Living with a teenage dog – They are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time.

Most new dog owners find puppy hood challenging but at least they are getting the support of a puppy class as these classes have become main stream. There is also the novelty and the children, who desperately wanted a puppy, are still on board. But once the cute pup turns into an adolescent delinquent, things start to fall apart. Stopping a puppy’s education with a puppy pre school is a bit like thinking kindergarten will get your child into university. It takes a lot more to help the cute puppy to develop in a well adjusted canine citizen than a puppy pre school.

Yes puppies are too cute!


Owners seem ill prepared for the challenges of a teen-aged dog: The emotional response and over the top reaction to some stimuli, forgotten training, increased exercise requirements, need for more mental stimulation, ongoing socialisation and training take owners by surprise.


The dogs don’t do it on purpose but their brain, to put it casually, is still under construction. We have to be aware that they are not giving us a hard time but they are having a hard time.

Like in humans, part of the cortex matures at different rates. The more basic functions mature first where as the parts in the brain responsible for controlling impulse or planning mature later [1]. Emotional responses, especially the urgency and intensity of the emotional reaction are affected during this time. Hormonal changes are another factor, even in neuter dogs.

The dog is also figuring out his place in your family and the wider community. This has nothing to do with pack.

Growing up.

The young dogs now spend more and more time at home in the backyard because they are too boisterous to walk and often refuse to come back at the off leash dog park. They also have gotten into a few run-ins with other dogs. They have become unemployed and will soon be self-employed, meaning they dig up the backyard, eat the pool lights and bark at anything that moves. It is downhill from there and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

We do not take them out anymore, their social skills deteriorate even more and their world becomes very small. They meet the same people and dogs over and over again and if they go out, it is the same old same old. They stop interacting with new people or dogs and they ‘forget’ how to deal with new situations or might get scared. Scared dogs are dogs who react inappropriately or show aggression towards unknown dogs or people.

This pattern can be fatal! Behavioural problems seem to be the number one reason for euthanasia of a dog of any age “it is still the largest cause of death of puppies under one year of age. Indeed, the average age of dogs in Australia, and world wide, is estimated to be around 3.5 years, which is well below their potential biological age.”[2]

A large number of dogs are surrendered to shelters each year. One study puts the figure at a staggering 20 % [3]. The numbers of cats and dogs euthanized in Australia is equally staggering 180’000 (population of 22 million) and other countries are no better[4].

Anecdotal evidence suggests that dogs are most likely surrendered when they reach social maturity around 2 years of age and often earlier.


Do’s and don’ts

Do keep socialising. While early socialisation is important it does not stop with puppy pre school. Teenage dogs need to be socialising on an ongoing basis. They need to meet new people and dogs, go to new places and have new and positive experiences on an ongoing basis. Attending a well run class for teenage dogs will help with ongoing socialisation, you will get support and realise just how normal your teenage dog is.

Keep socializing.

Don’t run them into the ground. A lot of owners try to solve the problem by literally ‘running them into the ground’ on a daily basis. However, they are just creating an athlete. The dog is now so fit that they cannot get them tired anymore or worse the dog is physically exhausted but the brain cannot settle.


Do find a balance between mental and physical stimulation. Teach them something new on an ongoing basis, such as tricks or a brush up on obedience sills. Use part of their food for enrichment in food dispensing toys, recycle plastic bottles, pizza boxes, paper rolls etc. Or if so inclined start a dog sport: Agility, Rally O, Nose Work, or Fly Ball.


Don’t just show them who is boss. Some owners think they have to show them who is boss and start using aversive or punishment based methods.


Do keep educating them. A classic is the couch. The dog is on the couch. The owner first ask the dog to get off, then the owner commands the dog to get off and then resorts to pulling the dog off, the dog growls or even snaps. Often this is the beginning of the end for that relationship. Firstly, the dog is not on the couch because he plans on taking over the household and then the world. The dog is on the couch because it is the most comfortable place and he has not been taught to go to his mat.


Do choose your battles wisely. It is well document that the use of force can cause aggression. If you do not want your dog on the couch then teach them to go to their bed instead and reward. Also make sure that the whole family is enforcing the same rules. If some family members allow the dog on the couch and some don’t it will be really hard to understand. If it happens, go into training mode, get a treat and lure the dog onto his bed and reward. This should be your approach for all problems. The dog does the wrong thing because of a lack of training not because he is ‘bad’, ‘dominant’ or ‘will-full’. One more tip if you are not prepared to enforce (in a positive way) what you are asking for, don’t ask!


Do reward the effort. Despite all the bravado they are showing, they are really insecure. Make sure you acknowledge the effort and show them that you love them. We used to say “Nothing in life is for free” but in reality “Plenty in life is free”. You might find Kathy Sdao’s e-book Plenty in Life is Free helpful. Especially the part about 50 treats a day. It basically means reward all the good things your dog does with either treats, praise or interaction.


Do let them make choices if safe and possible. A lot of dogs are not going to the off leash park anymore because they got into altercations with other dogs. If no one was hurt, your dog is not aggressive, he just needs more socialisation. Start by teaching a really reliable recall, then manage the environment by pairing them with suitable play mates. If you have done a puppy pre school that allows for off leash interaction you will know how good play looks. It should ebb and flow, roles are reversed, there are pauses, invitations to play are frequent (play bow, eye flashing, lifted paws etc). If it gets too rough, call your dog, ask for a sit, calm things down and restart. If your dog shows aggression get professional help.


The good thing about teenage dogs is that this phase does not go for years. With the right attitude, additional socialisation, training and a good sense of humour if may only last for a few months. You still might have relapses later but hopefully not as bad and not as long.


Most important: stay connected, show them that you love them, keep socialising and train your dog!


First published Australian Dog Lovers





Having fun with your dog!

I do not know about you but I love having fun with my dogs.

There are a lot of different ways of having fun and it means something different to everyone. It depends on you, your age, fitness level, personal preferences, imagination and personality. It also depends on your dog. Their age and fitness level, breed disposition, temperament and their personal play style.

Many of us know about the popular dog sports such as Agility, Dock Diving, Herding, Rally O or Fly ball.

Fun Agility. Pic Le Hammer
Fun Agility. Pic Le Hammer

However, some dogs are not suitable for high arousal sports or are not comfortable in the presence of other dogs or strangers. And some owners have no interest in joining a club or to actively compete.

This does not mean you cannot have fun.

There are sports that cater for dogs who do not enjoy the company of others or high arousal activities. One is Nose Work where dogs initially learn to search for their toys or rewards and later on for a specific scent. The other very new one is The K9 Scent Scramble. In this sport dogs are diving through or into a ball pit to retrieve a specific item. This looks like a lot of fun!

Older dogs might consider a massage or acupressure much more relaxing than any other activities. There are specialized professionals who offer these services.

Older dogs enjoy some relaxation.
Older dogs enjoy some relaxation.

Inside on a rainy day and you and your dog need to do something?

Lets start with the oldies but goldies:

Hide your dog’s toy/food: Cue your dog to sit and wait (if necessary ask a family member to restrain him), hide his toy and let him look for it. If you have never played this game start easy by letting him see where you put it and then make it more difficult. If your dog does not retrieve just get him to indicate where the toy is.

Hide and seek: Get one person to hold on to the dog, the other person (with some treats handy) hides. Then the dog goes and looks for the person and gets a big reward when he finds her.

Which hand? As a precursor to shake and high five: Put treats in both hands and ask your dog to sit. Put your hands (fist closed facing up) in front of the dog so he can reach your hand with his paw. Most dogs will sniff first and if that does not work, they will put up the paw to scratch. Before they scratch open up your fist and let him have the treat. Repeat until you get a reliable paw on your hand. Once you get that, remove the treat from your hand (but pretend it is there), as soon as the dog lifts his paw open up your hand, say ‘shake’ and reward from the other hand. That should result in a shake very quickly. Once this is reliable, ask for a shake and as soon as the dog lifts his leg, change the position of your hand to a high five.

The tree cup game: Get three cups, put a treat under one, move the cups around and ask your dog to point to the one where the food is. Again, make it easy in the beginning and then gradually more difficult.

Food dispensing toys such as the muffin tin, toilet rolls, Kongs,

Teach your dog to close the door or turn on a light: These tricks are taught by targeting. Teach your dog to touch your hand with her muzzle first. Present your open hand about 10 cm away from your dog’s muzzle. It is better to start with the hand to the side and not right in front of her face. Most dogs will touch if not remove your hand and try again. Once she touches your hand, say yes (or click) and reward. If she does not touch, smear a little bit of your treat on your hand. Once you get a reliable touch, stick a post-it note on your hand and ask your dog to touch the post-it note. Once that is reliable, slide the post-it note down, this way your dog is going to only touch the post-it note and not your hand. If she does this reliably transfer the post-it not to your target (door or switch).

You can teach a foot target the same way.

Make a video showing: If you get really bored, why not making a video of your efforts and show off your dog’s skills.

There are a lot reasons to have fun with your dog, some activities are just for a bit of mental stimulation, others that involve training, especially trick training, have additional benefits.

Confidence Building: Dogs who learn new things on an ongoing basis might find new situations in daily life less challenging. They learn that using their brain and finding a solution or trying something new is not scary but rewarding.

Improves training skills of the owner: Lets be honest, when training ‘proper’ obedience most of us are a bit serious. When we train a trick we are much more relaxed, our timing is hopefully better and our reinforcement rate higher. Dogs love this and they really do not care if it is obedience or tricks. They also might engage more with their owners and enjoy ‘real’ obedience training more.

Improving the relationship: Dogs and owner who have fun together stay together. Fun is an important part of every relationship and makes the more stressful times easier to navigate.

Gives the dog a job: I meet a lot of young dogs who I call ‘unemployed’ and they then become ‘self employed’; meaning they create their own jobs such as digging up the yard, chewing the pool lights or bark at anything that moves. A 10 minute trick training session is as good as a half an hour walk and makes them very tired.

Ice breaker for people who don’t like dogs: If a dog performs a cute trick, it can be just a high 5, this might put a person who is nervous around dogs a bit more at ease.

Focus: Trick training, because it is so much fun, increases the dog’s focus which can have a positive effect on the more serious things you want to teach your dog like ‘heel’ or ‘stay’.

Defuse scary situations: If your dog knows tricks and they encounter a scary situation, you might be able to ask for a ‘high five’ which takes the focus away from the scary thing and back on you.

Physical benefits: Trick training can improve stamina, increased flexibility, balance, or core strength to name a few. This might also be true for the owner.

Happy training!


First published






Activities night at puppy pre school

The last of our classes focuses on a revision of all the things learnt and then introduces a few challenges to socialize the puppies in an appropriate way to new and potentially scary things like a hoop, seesaw and tunnel.

This also introduces new surfaces and sights. We only do this in week four to make sure we are not overwhelming puppies and they have a positive association.

We love children teaching their puppies appropriate interaction.

It is also lots of fun!

House training for your puppy

My puppy is house trained, she just has the occasional accident.
If that ‘occasional accident’ is once a year, I would agree. If it is once a month I do not.
A house trained dog should have no accidents unless they are unwell, have been locked up for too long, are having a stressful time or something else unusual is happening in their life.
If you are still having accidents you need to go back to basics. The puppy has to go out after a sleep, after a play, about 15 to 20 minutes after they have eaten and every hour in between.
You also have to stay out there with them until they have done their business. Otherwise you do not really know if they are ’empty’.
It is a good idea to take them to the same place. You need to reward, not with ‘good dog’, but with a treat! You have to clean up the poo, dogs do not like to go to the toilet where there are feces. They will go back where they smell the urine.
If you clean up in the house, do not use ammonia based cleaners, use Urine off or similar.
For more info contact me via the contact pagesuoperman spotty and I can send you a handout.

Children and dogs, it is not always easy.

A mother recently posted on facebook that a certain dog should be put down because he bit a child. I do not comment on the case as I do not have enough information.
However, what got to me was she said next. That she had lovely children who would run up to every dog to say hello and that she could not stop them.
She does not think it is necessary to teach her children to respect dogs and the space some need but that it was ok that they just run up to unknown dog.
On the other had if something happened it was crystal clear that it was the dog’s fault and only the dog’s fault.
This really makes me sad. I think it is important that children are taught how to be dog safe. It is obviously also important to socialise dogs well and teach them to be good canine citizen.
But it goes both ways and children and dogs have to learn to respect others.
It has happened to me walking two big dogs and children would just run up to them, one child even hugged Zorbas, without asking. Glad he is well socialised with kids!

spotty and jackson

What is choice in dog training?

whats there


I have been talking about choice in dog training for a while now. And I am talking about the dog’s choice and a real choice!
Some might remember that you were told to show the dog food in your hand, if the dog tries to take it, close your fist and do not let him have it. If the dog backs up then reward for this ‘choice’.
This basically tells the dog ‘In order to get what you want you must first do what I want!’
While this might teach the dog some self control, which is not really bad, it has nothing to do with choice.
If you really want to give your dog a choice, and I think you should, start teaching him appropriate behaviours like ‘sit’, ‘look at me’, ‘hand touch’ etc. Then in situations where the dog gets either excited or apprehensive and has different choices, he could bark, jump up or lunge but if instead chooses to look at you, then he has made a real choice. I would obviously then reward this. And for the records, I would in no way punish the the other choices, just calmly move away and reassess the situation.
An example might help. I was at a trial with Shellbe the other day and a friend asked her to ‘sneeze’ (she does not know that behaviour), so she got a bit confused and did not really know what to do.
Guess what, her choice was to look at me, pretty much saying, can you explain what this person wants. Isn’t that great!

Do you really want and need to go to the dog park?

The other day I observed a ‘conversation’ between humans and dogs at an off leash area. There is a person at this park with a group of very large dogs (about 5). The person and the dogs think they own the park.
She will tell everyone that her dogs are friendly, despite them ganging up and bullying other dogs and to just let them sort it out. In her opinion it is a crime to take treats to the park or actually control a dog’s interaction or play.
So three of her dogs where bullying another dog, this poor dog was on her back continuously trying to avoid being harassed but no one felt it was necessary to intervene and manage the interaction so all dogs could actually enjoy their time in the off leash area.
The good old times when we let them sort it out are well and truly over.
Imagine this. You are at the playground and your child gets bullied or your child bullies another child. Would you just watch and hope for the best.
Of course you would not! And the same goes for the dog park. Play and interaction needs to be supervised and managed for the enjoyment of all.
I did not intervene as I do not give unsolicited advise.


That is Superman, he is 8 months now and loves the dog park!

Loose leash walking – It is a difficult concept.

Imagine, two different species, one two legged, one four legged, one sniffs, one watches and they are trying to walk down the street at the same pace.

The dogs do not get it and most owners don’t get it either.

Before you start you will need a few things: a flat collar, a front clip harness, treats, patience and a bit of spare time. You also have to make up your mind if your dog is going to walk on the right or the left. I do not think it matters but in the beginning stick to one side.

We will teach the heel position first as the dog will not understand the concept of a loose leash.

To get going:
• Teach the heel position first and we assume the dog walks on the left.
• Put the leash in your right hand, the dog is on your left side, the leash connects to the dog with a slack in front of you, a handful of treats in your left hand.
• You are making the position on your left knee a high reward zone.
• Get attention, ask for a sit, step off and lure the dog into the correct position (head on your left knee). As soon as the dog is in the correct position, say yes or click and reward.
• Repeat and gradually increase your criterion, reward after two steps, three steps, seven, ten etc
• Do short sessions on your walks.
• Do short sessions without lead in the backyard or in a fenced area.
• If your dog pulls, stop, ask her to come back to the correct position, do a few steps and reward.

Once you start teaching heel you cannot change the goal posts on your dog. This means if you cannot insist on a loose leash but still have to walk the dog you need to change something in the set up. Otherwise you are confusing the dog. I recommend using a flat collar if you train heel/walking on a loose leash but use a front clip harness if you are not training and accept a bit of pulling or lagging.

Once your dog gets the heel position; gradually start relaxing criterion and let your dog walk a bit ahead, behind etc as long as there is not tension on the leash. If the dog pulls, stop, ask him to come back into the heel position, and reward after a couple of steps in the right position.

The most common problems are:
• Too low reinforcement rate, in the beginning you have to reward every step. Loose leash walking is boring and difficult for both of you!
• But then you have to up criterion very quickly.
• Walking straight lines. If you walk a straight line the dog is very likely to surge ahead. Try walking curves or figures of eight.
• Session is too long, keep it short and sweet.
• Reward for coming back into the correct position. If your dog pulls and you ask him to come back into the position and then reward, you will get a yo-yo action. Dog pulls, dog comes back because you are rewarding the coming back rather than the correct position. You have to get the dog to walk for a couple of steps in the right position before your reward.
• Walking on a tight leash. If you hold the leash tight, the dog thinks that is what you want. You need a loose leash.
• Relaxing criterion too early – the dog has to understand the heel position as a high reward zone first.

And by the way, do you know why we walk the dogs traditionally on the left? It is a left over from the military training: Holding the gun in the right hand so the dog has to walk on the left.

Have fun and a little bit of patience!
luna walking nicely

See you later, baby! – Or how to train coming back.

For some dogs ‘come’ means run as far away as you possibly can and if possible migrate to the next country, well the next dog park. These dogs have learned coming back means we are going home and the end of the fun.

Of all the basic cues to teach your dog coming back is probably the most important and sometimes the most difficult one. Coming back under all circumstances and always has many benefits and can avoid real problems, such as being run over by a car, a confrontation with another dog, meeting a snake or just a kid that is scared of dogs.

Dogs do not come back because the world out there is very rewarding and the off leash time is often the best part of the day!

But it is possible and very rewarding to teach your dog to come back if you stick to some basic rules:

  • Teach the dog what come means
  • Make it worthwhile for your dog
  • If you are in the dog park let him go again
  • Never ever punish or rouse on a dog that came back (even after 2 hours)

Teach the dog what come means

Take a piece of food or a toy, show it to the dog and move backwards saying come, as soon as the dog catches up to you give him the treat/toy. You are associating the word come with moving towards you and be in a position close to you for the reward. At the same time hold your dog gently by the collar. This is a safety measure to get your hands on your dog in an emergency. You also don’t want a ‘drive by dog’, a dog that comes, takes the treat and takes off again. Once the dog understands this, call the dog between family members in the house or the backyard and make it a really great game. You then take this game to a slightly more distracting environment like a fenced dog park at low traffic times.

Make it worthwhile for your dog

You have to figure out what is most rewarding for your dog, a specific squeaky toy, some really nice treat, a play with you, or a cuddle? Once you have figured this out reserve this special reward for coming back and the dog only gets it when he comes back. Do not phase out the reward and don’t be stingy, a pat on the head will not cut it.

If you are in the dog park let her go again

If you are in the dog park call your dog every 3 or 4 minutes with a happy voice, give him a really nice treat or have a quick play but then let him go again. Coming back does not mean the end of the fun. Also reward when your dog is checking in with you.

Never ever punish or rouse on a dog that came back

Even if it took you 2 hours to get your dog to come back to you, you have to reward him for coming back. If you punish your dog it will only set back your training. Your dog just showed you that you have to improve your training.

catching a wave