Teenaged Dogs - What You Need To Know To Survive!

by Jaimee Hinkley

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Congratulations! Your puppy is now a teenager. Welcome to the wonderful world of selective hearing, refusal to perform previously known cues and regression in house training, barking, jumping, destructive chewing, mouthiness and whatever else may drive you absolutely batty! Good times!

Some dogs may only experience a few teenage symptoms. Some may not display any at all, but the vast majority of teenaged dogs will display some type of behavior that will leave you frustrated or puzzled.

With the introduction of adult hormones and growing and changing bodies and minds, the teenaged dog really is not that much different than the teenaged human child. They will test boundaries, they will push every button you have, previously loved activities will become ho-hum, and the world around them will become much more interesting than you.

The good news it that dog adolescence is just a phase and not a terribly long one in a dog’s life relatively speaking. There are all sorts of “time frames” people speak of, but it’s safe to say that for most dogs, adolescence will start between 4 months (for toy-sized breeds) to a year (in large/giant breeds). The bad news is that no matter when it starts, it is never short enough.

You will know when adolescence starts in your dog. You may have a moment where your puppy blows off a recall, when previously he had always run to you with enthusiasm. You may cue your dog to “sit!” – a behavior your puppy has been performing since you brought her home - and then notice that not only does your puppy not sit on cue, but looks at you with an expression that clearly states, “You must be speaking a foreign language, because I have no idea what to do.” Here are some common signs that your puppy’s “puppy pass” has expired and he is entering adolescence:

·       Ignoring your cues for behaviors on occasion

·       Mounting or humping objects/people/other dogs

·       Running off when called

·       Leg lifting in males when urinating

·       Squaring up to other dogs

·       Adult dogs in your home seem to be “correcting” your puppy for rudeness

·       More energy on a daily basis and nap times are less frequent

Why does their behavior change?

Adolescence is a learning time and they are getting used to their new bodies. Their senses are peaking, they are maturing sexually, and they see, smell, and hear better than ever before. Imagine this in a stronger and bigger body! These keen senses will naturally lead to a peak in curiosities, whether it's darting across the street after a squirrel or investigating what is in the grocery bag. They are building confidence and becoming independent, prompting them to try things on their own. Their brains are maturing and beginning to better understand the relationship of cause and effect. - http://dogs.answers.com/dog-behavior/adolescent-dog-surviving-the-teenage-years

Thankfully, there are lots of different ways that you can help guide your dog through the challenging period of adolescence.

- Keep up with your puppy’s training and education. Often, owners will become horrified or embarrassed by their teenaged dog’s behavior and start to sequester them away at home, avoiding training classes or socialization opportunities, simply because they lack the knowledge and skills to help their canine companion deal with life as a teenager. This is a huge mistake. It is precisely the time that you need to beef up your training, work on new skill sets, learn how to communicate with this (sometimes absent) canine brain and continue to expose your puppy to new and different environments, people and stimuli.

- Management, management, management. Teenaged dogs appreciate a regular schedule and appropriate rules and boundaries. This creates a constant in their life. Regular exercise to help release excess energy, plenty of good chewy toys to relieve stress, crate training, and activities that make the dog think are all invaluable during the teenage phase. If a dog is not allowed to rehearse misbehavior, it will not become their habit.

- The dominance theory is crap. Your dog engaging in behavior that you don’t appreciate is NOT your dog trying to dominate you. Your dog is NOT trying to take over your home or the world. They are engaging in behavior that may have been inadvertently reinforced previously. Barking for attention, pulling on leash, blowing off a recall or jumping in your face might be things that have worked for them in the past and, from your dog’s perspective, why not try it again? Dogs do what works for them. Reward behavior that you like and ignore behavior that you don’t.

- Impulse control is key. Teaching your dog a variety of behaviors that require him to exercise impulse control will go a long way in helping you survive adolescence.

- Life rewards versus food rewards. Start to incorporate more life/functional rewards into your training routine. Those tasty treats that your puppy just loved as a young pup may lose their appeal if faced with the choice of returning to you for those treats or chasing a squirrel. Incorporating life rewards into your training can be much more motivating to your teenaged dog. Rewards such as a game of fetch, a walk to sniff pee-mail, a game of tug or a “hunt” with you are all examples of life rewards that you can use instead of treats.

Think about this example:

Your teenaged dog is in your fenced-in yard, barking insanely at the squirrel in the tree who is taunting him by hanging out just far enough that your dog cannot reach him. You need your dog to come back inside. Your dog repeatedly ignores your cue to “come.” You go and get some treats, to try to bribe your dog to come back inside. Your dog continues to ignore you, even with the treats in hand. Two things are happening here. The first is that your dog is in a prey-driven/hindbrain mode. His prey instinct has taken over and you have been moved to the bottom of his stack of priorities. This is not because your dog doesn’t love you or respect you. It’s simply that, in this circumstance, barking at the squirrel is much more rewarding than leaving it to return to you for treats. If you go over to your dog, snap on his leash and gently guide him away from the squirrel and inside where he can focus on you again and get a behavior as simple as eye contact, you can then release your dog outside to chase and bark at the squirrel again. Given enough repetitions, the reward for coming in from the yard and offering a polite behavior is the release to go chase and bark at the squirrel again. Moral of the story: Don’t fight your dog’s instincts. You can never be more exciting than a squirrel. Use those instincts and desires and plan a reward-based training plan that incorporates them into your daily life with your dog.

- Build your relationship. Having a relationship with a true and meaningful bond with a dog isn’t only about whether your dog sits or downs on cue every single time, whether he always maintains a heel, or whether he runs an agility course flawlessly. Having a relationship is about fostering a connection with your dog, a partnership, in which clear rules are set, expectations are in place, communication is clear, and trust & respect shine through.

Consider this question when considering any new training adventure with your dog:

“How does this activity or skill build our relationship?”

If your answer is that it will build your relationship, feel good about doing it.
If your answer is that it will break down your relationship, walk away from it.

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