There is a point in your dogs life when you may find them at ‘best’ a little mischievous, and at times down right horrid! Yes thats right, even as an avid dog lover and owner, I go through a phase with most of my dogs, where they test my last nerve and I wonder if its too late to give up dog training and get Koi Carp!
Between the ages of 6-14months, your dog will enter into adolescence and with it you will most definitely be facing some challenges. This tends to happen just when you want to really progress their training, and you want to start some of the ‘really’ fun stuff with them. However out of nowhere, you start to see subtle changes. It may be a loss of focus, or a lapse in concentration… it may be a cheeky recall, where you use that second cue, assuming your little darling just didn’t hear you, or it may be something more serious like an unprovoked attack on your young dog or they your young dog attacks another dog, without being provoked.
So your previously sweet, endearing little darling has now turned into Cujo! And before you know it, his reputation has spread like wildfire with people drawing their dogs away as they see you approach, and picking up their children up and shoving them up into trees, till you pass…. any of this sounding familiar?
Adolescents is a testing time to say the least, and this is when relationships are largely made or broken. Your young dog is transitioning from a puppy to an adult, and as a result their body will be undergoing lots of changes. Hormones will be running a-mock, and their behaviour changes aren’t them being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, but physiological changes that they cant help. Male dogs will be emitting testosterone from their system, which is like a bellisha beacon to other dogs that there is a young adolescent male present. Some other dogs will take this as a threat in itself, and some others will perceive this as threatening. This can instigate ‘
unprovoked’ acts of aggression. Which long term can create fear, defensive behaviour, anxiety etc. Adolescence is often a time when behaviour deemed ‘reactive’ can develop, be this because of your dogs experience or from anxiety that develops post a traumatic event at this time in your dogs life.
With female dogs enter adolescence, they will be due to season, which can cause unpredictable nervousness and ‘seeing’ ghosts. This is where your previously happy go lucky baby, starts to spook and act apprehensively without any due cause.
Adolescence can last up to approximately 3yrs, depending on the breed and type of dog. This isn’t to say that this level of unpredictable behaviour will be constant throughout this time period, it will very much a rollercoaster. You may get weeks or months of your dogs behaviour improving, then out of nowhere you’ll get a regression. To say it can be challenging and frustrating, would be an understatement.
For those that wish to follow a path of reinforcement, the question is how do I navigate this incredibly testing time, yet follow a path of reinforcement based training.
Well firstly, lets be clear. Positive is not permissive. Because you follow a reinforcement based approach to training, doesn’t mean you have to be a door mat. Dogs need clear boundaries and education, especially at this time.
Here are some simple points that should help you through adolescence.
1. Firstly you will need to become the master of management. The less your dog can rehearse inappropriate behaviour, the better. Anticipating the situation your dog will be in, and being prepared is crucial. Employ the good will of others to help you, and set up learning experience that you can control that mimic ‘real life’ rather then have unplanned uncontrolled interactions, where possible.
2. Don’t turn up to a gun fight armed with a knife… reinforcement is your friend! Ensure you control access to reinforcement and are always armed with high value reinforcement. If you don’t have the appropriate reinforcement for the situation, just avoid it!
3. Socialisation doesn’t stop at puppy hood, it should continue throughout your dogs life. However cherry pick the dogs you allow your dog to interact with, for example I avoid other adolescent entire males with my own adolescent entire male. At this age, due to the hormone changes, there is a higher chance your dog may be unpredictable, and this could be a catalyst for an unnecessary altercation.
4. Accept that you will have good days and bad days, its normal! This is not permanent. You will get through this! Be patient, breath and go to your ‘happy’ place!
5. Don’t prioritise your dogs ‘proper’ training at the most challenging times, as their lack of concentration and limited focus will merely frustrate you and sour the association. They can’t help it. Just stick to simple behaviours and focus on ‘focus’. Prioritise your relationship.
6. One on one time will be crucial. If its a 5min Training session, or a one on one walk, take the time to relationship build with your terrible teen. Its this relationship that will get you through the hard times.
7. Expect tantrums and tiara’s. They may have some extreme reactions to life at this time, stay calm, don’t take it personally and remember reinforcement is key!
8. Your recall will probably disappear at some point during your dogs teenage years, feeding meals via Training, being mindful of pairing all things of value to your dog, with you and desirable behaviours will increase your worth.
9. Don’t be afraid to scream, rant and vent!! Just not at the dog directly…. thats what friends are for! Get it off your chest… the teen years are testing! You are ok to say that at moments your dog isn’t your favourite ‘person’ at times!
10. There are times to manage behaviour, times to train against behaviour and times to just ignore behaviour! Thats right, don’t try to climb Everest in one step. Pick battles, some things can wait for a more appropriate time or are they really ‘that’ bad. Your dog is still maturing, some things may just disappear with age. Be patient.
Finally, remember we have all been there. You will get through this, and relationships are made of various phases, this is just part of the journey. In years to come you will chuckle at the testing antics, and wonder what all the fuss was about!