“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.
One of my hardest challenges as a dog owner is trimming the nails. I'm always nervous that I'll get the quick and that nervousness makes the dogs antsier. Not to mention how hard it is for me to exert enough pressure to clip a Great Dane's nails.
Zoinks breeder has been showing off how easy it is to dremel dog nails so I finally broke down and got the right bit and have been conditioning Zoinks to let me dremel her nails. This started slowly, first with the dremel off and then gradually increasing the speed (and noise) before ever touching the nails. I've now done a few sessions with her and it's gone amazingly well so we are now conditioning the others to it. To make a positive association with the dremel we use a lick mat smeared with peanut butter (make sure it doesn't have xylitol in it). Just use a small amount, smeared on the mat, and then chilled it goes a long way. You could also use plain yogurt, cheese, liver wurst or even canned dog food.
What’s in a name? Everything. It is a cue that says “I’m talking to YOU, please pay attention to what I have to say.” Unfortunately when we use our dog’s name we often “dilute” it. Diluting a cue happens when it’s used to often, in too m any ways, and the meaning becomes too vague for the dog to understand. This happens often if we repeat it too many times or use one word for different uses. An easy example is the cue “down”. It may be used to ask the dog to lay down or it may be used to get the dog down from jumping or on furniture. The dog starts to ignore the cue because he isn’t sure what it means. A dog’s name often gets diluted. We may mean “stop that” when they are doing something they shouldn’t, “leave it” when they are trying to get something they shouldn’t have, “come” when wanting them to come to you. The dog knows you are talking to him but he doesn’t know what you want him to do. So he starts to ignore it unless he has a second cue, such as plastic wrap crinkling or food hitting the dish, which tells him that something good may happen. When you use a person’s name you engage with them. It means “I would like your attention, please”. Dogs should have that same meaning attached to their name. We start almost all new clients with this exercise. It sets the foundation for all future communication with your dog. It teaches your dog that when you say his name he should pay attention because you have something to tell him. Start in a quiet room with few distractions by saying your dog’s name. Then wait 15 seconds for him to turn toward you. He doesn’t have to make eye contact, just acknowledge that he heard you. When he does say “yes” and offer him a small, soft treat. If he hasn’t responded after 15 seconds repeat his name but adjust your pitch to help get his interest. You want that 15 second delay before repeating the name so that it doesn’t blend together in the dog’s brain. Repeat this several times until he’s staring at you and waiting for the next treat. Once that happens follow the name with a cue he knows, such as “Fido, sit”. Or take this moment where you have his attention and teach him a new behavior. Gradually increase the distractions and change the environment, such as outside in the yard. Randomly say Fido’s name and ask for a behavior, offer a toy or say “lets play” and engage in a game of tug. Make sure you don’t use his name only to end his fun or he will start to ignore it. You want to engage him once you’ve said his name. Engaging with your dog will keep him focused on you when you need him to be.
One of the most frequent requests I receive is about training your own service dog. The ADA covers Service Dogs but NOT Service Dogs In Training (SDiT). SDiTs are regulated by most states. Some states, such as California, mimics federal SD law with either a trainer or disabled handler. Others states may have much tighter laws on who can train and what, if any, access rights the dogs have.
This handy table from the University of Michigan College of Law, authored by Rebecca F Wisch, is dated for 2019 and covers all states for both Service Dog and Service Dogs In Training, including Fraudulent Service Dog laws. (It's always up to the handler to confirm accuracy and up to date information in your area.)
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.
With all the holiday foods, treats, gifts, guests and socializing dogs can be exposed to things that are harmful. Even the best trained dog may be offered something they shouldn't eat or find something that isn't good for them. If you suspect your dog has ingested something they shouldn't have, getting proper treatment as quickly as possible is essential.
In our area emergency vets are quite a bit of travel time as well as being very expensive. One year our curious puppy ate something she shouldn't have (and that we shouldn't have left out). Of course it was a Sunday and knowing the emergency vet was over an hour away we contacted the ASPCAs Poison Control number (888) 426-4435. For a fee (a fraction of the cost of an emergency vet visit) they were able to advise us what to do and we avoided that long, scary and expensive trip. I highly recommend keeping their information close at hand.
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.