Gracefully handling the awkward adolescent canine

PETS AT HOME

April 02, 1994|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

There comes a time in a young dog's life when the sweet creature he once was becomes possessed by the Other.

He gets awkward. He gets troublesome. His attention span shrinks. He's more interested in testing the limits than in behaving himself. And if he's really unlucky, he'll push it too far and find himself at the shelter, along with other delinquents.

That's because dogs, like people, can go through a difficult adolescent stage. And while most parents only fleetingly dream of abandoning their human teens, some pet owners aren't quite so committed to enduring this part of a dog's life.

"This is the stage where all h-- breaks loose, the same as in human society," says dog trainer Carol Lea Benjamin, author of "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence: A Positive Training Program" (Howell Book House; $20). "There is leisure, and time, and energy and the desire to mate and nothing to do with all xTC those hormones. "And suddenly the little puppy that once looked up at you with stars in his eyes looks at you and says to himself, 'Who elected you president?' "

And that, says Ms. Benjamin, is where the trouble begins.

"When adolescence hits, people think they have a rotten dog, an abnormal dog," she says. "That's not true, and it happens even when you raise your dog properly."

Adolescence generally starts at eight months -- although it can start much earlier -- and can last until a dog is 3, says Ms. Benjamin. Here are a few of Ms. Benjamin's tips on what you can do to get you both through the adolescent stage:

* Exercise. "The best thing you can do is make your dog tired," says Ms. Benjamin. "If you've got a big, powerful dog, get him tired and then do a lesson. That's not cheating at all."

* Keep lessons short. "Work often, but for brief periods. Understand that your dog's going to be an oatmeal brain off and on."

* Don't forget the praise. "Praise big and have high expectations. A lot of problems are caused by the fact that no one has any expectations and isn't giving the dog a chance to achieve anything."

* Shuffle work and play. "Take the games you play anyway and schmush in the training. It works better at this age."

* Integrate training into everyday life. "Practice 'sit' while he's waiting to have his collar put on, while he's waiting for his dinner."

* Don't expect perfection. "The dog isn't going to behave like Lassie. This is not the time to let your dog off-leash -- you'll get him hit by a car."

* Have a sense of humor. "This is the most exuberant, silly, fun time of a dog's life. Above all, enjoy it!"

Like all of Ms. Benjamin's books, "Surviving Your Dog's Adolescence" is well-written and illustrated with the author's own cartoons. It's an easy read, and a valuable aid to anyone struggling with a "teen" dog.

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