Doggy Training

Five things that SAVED MY RELATIONSHIP with my adolescent dog

Bumble is very nearly 18 months old now, and it feels as though he is (touch wood) turning into a fairly respectable adult dog. But I will freely admit that there have been times that I just didn’t think we would ever get here, and times where I didn’t particularly like him. If you came to any of my classes last year I am sure you heard him being called a variety of names!

Adolescent dogs can often make us question where it all went wrong – your perfect puppy may be ignoring the most basic of requests, recall may have disappeared over the horizon (along with your dog!), or loose lead walking could be anything but a walk in the park.

I wanted to put together a few things that got me through that adolescent period. When it was challenging, when I questioned what on earth I was thinking getting another dog, and when I felt like packing it all in. These are the things that helped.

It is normal for it all to go wrong.

During adolescence, hormones start raging through your dog’s body in peaks and troughs until they final even out into what they will be for your dog as an adult. Studies also show that their actual BRAIN is being reorganised. Can you imagine??

These huge changes present themselves in a similar way to human teenagers; mood swings, low impulse control, irritability, conflict with parents or caregivers, and a need for autonomy. This means that their super snappy recall may now be anything but, which is frustrating for us because we KNOW that they know how to recall! But often it isn’t the recall directly they are struggling with, but the ability to control their impulses enough to not chase the bird/dog/squirrel/smell.

Now I know this sounds all doom and gloom, but sometimes having the knowledge that your dog’s behaviour isn’t abnormal can make all the difference. The science shows us that your dog is probably having quite a hard time due to factors largely out of their control, so let’s take a breath and cut them (and yourself) some slack.

‘They will grow out of it’… or will they?

So now we know that our dog’s behaviour is largely likely to be due to physical changes in their body, we should just wait it out, surely? When the hormones settle, the good behaviour will return?

There is no denying that when the hormones settle your dog will find it easier to respond to their cues again, but that doesn’t mean we should just pack all training in and wait for it to get better.

When Bumble hit adolescence, his recall took a nosedive. His motivation for disappearing was that he LOVED to just run. In a straight line. As fast as he could. He found this hugely rewarding – likely due to the massive adrenaline surge I’m sure it induced. There were definitely a couple of moments where he took off running and it looked as though he may have packed his bags to start a new life over the hill.

Now imagine that from the ages of 8-18 months I had just let him sprint off on every walk with a ‘he will grow out of it’ attitude. Likely by the time he reached adulthood the sprinting would be a well-rehearsed favourite behaviour of his that I would have little to no control over. Would adulthood fix this? Very unlikely.

So whilst we can cling to the knowledge that it will get better, we should also remember that what is practiced during adolescence will get repeated.

Therefore, management is our friend.

Long lines for recall. Short bursts of good quality loose lead walking training in easier environments. NOT leaving a tempting bacon sandwich on the side. Think about how we can set our dogs up to practice the good stuff.

‘Are you meeting their needs?

This is a huge question, and it can be so easy to question whether you are doing everything you can for your adolescent dog. They may seem as though they have boundless energy or are constantly demanding more attention from you.

You may also have heard that they need more sleep than you thought they would?

Or that mental exercise is just as good as physical?

The truth is – sorry folks – they need all three.

Physical – the easily tired puppy is gone and you may feel as though you have to physically exhaust your dog before you can get any peace. This isn’t true, and you will probably find yourself walking further and further every day as you create a canine athlete. Physical exercise is incredibly important, so do research what an adult dog of your breed should need per day; this could involve road walking, hiking, running, agility, charging through bushes (fellow spaniel owners anywhere?) but if you find yourself having to constantly increase what you do with your dog to tire them out, consider another angle…

Mental – mental workouts should form a good portion of the things you do with your dog. This could involve teaching new tricks, drilling behaviours they know, scent-work (this one is amazing for tiring them out!), or even just chilling in a café and watching the world go by. Anything that requires them to do some thinking and takes them out of their ‘normal’ brain state is ideal.
Rest – this one is just as important as the physical and mental exercise. As any parents of young children will know; an overtired child will be a million times harder to settle and reason with that one that has had a good nights sleep. The rate at which their brains are developing means they need lots of rest to recharge and grow and our teenage dogs are no different. There is nothing wrong with a rest day here and there, but primarily we should be encouraging some form of nap or undisturbed downtime into our dog’s day.

This may seem like a lot to manage, and it is! I know I feel like super dog mum if I manage to get all three of these right in one day – sometimes life just doesn’t allow it. Try and aim for a good balance over the course of a week instead and cut yourself some slack if it doesn’t go to plan – I can guarantee your dog loves you anyway.

Take a step back and enjoy the little things.

If you are anything like me, you had huge plans of what life with your puppy would look like. Walks off lead on the beach, strolling into the sunset with a loose lead, your dog asleep under the table in the pub… It can be tricky to accept when our dogs are technically ‘grown up’ that these things aren’t a reality yet.

Try and find an activity or two that is easily achievable and enjoyable for both you and your dog. This could be trick training in the living room, playing find-the-ball in the garden, or as simple as sitting and having a good cuddle with your dog.

When Bumble and I were at our worst point, I started taking five minutes out of each day to sit out in the garden on the grass, no distractions, and just make a fuss of him. It honestly made me realise that I had been focussing so much on getting him to where I wanted him to be that I had forgotten to enjoy him. I will freely admit that there was a point that I didn’t particularly like him (still loved him of course, but I really couldn’t seem to find that special bond I have had with other dogs) and these five minute cuddle sessions quite literally saved our relationship and became the highlight of my day.

Find yourself a tribe.

I know I have banged on about how normal it is but when you see everyone else’s dogs out on walks behaving perfectly, it can be hard to believe. Speaking to people with similar struggles can be a real game changer in not feeling quite so despondent, and maybe even having a laugh about the things your dogs have put you through this week!

Find yourself a good training class, or even join a positive, online community to not only improve your training skills and put a plan in place for surviving the teenage months, but surround yourself with people that will celebrate your wins and support you through your struggles.

Our Young Dogs Club is such a place. As well as zooms, training sessions, e-books, video resources, and open discussions, there are real people (including the instructors!) dealing with their real-life teenage dogs who will be able to relate to any and everything you could throw at us. Read more about this community and how to join us, here: The Young Dogs Club at Hounds and Hooves.