It's important to continue training your adolescent dog

N.H. Sunday News - Dog Tracks Column - 2/23/14
By: Gail T. Fisher

I’ve been getting emails from readers letting me know that they’re enjoying “the adventures of Larry.” Or perhaps they would better be called, “the trials and tribulations of Larry’s owner.” At least that’s how I feel now that Larry is a large adolescent Chinook with an adolescent brain.

I just finished teaching a six-week on-line certificate course for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers on the “Social and Psychological Development of the Dog” (great participants, and a wonderful experience!). The course included performing an assessment test on puppies to best match a puppy with the right home. One element the test gauges is energy and activity level. For example, a puppy that tests as having a high energy level will do better with an active family rather than a quiet, sedentary owner.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test Larry’s litter before selecting him, but in watching him playing with his littermates he seemed to have a normal activity level. A high activity level wouldn’t have been a deal breaker since, even in this lousy weather, I can find plenty of outlets for his energy such as doggie daycare and regular training.

While training may not physically tire a dog like a long walk or run would, a good training session will mentally tire him. Plus training gives the owner better control over the dog’s behavior—at least until he’s grown into a seemingly brainless, selectively deaf adolescent. So training helps a lot!

Having Larry has made me realize how very fortunate I’ve been raising my previous dogs. I don’t recall any of my dogs at this age being as active and into everything as Larry is. Or perhaps it’s a combination of my increased age, and a selective memory (or a lousy one). It isn’t just Larry’s size, although he has grown so big so fast that it seems as if he changes over night. For the 25 years or so that I had English Mastiffs, I was, of course, used to have a very large dog. Eight-month-old Mastiffs are generally more than twice as heavy as Larry, who probably weighs about 50 pounds. An eight-month-old Mastiff, however, is not nearly as active as a Chinook of the same age. Not as active, and not as agile.

For example take counter-surfing—or jumping up to investigate what’s for dinner. This was not a huge issue with my Mastiffs. Of the other dog breeds who would counter-surf, such as my English Springer spaniel or Vizslas, they weren’t nearly as tall as Larry, and therefore not able to reach everything no matter how far back I pushed it. My Bearded Collies were extremely agile, but not as interested in food, so they didn’t steal food off the counter. Kochi, our Shiba Inu mix would be on the counter if he could, but he’s not tall enough and can’t figure out how to move a chair to climb up on. Larry is certainly tall enough to explore the counter, and did try it once or twice, but fortunately I was able to nip his counter exploration in the bud—at least so far.

Larry is doing reasonably well with the behaviors we’re being taught in the Manners Classes we’re attending—with the exception of loose leash walking (a continuing challenge, especially for a sled dog breed, genetically selected to run in front and pull). But what I have noticed with him, more than I recall experiencing with any of my previous dogs, is the selective hearing he has developed over the past couple of months. Sometimes he’s absolutely wonderful, and at other times it’s as if he never ever heard the cue “sit,” or worse still, as if he doesn’t hear me at all.

Last week we started the next level of classes. If having an adolescent has taught me anything, it is the critical importance of continuing his training through this challenging time. I had thought of taking some time off to practice what Larry already knows, but I know that can be “the kiss of death” for continuing training. I know countless students who have taken time off with the best intentions, but their best laid plans are rarely accomplished, especially without having the motivation of knowing we have a class on Monday nights, and we have to practice to be ready for it.

If Larry’s adolescence has taught me nothing else, he is definitely solidifying the importance of not just early training, but continuing regular training throughout his teenager period.

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