Q:Can you tell me where I've gone wrong with my puppy? She used to be so good about coming when she was called and doing what she was told. It seems like just overnight she's turned into a brat and deliberately disobeys me. She's already been to an obedience class but she acts like she's forgotten everything she learned. She's nine months old.
A: Welcome to adolescence! You have the canine equivalent of a rebellious teenager. Young puppies are very dependent on people and other dogs for instructions. They have a strong instinct to follow and to fit in. At about six months of age, they start to think for themselves and test their independence. This is also the time when they start to question your authority. Instead of automatically obeying you when you give a command, they now ask “What for?” and “What will you do if I don't?”
This can be a trying time for your relationship. In fact, most dogs taken to animal shelters because of “behavior problems” are between nine and 18 months old — prime canine adolescence. Most of these problems could be solved if the owner understood what was really going on and how to handle it.
This is also a very critical time for your relationship. Dogs do grow out of adolescence but what they learn during that time will stay with them the rest of their lives. Your puppy is testing you. If she learns that you won't enforce your commands and that she only has to obey when she wants to, you'll be setting a pattern that will be very hard to break.
It's important that you only give a command when you mean it and only when you're prepared to follow through. If you've called her to come and she doesn't, go and get her. Every time, no exceptions. Work a short obedience practice session into your schedule every day to brush up on her training. Include obedience commands like “Sit,” “Down,” and “Stay” in your daily routine around the house so they become second nature to you and your puppy.
Be consistent. If you enforce a command sometimes but not always, she'll learn that she only has to obey you sometimes. Show her what you expect from her every time.
Be persistent. Teenagers and adolescent dogs are stubborn. To get your point across, you need to be stubborner than they are!
Be patient. A well-trained dog doesn't just happen, it takes an investment of time and effort. To get the full return on this investment, a teenaged dog needs guidance and time to mature. Adolescence is a temporary condition but the solid foundation you build now will support your relationship for many years to come.
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