Dog tugging leash

Leash tugging is a common teenage dog behavior. Why not give pup something else to carry in his mouth instead?

You had a beautiful new puppy who followed you everywhere. Now you have a challenging teenage dog who loves you one moment and ignores you the next. Adolescent dogs can be challenging. Take a deep breath, pause, and remind yourself that this is only a stage, and you can get through it.

Whether the unwanted behavior is jumping, barking, charging, or any other annoying habit, the first thing that needs to be done if you want to stop the behavior is to reduce the rehearsal. Identify why your dog is acting the way they are. And then focus on training what you want your dog to do instead. You are not going to change anything if you set the dog up to do the exact same thing time and time again.
Be proactive. If you have reason to think your dog is going to struggle with something, make it easier for him. Put him on a leash or an even shorter leash, increase the distance between your dog and the distraction, and visualize what you would like the dog to do. Practice.
dog giving human a paw

If your teenage dog needs to go back on leash while you reinforce the recall cue, do it!

It can be really normal to see a drop in learned behaviors around adolescence. It’s a natural stage of animal development for teenage dogs to start testing boundaries – you have to learn independence/how to survive on your own if you’re going to be a well-adjusted adult. And as your dog matures, it’s not uncommon for there to be character changes, perhaps even a reduction in play. That can be a totally normal thing – how many adults still enjoy the exact same things they were doing as a 3-year-old, 11-year-old, or even a 17-year-old? It’s ok to lower some expectations of your dog during the teenage period (he doesn’t have to interact with every other dog or person) but still set them up for success. If they’re having trouble coming when called, for example, go back to using a long line or only calling in less challenging situations. There is zero point in doing the exact same thing but expecting a different result.

Lunging dog

Lunging dogs are often reacting out of fear.

If a dog is truly uncomfortable with something (afraid, over-excited, angry), the way we change that opinion/emotion is with desensitization and counter-conditioning, and for this, it is imperative to start working at a distance far enough away from the scary thing/the trigger so that the dog is “below threshold” ie: not reacting.

When it comes to dogs between the ages of approximately 6 and 18 months, it’s not uncommon for there to be a general regression in training as a result of all the changes a teenage dog is going through – the world is much bigger and more interesting than they realized! Often though, young dogs do things because they haven’t been taught how to do something in a really challenging situation. Sure you may have been to a puppy class or a basic obedience class, but were you consistent with the dog training after the course ended? People haven’t learned all there is to know by middle school – why do we expect more from our dogs?

Whatever the cause of the unwanted behavior, it’s so important to try and change the setups – the more your dog rehearses a behavior, the stronger it gets. If you take a moment to think about what happens immediately before the unwanted behavior and change what you do, often the situation can be avoided altogether. This is not simply “distracting the dog”. This is the most important step in helping your young dog make a better decision.  Then focus on teaching your dog what you want them to do instead. This involves more than say a single “sit”. If you want your dog to sit for you no matter what else might be going on then you will need to train for that. You build your dog’s behaviors by gradually working on them in more challenging scenarios/against greater distractions.

Solving unwanted behaviors may take a little time and it is a process. There is a ton of competing dog training advice available on the internet. Other dog trainers in Rutland Vermont may promise quick fixes which rely on the use of prong/choke/shock collars. While punishment is one part of learning theory, the fallout can be immense. The approach recommended by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior is to use positive reinforcement/force-free training methods. At Mountainside Mutts we offer modern, science-based dog training. We understand that change can be hard. And just as it can be difficult for us to change behaviors of our own, it takes time for your dog to develop strong new habits. We are here to support pet parents who want to train their dogs in a fun and fair manner. We can help you overcome your dog training struggles.