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 are a few tips for surviving the raging hormones, lack of motivation, and VERY selective hearing.
Follow-through When puppies are super young, they’re biologically inclined to want to please. “Oh my goodness, you want me to sit? Ok, and thank you for that bite of biscuit. Gosh, I 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’s super easy for us understanding humans to give our pups a pass because we know they’re in a funky stage.
But, if you ask your darling dog to “touch” and he stares at you with his best “I don’t wanna” face, and you go on your merry way, all you teach your pup is that your words really don’t mean anything. Doing so can bite you in the butt when it 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. A lot is going on in his body, clouding his compliance capability. If he then touches your hand, say, “yes.” But, don’t reward. If you treat your teenage pup for the slow responses, he’s getting reinforced for sloppy behavior. If your puppy is REALLY in a punky place, he might turn his head or continue ignoring you. Fight the urge to hover over him shouting “touch, touch, touch”.
Adding pressure and force to the situation never does any good.
Take a step away and gently offer your hand (not the verbal cue) until he responds. Some pups make take QUITE A FEW repetitions. Patience is vital at this stage. By reminding your teenage dog that good things happen when he listens to you, you’re making deposits in your relationship that will pay off for years to come.
Use play as a reward. Often at this age, puppies turn up their naughty nose to 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 essential. 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.
If your dog likes to play keep-away once he has the ball, have a second toy ready and 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 will 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, as asked) right in front of me right before he would grumble again, for punctuation. As long as there aren’t severe behavioral issues developing and your puppy isn’t in danger himself, chill out a bit.
I find that when my clients get too serious during this stage, their body language tenses so much that it causes the pup to respond even less.
So, try not to take atrocious behavior to heart. Practice an easy behavior or play a game so your pup remembers that you aren’t a stick in the mud. Oh, wait, if you were a stick, your puppy would be SUPER interested in you. Scratch that metaphor.
Follow these few steps, and remember, your puppy will soon look at you again with the glitter gaze that made you fall in love in the first place. Do continue to polish your pup’s skills even if you don’t see the rapid results you did when he was a little one. We promise terrible teenagers, don’t “stay” around forever.