Remember that bumbling ball of fur who plopped into a “sit” and melted into “down” with just a couple of minutes of practice? And, the adorable way he dropped his little head and gave you the best sad puppy eyes when his shark teeth hit your hand and you instinctively said “ouch”? Well, those days are gone when puppies hit their adolescent stage. Technically, dogs hit the equivalent of their teenage stage between 6-18 months. But, I find that the absolute worst phase for urban dogs is 5-10 months of age. Here’s a few tips to survive the raging hormones, lack of motivation and VERY selective hearing.
Follow-through When puppies are super young, they are biologically inclined to want to please. “Oh my goodness, you want me to sit? Ok, and thank you for that bite of biscuit. Garsh, I just love you so much.” As pups develop and become more independent, they sometimes choose NOT to listen to cues they once readily (and happily) complied with. It is super easy for us understanding humans to give our pooches a pass because we know they are in a funky stage.
But, if you ask your darling fur babe to “touch” and she stares at you with her best “I don’t wanna” face and you go on your merry way; all you teach your precious pooch is that your words really do not mean anything. Doing so can bite you in the butt when it really counts. Just like Gavin did when he was this age.
So, in the above example, move your hand a tiny bit closer. Help a puppy out. There is a lot going on in her body clouding her compliance capability. If she then touches your hand, say “yes”. But, do not reward. If you treat your teenage pup for the slow responses, then she is getting reinforced for sloppy behavior. If your puppy is REALLY in a punky place, she might turn her head or continue to ignore you. But, fight the urge to hover over her shouting “touch, touch, touch”. Adding pressure and force to the situation never does any good. Take a step away and gently offer just your hand (not the verbal cue) again until she responds. Some pups make take QUITE A FEW repetitions. Patience is important at this stage; and making sure you help your growing dog remembers that good things happen when she listens to you will pay off for years to come.
Use play as a reward. Often at this age, pupppies turn up their naughty nose to the most scrumptious treats. Are you playing hours of fetch to try to tire your hooligan hound? Make it count! Ask for a “wait” before you grab the ball. Impulse control is REALLY important. And, who wants gashes in their hand from an over-eager puppy mouth when the only reason you are picking the ball up is to toss it for your clamping canine? Ouch!
Ask for a “sit” before tossing it again. Or, if your dog likes to do drive-bys, have a second toy ready and just bounce or squeak it. When he graces you with his first toy at your feet, toss it as a reward. This is a great way to shape “drop”. But, only give the cue when the ball is out of his mouth. Too much talking and your pup learns to ignore you.
Lighten up. I called Gavin “El Diablo” when he was a terrible teenager. Often, I would ask him to “sit” and he would stare at me, then tear around the living room like he was the Tazmanian Devil, and lay down (not sit, like I asked) right in front of me right before he would grumble again for punctuation. As long as there are no serious behavioral issues developing and your puppy is not in danger him or herself, chill out a bit. I find that when my clients get too serious during this stage, it alters their body language so much that it actually causes the pup to respond even less. So, try not take atrocious behavior to heart. Practice an easy behavior or play a game so your pup remembers that you are not such a stick in the mud. Oh, wait, if you were a stick, your pup would be SUPER interested in you!!!
Follow these few steps and remember, your adorable juvenile delinquent will soon look at you again with the glitter gaze that made you fall in love in the first place. And, do continue to polish your pup’s skills even if you do not see the rapid results you did when she was a wee little one. We promise, terrible teenagers do not “stay” around forever.