Puppies are so much fun! Raising a puppy is an exciting time full of promise for owner-trainers. People are usually thrilled with their new puppy and excited about the prospect of working with their dog toward their goal of service dog training. Professional trainers know that, in truth, puppyhood is the easy part.
Canine adolescence, that period between 6 months and roughly a year and a half (often longer in some large-breed dogs) is a different story. This is a time when dogs, like human teenagers, exhibit behaviors that are frustrating for their owners. They are easily distracted, may ignore previously trained cues and may exhibit challenging behaviors like jumping up and leash pulling. While these behaviors can be stressful for any pet owner, for an owner-trainer with a disability, managing adolescent dog behaviors can be especially difficult.
When working with owner-trainers with adolescent dogs:
- Educate owner-trainers on normal adolescent dog behaviors. People need to understand that adolescent behavior will differ from puppy behavior.
- While their dogs are still puppies, prepare owner-trainers for this period of canine development so they are ready and not taken by surprise.
- Help owners brainstorm ways to meet the dog’s increased exercise needs. For some owners with disabilities this may present an obstacle; consider options like hiring a dog walker or recruiting a friend or volunteer to help exercise the dog.
- When possible, plan ahead and train foundation skills that prevent problems. For instance, if the owner has a mobility impairment, teach the dog during puppyhood to walk slowly on stairs when on leash.
- Services like day training and board and train may be needed for dogs in this age group.
- Teach owners how to play with their dogs. Games that incorporate training and self-control can build important skills and also burn energy.
- Work on trick training. Trick training titles can give owners short-term training goals that keep training fun and are doable for dogs in this age group.
Use humor to help owners keep a grounded perspective. After all, how many of us are nothing but proud when we look back at our own behavior during our teenage years?