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Tackling (Sometimes Quirky) Pug Behavior

Pug Behavior and Dog Behavior

Pugs can be a little quirky, can’t they? Now, don’t get us wrong--pugs are FULL of charm. In fact, their quirkiness and pug behavior only adds to their appeal. They’re funny little goofballs full of wrinkles, snorts, snores and (and sometimes toots).

Pug behavior can also be occasionally confusing and lead to trouble. Pugs are a big dog in a small dog body, which means they can be a little too brave when they run up to hump a German Shepherd at the dog park. They can also be a bit stubborn and seem to have selective hearing. Pugs also have voracious appetites and tend to “eat first” and ask questions later. It’s not uncommon for a pug to eat, hump or lick something that gets them into a precarious situation.

When it comes to protecting your pug baby, the good news is that pugs are HIGHLY trainable. Being food-motivated works to their advantage: they will do anything for treats and positive reinforcement. Redirecting pug behavior isn’t terribly difficult, you just need to know where to start to set your dog up for success.

Here’s what you need to know to tackle some of the most pug-like of pug behavior.

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1. Humping

Some dogs are humpers and some dogs don’t even think about it. Pugs tend to fall on the “humper” side of dogs. Humping feels good, it’s a way to establish dominance (remember big dog in a small body) and once your pug has discovered the joy of the hump, it’s hard to get him or her to stop.

Unfortunately, you might be feeding into your pug’s need for attention, especially if you laugh or respond immediately to the humping behavior. Not only can humping be a little embarrassing for the owner, but dogs can also get themselves into trouble by trying to mount a dog-park-pal who doesn’t want to be dominated.

If you’re battling humping, first, your dog should be spayed or neutered of course (for many reasons). Intact animals are definitely more likely to mount others, so spaying or neutering is the best prevention. If your puppy humps his or her littermates, simply redirect the behavior quietly and move on. Often, once they’re “fixed” the humping will stop.

Some rescue pugs, who may have remained intact for longer OR simply discovered the joy of humping, struggle with this behavior. This is especially true when they feel insecure (like when company or a new dog comes to visit). Redirect their behavior with a firm, “no” the moment you see them go in for the hump. Offer them an exciting alternative (like a treat or a chew toy instead). Work with your pug on the “leave it” command and reinforce their positive behavior with treats and incentives.

The objective is always to give your pug a more enticing option than the bad behavior they’re about to engage in. Punishing them after-the-fact doesn’t send a clear message and only confuses and scares your pug. Give your pug plenty of exercise so they’re too tired to be naughty. Lastly, when your pug is in a new situation or meeting a new friend, keep them on a leash so you remain in control of their behavior (yes, even in the house).

2. Eating (EVERYTHING)

Pugs love to eat! They will do ANYTHING for food and while this can be a huge advantage for training (“You want me to run through this tunnel for a treat? Sure! You want me to twirl like a ballerina for a cookie? Here I go!”) it can also be unhealthy and even dangerous in some situations.

First of all, there are two eating issues when it comes to pugs: eating things they shouldn’t (yes, like eating poo) and eating too much. Each problem can be addressed separately.

Dog-proof your house to prevent your pug from getting into foods that could make them ill. This includes, storing foods like candy and chocolate in higher cupboards and always closing and latching pantry and closet doors. Install baby-proof latches on your cupboards if your pug is a Houdini-type. Weigh down your trash bin with a brick or rock in the bottom and keep it covered or enclosed. Keep your litter box clean and scooped (we recommend the litter-robot) and pick up the house. Never leave out leftover food or garbage. Pugs will find a way.

When pugs go out, keep them on a leash always. If they see a delicious sidewalk sandwich (or a poo snack) keeping them on a leash will help you pull them away and redirect. Keep a small pouch of yummy snacks on your belt to reward your pug when they “leave it!” After all, a pug that resists food is showing an IRON will. That good pug behavior deserves a treat! Keep your own yard picked up, so pugs can avoid temptation.

When it comes to overeating, this is where it’s our job as owners to protect our pug from himself. Preventing obesity in pugs is an important part of keeping your pug healthy. Many concerns such as joint issues, diabetes and breathing problems can be prevented simply by keeping your pug at a healthy weight.

To slow your pug down, we suggest a slow feeder dog bowl. This gives your pug a chance to actually taste her food before she snarfs it down. Feed your pug a high protein, wholistic food (such as Fromm’s) that offers them the nutrition they need. Most importantly: don’t free-feed or over-feed your pug. Feed your pug two or three small meals per day. A pug left to her own devices can polish off a bowl of kibble in three seconds flat. Help her control her portions.

When it comes to treats, pugs shouldn’t eat people food. It’s often too high in carbohydrates, fats, sodium and sugar for dogs. Plus, your food may contain ingredients that could make your pug ill (like avocado or chocolate). Carrots, peas and pumpkin make great healthy snackies, or try small bites of chicken, liver or trainer treats. It’s hard to resist sharing with your pug, but if you want to stop your dog from begging, never reinforce the behavior by giving in.

3. Licking Obsessively

Pugs LOVE to lick. In fact, many pugs can lick you for hours...and hours. While some people find this pug behavior charming (and preferable to destructive chewing) there are times when it can get to be a bit “much.”

If your pug licks areas they aren’t supposed to, like the wall or the couch, first clean the area thoroughly. Then wipe it with a little vinegar or lemon juice which can deter the constant licking. If they start licking, make a noise to startle them, and then redirect the behavior to a more appropriate licking toy.

As for the pug who licks you until you’re ready to scream? The first step is to stop allowing it to happen. Move away and redirect their behavior to a chew toy or other item you’d prefer they licked. Unfortunately, allowing your pug to lick sometimes and then redirecting other times can be confusing (“I’m a pug, not a mind-reader,”) so if you don’t want them to lick you, don’t send them mixed signals.

Licking is a way that pugs find comfort. It’s like other dogs and chewing. There’s no harm in licking as long as your pug is licking a toy or item that’s safe. Provide them with a frozen peanut-butter filled Kong toy if you’re looking for an involved pastime.

4. Acting Jealous

New baby or new puppy stealing your darling pug’s spotlight? It’s true, pugs like to be the CENTER of attention and the apple of your eye. They aren’t big lovers of sharing but they are very social. In fact, pugs naturally fit in a pack (incidentally, did you know a pack of pugs is called a “grumble?”).

Keep harmony in your grumble by spending plenty of one-on-one time with each individual pug. Keep playtime light and fun. Help everyone get plenty of exercise and allow breaks and downtime where the whole pack can get some moments alone to de-stress.

If you’re introducing a new pet into the mix, you may especially want to be aware at feeding time. It’s not a bad idea to feed everyone in separate areas while roles are being established. Pugs don’t usually resource guard from their humans, but they can get food aggressive, especially with new pack members. Alleviate the insecurity by giving your pug privacy during mealtimes. Put high value treats on hold and offer your resident pug treats FIRST before the newbie.

For new human (or non-canine) family members, simply be sure your pug is receiving plenty of attention and positive reinforcement whenever the new friend is around. Allow them to retreat to their crate or room if they need some alone time (especially with older pugs) and give them plenty of space. Always encourage children to be very gentle with pugs and never tease them with food or toys. Pugs are extremely gentle, but they will nip in very rare occasions, especially if they feel unsafe. Remember they are small and can get hurt or frightened.

5. Playing “Deaf”

Do you ever question your pugs hearing? Pugs are very good at pretending they don’t hear you. Drop the word “treat” and they’ll come running (“It’s a miracle!”)

Listening to their owner’s call can save a pug’s life. Having excellent recall is a vital skill and if there’s ONE area to train your pug on it’s coming when called. In order to train your pug, you have to build their trust. Find a word or command that you will only use for extreme emergencies and urgent situations (not just, “C’mon we need to go,”). Practice it and reward this command over and over.

You can practice recall with your pug on a long leash or in a fenced yard, but first begin in the house. Stand about 20 feet away from your pug with a high value treat (like hotdogs or cheese). Use the command, reward your pug when she comes running. Stand farther away, repeat. Once you’ve both got the behavior down pat, move to where your pug can see you. Give the command, reward, repeat.

Eventually you’ll move this practice to a busy area. Practice it when friends are over, or when something exciting is happening (like dinner’s being cooked). Try this command under many different distractions and scenarios. Move it to the yard. Then practice on a long leash or at the park. Reward your pug every single time. If you ever need your pug to urgently move out of danger’s way, you now have a command that will recall your pug like a rocket.

As for the many other times when your pug seems not to hear you (such as when you call their name, or ask them to come)--you can practice similarly, using different command along with a clicker and a treat. Eventually wean your pug off the treats (giving them every third or fourth response). Practice your commands regularly. This will improve your bond with your pug, build trust and let your pug know you’re reinforcing and rewarding her good behavior.

6. Barking at Nothing (or the TV)

Pugs aren’t the most vocal dogs. On the scale of barkers, pugs are nowhere near the level of say, a golden retriever’s bark or a terrier’s yip. But pugs do bark. Occasionally their “barker” seems to get stuck in the on position and it’s hard to get them to calm down. Some pugs react to passersby at the window, squirrels on the bird feeder or other dogs on TV.

If barking is a pug behavior you’d like to work on, it’s important to understand what’s triggering their barking outbursts. If it’s in response to the TV, you may need to limit your pug’s television watching or move her to her kennel (or behind a pillow) while you watch your favorite shows. If that’s not possible, you’re going to need to redirect the behavior every time your pug reacts, by asking them to do a positive behavior instead, and rewarding them. This takes practice (and you may feel like a human Pez dispenser for a while) but eventually your pug will learn that dogs on TV mean treats in their tummy!

Similarly, when your pug reacts to something outside, the doorbell or another noise with a barking frenzy, redirect their attention back to you. Ask them to sit, shake or do another command you’ve worked with them on. Then give them a treat. Practice the trigger behavior and reinforce the desired reaction over and over. Eventually, you’ll know your pug “gets it” when, instead of barking at the doorbell, they look at you expectantly for their “good dog reward.”

7. Being Stubborn

Stubborn? Pugs?! NE-VER.

Yes, it’s true, your pug can be pretty strong-willed and even obstinate when they want to be. Unfortunately owners often fall into the little dog-mentality, where it’s simply easier to pick up your small dog and carry them away then it is to train them properly. With big dogs, obedience is key--after all you can’t pick up a 90 pound Rottweiler when he misbehaves.

Even though pugs are occasionally stubborn, they are quite trainable and will rise to the occasion. If you’re struggling with getting your pug to behave on a leash, follow your instructions or come when called, it may be time for a training course or puppy school! Check with your local Humane Society or vet’s office for a listing of classes offered.

Many times, once pugs go through a basic dog manners class, you’ll see a whole new pug emerge. You see, many dogs need a “job” to keep them mentally stimulated, and pugs are no exception. Pugs are very smart, easily motivated by food and praise and love to make you happy. If your pug can channel their energy into positive behaviors, they just may surprise you with their transformation. Many pugs make excellent therapy dogs and you could even start your pug as a volunteer!

Almost all dogs benefit from the socialization and regime provided by a positive training class. Even experienced owners can brush up on their skills and connect with their pug one-on-one. Giving your pug the gift of proper training will help strengthen your relationship, boost your communication and lead to many happy years to come!

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Madisyn Madisyn
Madisyn Madisyn
Jul 19, 2022

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