As Dogs Grow, They Change

Will your dogs' changes lead to Angel or Devil? It's up to you.

Over the course of their life our dogs go though 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 on going 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 practicing 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. Everyday 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.



This entry was posted in Becoming Dog Savvy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to As Dogs Grow, They Change

  1. Paula says:

    Hi Katarina,

    My 4 year old Basenji X has developed aggressive behaviour in the past 6 months. She seems to target smaller, fluffier dogs and has actually attacked a couple of dogs recently. She has also become very scared of big dogs. I walk her daily to the (Kintala) dog park where I let her off to encourage her social skills. I have also been concentrating on her training – walking her next to me, using commands and rewards, asserting my authority and leadership, but I’m afraid she’s only marginally improved. I’m afraid she’s going to get worse and injure another dog before long. I’m not sure what to do next, but I’m not prepared to live with an aggressive dog. Is this reversible?

    • katarina says:

      Hi Paula,
      It’s likely that your dog has been worried about other dogs for some time and the signs may not have been picked up, then what happens is she has turned up the ‘volume’ so to speak with attacks which has got her the space she has needed. Dogs do what works, and for her this works.

      Without management she probably will get worse. Is it reversible? With regard to aggression my prognosis is always guarded. However, you (and her) can be taught to manage exposure to other dogs more effectively so she stops practicing aggressive behaviour, how close she will be able to get to other dogs in this manner is different for every dog.

      It’s not really a matter of authority or leadership, more about specific, graded exposures to the triggers and rewarding appropriate behaviour. A good trainer will be able to help you with this. There is a lot we (good trainers and behaviourists) can do to help, and you may be surprised just how much a plan of action sets your mind at ease during walks. Feel free to call me for a chat.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *