The young dog was jumping, mouthing hard, and bodyslamming. Reprimands made her behavior worse. How do you handle an out-of-control teen?
Today I’ll talk about a typical case – a composite of many of the dogs I see. Xena’s a wild and crazy adolescent, about 9 months old. And, man, has she stopped being cute. She jumps up into people’s faces and knocks their glasses off. If they push her away she bodyslams them and grabs their arms. Yelling doesn’t faze her one tiny bit. This dog is on the slippery slope to the animal shelter. Enter … me!
Why Not Just Punish the Behavior You Don’t Like?
Since yelling hadn’t worked, why not just punish Xena harder? Punishments can shut down problem behaviors -- but they don’t teach a dog what to do instead. Painful, scary, or startling methods can easily damage your dog’s trust in you. And he may misunderstand which behavior you’re punishing, or may associate the punishment with another person or animal who’s present. Finally, pain and fear have a nasty way of making both animals and people lash out. Xena’s guardians needed a better idea.
Prescription #1: Exercise a Dog Who’s Bouncing Off the Walls
With Xena, two big clues were her age -- 9 months old -- and her daily schedule. Her only exercise was 3 leash walks a day for 20 minutes each. A leash walk burns about as much energy as window-shopping at the mall – not enough to take the edge off any healthy dog her age. On top of that, Xena was a Black Lab mix. Black Labs are notoriously high-energy dogs, and Xena was climbing out of her skin. No way on earth could she learn patience, good manners, and self-control. Prescription Number 1: Get Xena at least a solid hour of aerobic exercise every day in a safe off-leash area. She needed to run, trot, and maybe play fetch. Morning exercise would be best, so that she’d start the day pleasantly tired and relaxed.
Still, Xena would be awake some of the time, looking for something to do. That’s what it means to be a young animal, whether you’ve got four legs or two. Xena’s behaviors -- mouthing, jumping, and trying to engage her people -- let us know loud and clear what she liked. It’s fine that dogs like to use their mouths; it’s fine that dogs like to move their bodies vigorously; it’s fine that dogs want attention from their humans. The trick is to find outlets for these desires that everybody can enjoy.
Prescription #2: Replace Human Chew Toys with Inanimate Objects
Exercise, Prescription Number 1, would meet Xena’s need to move.