Over the course of their life our dogs go through many behavioural changes. It is, for this reason, maintaining formal training is so important. It’s wonderful that so many people participate in puppy school, but do not assume that just because you have done four or six weeks of dog school that your work is done. I receive so many phone calls from people who have done puppy school, do not continue with training, then call me one year down the track with problems.
If you want the ideal dog then you need to keep up training for at least the first three years of your dogs’ life. From my experience, your dog is likely to go through behavioural changes at around six months of age, 12 months of age, 18 months of age and three years of age. You will also notice changes due to old age, later in your dogs’ life.
During these times, the behaviour changes can be good or bad. Most dogs will stop chewing and digging, and jumping may also decline. However, other behaviours can start, seemingly out of nowhere, this is the behaviour change I am focusing on. New behaviours such as fear of people or objects, aggression, or a lack of responsiveness will probably begin if you have not continued formal training.
Often the tell-tale thought you need to be aware of is; ‘Hmm, he’s never done that before’. If you have thought this about your dogs’ behaviour, take a good look at what has just happened and address it.
We all start out so well, then everything stops, all the while our dogs keep developing and changing. Often, the two reasons dogs develop problem behaviours is because of a lack of ongoing training, and a lack of ongoing socialisation.
Usually, when a lack of ongoing training occurs, your dog all of a sudden starts ignoring you at the park. Questions you should ask yourself include; Have you been taking some raw meat with you? Have you been practising your recall exercises? How often is your dog getting a run off lead? How often is your dog meeting and interacting with other dogs? How often have you played (not just throwing a ball, but active play) with your dog at the park? You will probably find that if your dog suddenly starts to ignore you at the park it may be because you have stopped doing one, or all of the above.
Another behaviour change that I often see, concerns lack of ongoing socialisation. This may take the form of barking at people or other dogs, rushing up to people and other dogs at the park, and/or lunging on the lead.
Maintaining socialisation throughout your dogs first few years will help them become familiar with different people and dogs, thereby limiting the development of problem behaviours. We talk a lot about socialisation in the first few months of our dogs’ life, but then it all stops. It is unfair to expect our dogs to be prepared for life after only a few weeks. It should take years. This means walking your dog in different places, and allowing them to continue to meet different people and dogs.
When I had Ben I was prepared for behaviour changes. Interestingly, this was probably the single biggest reason he was so stable in his behaviour. Every day he met new people and new dogs. I always took my treat bag full of goodies with us, and I always acknowledged his attention on me when we were out. I was prepared to do this for many years, he was a big dog, and I could not afford to have him be anti-social.
If you see a new behaviour in your dog that concerns you, go back to basic skills/confidence building, and start your training again. Start where you left off at puppy school. You must do this before the new ‘bad’ behaviour becomes learned, once it is learned it is so much more difficult to fix.
Be prepared for several behaviour changes in your dogs’ life. Find a good trainer, and keep going to classes, see it as an insurance policy against poor behaviour. Do not stop training and socialising when puppy school is finished.
Yes, working through these changes does take effort and commitment, this is what owning a happy dog entails. Get it right at the beginning, and you will not have to fix problems down the track. With lots of consistent effort you can have the dog of your dreams.