(Did you miss Part 1? Raising a Puppy)
SIX TO FOURTEEN MONTHS: PUBERTY AND ADOLESCENCE
Hormonal changes take place in both the male and female during this time that are similar to the changes that human beings go through during puberty. The surge of hormones can be as dramatic for some dogs as it is for some children. The body has to cope with the changes brought on by the new hormones, while the mind has to cope with the side effects that often accompany the physical upheaval. Like teenagers of any species, the puppy will have mood swings and will at times be distracted, confused and difficult to communicate with. There’s nothing wrong with your dog— he’s just a normal teenager.
Showing Independence at Eighteen Weeks (Four-and-a-half Months)
By this point, the emotional umbilical cord that has kept the puppy quite tied to you — and willing to stick by your side — begins to break. By five months the pup is ready to take off by himself, often without a backward glance. Obviously this is a generalization, and there will always be individuals who do not fit this age-related description.
This is why it’s important that you train your dog before eighteen weeks to follow you, to be aware of where you are. Think of it as “looking over his shoulder to keep you in his rear-view mirror.” Unless you already have this thought process programmed into the puppy’s busy little brain, by the time he has reached five months he may well be oblivious to your location when he’s ready to have a good time. For more about training your dog, see Chapter Ten. By the time he is eighteen months old, a puppy is going through big physiological changes — if the puppy is not neutered, then the testosterone level in a male starts to rise and, with it, the dog’s attitude can become bolder and more feisty.
FIVE TO SEVEN MONTHS— BIG PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT
This is the time when a puppy’s body is still growing, and for many breeds the time of greatest physical development. But the process is ongoing, even past the pup’s first birthday. Do not think that a puppy’s social education stops at any point. There’s no stopwatch for when a puppy has grown up, or when he has learned all that he needs to know. As with children, there are differences in how individual puppies develop and mature, but you should not doubt that your input is making a positive difference.
During this period, puppies can learn basic commands if you teach them in a relaxed and cheery atmosphere. Think of this as “puppy kindergarten” and make it fun.
Consider how important it is for children to enjoy and look forward to school when they first start — the same is true for teaching dogs. Make the process entertaining and satisfying and you will have an eager student for life.
For the whole first year of life, a puppy is being socialized and is maturing. If he is one of the giant breeds, he won’t mature until around eighteen months, so his juvenile stage may last a lot longer.
Instinct to Run Off (Four to Eight Months)
At some point during this period, most puppies develop the urge to take off. Until this stage, most puppies happily come back to their owners when they are called. Now you may be shocked to discover that your obedient little pup suddenly has wanderlust and is deaf and blind to your calls. The puppy’s desire to hit the road and explore may last a few days or even as long as a month, but it is a natural part of growing up and an important part of canine development.
There is one problem, however. If your dog should get away and have a terrific time while she’s out and about, that memory will stay with her a long time — and that happy memory can influence her readiness to respond to your calls to her in the future. This natural inclination to take off is something you need to be on the lookout for at this age. When you’re walking her during this period, pay attention to whether she’s acting differently, whether she seems oblivious to you and ready to run off. If you have any suspicions about whether she is feeling newly emboldened, put her on a long line or retractable leash until she settles back down again, whether that’s in a couple of days or weeks. You do not want to let your dog take charge of the situation and run the risk of her having such a fun time being out and about in the world that she thinks twice about obeying your commands later on.
AT AROUND NINE MONTHS AGGRESSION CAN BEGIN TO DEVELOP
Between nine and twelve months may come the first sign of aggression, which develops in stages with puppies. Aggression usually emerges in a puppy after nine months and before a year, which is when sexual maturity begins, along with all the hormones that make it happen.
Then, when the dog hits eighteen months and late adolescence, there’s another round of assertion, independence (which you may view as disobedience) and aggression. By about two years of age, many dogs have reached the full extent of whatever aggression they have in them, and there may be a dogfight or biting incident around this time.
You need to be on alert for the emergence of aggression if your puppy has already shown signs of being aggressive — because it takes very little time for him to go from disobedience, to growling, and then to biting. And unless you pay close attention to the signals that he gives off, you can go from a having a darling little puppy (aggression comes in all breeds and sizes) to having a tragedy on your hands.
Aggression problems do not “just happen” — they usually brew for a while, like a volcano before it erupts — so you have to know what markers to look for and how to deal with them. If you ignore the first growl or any other aggression, you can be certain it will escalate to the next level. A growl is a warning — you have to take it seriously. You can’t make excuses for it or hope it was a one-time thing. A growl is the first symptom of an aggressive pattern that will inevitably escalate and have a terrible outcome if you don’t nip it in the bud. But dogs will sometimes develop aggression in a tidy progression, while at other times they may show only a minor warning sign before erupting into full-blown aggression. So no matter how your dog expresses that aggression, take it very seriously and deal with it on the spot.
The bottom line is that if a puppy is born with aggression there’s not much you can do about it. Some breeds have an inborn tendency toward aggression. If a puppy six months or younger growls or snaps or bites, then he’s either got a strong genetic tendency or has been badly abused. Whatever the case, puppies like this often have to be euthanized because you can’t safely keep them and it would not be moral to try to give them away.
Showing aggression before six months old means that the puppy has got it “in his blood,” and sadly, these puppies do not have a high probability of becoming safe, reliable pets. If you have a puppy who is leaning in this direction, get a professional trainer right away because training can’t start too young — even at two months of age. You have a dog who may become a dominant, assertive adult who will need obedience training to put him in his place.
Aggressive behavior and attitudes are not things that a puppy outgrows — in fact, if you don’t curtail those instincts, the puppy will grow into a dog who feels free to act on aggressive impulses. A puppy has to learn that you will not tolerate any aggression by him against other dogs or smaller animals. Your puppy must be raised to understand that every human is above him in terms of “the pack.” (The whole idea of viewing domestic dogs in terms of the wolf packs from which they evolved is explained in detail later in this section and in “Obedience and Other Training.” Briefly, all dogs expect a leader in their pack: they will take a backseat and chill out if you take the leadership role according to the wolf modality, which is about being in charge without taking charge.)
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Raising a Puppy, Part 3: Teen Fears
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Copyright © Tracie Hotchner – Originally appeared in The Dog Bible: Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know by Tracie Hotchner