Morrissey: The social dog: The socially acceptable adolescent
January 21, 2013
Ah, adolescence! Such an important stage of development in all creatures, and just as difficult for parents to handle whether the adolescent in question is human or canine. Adolescence in dogs occurs anywhere between 6 months to 2 years. It varies from dog to dog. Some owners have a brief bout with this phase, while others have their patience tested to the limits for several months. It is notable that the majority of dogs surrendered to shelters and rescues are in their adolescent years.
Adolescence begins during the “flight instinct” stage of development in dogs at about 4-5 months of age. In nature, dogs would be beginning to end the total dependence they have on their mother and start learning to become an independent canine. They need to explore the world in order to learn to find food, shelter and water. They need to chew because their puppy teeth are being replaced by their adult teeth. And while we have domesticated dogs for over 10,000 years, these basic instincts are still strong in our dogs. All animals, including canines and humans, need to learn some sort of responsible independence in order to survive as an adult. This often results in behaviors that dog owners refer to as “stubborn”, or “willful”. They are neither. They are simply natural instincts. I find adolescence much easier to tolerate by understanding that these behaviors are not directed at me personally, but simply part of a dog growing up.
One of the greatest challenges at this time will be your dog’s drive for independence. Again, this is a deeply instinctual drive. Focusing on developing a solid recall or “come” is essential at this stage. A few important points to remember:
> Never scold or punish your dog when he comes to you, even if he has ignored you for several minutes. Your dog will not associate several minutes of exploration with “blowing you off”, because your dog is not blowing you off “on purpose”. Your dog will remember that when he did come to you, he got punished, and he will be less likely to come over to you again.
> Make coming over to you more interesting than exploration. Yup, the old saying, be “more interesting than dirt”.
> Play seek-and-chase games with your dog. Make sure your dog is chasing you rather than the other way around. Playing hide and seek and having your dog chase you as a game will build a motivated and fast recall.
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> If you do not think your dog will come to you, keep him on a leash until you have gone through the steps to train a reliable recall with distractions. If your dog learns he can ignore you off leash, he will because he has received the reward of continued exploration. Exploration is a powerful life reward!
Does this mean your dog cannot sniff or explore? Not at all. However, until you have a reliable recall, do that exploration together with your dog attached to a leash.
Even a well-trained puppy will start to explore, ignore the request for “come”, test the rules and continue to chew on anything available.
Patience, consistency and continued training are what will help you and your dog survive this period. Continue to be absolutely consistent about the house rules established from puppyhood. Continue to find daily opportunities to practice sit, down and stay. Keep a daily routine.
Understanding that the basis of an adolescent dog’s behavior lies in deep and necessary instincts for survival will help you realize that your dog’s behavior is not directed at you personally. It is up to you, the grown-up, to kindly and gently teach your dog manners. Add in a good sense of humor, perspective and perhaps a glass of wine, and you will not only survive this important stage of a dog’s development you will deepen and solidify your relationship with your dog.