a playpen or crate with newspaper covering the entire floor, encouraging him to go anywhere he likes, whenever he pleases. These mistakes can create a habit of pottying in the house that can be tough to break.

Here are some of my favorite tips for teaching dogs to go potty outdoors.

Pick up the food bowl. “Free-feeding” your dog – leaving the bowl full of food all the time – is a bad idea for a myriad of reasons. Switching to feeding your dog two or three times a day, at the same time every day, is an easy way to regulate your dog’s “#2” schedule. Basically: scheduled input means scheduled output. Dogs typically relieve themselves shortly after eating a meal, but if your dog is picking at his food dish whenever he pleases, there is no way to take advantage of this function. Check out my post on free-feeding for tips on fixing this problem.

Clean up well. Even if it’s on a tile or linoleum floor, simply wiping up an accident with a paper towel isn’t going to cut it. A dogs’ sense of smell is approximately a thousand times better than ours, and they can still sniff out the spots where they have gone in the house unless you use an enzymatic cleanser such as Nature’s Miracle to clean it. Dogs establish preferred “potty spots” quickly – don’t let your living room rug become one! Every dog owner should have an enzymatic cleaner on hand for accidents.

Newspaper Photo by Nadia Szopinska (Flickr)

Photo Credit: Nadia Szopinska

Get rid of the newspaper. This tip is a twofer. First, punishing a dog for an accident just teaches the dog to not potty in your presence – which means your dog will pee behind the sofa or under the bed, not on a leash walk next to you. (It also will make your dog hand-shy and fearful of you. Just don’t do it!)

If you are serious about teaching your dog to relieve himself outside, pick up any newspaper or “pee-pee pads” you have in the house. Your rule must be that pottying is only acceptable outdoors, it is never acceptable indoors. Putting down a substrate for your dog to go potty on in the house is terribly confusing to the dog. I often find that dogs trained to use newspaper or pads generalize this behavior to relieving themselves on bath mats, towels, door mats, throw rugs, and clothing on the floor.

(If you want to teach your dog to use one specific indoor dog potty area – not pee-pads – a trainer can help you come up with a plan to achieve this. I have even helped clients do this through phone consultations, so contact me if that’s something you’re interested in.)

Be ready to get outside. Set yourself up for success by having your leash, clicker, treats, and slip-on shoes right next to the door, so that when it is time to get your dog outside, you are not wasting time looking for things. Why the clicker and treats? You can speed up the housebreaking process by clicking just as your dog finishes eliminating, then giving a treat.

Labrador Retriever Puppy by Andrew Magill (AMagill on Flickr)

Photo Credit: Andrew Magill

Know when he goes. Dogs typically develop a schedule of relieving themselves. As an example, my adult dogs wake up and immediately go outside and pee. They eat breakfast, then go outside again and do both #1 and #2. They are crated during the day while I am at work. When I arrive home in the mid-afternoon, they go out and pee. They eat dinner at the same time every evening, then immediately go outside and do #1 and #2. I take them out one more time before I go to bed and they will pee. It’s like clockwork.

Keep a record of when your dog gets a meal (or a really big treat), when he pees, and when he poops. Your record should distinguish between going outside or inside, so you can track your progress over time. Once you have kept records for a week or two, compare each day and see if you notice any patterns that you can take advantage of. You might notice that your dog is often having an accident at 7PM, so you start taking him outside at 6:30PM to prevent that.

Get professional help. If you are really struggling with teaching your dog to potty outdoors, or if your previously housetrained dog has suddenly begun eliminating in the house, contact your veterinarian. It could be a symptom of a larger problem. Teaching your dog to eliminate outdoors requires consistency, proper management, and a bit of patience! Once you have ruled out any health problems, get in touch with a positive reinforcement trainer who will help develop a plan if you still need help. Happy training!

Creative Puppy Socialization

20Helpful Hints, Puppies, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , ,

Good puppy socialization requires a bit of creativity. Read on some suggestions for getting your new addition “out and about” in the real world.

Puppy Socialization with Firefighter

Always be on the lookout for new people for your puppy to meet! This German Shepherd puppy is learning that people in uniform are a good thing. (Photo by Nicholas Wadler)

Remember that when socializing your puppy, your goal should always be exposure without overwhelming him. We want your puppy to experience novel things without getting scared or feeling too uncomfortable.

Younger Puppies

When your puppy is very young (under 16 weeks of age) and has not yet received all of his immunizations, carry the puppy in locations where lots of dogs or wildlife are present to limit the (already slim) possibility of picking up a disease. These places include pet stores and wooded areas or trails.

Don’t worry about your arms getting tired — you should be taking frequent, short trips to new places when socializing your puppy. Five to ten minutes is plenty of time. It is unrealistic to expect a ten-week-old puppy to spend two hours at a child’s soccer game. Use common sense: if you wouldn’t take an infant to a certain place, don’t take your puppy there, either. More info

The Power of Peanut Butter

21Group Classes, Helpful Hints, Reactive Dogs, TrainingTags: , , , , , ,
Peanut Butter

Behold! One of the most versatile dog training tools known to man. (Photo Credit: Victoria Chilinski)

What’s your favorite training tool? Dog trainers are always looking for the latest and greatest items to add to their bag of tricks. My answer can be found at any supermarket or convenience store: peanut butter!

For Agility Dogs

My passion for peanut butter began while attending agility classes with Tessie. She is a whiner, and would anxiously await her next turn on the equipment by making all sorts of strange noises. Springers are capable of making some pretty bizarre sounds and Tessie is no exception. (We call her the canine tea kettle.) A PB-stuffed Kong kept her quiet and relaxed while waiting in her crate.

Later in her agility career, I discovered that Clean Run sells refillable squeeze tubes. By filling one with peanut butter, I could keep Tessie’s focus ringside. This was something I struggled with because Tessie doesn’t enjoy tugging away from home. (Canned dog food works really well in squeeze tubes, too!)

For Reactive Dogs

My next great peanut butter discovery came while working with our puppy Finch. He is reactive towards people and other dogs. Finch strongly prefers playing with toys over eating treats, especially outdoors, which is where he sees his triggers. PB was the answer. It was valuable enough to him that he would take it while working outside. I also use crunchy peanut butter to disguise his pills — the broken pill pieces blend right in with the nut chunks!

I think that there is more to this than enjoying a tasty snack, though. My theory is that the act of licking is calming to the brain. I think it may have its roots in nursing behavior. Horses exhibit a “lick and chew” displacement behavior which is sort of like an equine calming signal. Perhaps someday someone will research this — does the use of a “lickable” treat promote calm, relaxed behavior?

Kong toys are perfect for enjoying peanut butter! (Photo by OakleyOriginals)

I have noticed other benefits, too. Other dog trainers often use peanut butter for dogs that tend to bark during group training classes. The PB basically glues the dog’s tongue to the roof of his mouth, allowing the owner a chance to reinforce quiet, polite behavior.

For that reason, I began using PB with my Reactive Recovery students. That class is the noisiest, with several dogs that will start barking at the drop of a hat (literally!). It did help to quiet the class down, but it had a wonderful side effect. The dogs made the silliest faces as they licked the peanut butter from their muzzles, and the owners began to laugh!

The tension level in the class dropped dramatically. With the laughing came more relaxed handlers. They felt more comfortable in class and progress came more quickly as a result.

Peanut butter also provides another benefit while working with reactive or fearful dogs: counter-conditioning. Typically, counter-conditioning is done by feeding the dog lots of tasty treats while being exposed to a trigger (like a person approaching). No trigger = no treats.

Using PB takes some of the work out of counter-conditioning, because it takes the dog several seconds of licking to fully consume it. The whole time this is happening, the brain is making the association between the trigger and the wonderful taste of peanut butter.

For Excited, Jumpy Dogs

In one of my Basic Dog Manners classes, I discovered another fun use for PB: teaching four-on-the-floor to a very bouncy dog. Capturing moments of calm was difficult, particularly when working on loose leash walking. But we soon found that the little dog couldn’t eat peanut butter and jump at the same time!

As she licked and licked to get the PB off the roof offer mouth, she walked calmly with all four feet on the ground. Another student remarked that the change was so significant that it was if that dog had been drugged. Never before have I so desperately wished for “before and after” video clips. It was quite remarkable.

In conclusion, now I crack open a jar of peanut butter and prepare a few plastic spoons before all of my classes! I’ll leave you with this video clip of Finch enjoying peanut butter as a five-month-old puppy. If this doesn’t make you smile, I don’t know what will! 🙂

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Puppy Nipping: A Plan to Stop It

10Helpful Hints, Puppies, Training, Tutorials and How-To GuidesTags: , , , , , ,

Puppy nipping is one of the most frustrating behaviors that new owners report. It hurts! But you’ll see a big reduction in puppy nipping in a short period just by getting some human cooperation.

Puppy Nipping - Dachshund

If this is a familiar sight, it’s time for a new training plan! (Photo Credit: Renata Lima, Flickr)

Let’s start by examining why your puppy is putting his mouth on things. I don’t like to spend a ton of time pondering why a dog is doing what he’s doing, but puppy nipping is such a frustrating behavior for owners that I find it helps to consider the puppy’s point of view.

Beginning at a young age, puppies bite each other during play. This behavior starts before you bring your puppy home from the breeder or rescue organization. The puppies are play-fighting and learning their own strength. If they bite a littermate too hard, the other puppy will respond with a high-pitched yelp. This tells the biter to tone it down next time.

This is why a common nugget of advice is “If your puppy bites you, shriek in a high-pitched voice.” This sometimes causes the puppy to stop. But sometimes the puppy thinks your noises are fascinating and bites harder next time; it gets him excited and worked up!

It just depends on your puppy… and your ability to make a high-pitched puppy yelp, something most men can’t do. I prefer to use methods that work more reliably. Here is the plan we use with our clients, as well as in our Puppy Day School program.

Step One

Institute a new house rule: everyone interacting with the puppy is “armed” with a soft, biteable toy. It should be long enough to keep your fingers away from the puppy’s mouth when playing. This is always within the puppy’s reach when you’re petting her, playing with her, or snuggling together. Praise the puppy for interacting with the toy.

Set yourself up for success by keeping a soft toy in your back pocket, another in a basket on top of the puppy’s crate, and another in the room where you tend to hang out with your pup the most. I recommend braided fleece toys and “unstuffed” plush toys (the kind that resemble roadkill).

Puppy Chewing Shoelaces

Tuck in shoelaces, sweatshirt drawstrings, and other dangly bits of clothing and jewelry to set your puppy up for success. (Photo by Nicki Varkevisser, Flickr)

Step Two

Don’t tempt your puppy! For at least the first few weeks, avoid wearing nice clothing or anything loose-fitting or dangling around her. Change out of your nice work clothes before interacting with your puppy. Tuck in shoelaces and sweatshirt drawstrings, and remove large earrings and necklaces, too.

This eliminates the puppy’s opportunity to grab on to these things and elicit an exciting reaction from you. We don’t want the puppy to learn things we wish she wouldn’t, such as “grabbing my mother’s earrings makes her squeak and push me around. That’s fun!” Not a good lesson.

You can also use bitter-tasting spray on things that you’re not likely to touch often, such as your shoelaces. The bitter taste can transfer to your fingers, so if you use this method, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food or touching your face.

Step Three

When your puppy mouths your hands, pull them away from her and keep them out of her reach for several seconds. I recommend sticking your hands in your armpits – your puppy can’t nip them there! Ignore your puppy for about 5 seconds. If she continues to try to nip during this time, it may be necessary to stand up or even leave the room.

After this little time-out, calmly present your toy to your pup and resume interacting with her. Praise and play with the puppy for engaging the toy, licking your hands, or just being polite. Repeat this step when the pup bites. Be consistent!

Remember that screaming or shouting at the puppy, pushing her away, or physically punishing the puppy by pinching her lips or clamping her mouth closed will either intensify the biting or scare the puppy, potentially leading to fearful and aggressive behaviors in the future.

If your pup bites on your clothing, gently remove the clothing from her mouth and prevent her access to that article of clothing. If she’s chewing on your shirt sleeve, stand up and roll up your sleeves. If she’s chewing on your pant leg, leave the room or step to the other side of a baby gate or puppy pen so she cannot reach you. Ignore her for a few seconds, then offer her the toy to play with.

Closing Thoughts

The purpose of these training steps is to teach the puppy that when she has the urge to put something in her mouth, she should pick an appropriate toy rather than your hands or clothing. Puppies need to bite, mouth, and chew as they grow, so rather than fight that instinct, channel it into appropriate items.

If you need to give your puppy a “time out” more than two or three times in a 10-minute period, she is either very wound up and needs a bit of exercise, or is overtired and needs to be put in her crate for a nap. Remember that the time out does not teach the puppy anything. It just provides an opportunity for your puppy to calm down enough to try other ways of interacting with you, which you must then reward.