“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 session, 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 read 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 furn tricks are ideal for this time. It keeps their brain active and learning. And it’s hard to get made at a dog doing a silly trick.
Dogs wear muzzles for many different reasons, not just aggression.
They like to eat things they shouldn't
They may be a bit hyper and mouthy
Practicing for a vet visit
To ask for "space" so random people don't feel the need to approach and pet a dog who may not want to be petted
A nervous handler needing more confidence in controlling an anxious dog during training
Protecting a new puppy when unsure how an older dog will adapt
Why is it a good practice to teach a dog to wear a muzzle? Putting a dog into a situation where they are already uncomfortable and then adding the never-before-worn muzzle adds even more stress to the situation. This means their next experience with training, at the vet or groomers will be even more stressful.
My dogs are all muzzle trained. Over the past couple of years our Desi has had a lot of vet visits due to skin issues. As the vets and vet techs are climbing over this 150 pound Great Dane to examine and obtain scrapings and biopsies they need to feel safe in order to give him the best care. I am not offended and actually offer to muzzle him. I want to make sure he's getting the best care but I don't want him stressed out, either, since that can make his issues worse.
We start muzzle training early. We show them the muzzle, let them sniff and check it out, giving them treats. Then we put treats in the muzzle so they can put their faces in to get the treats. Once they are consistently putting their snouts in by their own choice we add the strap. Then we secure it, very briefly, with a high value squirt of spray cheese added. Gradually they wear it for longer and longer periods of time, adding activities such as going outside or for walks, always keeping it fun with high value treats.
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.
Operant Conditioning is learning thru consequence (both rewards and punishments). We learn that if we do one thing, something else will follow. Science has repeatedly shown us that long term, rewards are more successful. Study after study shows us this. A Review of Dog Training Methods: Welfare, Learning ability, and Current Standards, authored by IJ Makowska, M.Sc., Ph.D. for the BCSPCA, she demonstrates thru multiple studies and research just how important making the right choices in training are to a dog’s welfare.
I am going to use a simple example, flipping on a light switch and being rewarded with the light. If we want that light to turn on then every time we must flip that switch to make it happen. This is what we are teaching a dog with positive reinforcement. We do not have to use aversives such as shock collars (or electric, static, whatever you want to call it), prong collars or even high pitched whistles.
How would this work, say, if I wanted you to turn on the light but you didn’t know that was what I wanted? Imagine that I put you in a room and wait for you to turn the light on. Then, every time you did something, but that something wasn’t turning on the light, you were punished. You stand up “zap”. You sit down “zap”. You ask what I want “zap”. This is positive punishment. At what point would you become reactive to everything because nothing is working or simply shut down and give up? How did you learn to flip the switch? You saw someone, probably a parent, do it and then did it yourself and were rewarded with the light turning on or off. This is positive reinforcement.
How simple is this to do? When a dog is jumping they don’t KNOW this is the wrong behavior. They just know it will get your attention. So we choose the behavior we want them to do and then remove our attention from the jump and teach them that sitting gets them your attention. The dog darts out the door getting freedom and a game of chase. Wait, that’s not what you WANT them to do? Again, we determine the wanted behavior, not darting out the door. So first, we prevent the dart with a baby gate and/or leash and teach them that waiting while the door opens gets a reward. Then we teach them that going thru the door on cue gets a reward. Now the dog is waiting at the door instead of darting. We can even teach them to turn on that light switch by stacking behaviors.
Yes, this will take some time, especially if your dog has spent time learning the wrong behaviors. In the end, tho, your dog will be happier and less likely to develop behavior issues. Using science and reward based training methods; this is how we should be teaching our dogs. Teach Rover that he must do certain things in order to get that reward. If he doesn’t do the behaviors that are required then he won’t get the reward. With dogs we cannot explain this to them but we can teach them by demonstrating that every time they make the right choice something good happens. When they make the wrong choice they get nothing. No attention, no yummy treats, no games to play, no snuggle time.
Initially, we work on small, simple behaviors such as focus and sit to get rewards. Then we make things a little harder. Sitting and waiting in one place. Add in coming when called. Learning to choose the cooperative behavior in order to participate in the rewards of yummy treats, snuggle time, games of tug of war, going for fun walks.