Teen Angst Part I: Your Adolescent Dog Will Drive You Crazy
Despite the fact that the Lomonaco household has certainly reached it's doggy quota, I cannot help but ogle Petfinder more often than I should. I am always struck by the demographics of the dogs on the site - it seems that the vast majority of adoptable dogs are adolescents. Last week I was chatting on the phone with yesterday's guest blogger Miranda Workman, who confirmed that she sees this at the Erie County SPCA - she said that unless they pull a litter from a high kill shelter out of state, the majority of the dogs they get are adolescents. They get a few seniors, and very few adult dogs.
Trainers have a tendency to (rightfully) emphasize to our clients the significance and importance of early socialization and management during critical stages of development which occur before the age of 16 weeks. Training a puppy well, during these first few months of life, will establish the foundation for a lifetime of good behavior and reduce the likelihood of behavior problems like reactivity, aggression, resource guarding, inappropriate elimination, etc. Puppies are easy to train and learn new skills quickly. It's very easy to teach a puppy a nice recall, cute tricks, and basic manners.
You complete your six week puppy course. Your dog recalls rapidly and enthusiastically. He has learned to use his mouth appropriately and developed fine bite inhibition. He likes meeting new dogs and people. You are, understandably and deservedly, thrilled with the culmination of your training endeavors.
Enter adolescence. Your dog is still emotionally immature but is reaching adult size. You take him to your friend's house for a play date with a favorite doggy friend. Because your puppy had such a nice recall, the dogs are allowed to play together off leash in an unfenced environment. You recall your dog, who up until now has been perfect at coming when called -he looks you in the eyes, smiling, and takes off in the opposite direction at full speed.
He learned potty training quickly and was extremely reliable. Now, at a year old, your unneutered male dog has began lifting his leg in your house. He peed on your Christmas tree throughout the holidays. He also does it when you take him to the pet store to pick up your supplies for the month - marking every aisle as his own with a stream of urine.
On walks, he is exhibiting behavior which concerns you. When he sees another dog while out on a walk, he strains to the end of his leash, barking, demanding greeting access to the other dog immediately. This initially starts out as barrier frustration - "I want to check that out but can't get to it!" If you are easily frustrated, you may be tempted to "correct" this behavior by tugging on the leash or scolding your dog. (We'll talk later this week about why this is a bad idea and what to do instead.)
Perhaps he is exhibiting more territoriality in your yard. As a puppy, he may have wagged and wiggled if a neighbor approached your fence line with the offer of a treat and butt scratch - now that same situation may unleash a salvo of barking and jumping at the fence.
Your dog meets a new dog and, instead of immediately play-bowing, growls and barks, hackles raised.
You may find it a challenge to provide your dog with the amount and variety of appropriate physical exercise he requires. He finds other outlets for all that energy - digging, chewing, biting, barking, digging under or jumping over your fence to allow himself a romp through the neighborhood. He learns to empty the contents of your refrigerator and freezer when you are gone for the day - you think he has separation anxiety, he thought demolishing your family's foodstuffs and spreading them throughout your home was a blast!
I get the impression that many of my clients think that dogs go from cute little snuggly puppies directly into adulthood and emotional/physical maturity, forgetting that there can be one to four years in between those stages of dealing with sometimes pushy and obnoxious adolescent behavior. Puppy class is only the beginning - continuing education throughout your dog's adolescence will be equally important in determining the well-being of your dog and your relationship with him.
This week, I hope to share with you some advice and information which will help you successfully understand and rear your dog through adolescence.