Has your dog hit adolescence? The Teenage Period? Well, lucky you! Maybe? Kinda…? No… Not really huh?
Your perfect puppy has deteriorated into an impulsive dog who responds to certain things and not others… Yep! Been there… It’s tough huh? Especially when you’re the mum or dad to a big dog and everyone expects them to behave like an adult and they’ve hit their toughest phase for training.
So what do you do? You know they know how to be good. But when you’re outside? It’s a “Pfffft? Why would I listen to Mum & Dad? There’s way more interesting stuff over there!”
Suddenly they know best.
And you’re standing at the side of the park tearing your hair out whilst they go galavanting through that picnic, chasing that bird, and making a nuisance of themselves with the other parkgoers…
I’ve seen it so much on Facebook recently, and recently, I’ve had full blown discussions with a person who wanted to use an ecollar of all things on a 9 month old German shepherd.
Want to know the truth of that situation?
She didn’t know how to communicate with her dog. Or get the best out of him. She had tried a couple of things with little success and she was sending him to a board and train too. It’s one of those situations you see, from a training point of view, and just lose your life. Without even knowing the depth of the situation I can be 99.99% sure that this was just adolescence and an owner that had reached her point because she didn’t know how to communicate with them.
Don’t let that be you!
What’s a board And Train?
Basically? It’s a bootcamp for dogs – dogs go there for various reasons, but more often than not, board and trains don’t solve the issues they need to. Why? Because a trainer needs to work on how a dog and their family communicates and gets the best out of the relationship. It’s no use for a dog to listen to a stranger, they have to listen to you!
So what do you do?
I’m going to walk you through what you can do, how you can amp up your training.
This is actually the most common time for dogs to be surrendered to a rescue – but it’s something you can deal with. It really is!
1 – Don’t Lose Heart
This is so important. Please. Your dog is not crazy, you’re not struggling for no reason. But you’ve just got to start over, go from basic principles. Start with the cue that’s the easiest for them – for Indie – this was Sit and it is for a lot of dogs! So, start over with sit at home, add in distractions, change the time length up, and work so you can do sit at a distance too. Move out to a more distracting location and keep it stepping up. Then broaden the taught cues.
2 – Make time for training
Every day. Twice a day. Three times a day. These only need to be 15 minutes! A great way to do it, is to do it before you go out for a walk – it really helps to tune their ears in before you get them out walking. If you walk in groups? Arrive 15 mins before everyone else and work through your working cues. Also remember to use this time to work up slowly. You want to make it easy for your dog to succeed but slowly increasing the difficulty – don’t jump from 1 to 100. Go gradually for optimum results!
3 – They’re not ignoring you.
When your focus is a limited resource, what are you going to focus on? Mum or Dad, standing behind you calling your name, saying something… or the fluffy pomeranian over there that might want to play – or that squirrel over there at is gonna be SO MUCH FUN to chase. So… Where is your dog going?
Yep, to the squirrel or the pomeranian. Obvious, huh? How do you change that? Ready? 3 words…
Be more exciting.
Be More Exciting!!!
Which of those drew your attention. Yep. The big red one. That’s the same for your dog. Don’t be big and red (leave that to Clifford) – but do be more interesting, high pitches, quick noises, interesting treats or toys – do not underestimate the power of toys! And, and I know if you’re british this one is gonna go against the grain, but … don’t be afraid to be goofy in public. I have, quite literally, sung and danced and spun around to get one of my dogs attention.
Yes, you’re gonna get funny looks, but you’ll be ok.
You can also amp up your treats or switch to toys. I found a squeaky ball was really useful!
Want to know my Superpower for focus?
Yes you are – aren’t you? Good!
See what I did there?
That’s what you’re going to do. Charge it up in as many situations as you can when you don’t need it – don’t question it at this stage, just go with me… When you throw a ball. Before you play a game. Before you go running across the room and get your dog to chase you. Before you open the fridge and give them a delicious piece of chicken. Before you do anything your dog might see as exciting? Go “Indie, Ready?” And don’t just ask if they’re ready… be exciting! “Ready?! You ready puppy?!” Build the excitement and anticipation, because when you do the thing they want (the reward…) you’re associating Ready with excitement, which means they’re instantly focusing back on you.
When you’re getting good success with that, then the next time they’re about to get up to mischief? Ask if they’re ready. All you have to do is just run with them for a 10 yards or so, play with them a little and then resume your walk – and guess what? Hey presto – you’re past the big distraction…
That’s my superpower, use it wisely and do not squander the power! Use it when needed only and keep it charged up so you can use it whenever necessary.
4 – Upgrade Equipment
If you’ve not invested in a harness? Now is a great time. Pick a nice, comfortable Y-shaped harness (I promise a post about harnesses is coming!) with a back attachment and – if they’re a particularly strong woof – a front attachment is invaluable! Make sure you ditch flexi-leads and go for a nice flat lead. I find the Halti Flat training lead to be fantastic for this, it allows a whole bunch of different formats – especially if you have a wonderful two point harness! Which – in turn – allows you to be flexible in the various situations you’re going to be facing whilst on lead.
Really big note!
You Do Not Need Aversives. Resorting to headcollars, prong collars and ecollars are totally unnecessary tools for this period of time. You need to build the relationship between you both, not break it down.
Also, grab equipment that aids for your specific problem – a lot of owners have recall issues at this stage in their dog’s life, so a good secure y-shaped harness, with a secure long line will be genius. I’ve listed a few awesome ones from Ruff Wear – they’re awesome quality and it is genuinely what I relied on for Indie when he hit that age! It is worth saying that I have selected these products specifically because I know them and trust them, I do gain a teency bit of commission for you buying from the below, but it adds no cost for you! And – I mean – you know I wouldn’t be putting Indie in one if I didn’t believe in it!
5 – Make Sure They Have Their Own Space At Home
This one is actually super important, as is teaching them to settle, because an over tired dog, that doesn’t know when to quit? Their ears are switched off, and you wont get them to listen. Creating a safe space, like a crate or their bed when there do not get bothered, ever (other than being called out of it on occasion) is so important! They know they have a safe space. Make it comfortable, make it enticing. Give all high value treats on this bed, and pop their favourite toys back there and praise them for settling (soft praise though! A gentle “good” or “well done”, don’t get too exciting on this one!
6 – Add in Enrichment
Lots of brain stimulation is also required. You can tire a dogs muscles, but you have to work their brain too. Check out our two posts on this! Free Enrichment Activities and Enrichment Toys & Games! Beyond that though, try feeding them interactively such as from a kong (here’s a quick how to if you’re unsure!), you can also add in lots of games and stuff, such as outdoors – why not refocus your dog from their surroundings onto you by making your walks into something more interactive, why not try something like parkour?
There are tonnes of ways to do this, but if you give them appropriate outlets for their inquisitive behaviour, it helps with focus and keeps them on track.
7 – Always finish on a good note.
For your purposes, and your dogs? You’re going to be more likely to train regularly if you finish each session of training, or your day, or whatever sections you need to, on a good note. It puts you in a good frame of mind, and them. If your dog is focused, and you feel you need to? Cut the session a little shorter and finish on an old reliable trick or cue, such as the sit I mentioned before.
If you take one thing from this, it’s not to give up. Well, ok, don’t just take that, take the superpower too. Please! I want to see you guys succeeding! You can do it! They may not be easy, your dog may be such hard work but … this is what you signed up for. Love them. Work with them. Learn how they communicate, watch how they interact, learn to predict when they’re going to lose focus. You can do it!
Know someone who might benefit from this? Why not share it with them! We’ve all been there, so let’s make sure we all get through it together.
If you need more help, why not sign up for the next 5 Day Loose Lead Challenge?