“Where did my puppy go” is often the first hint that your dog is an adolescent. We aren’t just talking size but behavior, attitude, self control challenges. That puppy who was so desperate for attention you only had to think about him and there he was. So many times I hear “well, our puppy is so well behaved we don’t need training or socialization. Then the dog gets to about six months of age, give or take, and they appear to go nuts.
Why does this happen? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Biologically they are in puberty. Even if desexed their brain is still developing until around the age of 2. And just like humans, the last part of the brain to finish developing is the frontal cortex. Guess what area of the brain controls impulse control? Somewhere between 18 months and 36 months (typically around 24 months) the frontal cortex is complete.
Many dog owners don’t think about this time period. Somewhere around 6 months, when the dog’s appears is less puppy and more adult, they begin expecting adult behaviors. To best explain this, just because a 13 year old human can reach the pedals of the car does not mean they are mentally mature enough to be able to handle the responsibility of driving. This is also why many adolescent “out of control” dogs are turned into shelters. The first step in this is to remember that your adolescent dog is not an adult, nor are they a puppy. They do, however, need training. Much of their puppy training goes out the window as they start to express behavior typical of an animal getting ready to leave the nest. Go back to the basics, build your relationship with your dog. Be sure to engage in play with your dog as part of the training. Don’t spend hours training do spend a few minutes here and there.
The puppy who never jumped may suddenly decide to jump. Why? To get your attention. Suddenly they aren’t the cute puppy that everyone wanted to engage. Now they are bigger, louder and kind of obnoxious. Most of the attention they receive is for bad, in your face, behavior. It’s important not to give that type of behavior any reinforcement, which includes your attention. From that first jump turn sideways, say “sit” and ignore the dog until that behavior happens. Remind them that only good manners should get them attention. Spending time training reinforces that good behaviors = rewards.
Even your dog’s sleep habits may change so they need more positive mental stimulation to help them sleep consistently. Physical exercise is good (check with your vet on what your dog needs) but if you only focus on physical exercise you will have a well conditioned athlete that constantly needs more activity to maintain. You want a good balance of mental to physical exercise.
Adolescent dogs have up and down behavior. One day on point and the next day checked out. This is perfectly normal. On bad days try to do shorter training sessions, more random requests for a behavior in exchange for a life reward.
Although you still want to keep socializing your dog to new experiences, animals and people understand that some days they may not want to be social, even fearful. Do not force them into a situation. If you are on a walk just turn around and go the other direction, talking softly and finally offering a reward when the dog’s attention is back on you. Let your dog set the pace. Most issues at this point are a result of not listening to your dog and pushing them into a situation they weren’t comfortable with which means the next time may be even worse.
The encountered dog on the walk may be a perfectly lovely dog but now an imprint has happened. Now your dog may be thinking “I was scared the last time I saw that dog and I had to go right up to it and that scared me even more. Maybe if I bark louder or meaner sounding that dog will go away and leave me alone.” We want him to remember nothing happened. He saw the dog, became uncomfortable and his handler turned him around and walked away from that scary thing. Guess what happens now? Your dog goes at his own pace, gradually getting closer until he’s able to be confident in his greeting.
Training and recall are going to be hit and miss during this time. Always EXPECT the right behavior but be PREPARED for the challenging behavior. I expect my dog to come when I call but I am prepared to have a special yummy treat and am ready to engage the dog in a game of chase the handler or a special tug toy if I need to. Remember, in the animal kingdom adolescence is the time that prepares an animal to leave the nest by learning the skills they need to survive. Teaching them new behaviors and fun tricks are ideal for this time. It keeps their brain active and learning. And it’s hard to get mad at a dog doing a silly trick.
The holiday season is almost upon us. Wait, Leave It and Place can keep your dog from getting into trouble. Spending time now teaching, proofing or fine tuning these behaviors can help keep your dog safe as well as a welcome part of the celebrations.
Wait. Wait tells the dog to wait a moment, be patient and something else is going to happen. Wait while you hook their leash up, wait while your food is prepared, wait before going out the door, wait before getting in or out of the car. This gives you time to do something safely and without mishap from a dog jumping, darting, even knocking things out of your hands.
Leave It. This cue prevents a dog from snatching or eating something they shouldn’t have. With all the food , breakable decorations and even extra medications due to seasonal illnesses that are around knowing your dog has a rock solid leave it can save their life.
Drop It. Teaching a dog to drop an item that they’ve already picked up, such as the random sock, wrapped gift, shoe, will end those unwanted games of chase. With a solid Drop It cue the dog will drop the item instead.
Place. A dog who knows to go to their safe spot while you answer the door, carry packages thru the room, clean up a mess, can alleviate a lot of tension. This is a great way to prevent them from darting out the door when holiday visitors or deliveries arrive.
If your dog already knows these cues start practicing now. Just a few minutes per day, adding them in here and there, will help the dog be ready to deliver the requested behavior when you ask for it. If your dog doesn’t know these cues or they aren’t working like they should, then reach out for help. It can eliminate some of the stress of the season.
Remember that cute little puppy you brought home a few months ago? Where did he go?
The dog between 6 and 18 months of age is not quite an adult but no longer a young puppy. Just because they are ‘full size’ doesn’t mean their brain is fully developed. It may even seem all the work that you have put into his training has gone up in smoke. No worry, tho, your sweet puppy is still in there, he is just growing up and going thru that ‘awkward phase’ that many trainers refer to as the Brat Zone, the adolescent. Here are a few tips to get thru this time.
Don’t stop training. Get out the treats, toys, games and train. Keep the sessions short but fun.
Work for food. Incorporate food puzzles, snuffle mats, kongs, find it games. Mental exercises (brain games) will help your dog’s brain form the right connections and learn to make positive choices. It lowers anxiety levels and lessens the chances for destructive behaviors developing.
Physical exercise is important and when incorporated with mental exercise you get more bang for your buck. Take the dog for a walk in a new area, allow the dog to sniff and explore the area but also practice a few basics on the walk as well. Focus less on heel and more on what your dog is getting out of the walk.
Socialize. Many dogs that went thru puppy classes no longer have opportunities to socialize. Arrange play dates with compatible dogs, attend classes just for the social, get involved in rally or Fit Dog clubs.
Be prepared for ups and downs. One day your dog may be spot on, the next day not so much. This is normal. And temporary. Patience is the key.
If you let the dog get away with something once he will expect it again. And again. And again. Example, if you let the dog jump on you now you will be setting up it up for the future. Make sure you continue enforcing the rules you’ve already set in place.
What is THE most underutilized cue? Focus. While it is one of the first new behaviors taught in basic obedience it seems to fade away once sits, downs and stays become our "go to"s. It shouldn't, tho. A solid focus means that no matter the distraction the dog's attention will be on you. It helps develop self control and calmness.
Does your dog have a trigger that keeps him from listening to you? He sees another dog/person/rabbit while on leash and his manners go out the window? With a solid focus when you see the trigger you can ask for his attention until the trigger is gone.
Practice focus everywhere. Start with no distractions and then add as many environments as possible until the behavior is generalized (dog trainer speak for a behavior that is consistent everywhere).
Start with high value treats initially and big praise. Make sure you always praise or give a life reward when it is successful. Remember, they need a reason to look at you rather than the distraction.
At home ask for it randomly while you are watching tv, fixing dinner, reading... Say the dogs name and then ask for focus, using the treat to lure the dogs gaze to yours. Take the behavior from room to room, adding distractions. Have your spouse or child clap, move around, open and close doors. Go outside, in your yard and randomly on walks. As with any learned behavior continue to ask for it randomly, even after it becomes automatic, otherwise may fade and not be there when you need it.
Well, first, it takes a commitment to your dog and family to do what it takes to make it work. It's not magic, it is work.
Second, you need to understand who you've hired, what their philosophy is, what protocols will be put in place and be comfortable following thru. If you aren't comfortable following thru and, with some research into it still feel that way, then it might be best to look for a trainer who's philosophy more aligns with yours. Everyone needs to be on the same page for it to work. This is not to say one trainer is right and another is wrong but a matter of which one is right for you.
Third, you have to understand that it starts with baby steps, in the very beginning, at the simplest point in order to capture and keep the dog's attention, establish communication and trust. Each following behavior is added in a specific order so that it reinforces the previous behavior while adding the new behavior. Each step has to be climbed in order to get to the landing. You can't skip a step without losing progress. And sometimes, if we move too fast, we go backwards a little bit to make sure we don't leave anyone behind.
As the behaviors come together, working with each other, and the dog learns when to provide these different behaviors we have success. We have a well mannered dog that knows how to listen, what to provide and can continue to learn new, even more exciting, behaviors.
Above you see Henley. Henley has learned his basics thru AKC STAR Puppy and CGC classes. He can provide these basics in different environments with different distractions. But it all started with the first step. Each behavior leads to the next behavior. Your commitment to the training to follow thru. It's not magic, it's work. And a sense of accomplishment when you get the end.
Frustration does not make for good training. If you are working on a new behavior or trying to advance a known behavior and it is not going well then stop. Take a breath. Look at the dog's body language. Are the ears going back, eyes showing whites, is their lip licking? Is he tensing up? If so then its time to take a break. He is frustrated at not understanding what you want and he knows you are frustrated with what he is giving you. Ask for a well known command, usually a sit or focus, and end the session. Start fresh tomorrow when you are both in a better place.