Dog’s Eye View: Training through adolescence |

Dog’s Eye View: Training through adolescence

She was so soft. She nuzzled close and licked my chin and fell asleep in my arms. Putting her to bed was like gently placing a tiny infant to rest. You hardly could bear to leave her alone. She looked at you with such adoration. You were the light of her life. She took your gentle reprimands with a woeful look of humility. She lived to please you and be near you and follow you everywhere. You were her hero and protector.

And then she turned 6 months old, the age of burgeoning adolescence.

What happened? You thought you did everything right. Your puppy was coming along nicely. Potty training was almost there. Play biting was diminishing, and her manners were improving.

Who replaced my beautiful wonderful puppy with this demon from the underworld?

Your beautiful wonderful puppy has entered adolescence. This stage of development is the primary reason we see so many adolescent dogs in shelters.

I’ve gone into a couple of my resource books to take a better look at what actually is contributing to this challenging period of growth. One book gives a focus on the age of 6 months having a “sensitive period,” meaning this is a time when pups are especially sensitive to environmental encounters such as loud and frightening noises and negative encounters with other dogs that bully or threaten them. Or especially hard punishment handed out by a family member.

Depending on the individual pup, an attack or play time with a dog that bullies can have lasting consequences. The old saying, “Oh, just let them work it out,” or “Once my dog lets the other dog know whose boss, everything’s just fine” is misleading. There are two things wrong with taking this position.

The dog that is victimized by a bully can develop defensive aggressive tactics to deal with other dogs he meets. The dog that bullies other dogs becomes more assertive and often can take that behavior to a dangerous point.

The onset of sexual maturity also plays a role in the seemingly overnight changes in behavior. Ask any parent of teenagers what happened to your little leaguer or your tiny ballerina? The production of the female hormone estrogen affects dog behavior in many ways: It increases general activity levels, promotes increased urine output and marking, increases vocalization and stimulates nervous arousal in female dogs (Hart, 1995).

Ah ha! That’s why potty training breaks down. That’s why she’s suddenly barking at everything.

In general, males also present more frequently than females with other common behavior problems (Hart and Hart, 1985a), including playfulness, destructiveness, snapping at children, territorial defense and general activity excesses.

According to the Hart’s study, females are more trainable, easier to house train and more affectionate. Areas where no significant differences between the sexes were found include watchdog barking, nuisance barking and general excitability. (These quotes and information came from Steven Lindsay’s Volume II “Etiology and Assessment of Behavior Problems”).

So, now what? Train, train and keep training.

Do not take good behavior for granted. Reward and reinforce behavior you like.

With “teenagers,” we have a tendency to react to the bad more than reinforcing the good. It’s important to keep working on your relationship. Limit options and supervise interactions with other dogs and especially children.

Understanding the underlying physiology behind the behavior is half the battle. Your dog is not possessed and does not require an exorcist. Your dog needs consistent rules and boundaries and tons of reinforcement for appropriate behavior.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25-plus years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.

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