Growing Pains Can Hurt... Seriously Hurt!
“Nobody wants to be around my parents’ dogs. They jump on people, body slam and bite at us, and are very unpleasant to spend time with. My kids are terrified of them. We avoid visiting my parents because of their dogs.”
How sad is that?
They thought their dogs would “grow out of” their puppy behaviors of jumping, demand barking, counter-surfing, mouthing, and even play biting. The dogs had no malicious intentions; they were typical puppies when acquired. So, what happened?
We might assume, if we wait until our boisterous, unruly but small, and adorable puppies mature into adolescents and finally adults, those annoying behaviors will magically vanish into the past along with Rollie Pollie Puppyhood. “Oh, he’ll grow out of it.” Yes, those needle-sharp teeth will be replaced by larger, smoother, adult teeth, but if he learned as a puppy that human flesh was fun to connect with, it doesn’t matter what his teeth are like, he will use them. Plus, he now has much stronger force in that bite and can inflict substantial damage, both to property and to those around him, even if there’s no actual underlying aggression.
Growing INTO habits rather than OUT of them
It is no surprise that the age of the majority of dogs relinquished to shelters coincides with adolescence (5 months to 3 years - yup, it’s that long*). Behavioral issues are the number one reported reason for relinquishing a dog. ** Jumping on people is no longer cute, and the situation at home may have escalated to the point where the dog is very difficult to manage and unbearable to live with. It might be impossible to walk the dog, resulting in insufficient exercise, further exacerbating his behavior. The humans are stressed, and the dog is stressed. Worse, though, is if the dog has injured somebody. Even in the absence of aggression, causing injury is a major offense that crosses a significant threshold. It is more difficult to rehome a dog like this. His future is likely not ideal. The saddest part of this picture is that it’s wholly preventable. It’s not the dog’s fault for not knowing what he wasn’t taught.
Time for Change
Do you have a boisterous dog who fits some of the above descriptions or a puppy who may be headed in that direction? It’s time to make some changes for everyone’s benefit. It isn’t easy or quick, but it’s possible with a plan in place to chaperone the difficult pup towards a happier future.
Many dogs who are labeled “unruly” lack structure, cannot tolerate frustration, and have not been taught what to do instead. Dogs are experts at discovering how to get what they want, but absent clear and consistent information from us for “acceptable” behaviors, will do whatever comes to their doggie minds. If their puppy habits have yielded positive results, there is no reason for them to change their strategy. It’s simply the way behavior functions for all of us. Added to this unfortunate picture is our tendency to want to yell at and punish the dog for making poor choices, while at the same time, failing to help the dog learn to do something else.
But there is hope. The great thing about behavior is that it is malleable. Learning is a constant. With knowledge, a good plan, and a dedicated effort…. and, yes, a good deal of time, new habits can replace the old ones.
I will address some strategies in next month’s article, but here are some of the angles of approach:
• Ensure dog’s basic needs are met (exercise, rest, safety, nutrition, etc.)
• Manage the environment/prevent opportunity to practice unwanted behaviors.
• Increase “frustration tolerance” through problem-solving and training games.
• Create reliable structure and predictability.
• Identify preferred behaviors.
• Teach “learn how to Learn” through simple cause-and-effect, consequence-drives-behavior exercises.
• Create mental stimulation through regular training games.
Happy Training! See you next month.
* See my Downeast Dog News September 2022 article, “My Puppy Lost Her Puppy License. Now what?”
Diana Logan, CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge-Assessed
Pet Connection Dog Training, North Yarmouth, Maine | www.dianalogan.com | 207-252-9352