PHEW! You’ve got through to 9 months with your puppy, you’ve got the Recall down to a fine art, got through the chewing phase, nailed the separation and got them socialised with other dogs. Plain sailing from now on you might think, 9 months, it’s almost adult!
DON’T be FOOLED!! This is the age bracket where you are likely to experience: Regression in behaviours, fear and confidence issues and stubbornness!
I’m an experienced owner but I’m not a professional trainer, which is why I called upon Gretta from The Pitter Patter of Tiny Paws to help me with this post. She is a behaviour expert who shares my belief that by setting your pup up for success you will have a happier and better relationship in the long run.
Regression in behaviours
Gretta’s Top Tips:
- Anyone with experience of teenage children will be well aware of the significant changes which the adolescent brain undergoes and how these can impact on learning and behaviour! Accept that this is generally a challenging time with dogs but that, just like teenagers, they’re struggling and can’t do anything about the developmental phase that they are in! You need to be patient and consistent. Don’t panic that they have forgotten everything – just keep going with the basics and you’ll get through the other side of this phase still smiling!
- In adolescence, dogs often become more aware of (and interested in) competing reinforcers (i.e. things that will make them feel good). Prey drive kicks in for a lot of dogs during this period (hello hunting and chasing!) and many dogs seek exciting social interactions with other dogs (while you stand there helpless, calling them back!). It’s important to allow your dog to do normal ‘dog things’ but you do want to make sure that they don’t get to repeatedly rehearse unwanted behaviours in adolescence because those behaviours have a tendency to stick! So, go back to using a long line for a while If necessary, hire a secure field to practise your recall and try to find ways to engage and play with your dog so that you’re not just the ‘fun police’ and, instead, are great to be around. Give them what they are seeking elsewhere and up the ante with the value and type of rewards on offer!
George had been the most loyal Velcro dog you could imagine up to 9 months – when we got Winnie! I’m not saying she led him astray but he certainly gained confidence having her around and became bolder in his behaviour. His prey drive kicked in because, well, having a woman to impress was SO much more fun wasn’t it!
Fear and Confidence Issues
Gretta's Top Tips
- Always remember that choice builds confidence. Allow your dog to avoid things that they’re nervous about, until they are ready to engage. If your dog is scared, offer them support (don’t worry – you won’t ‘reinforce their fear’) and encourage them to focus on something fun instead, if you can. Never punish your dog for showing fearful or defensive behaviour – this will likely make matters worse and lead to a loss of trust.
- I would recommend that you seek expert help with fear and confidence issues. Look for an ABTC Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist eg. full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) or the Fellowship of Animal Behaviour Clinicians (FABC).
Winnie came to us when she was 9 months old. She had lots of fear issues. We are still discovering some over 4 years later. Her main fear seemed to be around meeting LARGE HAIRY DOGS. She bolted back to the car when we met one of the villages most hairy and I was not at all prepared for it. If you’ve had your dog from a younger age, you will likely be more prepared and know their fears which, as Gretta says you can manage with support and guidance.
- ‘Stubborn’ is generally an unhelpful label to put on behaviour as it assumes that the dog is being intentionally difficult (thereby predisposing us to engage in a conflict situation) when this is actually rarely the issue. Remember the challenges of the adolescent brain! Don’t overcomplicate it – dogs do what feels good, results in something positive, avoids something negative (but we don’t want to be relying on that for many reasons!) or has become a habit. Don’t allow them to get into the habit of doing behaviours you don’t like, reinforce behaviours you do like and give them opportunities to do the things that feel good WITH you, instead of continually looking for it in the environment. Have fun with your dog and don’t get caught up into a ‘battle of wills’!
- Instead, for the sake of your relationship, give your dog the benefit of the doubt and consider why they might be struggling with what you are asking of them in that moment. Is it actually that you’re asking them to perform a behaviour that hasn’t been fully proofed (generalised to different contexts) yet? Or that you’ve been inconsistent in your training lately? Or that you’ve reduced your reinforcers (treats/ play etc) for desired behaviours and your dog has now learned that it’s not worth their while? Or that they are preoccupied with something that is worrying them right now? Or that there are competing reinforcers (for example the chance to chase a squirrel vs the chance to get a treat from you)? Once you know what’s really going on, you can put a plan into action to address it though sensible management/ prevention and training.
George forgot all his recall during this age – when he was in a place where rabbits could be found. He would often disappear for 10 minutes – might not sound long but when you are standing in an orchard on a cold autumn afternoon, it is a long time! We managed this by taking him to places where the furries could not be found and his source of play was Winnie or one of his other dog pals. Practicing his recall in these situations and upping the treat game – a dry biscuit just didn’t cut it for G, we needed the roast chicken chunks but he did improve as he matured. He’s never 100% but he is considerably improved!
Gretta’s advice is great, but if you are still struggling, please do visit her website, The Pitter Patter of Tiny Paws, or drop her a message on social or give her a follow on Instagram, her approach is a kind and tested way to achieve harmony between dog and human. .