Pandemic Puppies Are Hitting Adolescence

Young Cali, a golden retriever, runs through a tunnel holding a tennis ball
Cali, now 8, took ages to grow up!

Wow, all those pandemic puppies people got last spring are now hitting that wonderful adolescent stage. You know, where they have boundless energy, no sense, and no memory of anything you’ve taught them?

How long does that stage last? Jana’s was about 5 months. Cali’s? closer to 2 years … Then one day something clicks into place and you have a wonderful adult dog. If you’ve done your homework, that is.

If you didn’t get training when your dog was a puppy, you might find yourself on a long waiting list now. Even if you’ve raised puppies before and know how essential early socialization and training are, the pandemic poses significant problems.

Last spring, many dog training classes were shut down. How do you go to puppy kindergarten on Zoom? Sure, you can learn to teach the pup to sit on cue and wait before bolting out the door by following online lessons, but — like human kindergartners — pups need to play with others to learn how to be a nice dog.

They also need to interact with people. All kinds of people — all ages, ethnicities, genders, sizes, shapes — and wearing all kinds of clothing, walking with different gaits (or using wheelchairs or walkers) … it’s nearly impossible to get that kind of exposure while socially distancing.

The extended work-from-home time was beneficial to housetraining and developing a close bond with a new puppy, but is that dog able to handle being left home alone?

Get creative!

It’s possible to find workarounds to some of these issues. A trainer referenced in a recent NYT article suggests hanging out in a park with a long leash (15-20 feet) and asking willing passers-by to greet your puppy.

As far as encouraging independence, crate training is always a good idea — then ensuring that the pup spends some time alone each day, crated with a fabulous treat. I like stuffed Kongs, but there are dozens of great treat toys that you can safely leave with your dog in a crate. Avoid anything that looks like the dog could chew off a small part (whether a toy or an edible, like dental chews or rawhide) and swallow it. Smear or stuff it with something irresistible. Peanut butter works for a lot of dogs.

Do this while you are at home, but also start leaving the dog home alone for short periods. Take a no-dog walk, run errands, whatever is possible where you live. Gradually extend the dog’s alone time, and don’t make a huge fuss when you return or release the dog from the crate. It shouldn’t be a big deal to leave the dog or reunite. Just part of an ordinary daily routine.

If your dog has become a wild child and you don’t know what to do, look for online training — try the APDT’s trainer search. Even if you can only get an online class or a phone consultation, professional advice might be the best way to resolve any behavioral issues before they get deeply entrenched. Please choose only a positive trainer, though, and be prepared to put in some time and effort. Changing behavior takes time (whether it’s the dog’s or the human’s — or both!).

Growing Up

9 Weeks

Janas Bed age 2

 

 

 

 

 

Cali turned two recently, so by some definitions, she is an adult. I had this fantasy that, at age two, she’d “click in,” showing maturity and leaving behind the seemingly endless adolescent phase.
Hasn’t happened.
But all is not lost. She is showing signs of growing up.
For a couple of weeks now, she’s been trying very hard not to pull on the leash when we are walking to the park where we play every morning. She has excellent leash manners on most regular walks, but she’s so excited about the park that our morning walk there has been a constant struggle.
I repeatedly stop and ask her to stop pulling. She bounces into position next to me, then, within a few seconds, is out in front, pulling hard. As we walked, my patience would wear thin and my requests would grow sharper.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that she wasn’t pulling so much as … well, vibrating. When Deni was here for a Thanksgiving visit, she asked why Cali was” bouncing like that.” Cali now walks out in front of me, but the leash is a bit slack and she bounces and quivers, and, every so often, moves back and walks next to me for a few steps. She is trying so hard not to pull.
Another sign of impending adultness is that she actually tried on her own, without being asked, to pick up her bowl after dinner this week. I’ve been trying to get her to do this, as Jana does, for months. The best she’s managed is to sort of lift it by one edge and drag it to my waiting hand. And that only happens if I have a really good treat in the other hand. But there she was — and, because of raging hotspots, she was wearing her cone — trying mightily to lift her bowl.
Finally, the best sign yet of maturity came yesterday. For a few months, every time our neighbors walk their dog, Ernie, Cali has barked madly at him. She does not bark when the people go by without Ernie. She is fine meeting Ernie in the parking lot or at the play yard, where they occasionally show up when we are there. But they walk Ernie a lot. Several times a day. And Cali has always done her crazy dog impression, barking her loudest, fiercest bark.
Until yesterday. Earlier, the other neighbors had returned from a walk with their two dogs, and both Cali and Jana let them know whose territory this was. I let them know how unacceptable their barking was.
About 15 minutes later, I saw Ernie and his people walking by. Dead silence from both dogs. Until I threw them a party. Good GIRLS! Lots of cookies!! Woo-hoo! When the trio came back from their walk, again, silence. This morning, again. Can it be that she has finally learned??
It’s easy to get frustrated at our dogs. And to assume that they know what we want them to do (or not do) and are disobeying out of spite. Or general badness. How many times have I told Cali that she’s the “baddest dog in the whole #$&^ town”?
But she’s not. And chances are, your dog isn’t either. They are trying. But it takes a lot of maturity and self-restraint to follow human rules that make no sense in a doggy world.