Tale Waggers - Days of Defiance


He's your cuddly-wuddly baby.

He's your little furball bundle of joy.

He's potty trained, he sits on command, he sleeps all night. You are smug and happy - all your labor is realized in this perfect vision of doghood. Then one fine day, you call your loyal pup and he looks up at you with those loving eyes and wanders off in the other direction. You call again... perhaps he did not hear his doting master. He shoots you a look that is the puppy equivalent of a human gesture involving one finger. Then he's off. You are now the proud owner of a teenage dog. May God have mercy on your soul.

Dog adolescence is a hit and run affair. By the time you realize it's upon you, you've been mowed down. Whereas a teenage human can always be counted on to become insufferable precisely at 13, dog adolescence can occur anytime from 6 months to 18 months and it can bounce on and off again with alarming inaccuracy.

We referred to Earnest as Saint Puppy. He never left our unfenced yard. He walked beside me without a leash. If his ball rolled beyond his lawn, he would find someone to fetch it for him. He knew his boundaries and was happy to comply. We were such fools to think it would last. One day I called out the back door and a voice from next door answered - "he's over here". Now he made a beeline for undiscovered territory every time a door opened. He yanked the leash. He snapped at the groomer. He obeyed only when it suited him. He was a rebel without a cause.

After the shock of Earnest's betrayal, we had a bit of a rest. Arthur was born an adolescent. That never changed. He scorned all authority but his own from the time he could hike his leg. Tristan never bothered with adolescence until he was nearly 7. When he finally decided to assert himself, it had more to do with being sick than feeling his oats. Emma was such a difficult pup that her adolescence swept by nearly unnoticed in a year of constant battles for dominance.

But Duncan, oh my! He fell from grace with the resounding thud not heard since Earnest first left our yard. My submissive boy, my happy boy, my obedient little boy - all vanished in an instant. Duncan began "acting up" when he was about 9 months old. "Why should I come running when she calls, I'm BUSY". His rebellious teens were cut short by Arthur's death. One dog went for a ride and did not come back. This not a safe time to assert oneself. A few months later, newly secure, he came back with a vengeance. "Mama is tied to that blasted computer all day and all night. I want to play. I'm bored. I think I'll just chew on this chair." Two dining room chairs were badly damaged and two new twig chairs became a bit more "rustic" than originally intended before the culprit was apprehended. Emma was originally blamed but one evening Duncan was caught with his mouth on a chair leg. The next day, he began to gnaw a chair arm in plain view. Common sense had left him. He was now an official teenager. Emma and I made it clear that he was a very evil boy. He gave up his passion for furniture and demolished an 8 foot tall shrub in the yard. Then he slid through a temporary fence for some playtime with the puppy next door. Next he was on the dining room table. He became the poster boy for "When Good Dogs Go Bad".

You can hear the wails sweep across the land as pups near maturity - mournful sounds of dogparents suffering the random acts of adolescence. Calamities rain down. First it's a hole in the lawn, next it's marking the furniture. One day he jumps the fence, the next day he eats your mail. The worst part is your dog is old enough to know better - and just old enough not to give a damn. You have entered the Twilight Zone of dog behavior. It changes by the day. Just when you think the storm has passed, there's a relapse and your woodwork is re-fashioned into doggie toothpicks.

Thoughts that enter the head of a teenage dog - (insights to help you understand how truly powerless you are)

What's the big deal with peeing outside?

The fence is not an obstacle for a clever dog like me.

Sleeping all night is for babies.

All items in this house are here for my enjoyment and I may use/abuse them as I see fit.

All items/animals/persons in this house are my personal sex slaves.

Counter tops are for exploring. Everything on them belongs to me.

The dog next door is a menace that must be dealt with.

People are way too demanding - I'll just ignore them.

Rules are for breaking - control comes to those who seize it. Therefore, I am in control!

Except for housebreaking relapses, teenage dogs are pretty much like teenage people. They test you at every turn. They make odd decisions. They are power hungry. They experiment. They rebel against authority at every opportunity. Emma even started spit-combing the hair on her head and wearing it in a spiky new do. It can be a nightmare time - especially if your dog was a pliable, eager to please pup.

Surviving the adolescence of your dog with your sanity mostly intact involves effort on your part. Just how much effort depends on how far round the bend your canine goes at puberty. Important elements are:

  • Reinforce training. All those things you taught your pup (or should have) will need a refresher course. Since your pup has temporarily lost any desire to please your sorry self, using food rewards can give you a motivational edge. You want to remind you dog that he's supposed to do what you say, despite his temporary insanity. Dogs are creatures of habit and you never want to let them get out of the habit of obeying you - even if you need to use food bribes to make your point. Make your dog sit. Make your dog stay. Require a daily dose of compliance.

  • USE THE CRATE. Unless you want your dog making decisions about which items of clothing and furniture you get to keep, treat him like the untrustworthy cur he is and crate him when he cannot be supervised.
  • Step up activity. Too much time + too much energy = damage beyond your wildest dreams (squared). Destructive dog behavior is often fueled by boredom and I've found this is especially true in the teen-times when energy is high and naps are few and far between. It's time for walks, and fetch, and hide and seek, and doggie playgroups. Activity in abundance is amazingly helpful. It helps your dog re-bond with you and wears down the massive energy level that plagues teenage dogs. Leaving your dog unattended in the yard will not achieve the results you are looking for - unless of course you feel your shrubs need pruning or removal and your lawn is too level. This job requires YOU! If you work all day, consider doggie daycare a few times a week or hire a local teen to play with your dog after school. Form playgroups with friends who have dogs of compatible temperament and chat while the dogs run themselves ragged in the yard. Be creative - toss a toy up or down the stairs to wear your dog out fast (check with your vet first to see if your dog's joints are ready to handle this stress and never recommended for uncarpeted stairs). Be lazy - your dog will not care if you are watching a movie while you toss his ball. Be healthy - long walks won't do you any harm either.
  • Vigilance! Just because your dog never ate that before, did that before, or went there before does not mean that you can relax. Everything has changed. Predictability is out the window.

  • Patience - it's more than just a virtue, it saves lives. You local shelter can tell you that dogs are turned in by the hundreds as they pass from fat happy puppies to gawky troubled teens. This too shall pass. If you follow the precautions above, you will have a fairly painless process. If not, once you've replaced all the damaged items, re-landscaped your lawn, repainted all your woodwork and had a few moments to reflect, you will still see that this obnoxious time was but a fleeting moment in your life as a dogparent. It's a small price to pay for a lifetime of devotion.


Copyright 1999 Elizabeth Cusulas
Tale Waggers - Stories for Dog People
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction without written permission is expressly forbidden