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Teen Dogs - Dealing with new annoying behaviors

QUESTION :Rover, our almost 9-month old, generally well-mannered dog, has developed some annoying behavior lately. He starts barking at random times to obviously get our attention, but it's a higher-pitched "yappy" bark. If we don't pay attention, he butts us with his head. His needs have been met (food, water, potty) and he has been very well exercised. What should we do?

ANSWER: Sounds like Rover, now a teen, is experimenting with some new behaviors to see if they work for him; trying to get your attention in various ways and "demanding" action from you. He's using all his best efforts to train you.

Time to fine tune a few details that may have slipped. When we start feeling that our puppies are pretty well-mannered (clean in the house, no more biting or inappropriate chewing), we often get a bit lax. After all, we've worked really hard for months, don't we deserve a little break? Unfortunately, just about that time, they become teenagers and we have to be vigilant all over again, just in a little different way.

Teen dogs (and kids) question the rules, test their boundaries, and try out new stuff. Sure they know a lot, but they often seem to forget or are unresponsive. It's normal. A study on teen humans showed that their brains actually go into a sort of rest state where it is really just busy processing all the stuff they have learned up to that point, but aren't taking in as much new info. I think of it as mental housekeeping time without much space for new info until the mess gets cleaned up. I imagine teen dogs experience a similar lull in their learning. No worries. It's a stage that passes.

So, what to do during this stage? Maintain routines. Keep asking for simple things you know they have already learned like sit, wait, come, etc. Try not to make these exercises too challenging, and practice many times a day as part of your normal routine. For example: sit to come out of the crate, go out the door, get fed, get petted, etc.

Be patient, but firm and consistent. In some cases, ignoring teen behaviors is really tough, especially if they are willing to escalate to worse barking and head butting like Rover. So take the "ignore" a step further and actually walk out on him if he acts this way. Since most likely what he wants is your attention, leaving the room deprives him of the opportunity for that attention. If you remain in the room, he keeps trying new (worse) things to see what will finally get you to pay attention to him. If you leave, he can't do that. Of course, you only leave for a minute or so and then calmly return. Repeat as often as needed.

His physical needs may have been met, but possibly not his mental or emotional needs. Do some short (3-5 min) training sessions several times a day, play with him, and make time to just sit and hang out for a few minutes. This will give him the attention he craves, but on your terms and for behaviors you like. During the rest of the day, make a special point to notice when he is calm and relaxed and "being good" (playing by himself, resting quietly, watching you work), and praise and reward him for those behaviors. Again, attention for stuff you like. You can keep some dry treats in strategic locations around the house (out of his reach) so you can quickly grab a treat if he is doing something nice. The more you notice and reward his "good" behaviors, the less he will need to resort to obnoxious behaviors.

Face it, there are times when we just can't "walk out" or attend to training the dog. Perhaps, for you, that's when you are busy getting the kids ready for school. You have a schedule to keep and they need your attention as well. At these times it is perfectly acceptable, and even desirable, to pen up the pup. You've fed, watered, and pottied him and spent a few minutes playing or cuddling. Then you put him in his pen or crate with a yummy chew and explain to him that now it's time you attended to the kids. Our dogs have to learn that they don't always (nor should they) "come first" and they must learn to be patient, relax, and entertain themselves.

Teen dogs may still need some limits set on their freedom (pen, leash, house line, etc.) to help them learn the self-control and patience they need to live with us. Pay attention to when Rover is most inclined to flip into one of his yappy states. Is he tired? Have you been at the computer too long? Has he been napping for hours and is now awake and bored?? Be proactive when possible to meet his needs before one of these moments comes up. If you know he has an issue just after a walk, or when the kids get home from school, use your pen to prevent him from making mistakes; maybe walk him before the kids arrive and then pen him for 20-30 minutes after walks to help him calm down again.

Hang in there. It will get better, but by all means take control of the situation rather than let him make the rules.

Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?


Let’s face it, it’s a beautiful fantasy - the kids in their pajamas opening the big box, and out pops a fuzzy puppy with a big red bow.  Awww, how adorable!  But, this isn’t Hollywood, and puppies aren’t props.  So let’s explore the idea from a more practical viewpoint and see if a Christmas puppy really makes sense for you and your kids.

  1. How old are your kids?  Young puppies and young children are not always a match made in heaven.  Kids squeal and run.  Puppies bite and jump.  Completely normal behavior for both, but it can be a challenge to meet the needs of both human and canine babies in a way that keeps everyone safe and happy.  I believe it is best to wait until children are at least 6 years old before trying to raise a young puppy.  Despite your best intentions and efforts, some dogs are not really fond of small children; even a puppy raised with kids may not enjoy them.  So what is a reasonable compromise solution?  Find an adult dog that is accustomed to and loves younger children - a smart choice with a better chance for harmonious success.
  2. What is your house like during the holidays?  Do you have lots of visitors, parties, and excitement?  Will you still have the time and inclination to  focus on caring for the puppy, or will your other activities completely fill your day?  In most cases, it’s better to plan to bring a new puppy home in January after the excitement of the holidays has passed.  This time is more like your “normal life”, and generally better suited to raising a puppy.  You can still provide an exciting Christmas for the kids by giving gifts associated with caring for the puppy – a crate, leash and flat collar, some toys, books about dogs, like Puppy Training for Kids by Sarah Whitehead – and a “gift certificate” for the puppy.  Anticipation is exciting for kids, and you can channel that enthusiasm by getting your kids actively involved in choosing the puppy, which will ultimately increase your chances of a successful adoption.
  3. Owning a dog is expensive! The purchase price is often the smallest cost.  Before adding a dog to your family, consider the annual (and lifetime!) cost of food, grooming, veterinary care, training, and supplies for the puppy.  Choosing an inexpensive or “free” puppy without knowing any history can end up costing you far more in the long run, as it may have health and behavior problems of which you were unaware. There is a reason why puppy mills have a bad reputation, when their concern is breeding and selling puppies regardless of genetic or other underlying health concerns.  And what do you know about the dog that “accidentally” had a litter of pups by some unknown male?  Ask yourself, if there are problems (and even if there aren’t), can I realistically afford to own a dog for the next 10-15 years?
  4. Young puppies are a LOT of work.  It’s very much like bringing home a new baby.  They require a dozen or more potty trips outside each day.  They need to be fed three times a day.  They explore the world with their mouths, so there is lots to do to teach them what are, and are not, appropriate chew items, including how to keep their teeth off humans.  Raising a puppy requires patience and consistency, and in most cases, you’ll be sleep deprived while doing it.  So it’s important to make an honest assessment of your home, family, and lifestyle before committing to raising a puppy.  In many cases, you may be better off adopting an older puppy, young adult, or even a senior dog.  As cute as puppies are, getting through the first year of their life can challenge even experienced dog lovers.  And let’s be honest; if you’re not up to the task, who ultimately is the one who suffers most?  That’s right, it’s the dog.  Plus, a failed adoption will negatively impact your kids as well.
  5. Regardless of the season, choosing a puppy for your family should involve some mature decision-making and preparation on your part.  Do your homework!  Everyone in the family should have a chance to express their thoughts and desires and then, as a group, come to a decision about the type of dog that would best fit your family.  Admittedly, this does not make for a good surprise, but you’re about to take on a big responsibility.  This is not a sweater you’re getting, which if you don’t like the color, you can simply go and exchange for something else.  You’ll want to consider factors like adult size, exercise requirements, grooming needs, activity level, and basic breed characteristics.  If you, your children, or frequent visitors have allergies you'll also want to consider what type of hair the pup has. Many dogs are re-homed every year due to unexpected allergies. Websites such as Breed Match and PetNet can identify and recommend suitable breeds based on your answers to key questions you may not think of on your own.
  6. If you have never owned a dog before, it's wise to educate yourself beforehand so that you may care for your puppy properly, thus increasing your chances of having the puppy become a happy, well-mannered addition to your family.  As a starting point, please download your free copy of Ian Dunbar’s fantastic book Before You Get Your Puppy.
  7. Another honesty check… who is going to be the primary caregiver for that new puppy?  Who will walk the dog 3-4 times a day once puppyhood is over? Many kids promise they will “take care of it,” but school work, sports and other activities often take precedence.  Even with older, very responsible kids, the bulk of the dog care is likely to fall on mom.  Dads work hard too, but moms, typically being the nurturers, can’t avoid picking up any slack.  So it’s important for mom to have a special say in whether or not the time is right to add a puppy to the family!

If you’ve made it through all of this and can honestly say that the time is right and you are ready, willing, and able to give a puppy a loving, forever home, then go on to Choosing A Puppy.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Choosing a Puppy - Do's and Don'ts



Educate yourself. If you are looking for a purebred puppy, the American Kennel Club site provides information about each breed.  There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing a pure bred dog.  Years of specific breeding have often created genetic health issues, so be sure to find out what problems are common in your desired breed, and what health testing you should expect a good breeder to do.  For more on education and breed selection see Should we get the kids a puppy for Christmas?

Choose a breeder wisely. They are not all created equal, and finding a good match can really help you.  A good breeder will want to interview you to ensure that their dog will be going to a good home.  They will put the dog’s welfare ahead of their own monetary benefit.  They will expect you to sign a contract of some sort.  They will require you to return the puppy to them if you are unable to care for it at any point in time.  They will be willing to answer your questions, offer advice on raising your puppy and serve as a great support system.  I have pretty high standards these days and generally suggest Natural Rearing breeders.

Consider adopting from a shelter or rescue. While most dogs in shelters are mixed breeds, approximately one third are pure breeds.  If you have your heart set on a particular type of dog, there are specific breed rescue groups across the country.  If you are open to a mixed breed, there are lots to choose from!  Mixed breed dogs generally have hybrid vigor and are often healthier than pure breeds.  Ask if your shelter uses the Meet Your Match program to help you choose a suitable dog.  Shelter adoption fees are generally quite reasonable and you are giving an unwanted animal a loving home.  Dogs are smart, and they will appreciate and love you for it.

Get to know the puppy.Each puppy will have a different personality.  Some are adventurous and outgoing while others are calm and cuddly.  Part of this can be breed-related, but there are many variations within a breed and litter.  If you have your heart set on a “cuddler,” you won’t be fully happy with an “explorer.”  The only way you will know is by spending time with the pups you're considering.

Prepare for your puppy’s arrival.Read Before You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar.  You’ll also want to have a copy of After You Get Your Puppy on hand to help you.


Buy from a pet store.Almost all the puppies in pet stores have come from large, commercial breeders (puppy mills).  They are generally taken away from the mothers at too young an age, which can lead to a variety of behavior problems.  They are often challenging to house or crate train because of the way they were housed.  These puppies are treated as commodities, rather than living, breathing, feeling, thinking beings.  Finally, they often have health issues and sadly can be a heartbreak waiting to happen.

Buy from the internet.Due to the "anonymous" nature of the internet, you have NO way of knowing who you are dealing with and what the puppy is like.  It is so easy for puppy mills and other unsavory people to make false claims and take your money.  These days there are reputable breeders with web sites, but they typically want to meet you in person, interview you, and help you select the right puppy.

Have a puppy shipped to you. Young puppies are very vulnerable and the stress of a flight can inflict lasting damage.  If you choose a puppy several states away, arrange to pick the puppy up in person.  While some may do fine flying back in the cabin of the plane, as a general rule I do not recommend it.

Buy a puppy from the classified ads, either the newspaper or Craig’s List.  There can be acceptable puppies there, but the risks are high that they are poorly bred (increased risk of health and behavior problems), or have been “damaged” in some way.  If you are an inexperienced puppy buyer and don’t know what to look for, or what to ask, you are at greater risk with these sources.

Be impressed or swayed by claims of “AKC papers” or “championship lines.” The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a breed registry.  AKC registration only means that the dog is a product of purebred parents.  It, in no way, guarantees the dog conforms to the breed standard or that it measures up to any standard of quality.  There are breeders out there claiming “championship lines” because one dog in the pedigree earned the title of AKC Breed Champion several generations back.  This is meaningless in evaluating the quality and suitability of the present generation of puppies they are selling.  They may also make “championship” claims based on other breed registries like the UKC (United Kennel Club) - equally meaningless.  Good breeders should be able to show you several generation of champions in your pup's pedigree, but even that doesn't guarantee that your puppy will be championship quality - or healthy or of good temperament.

Pay extra for a “designer breed.” Other than the Labradoodle, which has been around for enough generations to be a unique breed, the rest of these so-called designer breeds are really nothing more than well-marketed mixed breeds.  While there are some nice combinations, they are not worth paying a premium.  And any breeder that claims their mix (or pure breed) is “rare” or “unique” is selling you some oceanfront property in Montana.  These are often Mother Nature’s genetic accidents and consequently they tend to be less healthy (physically and mentally) than their more normal counterparts.  The best place to find a nice mixed breed puppy is at your local shelter.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

Preparing for a new puppy


You’ve done your homework, decided the time is right to get a puppy, and chosen the right puppy.  Now it’s time to prepare yourself and your house for the new arrival.  Yup, just like you would get ready for your new baby! Prepare a safe place for your puppy.You’ll likely want a crate for sleeping and an exercise pen (X-pen) or baby gate to create a safe containment area on an easy clean surface.  I suggest having the crate in your bedroom at night and the pen near your main living area.  If you don’t have an appropriate floor surface available, get a remnant of vinyl flooring from your home center or carpet store to use under your X-pen.  You will use the X-pen as a long-term confinement area for times when you can’t watch the puppy for a few hours.  You can use the crate at night, and for short periods like taking a shower or talking on the phone.  Rid yourself of the mindset that a crate is punishment; by using it properly, it will instead become your dog’s favorite safe haven.

Puppy-proof your house.Any areas where your puppy will be permitted access should be thoroughly examined from puppy eye level for potential hazards.  Remember your puppy is a baby, your baby, and you must keep that in mind and act accordingly (just like having a human baby, isn’t it?)  Remove, contain, or block access to power cords or loose cables.  Remove breakables.  Clear off the coffee table.  Put up any papers, books, remotes, or other items that could be chewed.  Remove throw rugs and loose pillows.  Pin up or tie back draperies if needed.  Get your children in the habit of picking up their things and closing their bedroom doors.  Having done all that, I still recommend that your puppy should never be outside of his pen or crate without direct supervision until he has learned proper potty and chewing habits.

Puppy-proof your yard and garage. There may be even more potential puppy dangers outside than in your house.  If your yard contains any potentially poisonous plants you’ll want to remove them or block your puppy’s access to them.  Use fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides sparingly and cautiously.  Garages often hold many substances which are poisonous to dogs; spilled antifreeze is a classic example.  If your dog gets a foreign substance on their paws, they will instinctively want to lick it off.  Never leave your puppy in the yard unsupervised.  They can be injured or stolen, and unmonitored they can develop bad habits like barking and digging.  You need to teach your puppy how to act in the yard as well as in the house.  Make sure your fence is secure so your pup can run and play safely.  If you don’t have a fence, you’ll need a long line (20-30’ heavy cord) to allow your pup more freedom while still maintaining safe control of him.

Plan a puppy schedule.You should take your puppy out to potty every time he wakes up, eats, drinks, plays, and about every hour or two in between if possible.  Until the pup is 4-5 months old, he will need to eat 3 times a day.  Choose a two hour window for morning, evening, and mid-day feedings; do not get lazy and simply leave a food bowl down all day long.  You’ll also want to schedule several training and play sessions each day.  Puppies have short attention spans, so keep these sessions to less than 5 minutes for the first month or so, but try to have a short “lesson” every hour or two.

Have some resources handy.You’re sure to have questions daily so get yourself some good dog books.  If you have kids, I suggest this one:  Living With Kids and Dogs… Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar.  Other good references are After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar, and Positive Puppy Training Works by Joel Walton.  You can also join my Start Puppy Training list on Yahoo.  Check your area for positive puppy kindergarten classes as you will want to enroll as soon as possible.

When the big day arrives for the pup to come home with you, use these Tips For Success to get off to a good start.

Written by Cricket Mara, The Pawsitive Dog, LLC

The "Sock Puppy"

When first separated from their litter mates and moms, many puppies can be very fussy and stressed about sleeping alone.  The "sock puppy" gives them the sensation of sleeping with another puppy.  It's easy to make and may help you and your pup get a better night's sleep. You'll need a sturdy tube sock (the kind that doesn't have a heel).  Fill the sock with enough plain rice (not instant) to approximate the size of your puppy.  Then tie the end securely; preferably with a knot in the end of the sock.  If you need to use a heavy string, tie several knots and trim off the loose ends.  Just before bedtime, microwave the sock puppy for a minute or two until it's close to the puppy's body temperature (about 102F).  Place the "sock puppy" in the crate with your puppy so he has a warm body to sleep with.

You can magnify the calming effect by adding a drop of pure lavender essential oil to the sock before placing it in the crate.