Friday, April 8, 2011

Ask Maggie: My Puppy is a Teenager Now

"[My puppy] has been a bit unruly since she turned two. We need good behavior, especially now that training has started for the therapy dog class. Help?"

Well that's a great question! Being almost two, I've been making my human work hard. I'm testing all sorts of limits.Never fear though, this is an easy problem to work through. When puppies get a little older they need two things in an abundant quantity: exercise and structure. This isn't a time to start harsh training techniques. Yelling at your dog isn't helpful either. Have you ever tried yelling at a teenager? Is that an effective way to modify their behavior?

Preparing for flight
Exercise. The easiest thing is to get in the habit of taking two or three daily walks. It's hard to do. I know you humans all have busy lives. However exercise is important for both dog and human. Make time for it: the benifits are myriad.  I'm marched around for 30  minutes in the morning, 30 minutes in the afternoon, and 30 minutes in the evening. The human always says a tired therapy dog is a good therapy dog. I also get lots of extra stimulation. I stop and sniff things. We visit with other people. We pass by other dogs. All of these are extra training and socialization opportunities. 

Take  yesterday for example. We took an extended afternoon walk. I discovered a discarded sandwich. I got to practice the "leave it" command. We passed by seven dogs. I got to practice sitting as they passed. For added excitement the human had me practice the "watch me" command. It was a challenge, but I spent most of the time watching my human and not watching the other dog. We do this a lot because I'm excited around other dogs. 

Having all this stimulation makes me more inclined to nap at another times during the day rather than find  creative ways to get into trouble. Keep in mind that when teens are getting in trouble they generally are asking for something to do. Give them a job and everyone is happy.

Demonstrating a down/stay
Structure. Now that I'm a teen my human is making more of an effort to structure my time. We like to have periods of intense play. For example, we might wrestle, tug, or chase squirrels. We'll do this for a minute or two. Then I'm asked to do a down/stay or a sit/stay. I do that for a minute or two. then more play. We do this three or four times several times a day. Why? Because it's fun. That's the biggest reason. We also do it because it gives me structure. There are times to play and there are times to play. I'm learning that even when I'm excited, it's okay for me to do a down/stay. Sooner or later I'll be able to get back up.

Want an extra challenge? The human has been doing this with me. We go into a fenced in area that is safe for dogs. We spend some time chasing after tennis balls and sticks. The human then has me do a down/stay in the middle of the tennis court. He walks all the way around the tennis court. Sometimes he skips, sometimes he sings, sometimes he waves around sticks, and sometimes he bounces the tennis ball. I watch. The human will reward me for staying on a random basis. Sometimes I get a treat. Sometimes I get pet. Sometimes he yells "go play" and I get to run around like a wild little puppy. 

That's not the challenge.

Puppies really can fly
The challenge is this. The human will throw the ball in one direction and then call me to him. The hope is that I will come to him rather than the exciting toy. This hasn't worked so well. I go get the toy and then I come to the human.

Never fear. This isn't a failure. It's a learning experience. The human pushed me too far. He now holds the toy and calls me. I start running and he yells "stop!" The desired behavior is that I stop in my tracks. When we first started this he had to run toward me as he yelled stop. I've gotten good at it now. So good that I add an extra flourish. When he yells stop I either go into a down position or a play bow. It's kind of cute. 

Hope this helps. Thanks for asking!

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