Adolescence may be the time of your dog’s life when he requires the most training. Aside from working toward any competitive goals you may have, here are some general training considerations for adolescent dogs.
Impulse control, impulse control, impulse control
Is there any benefit at all to the demanding, impulsive behaviors of an adolescent dog? Absolutely. This is a great time for implementing The Premack Principle and using real life reinforcement to wean off the food reinforcers you used to establish good behavior during puppyhood. This is a great time to harness good behavior through play and thoughtful provision of access to desired resources and experiences. At all times, you must be aware of what your dog wants and how he can earn access to those things through giving you the behaviors you desire. It’s a win/win!
Leslie McDevitt’s great book “Control Unleashed” will give you lots of ideas for impulse control exercises. I also recommend Nan Arthur’s book “Chill Out, Fido! How to Calm Your Dog.”
Train relaxation as a behavior
For many dogs, relaxation is a learned skill. I like to practice “bio-feedback,” clicking and reinforcing signs of increased relaxation including – yawning, resting head on paws, shifting weight onto a back hip when in a down position, sighing, blinking, etc. Turid Rugaas’s book “Calming Signals” is a great resource to get you started and a short read.
In addition, don’t hesitate to use calming aids including massage, Through a Dog’s Ear, aromatherapy, Dog Appeasing Pheremone, etc. Your trainer should be able to give you more information on calming aids that may help you and your dog traverse the troubled waters of adolescence together successfully.
Go back to basics
When you were a puppy, you probably concentrated heavily on socialization, chewing and nipping, jumping, and potty training. All of these exercises must continue throughout adolescence. Because your teen dog will be going through a second fear period, revisit the skills you developed in puppy class for building confidence. If your dog missed out on puppy class, find a trainer who can help teach you to build confidence in your dog around triggers through positive reinforcement and classical conditioning. If your dog begins marking, go back to the crating, food and watering, management and reinforcement schedule that served you well during puppyhood.
If your dog is chewing on everything, make sure you manage the situation when you are unable to supervise and redirect to appropriate chewing opportunities when you are. If your dog is prone to jumping, do not hesitate to use crates, gates, tethers, and leashes to prevent him from rehearsing the unwanted behavior while you work through the training protocols.
Mind and Body Exercise
Adolescents need more exercise than puppies, adult dogs, or seniors. The amount of exercise a dog needs varies substantially by breed and individual. As important as it is to make sure your dog gets a good amount of exercise, I also like owners to consider exercise variety – a leash walk is not the only (or even necessarily the best) way to provide your dog with exercise. Exercise may include:
- playing with other dogs
- off leash exploration
- back packing
- play with a flirt pole
and those are only a few of the many options! When I attended a seminar given by behaviorist Ali Brown, Ali recommended that dogs receive at least three different types of exercise per day. Different types of exercise will also work different muscle groups, giving you a healthier and more athletic dog! Contact your veterinarian before beginning a serious exercise regimen with your dog to find out what may be most appropriate for his level of physical development.
As important as physical exercise is mental stimulation. Many, many behavior problems are rooted in boredom. The following are a few suggestions for mental stimulation:
- chew toys – bully sticks, pressed rawhide, Himalayan dog chews, RMB (raw meaty bones, to raw feeders), etc.
- food dispensing toys – Kongs are perhaps the best known, but there is a huge variety of these toys on the market, including Tug a Jugs, Kibble Nibbles, Kong Wobblers, Nina Ottosson toys, etc.
- play – play with you, toys, and other dogs is a great form of mental stimulation as well as being a potent reinforcer for many dogs
- Training, especially capturing, shaping, and proofing exercises
- New environments – change up your walk! If you normally walk your dog in 30 minutes increments and always take the same route, you may be surprised at how much more tired your dog may be after a 30 minute walk in a new neighborhood or environment where there are new sights, smells, and sounds to stimulate his senses