A Year of Froot Loop: Teenage Phase on the Horizon
Froot just turned a year old! And what a year. For those of you who don’t know Froot Loop is my first Rottie, and after being used to other breeds of high drive dogs, there is much that is different between breeds.
Froot has been an enriching part of my life and he is a total clown. At times me and the girls look at him and wonder what in the hell is wrong with him, as he pulls another silly antic. I don’t know how much more zestiness my life needed, but it seems I found it with Froot Loop.
Growing pains are real and we’re just beginning to hit the teenage phase of his development.
What does Froot know?
A lot of people think that by a year old a dog is an adult, or should be behaving like an adult, or at least be well trained and that they’ve reached the end of puppyhood. For breeds that are very quick to mature, like small breeds, this might be somewhat true, but for medium, large, and giant breeds, these dogs are often going through their teenage phase.
This phase generally starts at 8 months, but can absolutely vary between dogs and will vary between breeds. Rotties in particular are slow to mature and develop, and I know his teenage phase is just starting.
How long it lasts also varies between dog, as well as the severity. Generally speaking this phase of development is characterized by a higher desire to explore the world, with the handler/owner and their wishes taking a back seat. I really don’t like to call this a testing of boundaries, because of the negative connotations associated with this wording, and rather like to refer to it as an exploration of boundaries. Commonly we often will see recall issues, and in extreme cases, a pretty complete breakdown of obedience and training skills from the part of the dog. It’s quite literally like they’ve forgotten everything they’ve been taught.
It is 100% normal for this to happen.
Froot’s actual obedience skills are limited. It might surprise you to learn that he doesn’t have a cue for sit, stay, or lay down; these are not skills I personally have need for and they’re the least priority when raising a puppy. That nice sit will do nothing to produce a behaviorally sound dog.
Some would call him untrained because of this, but that is untrue. He knows everything he needs to know to make him a dog that is very easy to live with. His recall is stellar, he knows how to crate and travel, how training works, how impulse control is always the right answer, how to use a treadmill and a slatmill, and generally how to live in a home without being a jerk. This has been all I’ve needed and expected of him, truly he doesn’t need much more to fit in well to my lifestyle. Impulse control is our big focus and this next year will will be working on some of the more fun skills in training.
Right now though, he is a puppy. A big dense wrecking ball made of meat, but still a puppy with puppy interests, attitudes, and that charming love of life that we fall in love with in our dogs. So I will give him that, allow him to be a puppy and to experience things. The training is layered on in parallel, not overshadowing or crushing anything, but instead filling the gaps gently. There is no race here and the only thing you gain from rushing in training is mistakes and more work later. So for now he gets to be a puppy. We have plenty of time to get serious later.
Factors that Affect Severity of the "Teenage" Phase
Some of the common factors that I think play a role in how hard this phase will be on any given dog and handler team have to do with the raising of the dog and the foundation that has been put on the dog. Coincidently this is often when dogs are rehomed, because a dog with zero training going through the teenage phase can be entirely overwhelming. This is why I will always be a firm supporter of early training with a professional, and we have a lot of science now backing these practices as being the best way to go about raising your puppy.
Working with a trainer is the best way to get a solid foundation down AND learn how to prepare yourself for your puppy’s teenage phase. This is the easy route to take with your dog!
Frankly speaking I see two paths when it comes to the teenage phase. The first is a dog with little, late, or inconsistent training. Right off the bat this dog is not going to have the same type of relationship with their handler as a puppy who has had appropriate and consistent training.
So there is going to be a disparity in the value system for the pup, they perhaps are not seeing their owner as being on the same team as them or a vital component to them getting what they want from the world. Instead the owner is in opposition with the pup or outright competition. After all, someone who is constantly stopping you from doing the things you like, and generally putting a damper on things is not on your side. The unfortunate fact is that most owners fall into this category automatically (at no fault of their own, simply from a lack of good knowledge about training and puppy raising).
Puppies with this kind of relationship with their owners will have a much stronger pull away from their owners during the teenage phase. They will want to seek out rewards in life, and will try hard to get them whatever they may be. Their owner has been cut out of the picture because of the type of relationship they have, which makes normal distractions that much harder for the pup to overcome.
Then this entire thing can be further exacerbated if punishment is being used; in a nutshell, punishing a dog never builds up the relationship they have with you, nor does it teach them anything. It just makes a situation unpleasant, which will serve to make all those pleasant distracting things more of a draw.
The Negative Side of the Teenage Phase
It is entirely possible for your dog to come out of their teenage phase chock full of bad habits they picked up during that time. The teenage phase is not a time where the dog goes a little wild and then settles back into “normal” life without having learned anything new. The learning doesn’t stop, so bad habits picked up during this time are likely to stick if you don’t have trainers support or are flying solo.
To expect things to settle back down with no effort on your part is a mistake. All dogs need support and special care to help preserve their training so that when the teenage phase is done you can pick up where you left off. Doing nothing during this time, expecting things to resolve themselves, huge mistakes.
How do we Make the "Teenage" Phase Bearable?
This is the million dollar question and it comes down to what’s been done in the past with a dog. If the dog has been taught how to have and display impulse control you’re already miles ahead of the pack. Don’t confuse leave it and impulse control!! They are very different from each other and simply having a leave it command doesn’t at all mean that your dog understands how to have impulse control at all.
However if you’ve taught impulse control correctly you will have a much easier time overall with your dog’s teenage phase, simply because you’ll not only know how to strengthen this when you need it, but also what it looks like when the impulse control is failing. That’s your cue to help your dog make the right choices.
A recall is also a vital and valuable skill that makes things much easier. At a year if you’ve been training with a method that works, you should have a recall that is in the 90% success range at least. Of course there are still some hurdles to overcome, but at a year of practice with effective methods, it should be pretty damn strong. This will make it much easier to help your dog when their teenage phase brain is scattered and all over the place, and help them get refocused on you when needed.
Lastly, but of course not least, is a good crate skill. Some dogs can get destructive during the teenage phase, or start chewing on your belongings like they did when they were a young pup. Being able to bust out the crate or pen and prevent them from making the wrong choices, while giving them appropriate items can be a very powerful tool. However if your dog doesn’t have crate skills, or wasn’t taught with methods that supported them loving their crate, then it’s all a lot tougher to help them through this phase. Crating shouldn’t feel like a punishment and shouldn’t feel like prison to your dog, if it is then it’s not going to be a tool you’ll want to use or one that they will be ok with using either.
These three places are all skills that I consider vital for any dog to know and be familiar with that have the biggest impact when it comes to not only surviving, but thriving through your dog’s teenage phase. It really doesn’t have to be a hellish period of you and your dog’s life, instead it can be a speed bump. Preparing for it, dialing back expectations, that’s where the solution is and how to prevent yourself from being blindsided by your puppy’s teenage phase.