As you can imagine, I see some dogs with some very deep seeded behaviour problems, so it makes sense to try and provide some early intervention for owners with puppy problems.
The longer the dog has been exhibiting the problem, the less likely there will be total rehabilitation and the more likely it will be a part management, part rehab outcome; and whilst that is still a lot better than the current state the dog might be in, there is a better way.
So it naturally goes to say that the earlier you become aware of a behaviour issue, the better your chances are at rehabilitation.
This is a good practice rule for a dog of any age but there is a very big opportunity that you have before your dog enters early maturity.
Early intervention, diagnosis and therapy can change the life behaviour patterns of your dog.
I have seen dogs being treated by trainers and behaviourists that will explode in aggression on sight of another dog. The trainer or handler can apply any level of punishment or reward and the dog is psychologically unable to make a choice and simply absorbs ridiculous levels of punishment or reward loss.
It can take months of therapy to get any response at all from these dogs.
I also have clients come to see me with dogs that are between eight and thirteen months of age, the goal of the session is to ensure that their young dog is on its way into maturity with good behaviour patterns, a strong understanding of social etiquette and some good basic life skills.
Whilst some might just wait until their young dog would mature and deal with it then, it can take in excess of ten times as much work to modify an 18 month old dogs behaviour compared to an 8 month old dog.
Of course many 18 month old dogs simply don’t successfully modify the behaviour and sail into full maturity with dangerous, anti social, aggressive and unacceptable behaviours, and unfortunately a percentage of these dogs will be re homed, euthanised, declared dangerous, drugged or worse.
Some are running around dog parks attacking other dogs, spreading the behaviour problems like disease.
Dogs go through development periods starting at birth through until 14 – 18 months at which time they settle into early maturity. So your adult dog is the product of what he or she has learned in the first year of life.
It makes very good sense both practically and economically to have your dog assessed before he or she turns 14 months, 8 months would be ideal time to “assess and intervene” if necessary.
Some of the dogs I see at 8 months just get a “clean bill of behaviour” and some are given a few intervention exercises to steer this young dog on a slightly different course to avoid almost certain unwelcome behaviours. Recieving a clean bill of behaviour is great news and recognition of the work you have put in.
Some though are diagnosed with severe dysfunction and need strong intervention right away or the future will be troubled for sure. Know that even if your young dog falls into the category that needs strong intervention, finding this out now is a lot better than discovering these problems after your dog is 18 months old.
Some of things that you might not think about that I would ask on my questionnaire is; “has your dog ever been boarded at a kennel?”. Very often dogs that live indoors or partially indoors with people and have not been boarded before they turn two years of age. They may suffer anxiety due to separation from the home vs. dogs that were boarded before 18 months rarely exhibit these problems.
We advise boarding your young dog over a test weekend between the ages of 6 months and 10 months. If your dog suffers loose stools, will not eat, exhibits signs of separation anxiety we suggest boarding for two days each month to desensitise your dog to separation. If you don’t do this you may be like many pet owners that feel they cannot leave their dog in fear of their dog suffering.
Imagine one weekend of board at around 6 months of age (maybe $50 – $100) to give you the freedom to holiday as you please later in life.
Perhaps your young dog pulls on the leash and your hoping that this will subside when he or she matures, well dogs don’t grow out of behaviours, they grow into them and it becomes harder to stop later on.
Know too that dogs that pull on the leash are frustrated and this frustration can elevate arousal, high arousal can spill over into aggression easily so it goes to say that we want to make sure our young dogs will walk on a loose leash, understand how to meet people and dogs appropriately so that can enjoy inclusion to many outings, rather than walking them because you have to.
It is quite common for a puppies owner to believe that their puppy is on the right track due to their inexperience, so this is why it is essential to see a professional to get them to check your pups behaviour for flaws.
Par for the course
It has to be said that the expected behaviour from one puppy may not be accepetable for a puppy of a different breed. A Springer Spaniel for example may display quite different behaviours to a Working Line German Shepherd for example.
You need to make sure that the professional you see is accomplished and experienced with your breed.
Very often a concerned person will call our office and ask for urgent help. We book them in and when I meet them, they have a pup that the puppy class instuctor has labelled dangerous and aggressive.
I look down at the Black German Shepherd puppy and wonder where this idea came from. They may show me video or I allow the pup to interact with one of my dogs.
The pup chases the older dog and bites it, then when gripped shakes its head and growls.
THIS IS NORMAL for this puppy. It is not acceptable but completely NORMAL.
Some investigation quickly reveals that the puppy class structure is mainly allowing the puppies to play with each other for half an hour. The GSD puppy is using other pups as prey items and has begun to like it.
This is not a temperament flaw but a behaviour that has likely be created at the puppy class because the instructor is not experienced with THIS type of dog.
Reading this article may help explain in more detail. “Puppy School, the good, the bad and the ugly”.
Help for puppy problems
I wanted to add some tips on how to decide if your young dog may be heading towards problematic behaviour. There are many aspects of dog behaviour and rather than attempt to cover them all, I am going to highlight a few of the more common ones.
You walk your young dog up to a stranger (a stranger to your dog).
On arrival you would ask your young dog to sit and wait whilst you chat with the person.
Your young dog is happy but relaxed. He or she does not show fear, submission, high desire, frustration or aggression towards the other person. Your young dog is happy in his or her own space and is not greatly affected by the persons presence.
* Your dog becomes very excited to see the person and tries to elicit attention by jumping, pulling on the leash, pawing at or barking at the person. No amount of direction you give to your dog will stop the dogs actions.
** Your dog avoids eye contact with the stranger and becomes non respondent to you. You have asked for a sit but your dog sniffs the ground, pulls on leash to get away and will not engage with you or the person.
*** Your dog steps behind you or actively tries to avoid the person. Any attempt the person makes to communicate with your dog causes your dog to try and move away with energy.
**** Your dog sees a person approaching, he or she gains a fixed stare on the person and stops walking, both front legs a little wider apart than normal. When the person speaks or walks toward your dog, he or she barks and maintains eye contact. You may see raised hair above the front shoulders (Piloerection) right through to the tail.
You are walking your dog along the street and your young dog see’s an unknown dog laying down 3 metres to the side of his or her path.
Ideal behaviour: Your dog notices the other (non respondent) dog and trots by without any excessive change in demeanour.
* Your dog gets excited and starts to pull on the leash towards the other (non respondent) dog. You call your dog and try to get his or her attention but your dog is non respondent.
** Your dog appears to refuse to look at the other (non respondent) dog and you see Piloerection (hair on back raised), lip licking and or other stress related signs. When you go to walk away your dog pulls on leash to get away from the dog.
*** Your dog backs away from the other (non respondent) dog and is looking for a way to get some more distance between himself or herself and the other dog. No amount of coaxing will bring your young dog back on line.
**** Your young dog starts barking and looking away from the other (non respondent) dog. No amount of coaxing brings your dog back, he or she is growling as they walk away.
***** Your dog displays aggression to the other (non respondent) dog on site. Lunges into the leash, desperate to get to the other dog.
Your young dog sees a piece of scrunched up paper on the ground that the wind is causing it to rock around gently. (You may have set this up or something similar.)
An ideal behaviour might be: –
Your dog notices the paper and gives it a quick sniff and ignores it after that, your dog is happy and will respond to his or her name easily.
* Your dog sees the paper rocking and lowers his or her head and takes a wide birth of the paper, as you walk off he or she may glance back at the paper, you might see some white in your dogs eyes.
** Your dogs sees the paper and dives at it in play, after 2 seconds you call your dog by their name and they don’t respond, but instead they continue to engage the paper.
*** Your dog jumps backwards when noticing the moving paper, then freezes or barks at it, is non responsive to their name.
In some cases, some of the above responses will not turn into a problem, but only an experienced professional will be able to guide you on this. The fingers crossed method may not be enough.
You will notice that all of the above “concerning behaviours” generally see the young dog become aroused / emotional and non responsive to their owners.
This means that your dog has a social awareness problem and he or she also does not possess enough impulse control to deal with these “social pressures“.
If some action is not taken, and your young dog falls into any of the groups of concerning behaviour above, your adult dog will not be an easy or social dog to live with and take out in public.
Unchecked the older your dog gets the worse the behaviour will be until these behaviours severely limit where you can take your dog.
Many people with a mature dog that has aggressive reactions to people or dogs often take on “Vampire” like behaviours. Walking their dog very late at night or early morning, avoiding warm blooded people and situations like these.
What should you do?
If you have a dog under 14 months of age, why not have an assessment done just to make sure everything is on the right track. Get that clean bill of behaviour!
If you have a dog that is under 14 months and he or she is displaying any of the concerning behaviours above or some other concerning behaviours, early intervention is a must, book an assessment now.
You may be surprised how little “early intervention” you need to avoid major behaviour problems later on.
If you have a dog and he or she is older than 14 months and has a behaviour problem, then you should look at a consultation with an experienced behaviourist as soon as you can.
Behaviour rehearsal is one of the strongest reinforcers, meaning, the longer your dog practices, the worse the behaviour will be. Know they do not get better on their own.
All dogs can be improved, better managed and made more comfortable with correct techniques, yes even yours.