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Question: My dog has just turned 8 months and life is a Gong show. He's forgotten all his manners and jumps on me and everyone else. He is chewing things, stealing things and runs away. I got him from a breeder who has specialized in therapy and service dogs for many years. With my disabilities, I am having problems managing this behavior. What can I do?
Answer: First of all, this is a great question! And a common one. I love that you recognize it is the behavior, not the dog that you are having trouble with! Behavior can be changed!
Unfortunately, even the calmest puppies specifically bred for service dog work go through adolescence. It is a period of fast growth, lack of impulse control and venturing confidence. Hormones are usually the driving factor behind it. In some situations you might also see fear appear. This is normal.
What you don't want to do is have your dog spayed or neutered without due consideration of the risks. Those hormones are important to regulate growth. If removed too early, negative health effects may occur (cancers, CCL rupture etc) and shorten your dog's working life.
Here is an article summarizing a study done by AKC on early Spay and Neuter.
University of Davis, in California did a long term study on Golden Retrievers found that spaying and neutering affected the health in a negative way.
Here is one vet's opinion on early spay and neuter for sports dogs. While service dogs aren't sport dogs, many of the same stressors apply.
Goldens, Labs and German Shepherds, according to the research, seem to have a high risk for health complications of spay and neuter.
Here are 11 things you CAN do to help your big-bodied but still puppy-brained adolescent develop into that ideal service dog you hoped for. The post is divided into 3 parts.
- Recognize Signs of Stress and Arousal
Learning to read your dog's stress level in different situations and arousal level is important. Stress can be both distress (bad stress) and eustress (good stress). Both trigger the hormones that are detrimental to the dog if they occur at high levels over the long-term.
Join the Facebook Observation Skills group to learn to see the behaviors that indicate stress. The Dog Decoder is also a great App to start learning dog behavior.
- Quality Food
Since food is a building block of all life, ensure that your dog is eating the best you can afford. Choose ones with no additives (coloring, taste), no salt, medium levels of protein (20-26% in kibble) and fat (no higher than 10-15%) for normal growth. Consider grain free, home-cooked or a raw diet as options if you can't find what you are looking for. Even just adding some fresh real food (vegetables, meat) to the kibble can help improve the quality.
Here's a link that describes not only what is in dog food, but also how each is made and other important information.
- Enough Sleep
Since your pup is growing so quickly, getting plenty of quiet uninterrupted sleep is important at this stage. Think of how much teenage kids sleep. Dogs are no different. They need about 18-20 hours sleep per day. They are up for an hour or two a day, but nap for long periods each day. As an adult, he will spend most of his time resting, waiting for you. You might as well get him accustomed to that habit now.
Often an over-tired puppy is a wound up pup. Place him in a quiet room if you have a noisy house or confine him in an Xpen (Exercise pen) or cosy crate and give him time to calm. Turn on the radio to classical music or play an I-Calm product or sound recording of a E-book.
Dog beds invite a nap. Have several around the room.
Place doorless crates in several key locations if that is what you or he prefers.
A neck or chest massage can help him start relaxing if he is over-tired.
Once he has learned to be quiet, phase out the music and massage and add distractions back in stages.
- Outlet for Chewing
As puppies jaws develop, they need to chew. Long after their adult teeth are in at 6 months, they still chew. Puppies also chew to relieve stress. Make sure he has plenty of different size, shapes, textures and materials to choose from. You may need to encourage him to chew his toys. Nylabone and Kong products, homemade braided toys and natural chews like chicken backs, and mammal ribs are great edible chew items. A whole carrot may be a nice treat as well. Avoid processed leather skins and chew toys (especially anything from China), cooked bones and weight-bearing bones. Pick the toys up and play with them with your dog to get him started, then let him continue on. Keep your retrieve training objects up out of reach and only bring them out for training.
- Appropriate Exercise
Puppies that are over-exercised can contribute to out of control behavior. All exercise should be voluntary until his bone plates have closed at 18 months. This means avoiding repeated walking or running on hard surfaces, jumping under elbow height. It is important to let the dog determine how far and fast he will walk, assuming it's slower, not faster than you. Forced marches beside a wheel chair for long periods are not suitable. The type of exercise is also important. Throwing a ball repeatedly many times a week creates a dog that is adrenaline charged (and risks cruciate ligament tears). Long line walks on the beach or in a field are better. Hikes with frequent sniff and rest stops are great too. Swimming is great for a muscle and cardio workout.
As a general rule: walking builds muscle, running builds cardiovascular stamina.
The Puppy Culture Exercise Chart is a useful guide for different ages and gives ideas different types of exercise for each stage of life.
Here is an article that explains what can happen if the dog gets too much exercise of the wrong kind and duration.Click here for Part 2!