Farewell puppyhood…hello adolescence!
Your puppy just celebrated the 6-month mark – hooray! No more shark-like puppy teeth, manners are coming along nicely and chewing is under control (most days). Your young canine has entered a new phase of life. She’s not a puppy and not quite an adult yet. She’s an adolescent. You may see new (and perhaps surprising) behavior.
No, he hasn’t forgotten his training and he’s not being stubborn, although it may really feel like it some days. He’s gaining new abilities, his body is awkward, and he’s more aware of his environment than ever.
Yes, that big bark did emerge from your dog. And you may notice barking at all kinds of things (seen and unseen). Barking is normal dog communication. Your dog is learning when it is and is not appropriate to bark. Essentially, she’s letting you know that something changed – squirrel, snow, rain, leaf, mail carrier. Unfortunately, you may not be able to identify what triggered the bark. A “thank you” and redirect to a desirable behavior (chewing on a toy, chasing a ball) is helpful. Attention seeking is a different thing (wanting to play). I do want my dog to let me know she’s ready to play. A better choice than barking that she can make is bringing a tug toy and dropping it at my feet. That almost always entices me to play. Barking only removes my attention (I might turn away or walk away – no words needed.)
It was a scene out of Nascar. Suddenly your dog is running, full tilt, in circles, bounding over furniture (or in the case of very large dogs, like mine, moving the sectional as they bank off of it rounding the corner), up and down the stairs and then full stop. Your pup has zoomies. Zoomies are sudden bursts of energy that can be a joy to watch or dangerous if you get in the way. Most puppies get zoomies, but small, fluffy puppies are cute when they zoom (and tumble). An adolescent may be close to their full size but lack complete control over their legs. A 50-, 70- or 100-pound uncoordinated adolescent can cause damage when he or she gets the zoomies. At my house, I open the back door (regardless of weather conditions) and entice my zooming adolescent out the door and into the back yard. After a round or two in the backyard, the zoomies are finished, and my adolescent is back to normal.
You may notice your previously responsive puppy taking a few seconds longer to respond to your request. It can be super frustrating. Patience pays off! Count to 10 (slowly) before asking for the behavior again. Often your dog will respond before you ask again. If not, scan the environment – the distractions may be drowning you out. Resist the urge to speak louder or more sternly. That will only decrease the likelihood that your adolescent will respond to you. Being louder or more stern sends one message – you are angry or upset. Your dog will respond by turning away or backing away from you. This is how a dog would try to bring calm to a tense encounter with another dog. It is how your dog communicates naturally. The conflict between person and dog in this situation is miscommunication. It happens a lot. Rather than repeating the cue or raising your voice, try being quiet, turning away, then calling your dog with a lighthearted, friendly voice. You’re more likely to have success!
Your adolescent pup (and yes, she’s still puppy-like) is bigger, stronger, and more aware. For the first time he may engage in a fun new sport – counter surfing! It is fun (for your dog) and it is driven by genetics. Dogs are opportunists. They see something that is enticing and if the situation is just right, they seize the moment. And there went that bag of bagels, stick of butter, your lunch, a box of Kleenex – or whatever looks or smells interesting. Have you ever browsed Amazon or Etsy, not really needing anything, but just looking, just surfing? Have you ever seen something that you might not really need, but it was so enticing you just had to get it? Yep, you and your adolescent both can succumb to the temptation, to seizing the moment, to being driven by opportunity. We can be as successful at teaching our dogs to ignore enticing things as we are at learning to control our own impulses. Impulse control is a skill that can be developed.
They will behave like any adolescent, making better choices more frequently as they mature. And that’s the key – adolescent dogs are not mature. Setting realistic expectations rather than perfection takes the stress out of it for both of you. It’s easy to look at your 18 mos old dog and see a full-grown dog while forgetting that their brain is still developing. The best way through adolescence is consistently practicing manners and obedience skills while have a sense of humor. Decrease your expectations, have fun, develop the relationship. Adolescence isn’t forever. It’s one phase of development that comes to an end sometime around 2-3 years of age. Each dog is different, and breed plays a part, too.
Peace in the chaos
My personal goal is this: find internal peace while living in chaos. I cannot control the chaos of life – control of any sentient being is a myth, yet we as humans seem driven to control our pet dogs. And it’s frustrating (and embarrassing) when we can’t. There is another option. Accepting what can be controlled and managing what cannot. I am comfortable knowing that I cannot physically control my dog. Physically this is simply not possible – one dog weighs about 140 pounds and the other dog weighs 75 pounds. I’m a small adult (5 feet tall). If either one of them wanted to chase a squirrel while we’re on a walk I cannot physically stop them. Does this mean that my dogs don’t enjoy chasing squirrels? No. My dogs are average dogs. They track mud into the house, dig in the yard, enjoy a game of tug and love a walk on the trails. If I want peace in my life while my dog is still an adolescent, then I’m going to:
Be diligent practicing key skills, like recall, attention to me, wait, place
Pay close attention to my dog’s body language – if her level of arousal begins increasing, we’re going to take a break; if I see any signs of fear or uncertainty, we’re stopping the interaction or leaving the situation
Prevent over stimulation, which can cause my dog to make poor choices
Set realistic expectations for whatever situation we’re in – if that means we leave a dog training class early because she’s stressed or overstimulated, we will
Encourage my dog to invite me to play
Keep things light and laugh often – at myself and my dog
Teach her new skills that are fun for her, like taking a nosework, agility, or tricks class