We had hiked. We had played. He had just finished a lovely romp in the exercise field. My 8-month old Doberman puppy was hot and tired, clearly in need of a nap. Yet when I went to leash him up, he looked me square in the eye and conveyed, "NOPE!" as he turned around and gleefully ran in the opposite direction. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the joyous time that is canine adolescence. Now the REAL training chops come into play.
This. Is. Normal.
Allow me to say that again: this challenging of rules and authority, bucking the system, saying "NO, I DON'T WANT TO!!!" is completely, 100% normal.
If your adolescent dog is doing this, GOOD! That means they are NORMAL!
This also means the onus is on US, their trainers, handlers, owners, caretakers and advocates to REMEMBER this fact and not take it personally.
Your puppy is NOT trying to ruin your life or make things awful for you. They are simply growing up.
That being said, I'm not going to sugarcoat this: this time is TRYING and HARD and downright FRUSTRATING!
These reactions are also entirely NORMAL.
Do not beat yourself up for feeling this way. Simply acknowledge it, breathe and move on. You are human, it is okay to FEEL as long as you are NOT taking out on the puppy.
So What Do You Do?!
First off, breathe. I know it sounds cliche, but truly, take a nice deep breath. Close your eyes for nanosecond as you are doing so. Remind yourself this is NOT the end of the world. Your puppy is NOT plotting against you. You are NOT going to lose your dog-owning or dog-loving license. All will be well and you both WILL get through this.
Once you have breathed, getting valuable oxygen to your brain, think: what is it that I want my puppy to DO and HOW am I going to convince them that is what THEY want to do?
It is crucial to remember this: dogs, and puppies, do what works FOR THEM. Always frame your training with this fact in mind.
Going back to my example, I wanted my puppy to come to me so I could leash him up, get him in the car and go home for a much-needed puppy nap.
He wanted to stay in the field, NOT come, NOT get leashed-up, NOT go in the car and most definitely NO puppy naps.
Clearly, we are at an impasse.
Now my job was to make my puppy want the same things I wanted while simultaneously avoiding teaching him some other bad habits.
"Wait a second, what bad habits? Like what?!"
Well, let's say I tried to chase after him so I could snatch him by the collar to leash him up. What do you think he will learn?
1. I run MUCH faster than that stupid fat human woman lady.
2. When she tries to grab my collar, BAD things happen (aka things I do not want to happen), so I had better not let her do that!
3. Letting the human woman lady get near me ends all of my fun...better play keep away with her!
I don't want my puppy to avoid me. I don't want him to play keep away with me. I definitely do not want him shying away from my holding onto his collar.
"Okay...so what do you do?!"
Make his choices really clear, with the "correct" option being the most obvious one, and then leave it up to him.
He LOVES to be with me and doesn't want to be in the exercise ring alone. So, when he didn't come to the gate to get leashed up, I simply left the exercise ring and sat in my car for a few seconds.
If I may anthropomorphize a little, I'm certain my puppy was thinking something along the lines of, "I'm staying away from the human woman lady, fa-la-la-la-la...oh wait, she is LEAVING! I don't want her to leave! Staying away from her isn't working...drat!"
After sitting in the car for a few seconds, with my puppy whining the whole time, I went back into the exercise field and stood by the gate.
"Are you ready to go now?"
He thought about it for a moment, took one step closer to me and then began to move away, seeing if he could lure me into a keep away chase.
The second he moved away, I said, "Alright", exited the field and sat back in my car. No yelling, no sighing, nothing. He moved away, I left.
The whining commenced once again. A few seconds later, I re-entered the gate.
This time he tried something new. He moved a bit closer before trying to dart away...that didn't work either! The second he even leaned away from me I was walking out the gate.
"UGH! STUPID HUMAN WOMAN LADY!"
The whining recommenced since I once again sat in my car. Another few seconds passed by before I re-entered the gate.
"Are you ready to go now?"
This time he just stood still. You could see the gears turning. He WANTS to be with me, but he DOESN'T want to come yet. Believe it or not, we are making progress!
No problem. I'm sticking to my criteria - he must COME to me. Another, "Alright" and back into the car I go.
A few more seconds and I am back in the exercise field and as soon as I opened the gate, he was wigglying right up to me and sat to have his leash put on.
Here is the SUPER important part: I MADE A HUGE DEAL ABOUT THIS!
I showered him with verbal praise, treats, the whole kit and kaboodal.
"BUT WHY?! He's doing what he SHOULD have done in the first place!"
Ah, But he WASN'T doing it. Not only DID he do it, he did because he WANTED to do it. I then had to ensure it WORKED for him. If I brushed him off instead of making a big deal about it, he may have made the calculation that coming to me was still NOT worth it, meaning he would be less inclined to do it next time.
Did this take longer that I would have liked? Sure.
Would I have preferred that he just came to me the first time. Of course!
Am I happy with how this ended and am fairly confident we got out of this situation in a better position than we could have? Absolutely.
When you find yourself in these situations, avoid creating new problems. Realize WHY these things are happening. Remember this a normal part of your puppy's development. Try to stay calm and clear-minded, as best as you can. Breathe through the frustration and stress. Give yourself some more time to do the very same routines you have been doing for months...they may take a bit longer now. BUT, understand that your puppy is LEARNING during this time. You do NOT want them to learn to mistrust you, fear you or that they do not have to listen to you.
Navigating puppy adolescence can be tricky and challenging. If you are still unsure of what to do, we have a recorded webinar that will be released on February 29th diving into this topic in far more detail. If you're interested, you can register for this webinar here.
The bottom line is this: you and your puppy CAN get through this!
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Family Dog University, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined FDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of FDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.