Adolescent Dog Training

Adolescent Dog Training

Adolescent dog training

An adolescent dog is nothing more than a typical teeenager

When we bring a new puppy home, we teach the basics such as toilet  training, bite inhibition and general good manners around the house and people. We hopefully make sure to socialise him/her and do our best to ensure they receive the best possible start in life. What we often underestimate however is just how short puppyhood actually is and how challenging the adolescence period can be.

Adolescent Dogs

An adolescent dog however can be rambunctious, full of energy and downright stroppy at times, something any parent of teenagers will recognise. All the hard work you’ve put into teaching them basic good manners just seems to go out the window. The pup may have stopped chewing on our hands and peeing in the house but is now jumping on our visitors, marking every blade of grass and lamppost it encounters, barking and lunging at other dogs or pushing the boundaries in other ways. Just like people though, all dogs go through this period of development and there is no way to skip over it. Being prepared to deal with the changes in our dog’s behaviour makes it easier to live through it without getting frustrated and giving up on the dog altogether.

By the time our little male puppy for instance reaches the age of 18 weeks, his testosterone levels will start to rise. This male hormone will keep on climbing until it peaks at around 10 months of age before very slowly going down to adult levels around 18 months of age. This age period can vary from breed to breed and among individuals, but the important factor to keep in mind is this: adolescence in dogs generally occurs between 5-18 months and during that period, their brain is flooded with more hormones than ever. High levels of testosterone lead to greater reactivity with faster, longer and more intense responses to external stimuli.

Adolescent Bitches

In females, rising levels of oestrogen and progesterone during the same period may increase irritability and problems with other dogs as well as resource guarding issues.  A typical behaviour problem that occurs around that time is when the younger female in a multiple dog household, starts going after the older female, even though they had been getting along just fine during the previous months.

What to do

Shadow Jnr resting after adolescent dog training

The more you do in the way of adolescent dog training the easier life becomes

These adolescent months sadly coincide with an increased rate of relinquishment. It is a sad fact that the majority of dogs are surrendered to rescue between the ages of 5 months and 3 years of age (47.7%) and at least one behaviour problem is reported as the reason for the surrender in 40% of the cases. The most common behaviour issues ranged from biting, aggression towards people or animals to disobedience and destructiveness. These numbers suggest that there is a need for more information and support to dog owners who don’t expect the behavioural changes or don’t know how to manage their dog’s reactions during that period of development.

As for dog training classes, well these aren’t for every dog especially if that dog has already developed ‘other dog issues’ or is extremely nervous.  All that will happen is your dog will get stressed, you’ll get stressed, your dog will be sent to the back of the class or banned and you’ll end up feeling like it’s too late and therefore be less inclined to correct any issue’s.

Because we only specialise in one to one dog training, we can tailor your dog’s training specifically to address any developing behavioural issues and in an environment where these problems usually occur such as the home or your usual dog walking area.  Much better than standing around in a draughty old hall in the middle of nowhere.


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Predatory Aggression In Dogs

Predatory aggression in dogsThe number of attacks made by dogs on humans and other pets is sadly on the increase.  Whether this is down to the owners lack of knowledge, lack of proper training, poor socialisation or bad breeding, there is one possible cause that appears to be over looked.  That of predatory aggression.

What Is Predatory Aggression?

It can be difficult at times as your dog snuggles up to you, looking at you with big, round brown eyes or bounds around you in a goofy way begging for attention that at one point in his/her development, your pet is descended from hunters.   

Every dog has some level of prey drive (the motivation to chase, catch and kill small furry or feathered creatures) because hunting and killing was a way of life for their ancestors and their only means for survival.  This is hard-wired behaviour that is still present in our dogs today.  It is important to remember that predatory aggression by dogs does not reflect a psychological problem and neither is the dog being vicious, malicious or vindictive.

Predation is a natural survival-related behaviour even though it may sometimes alarm or disgust us.  The entire predatory sequence displayed by all predators involves searching, stalking, chasing, catching, biting, killing and then eating.

The problem we have as dog owners is that predatory behaviour is not preceded by a significant mood change or threatening gestures.  This absence of warning signals plus the fact that killing is the natural end point for predatory behaviour is what makes it dangerous for target animals, children, cyclists, joggers or anything else that moves quickly.

In domesticating dogs, certain parts of this see-chase-grab-kill sequence has been diluted but never fully eliminated.  For example, the herding breeds are very strong chasers, but do not go for the bite-hold-kill as readily as other breeds. Terriers, on the other hand, will readily grab-bite and kill.  How many of you have seen your dog grab a toy then shake it’s head rapidly from side to side?  That innocent and sometimes comical act is in reality, the final phase of the predatory sequence, the kill.    

So despite domestication, dogs still have an instinctive desire to chase, grab, bite and kill things that look like prey.  Incidentally, this is why so many dogs like to chase a ball or play with tug toys etc.  In the case of the domesticated dog, predation is instinctive and not based on hunger as is the case in wild predators. 

The level of predatory drive depends on the individual dog and what it has been bred for.  Movement always starts the sequence and allowing a dog to chase down small animals or toys will strengthen that prey drive.  Predatory behaviour may be exhibited by dogs of any sex and age and dogs showing intent or becoming agitated by the movement or vocalisations of children or other pets need to be closely monitored.

There are some people who do not regard predatory aggression as a proper form of aggression given there is little mood change and because a dog that chases after, catches and kills a rabbit shows none of the affective signs associated with dominance or fear aggression.  As far as the dog is concerned, it is just business as usual. However, when viewed another way, it seems reasonable to me to classify predatory aggression along with other forms of aggression as it results in damage or destruction of another creature.

So, what constitutes prey?

You may have seen during springtime for instance, dogs or cats killing birds and upsetting wild rabbit nests.  Our response, should we witness this sort of behaviour often ranges from being horrified to dismissing the action as the animals natural instinct.  We rarely see it as a problem.  However, it does become a problem when this predatory drive is directed towards running children, cyclists, traffic or small dogs and cats.  For us these targets are not prey, but to the dog they move like prey, sound like prey, and look like prey, hence the danger.

The results of such cases of mistaken identity can range from annoying to painful and even life-threatening.  A dog exhibiting the predatory mode may slink up on their prey and, when within range, launch an attack.  They then accelerate towards their target, either nipping at heels or biting at calves or thighs, perhaps hanging on in an attempt to drag their prey to the ground.  Sometimes other dogs will be drawn in to the attack displaying “group” aggression.  When the subject is a young child who is attempting to run away, the results can be disastrous.

What makes this type of aggression dangerous is it cannot be trained, medicated or counter conditioned out of the dog.  You may have a dog who previously chased cats, who can now be commanded to stay or sit around a cat but they will still chase a cat down at some point especially if you are not around.  This aggression can be shocking to the owners as it manifests so suddenly and is directed to what we do not see as prey.  For the dog however, instinct dictates otherwise.

Risks of Canine Predation

Realistically, there is no real treatment for predatory aggression and the only sure way to control predatory aggression is 100% avoidance of the situations that put humans and animals at risk.  The sudden high arousal level, a fixed focus on the prey subject and difficulty distracting the dog, are all indicators of a poor prognosis.  Dogs that are born with a high prey drive and have it fine-tuned by experience will always be likely to display this behaviour under certain circumstances.  Quite simply, they cannot help themselves.  This means if your dog chases cats, it cannot live with a cat.  If small dogs are the prey, your dog cannot be around any small dogs, especially when out on walks. 

As previously mentioned, this behaviour is neither malicious nor vindictive but simply biologically driven and natural  though unacceptable and downright dangerous when expressed toward humans. It therefore remains the responsibility of dog owners to recognise and appreciate tendencies in their dog and to take precautions such as keeping the dog on a lead etc.

It is your responsibility as a dog owner to recognise that if your dog only comes back to you when there are no distractions then your dog does not have a reliable recall and therefore should not be off the lead until one is taught.  It is not enough if your dog attacks another animal or child to say “he/she has never done that before” or “he/she only wanted to play”.

Reward-based obedience training will increase owner control, but will not prevent predatory behaviour when the owner’s back is turned or when the owner is absent.