My Newfoundland puppy, Anya, just turned 2 years old this week. Happy birthday to the sweetest girl in the world! She turned out to be the most pleasant, easy dog that I ever owned. I can take her anywhere, she comes when called even when chasing a bunny or a deer, she walks right by my side, she automatically sits to say "please" for everything, and she loves everyone. I feel very fortunate because even though I train dogs, I don't have much time to train my own dogs. I've since learned that most trainers across the country have the worst-behaved dogs for this very reason.
I would say I've easily made it through doggie adolescence, otherwise known as the teenage years. Most dogs I see fall into this category. They are between five months and two years old. This is by far the most difficult time for dog owners as that cute little puppy grows up and tests his independence, challenges the simple cues he learned in puppy class, digs and chews and nips at clothing -- you get the idea. Picture that 8-month-old Lab as a 13-year-old kid, and you have the general idea.
Here are five signs your dog is a juvenile canine:
No. 1: More exercise needed
I have written about exercise many times before, because lack of it is a major cause of behavioral problems. Canine bodies are designed to move and if they don't, that energy has to go somewhere, like digging a hole, chewing your knitting or eating your shoe. The working breeds need at least an hour a day of vigorous exercise several days a week. A walk around the block just won't cut it. If you have a smaller companion dog, they still need mental stimulation and activities, though not quite as much.
No. 2: Everything in sight chewed up
The period between 5-8 months is when adult teeth are coming in, so their gums become irritated. Combine that with a surge in energy and you have what I call the Destructo-Dog period. Granted, some dogs are worse than others. I find Golden Retrievers to be among the worst offenders. The stories I've heard of destroyed things would fill a book, from $10,000 in landscaping to custom furniture and expensive rugs. I even wrote a column about when Anya was 6 months old. I ran into the house with groceries, then became distracted with a phone call. When I returned to her, she was thoroughly enjoying a cucumber and package of ground turkey. The good news is this phase ends -- unless your dog has separation anxiety, a whole other issue -- so pull up those carpets and recycling bins for now.
No. 3: Bolts the other direction when called
This one really frustrates people. That adorable little puppy who stuck to you like Velcro is now more interested in the world than you. So when you say "Rover, come," he looks at you with that mischievous sparkle in his eye, seeming to say "See ya, I'm going the other way" as he takes off. Training really helps here.
No. 4: Lack of impulse control
Since your juvenile dog's brain is still developing, he can have a very difficult time with self-control. This shows up in manic door-greeting behavior, inability to stay when any distraction happens, counter-surfing and stealing food and objects, inability to back off from a cat or squirrel or toy or anything, and many other daily temptations. Early training and manners definitely can help with this and it gets better as they mature. Impulse control exercises are some of my favorite to teach.
No. 5: Barking, growling, biting
The average age of aggression onset -- if it happens at all and it is certainly is not the norm -- is about 9-12 months, in my experience. Here is where we see the impacts of lack of socialization, early trauma or lack of boundaries. This is too large a topic to cover here, but it is critical to do something if you see this behavior. It won't get better on its own.
Many people love the sheer exuberance and joy of a happy adolescent dog, but others find it uncontrollable and unacceptable, then sadly give up. This is why the vast majority of dogs in shelters and rescues are teenagers. It's not the dog's fault. He just requires both patience and training.
Patty Crichton is a holistic dog trainer and behavior specialist with a training studio in Petoskey. She teaches clicker training for basic behaviors and manners, as well as for behavior modification, including aggression. She believes in treating all dogs with kindness and respect, and that the best form of control is teaching a dog self-control. For more information on training programs, visit www.northwoodsdogtraining.com or call (231) 439-0365.