Teenagers are assholes.
That's a phrase I repeat every week. It's repeated multiple times a day in my house.
A little context might help, hmm? I am, because apparently I am a glutton for punishment, living with two teenage dogs. The 19-month-old Rottweiler cross Athena, Great and Small Oaf herself, and the recently adopted 8-month-old Cane Corso, Artemis. So ladies, gents, non-binaries and everyone else, believe me when I say with feeling that teenage dogs are assholes. Complete and utter assholes.
Much like in their human counterparts, the age dogs enter adolescence - or become teenagers - varies, as does the amount of time that they are teenagers for. For small breeds such as chihuahuas, Jack Russells and Cavalier Spaniels, they will start adolescence somewhere between 4 and 5 months old, and by the time they are a year, they are mostly through it and fully mature. With the larger breeds such as Rottweilers, Cane Corsos or Saint Bernards, (I'm looking at these two and, once again, uttering a sigh of disbelief while typing this) adolescence moves in between 5 and 6 months old, and takes up residency until they are anywhere between 18 months and 2 1/2 years (for the giant breeds). Oh yes. Up to two whole years of teenagery antics.
Oh yes. Up to two whole years of teenagery antics.
Adolescence is a difficult time for both our dogs as well as us as their owners. (A sentiment I'm sure is echoed by the parents out there) Not only do they start to feel the effects of various hormones, but they are also still behaviourally maturing too and still learning about the big wide world, alongside how we expect them to behave. During this hellish time, you will notice that their behaviour is constantly changing and developing - one day they are restless, unable to settle, destructive, yet the next, they are scared of everything, even their own shadow. Two days later they have seemingly forgotten all of the training you so diligently taught them during our puppy classes, then magically they are back to being a model pup, polite and well behaved! It's enough to make you want to scream. Well, take a deep breath, because all of that is totally normal. Yes, even us behaviourists dread adolescence.
Some dogs have a nice straightforward adolescence, growing into their frames and maturing into lovely, well-rounded dogs in no time at all. Then some (Artemis, I'm looking at you) make you want to hide in a corner with a vat of wine and cry.
Athena has, by and large, been relatively easy through her adolescence. That's not to say there haven't been days where I (metaphorically, of course) wanted to kill her, or set up an IV of wine to get through it, but those days have been rare. She's grown quickly, smoothly, and for the most part, even managed to remember her training. Sounds great, right? Hold that thought, I did say "by and large"...
To date she has;
- Shredded a pile of my client paperwork
- Ran across the entirety of Saltdean Oval park to harass a grumpy Bichon Frisé and his poor, elderly owner, ignoring her recall entirely.
- Brought a soaking wet toy in from the garden and dropped it on my head at 6 am (complete with slugs!)
- Bounced off me - and several friends - at full speed while carrying coffee/tea, causing both spillages and breakages. (My long-suffering editor can vouch for this one too)
- Repeatedly spread both clean and dirty washing around the house
- Chewed and shredded countless toilet rolls, and yes, toilet brushes. Lovely.
- Destroyed an entire net curtain in order to "save" the elephant toy that had got stuck behind it.
- Many, many more antics, shenanigans, mayhem and chaos.
After 19 months she's now, thank all the gods, starting to come through the tail end of Adolescence, and her teenage moments are becoming less and less... ish. I came downstairs just the other morning to find her gleefully shredding the downstairs toilet roll - while still on the holder!
Now Artemis. Waking disaster Artemis. Walking catastrophe Artemis. She's one of those dogs that has pushed me to the edge repeatedly over the time she has been staying with me. She is hard work. I've even dumped her on my editor for a day from time to time to get a little break, a little respite and actually get some of my paperwork done with "assistance".
I love her dearly, I really do, but most days I don't like her very much. She is incredibly smart, which is great for training, yet unfortunately, she can rarely get her brain cells to form a straight line and think. She is also very, VERY easily bored, and when she gets bored, she can and will make her own entertainment if I don't keep her occupied. Now, I'm sure I don't need to paint much of a picture for you to imagine the chaos a bored, 40kg teen can create. Here are some highlights though:
- Stealing random items from both the bin and the recycling, shredding them and spreading the resulting mess around three different rooms.
- Destroying approximately 50% of my various dog toys, including the "unbreakable" ones, and often attempting to eat the stuffing.
- Digging up 2 of my extra special roses, planted in memorial for my Mum.
- Putting her entire head into one of my fish tanks, almost getting stuck and breaking the tank.
- Chewing the wall of my recently redecorated dining room, and removing a chunk of wallpaper from another wall in the same room.
- Relieving herself on 4 separate soft beds in one evening
- Repeatedly grabbing and chewing sofa cushions, blankets and virtually everything else that will fit in that mouth
- Jumping and landing directly on my head mid-zoomie so she could shout out the window at my neighbour. I was sitting on the sofa at the time.
- Grabbing and chewing leads on walks when she gets excited, overwhelmed or just experiences any degree of strong emotion.
- Grabbing Lizzi (my JRT) by the tail and trying to use her as a toy. You can imagine how well that went down with a Jack Russell known by my family as "the Fun Police"
- Pulling apart far more money's worth than I care to think about of enrichment toys and lickimats.
This list could go on for some time, my point is - teenage dogs are utter assholes. That's normal. It doesn't mean that I have failed either of them or that my training has been ineffective. By staying consistent, training regularly, going back to basics when needed and providing LOTS of mental stimulation & structure to their days, I am not only managing their nightmare teenage days but also helping them to cope with the changes themselves as well as reinforcing the behaviours that I want from them for the future.
And no matter how difficult the hard days might be, I never, ever punish them. No matter how big the mess they cause or how embarrassing the recall fail might be. Ultimately, I know that any punishment will come back to bite me right in the ass and cause far more problems than it solves.
So, remember on your difficult days, that even dog trainers want to scream during adolescence and struggle with their dogs. Take some time out away from your dog - visit a friend, have a relaxing bath or a glass of wine or just ditch them on a (trusted!) friend for a bit, and start again tomorrow.
And well, if it really starts to go to the dogs, you've been reading a blog from your Friendly Neighbourhood Dog Trainer. Reach out, get in touch, and we'll work together to get you and your dog through it.