The *Terrible Teenage Stage*…..?
‘He was such a NICE 5 month old puppy!… What happened?!!!!……..
I just read, this very morning, an article full of misleading, crowd-pleasing, hot air, in one of the more sensible, leading national newspapers, about, how dogs ‘undergo emotional difficulties during their hormone development stage’ (so between about 6 and 10 months of age) … and ‘….how, like teenage children they should be cut some slack, as they are *having a difficult time* emotionally’……
Words fail me, on a bunch of professionals and scientists coming up with this!
To me, as a pet dog trainer, with 40 – 50 ‘teenage stage’ clients a week, it just clearly backs up the overwhelming, unfortunate, modern canine ownership idea, which ENCOURAGES people to view their dog as a ‘furry child’ with the same motivations, emotions and complexities.
Why was my Five month old SO lovely, and why is my NINE month old so difficult and ‘obstinate’?
Ok, part of the experiment they conducted was asking 100 or so FIVE month old dogs to perform a simple command ….’Sit’.
And then 100 NINE month old dogs being asked to do it.
The fact that 82% of the NINE month olds were slower to respond, less compliant etc etc, somehow made the Scientists decide, that this was because they were troubled by the normal hormonal changes going on within them, and found it hard to deal with owner expectations, pressure etc etc….. I.E. ‘they were in the middle of the TEENAGE PHASE’.
Walt Disney World…..
Labelling it thus, makes beautiful ‘Walt Disney’ type sense, *if* someone wants to view their dog’s behaviour as akin to a human child.
In some ways, you CAN understand humans wanting to do this, because its probably all they’ve ever had to assess and deal with before. But, unfortunately, it creates ENDLESS difficulties when applied to Canines, as they are not humans. They are. Dogs.
A simple explanation
What I’d like to express in this article, is a very easy and straightforward explanation, as to the difference between a young puppy and a 8/9 month old dog.
Lets look at what has PROBABLY occurred in that dogs life so far.
1) Puppy came home and owners started, from a pretty young age, to teach it the simple things they would need it to comply with, for life. Probably, primarily, ‘Sit, Heel, Stay and Recall’. This teaching process, usually, took into account, that the pup couldn’t concentrate with lots of distraction about, so these things were taught in enclosed places, boring places: kitchens, gardens, patios etc etc. They were probably taught with lots of reward ‘in it’ for the puppy.
- Only for very short periods of time
2) SO, then Puppy starts to comply with these things. It is young, immature, it has no past experience, no expectations, no patterns of behaviour and the wider world is a bit scary, a bit fast, loud, busy and its owner is its security blanket. Its protector and its carer. That owner probably takes food out on walks, and probably MOSTLY only asks the pup to do things when they have a fighting chance of the pup complying. Its all good and the puppy seems a ‘very obedient and clever little thing’.
NOTE: SOME owners already are starting to mess up, because they DON’T do this, and they ALREADY start to ask the pup to comply with things it CAN do with no distraction at HOME….. But CAN’T do when the level of distraction rises. They are already on a very slippery slope downhill.
3) So, because pup is complying (mostly) with these simple things. Probably PERFECTLY around the home (no distraction) and, MOST OF THE TIME out on a walk / away from home (with distractions). It is therefore pretty much decided that the pup ‘knows these thing’s’. This is usually around the 4-5 month old kind of a period.
4) So what happens now? Well, the home-schooling pretty much stops. Probably the praise and food drops to next to nothing, even when the dog complies with any of these requests REALLY well and promptly. Plus, the owner then starts to ASSUME the dog can respond to these things at the worst possible times.
* They ASSUME that, because the puppy, at 4 months, could heel nicely round the garden with you, with a biscuit in your hand, tapping your leg and being all upbeat, for a minute duration or so….. That it can heel down the road, towards the park, that you have methodically PROGRAMMED into the puppy that it gets a wonderful, fun filled, free run at, every time it goes there.
So it starts to anticipate this. Starts to pull. You start to tug back. It pulls a bit more. You yank back a bit more…. Or, possibly, slap on some sort of anti pulling device….. and it pulls a bit more….. and when (as it always DOES) it gets its free run, finally, on arrival at the park, it understands completely that it does NOT have to comply with your commands, (because you TOLD it that it didn’t every step of the way to the park, by stamping along saying the ‘Heel’ word, but the dog wasn’t heeling….it was yanking and pulling…..) So not ONLY does your heelwork start turning extremely poor, your recall which is entirely linked, does too ☹
* They ASSUME that *because* it can sit and stay in the kitchen, for its dinner, till released….. That it can sit and stay as a dog/child/person walks down the pavement towards you….. That it can sit and stay in the boot of the car, when you arrive somewhere exciting. That it can sit whilst you ham-fistedly try and get its lead clipped on, or over its head, having got it, misguidedly, out the car, without it on already….. Or maybe that it can sit and stay, whilst grandma arrives at the house, or the Amazon man wants a parcel signing for…..
* They ASSUME that because they can leave the puppy in a stay in the garden, walk off it, turn round, open their arms and yell ‘cooooome!!!’ and the puppy charges in to have a massive cuddle, and probably a biscuit……. That on a walk, with rabbit poo, other dogs, people, leaves, general smells, wildlife, crumbs left by picnickers, sheep poo, dog poo etc etc etc…… That it will have ANY IDEA that what was run through a few times in the garden, when it was 4 months old, is ANYTHING like what you are asking it to do in a SEA of distraction and fun.
5) Well, unfortunately, suddenly the robotic little 4/5 month old you had, has now, absolutely EVERYTHING AGAINST IT to comply with your commands, and the owner has usually managed to DO this, in just three or four short months…… This then, coincides with the young dog getting bigger, stronger, an increase in various hormones (which put even MORE things onto a dogs ‘Things to do’ agenda, above YOU! Sniffing, pissing, sex, seasons, territory, status with other canines etc etc etc) and this ‘perfect storm’ collides.
The Perfect Storm
This is multiple factors crashing into one another:
- Lack of actual current ‘top up’ home-schooling.
- Increase of expectation (so sees a dog, has been allowed to play with dogs regularly, or occasionally, wants to play with dog, adrenaline goes up, can’t comply or listen to recall, heel, stay, sit…. *Adrenaline and expectation* is, completely drowning out your words, and, therefore, anything taught months ago, sat in a kitchen is absolutely ‘in another lifetime’)
- Hormones and subsequent increase in the dog’s personal TTD list
- Absolute security, that it is FINE to NOT comply, and there is no real negative repercussion I.E. It can run up to that dog because there is no longline attached.
* It can pull on the lead and STILL get a free run when it gets there
- Knows the places you walk it like the back of its hand, so the ENVIRONMENT now isn’t even enough to entertain the dog…… It NOW needs entertainment ADDED to the environment, in the way of other dogs, balls, people, joggers, cyclists, chasing wildlife etc etc etc.
‘Unpolishing’ what you DID, once upon a time, teach properly.
We’ve arrived at 8/9 months. Many things seem like a constant battle.
When, five months ago, you taught that baby puppy to sit…. What you have to imagine is, that nearly EVERY TIME you asked it to sit, subsequentally, and misjudged the level of excitement, distraction etc around the dog, and therefore, had to ask multiple times, maybe even giving up after a while, you basically UNPOLISHED the ‘response rate’ for that command.
So you POLISHED it, sat in the kitchen, no distraction, with praise, with food, nothing else on the agenda/TTD list…….
You unpolished it when you actually tried to use it in the real world, with poor judgement.
How might you have tackled this better to not turn your lovely 4/5 month old into a deaf, self motivated, unreliable 9 month old?
Well, yes, we ALL have to use commands in the ‘real world’. The point of training them IS to have them there to use. Of course I understand that.
But three things need to happen. Not every day, but regularly enough to keep things fresh and ‘working’……
- We need to top up that puppy training. This doesn’t have to be classes, but it DOES have to happen. As they develop and grow and age, you can be firmer and firmer. You can also refresh their memory beautifully with little home sessions, with lots of praise, and for short periods of time, to REFRESH those instantly complied to commands in a non distracting environment.
- But you ALSO need to go out and SCHOOL those commands in a distracting environment. In your own bubble. Quietly. No manic free runs. No need to GET to any particular destination. Copying schooling that you did, INSIDE the home boundary, but do it OUTSIDE. Do it where you NEED it to happen! With dogs over the other side of the park. With kids about. With a football game going on a hundred yards away on a Sunday. With sheep poo about etc etc etc. And not, to THEN consider the dog has …’earned his free run’ and UNDO it all. INFACT, give it a cuddle and a pee, and GO HOME!!
- You ALSO need to vary where the dog is walked. Its routine for those walks. Where it free runs, and where it just walks on the lead for a while. That it doesn’t regularly ‘go play’ with other dogs. Where sometimes you get to the park/beach/common, and just turn round cheerfully and walk home. You keep that older puppy/young dog GUESSING. Then negative patterns don’t form quite so quickly.
When you think about it, it’s pretty simple…… But you know what? Its BORING. So few owners DO IT. They just want to freeride their bike downhill, and, just hope that the crashes, they inevitably know will happen, aren’t ‘too terminal’.
For every owner who might change something up from reading this, I would love at least TEN who won’t change a *thing*, but, to at least UNDERSTAND, what happened, over that first year of family dog ownership, and training (or lack of it).
There are many other contributing factors to reducing the average dog’s compliance, to those puppy commands he once knew, and responded to, so well….. But the above is the main bulk of it.
Never consider hormones, age etc an excuse for non compliance. Know you can easily get it back up to speed if you just put a little extra work in, and changed the odd thing up.
You may not get yourself an Obedience Champion…… But you’ll get your lovely little five month old back again!!!!
Diana Stevens – Lockdown 2020