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Teen Dogs – Dealing with new annoying behaviors

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Rover, our almost 9-month old, generally well-mannered dog, has developed some annoying behavior lately. He starts barking at random times to obviously get our attention, but it’s a higher-pitched “yappy” bark. If we don’t pay attention, he butts us with his head. His needs have been met (food, water, potty) and he has been very well exercised. What should we do?

Sounds like Rover, now a teen, is experimenting with some new behaviors to see if they work for him; trying to get your attention in various ways and “demanding” action from you. He’s using all his best efforts to train you.

Time to fine tune a few details that may have slipped. When we start feeling that our puppies are pretty well-mannered (clean in the house, no more biting or inappropriate chewing), we often get a bit lax. After
all, we’ve worked really hard for months, don’t we deserve a little break? Unfortunately, just about that time, they become teenagers and we have to be vigilant all over again, just in a little different way.

Teen dogs (and kids) question the rules, test their boundaries, and try out new stuff. Sure they know a lot, but they often seem to forget or are unresponsive. It’s normal. A study on teen humans showed that
their brains actually go into a sort of rest state where it is really just busy processing all the stuff they have learned up to that point, but aren’t taking in as much new info. I think of it as mental housekeeping time without much space for new info until the mess gets cleaned up. I imagine teen dogs experience a similar lull in their learning. No worries. It’s a stage that passes.

So, what to do during this stage? Maintain routines. Keep asking for simple things you know they have already learned like sit, wait, come, etc. Try not to make these exercises too challenging, and practice many times a day as part of your normal routine. For example: sit to come out of the crate, go out the door, get fed, get petted, etc.

Be patient, but firm and consistent. In some cases, ignoring teen behaviors is really tough, especially if they are willing to escalate to worse barking and head butting like Rover. So take the “ignore” a step further and actually walk out on him if he acts this way. Since most likely what he wants is your attention, leaving the room deprives him of the opportunity for that attention. If you remain in the room, he keeps trying new (worse) things to see what will finally get you to pay attention to him. If you leave, he can’t do that. Of course, you only leave for a minute or so and then calmly return. Repeat as often as needed.

His physical needs may have been met, but possibly not his mental or emotional needs. Do some short (3-5 min) training sessions several times a day, play with him, and make time to just sit and hang out for a few minutes. This will give him the attention he craves, but on your terms and for behaviors you like. During the rest of the day, make a special point to notice when he is calm and relaxed and “being good” (playing by himself, resting quietly, watching you work), and praise and reward him for those behaviors. Again, attention for stuff you like. You can keep some dry treats in strategic locations around the house (out of his reach) so you can quickly grab a treat if he is doing something nice. The more you notice and reward his “good” behaviors, the less he will need to resort to obnoxious behaviors.

Face it, there are times when we just can’t “walk out” or attend to training the dog. Perhaps, for you, that’s when you are busy getting the kids ready for school. You have a schedule to keep and they need your attention as well. At these times it is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, to pen up the pup. You’ve fed, watered, and pottied him and spent a few minutes playing or cuddling. Then you put him in his pen or crate with a yummy chew and explain to him that now it’s time you attended to the kids. Our dogs have to learn that they don’t always (nor should they) “come first” and they must learn to be patient, relax, and entertain themselves.

Teen dogs may still need some limits set on their freedom (pen, leash, house line, etc.) to help them learn the self-control and patience they need to live with us. Pay attention to when Rover is most inclined to flip into one of his yappy states. Is he tired? Have you been at the computer too long? Has he been napping for hours and is now awake and bored?? Be proactive when possible to meet his needs before one of these moments comes up. If you know he has an issue just after a walk, or when the kids get home from school, use your pen to prevent him from making mistakes; maybe walk him before the kids arrive and then pen him for 20-30 minutes after walks to help him calm down again.

Hang in there. It will get better, but by all means take control of the situation rather than let him make the rules.

Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?

Friday, November 20th, 2009


Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful fantasy – the kids in their pajamas opening the big box, and out pops a fuzzy puppy with a big red bow.  Awww, how adorable!  But, this isn’t Hollywood, and puppies aren’t props.  So let’s explore the idea from a more practical viewpoint and see if a Christmas puppy really makes sense for you and your kids.

  1. How old are your kids?  Young puppies and young children are not always a match made in heaven.  Kids squeal and run.  Puppies bite and jump.  Completely normal behavior for both, but it can be a challenge to meet the needs of both human and canine babies in a way that keeps everyone safe and happy.  I believe it is best to wait until children are at least 6 years old before trying to raise a young puppy.  Despite your best intentions and efforts, some dogs are not really fond of small children; even a puppy raised with kids may not enjoy them.  So what is a reasonable compromise solution?  Find an adult dog that is accustomed to and loves younger children – a smart choice with a better chance for harmonious success. (more…)

Choosing a Puppy – Do’s and Don’ts

Friday, November 20th, 2009




Educate yourself. If you are looking for a purebred puppy, the American Kennel Club site provides information about each breed.  There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a pure bred dog.  Years of specific breeding have often created genetic health issues, so be sure to find out what problems are common in your desired breed, and what health testing you should expect a good breeder to do.  For more on education and breed selection see Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?

Choose a breeder wisely. They are not all created equal, and finding a good match can really help you.  A good breeder will want to interview you to ensure that their dog will be going to a good home.  They will put the dog’s welfare ahead of their own monetary benefit.  They will expect you to sign a contract of some sort.  They will require you to return the puppy to them if you are unable to care for it at any point in time.  They will be willing to answer your questions, offer advice on raising your puppy and serve as a great support system.  I have pretty high standards these days and generally suggest Natural Rearing breeders. (more…)

Preparing for a new puppy

Friday, November 20th, 2009

DivaDogYou’ve done your homework, decided the time is right to get a puppy, and chosen the right puppy.  Now it’s time to prepare yourself and your house for the new arrival.  Yup, just like you would get ready for your new baby!

Prepare a safe place for your puppy. You’ll likely want a crate for sleeping and an exercise pen (X-pen) or baby gate to create a safe containment area on an easy clean surface.  I suggest having the crate in your bedroom at night and the pen near your main living area.  If you don’t have an appropriate floor surface available, get a remnant of vinyl flooring from your home center or carpet store to use under your X-pen.  You will use the X-pen as a long-term confinement area for times when you can’t watch the puppy for a few hours.  You can use the crate at night, and for short periods like taking a shower or talking on the phone.  Rid yourself of the mindset that a crate is punishment; by using it properly, it will instead become your dog’s favorite safe haven. (more…)

The “Sock Puppy”

Friday, November 20th, 2009

When first separated from their litter mates and moms, many puppies can be very fussy and stressed about sleeping alone.  The “sock puppy” gives them the sensation of sleeping with another puppy.  It’s easy to make and may help you and your pup get a better night’s sleep.

You’ll need a sturdy tube sock (the kind that doesn’t have a heel).  Fill the sock with enough plain rice (not instant) to approximate the size of your puppy.  Then tie the end securely; preferably with a knot in the end of the sock.  If you need to use a heavy string, tie several knots and trim off the loose ends.  Just before bedtime, microwave the sock puppy for a minute or two until it’s close to the puppy’s body temperature (about 102F).  Place the “sock puppy” in the crate with your puppy so he has a warm body to sleep with.

You can magnify the calming effect by adding a drop of pure lavender essential oil to the sock before placing it in the crate.

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