29/05/2018 - Dog Training
So many people are bewildered when their sweet puppy who did great at puppy school and has been so well behaved suddenly changes into an unruly and reactive dog. What happened? Adolescence happened! Just like human teenagers, our dogs go through some pretty massive changes – usually between 5 months and 18 months.
I think it helps to understand a little of what is going on in their bodies and brains, so you know a little about why your cute pup has turned into a little terror, what is “normal” and what you can do about it all.
So, what is happening in their wee doggy brains? Firstly, the amygdala is enlarged. The what? It’s the part of the brain that deals with emotional reactions and decision making (put real simple). All of a sudden those over reactions make more sense! Is your previously well-adjusted dog jumping at shadows or barking at strangers? Uh huh. Seems it could be related to changes in his/her brain, not your dog just being ‘naughty’ for no reason.
So what else is the brain doing? There is this thing called the cerebral cortex. It plays a key role in perception and awareness. Well, it is breaking down synapses. More changes. Now, I’m going to directly quote from Portugese trainer Claudia Estanislau (who I learnt a lot about this subject from): “The prefrontal cortex of the cerebral cortex is the place of the main memory and conscious decisions. It receives processed stimuli and the emotional evaluation from the amygdala, resulting in the individual’s next reaction. This brain section matures later in time and shrinks during adolescence”
So sometimes adolescent dogs really can’t help reacting badly or making crappy decisions.
But that isn’t all! There are also changes in the density and sensitivity of dopamine receptors. These are connected with curiosity and the rewarding system – which makes it even more difficult for the adolescent dog to disengage from activities he finds interesting. So that’s why your previously near perfect recall has gone to pot!
If these changes were not enough, the level of stress hormones are also at their highest. Another reason your dog could be jumping at shadows.
So, why am I sharing all of this? Because I think it helps explain WHY your dog is changing. Doggy adolescent can be really frustrating for owners and sadly it is a time when many dogs are surrendered to shelters. Knowing a little of all the changes going on might give you some understanding – and hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel!!!
There is also plenty that you can do to help during this time.
Firstly, get training! Yes, you may need to go back a few steps, or move slower than before, but now is the most important time to be training. If you need help finding a good trainer or class I am very happy to point you into the right direction or check the IMDT trainers’ directory.
Give your dog plenty of physical AND mental stimulation. Lovely sniffy walks are great for both of these or join in one of my scent detection classes.
Ensure your dog has plenty of appropriate social interactions with well-matched doggy friends.
Know that sometimes, your dog is just going to do something inappropriate or unwanted. Don’t freak out at one episode, observe and note. It could just be a weird moment. But if you see a pattern, then contact your friendly force-free trainer for some help.
I hope this helps at you understand that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. Just like having a teenage human living in your home – it can be frustrating and hard to understand at times – but they can and will emerge at the other end of teenage years a happy and well-adjusted dog!