Westie Training #2 Teenagers – “He’s nipping just about anything that moves….”

Training Tips By Jane Fink

Jane Fink has been involved with Westies for the past twenty years. Her experience includes training her own pack for obedience, tracking, earth dog trials, agility, and pet therapy. Ms. Fink is a co-owner of a leading obedience school and writes the widely acclaimed Westie Wisdom, a weekly advice column that can be accessed at http://www.westielovers.com/westieworld/westiewisdom.

In a message a reader stated:

“He’s nipping just about anything that moves. Mom is exhausted trying to keep track of him, keep things out of his mouth, make him leave the other two pooches alone. He is fast becoming unruly; you get the scenario, I’m sure. What can she do to make him behave, to stop nipping, to pay attention to her? He completely ignores her and she said yesterday she doesn’t seem to be able to ‘reach him’ (mentally)”

The dog is in the throes of adolescence. His behavior is completely normal for a dog his age, and I hate to tell you, it gets worse before it gets better. I teach an adolescent class aside from my regular puppy class because people with an adolescent dog need specialized instruction to be able to live through this normal growth period, or “puppy hell” as I call it! Adolescence lasts from about the seventh to twelfth month of life, and during that time many hormonal changes take place. A one-year-old dog is equivalent to a 15-year-old human. Remember that teenage children begin testing their independence at that age. But, at the same time, they aren’t immune from throwing childish temper tantrums whenever the mood strikes. Adolescent dogs are the same way. Many dogs are turned into animal shelters before or by their first birthday because humans can’t deal with this type of behavior. People often think their sweet little puppy has turned into a monster. (Well, okay, it did, but only temporarily). They will become sweet dogs again once their “teens” are over.

Patience and consistency is the key to dealing with the teenaged dog. If the wayward pup is bothering the other dogs, let them tell him off. Don’t get involved. Puppies are allowed uninhibited behavior by other dogs until about four-five months of age and them whammo; the law is laid down. Uninhibited infantile behavior is not allowed by other dogs past true infancy, so let them put this puppy in his place once and for all, unless the other dog is an enormous giant breed of say a guarding heritage. We wouldn’t want the teen pup to get severely injured just because he is being a total brat.

What can the reader do? Get some training. Find an obedience school and enroll. This dog needs to be taught some guidelines and boundaries in a controlled environment. The other dogs present will be there to learn the same thing. Remember, dog training is more for the person than the dog. We trainers teach you how to handle and train your dog, in a patient but firm manner.

Training teaches the dog to focus and teaches the person how to command that focus. For example, have your mom put the dog on lead and give it a tiny piece of treat for just doing nothing. Your mom has control because the dog is on lead. This is where patience comes in. The dog is saying, “Why would I opt to be with this person and pay attention to her when there are fifteen million other things in the world to look at and get into?” So, your mom needs to teach this dog that she is something to be interested in and what better way than through food? (Some dogs are not food motivated, so use a tennis ball or small toy instead)

Here is where the patience comes in. Your mom offers the dog a treat for doing absolutely nothing. He takes it, swallows it. Once again, he is trying to get away from her because she is “controlling” him via the lead and he isn’t quite grasping the concept of this exercise. Your mom becomes inpatient because he “isn’t catching on”. That’s not it, he hasn’t learned what you want yet. The second the dog looks back at her, she gives a treat.

At first, don’t try to make the dog perform an obedience action such as sitting on command, just get the eye contact. If he jumps up on her, tell her to wait silently until he gets off, without saying a word. The very second he glances back at her, even if it takes several minutes, she should again gives him the treat. This is one technique for teaching the dog how to focus without the pressure of being given a command. There are other techniques involving verbal commands, such as “Watch”. I like the nonverbal method best because the dog learning on his own without being prompted.

The hand holding the treat must be kept against the body. Don’t hold the treat away from the body, or all you will accomplish is getting the dog to stand up and look at the hand. Your goal is to get him to focus on the person. I keep my arm bent up towards my face as though I’m rubbing my chin. When dog looks up quickly I take my hand down my body and to dog’s mouth with the treat. Timing is very important. Give the treat the instant the dog makes eye contact. I like to use cheese or another equally tasty treat for this pleasant attention exercise.

Tossing popcorn or tiny bits of meat or cheese at the dog is another fun way to his get attention. The dog soon thinks, “Hey this person is pretty cool. She gives me food for doing nothing”. What he doesn’t realize at first is that the food is only forthcoming when his eyes focus on the person’s face.

Does your mom have a crate for the dog? A crate is an indoor dog kennel/cage. The crate will be a place where the dog can go for nap time, bedtime, when your mom is out of the house, or just anytime she needs a break. I don’t advocate using it as long term confinement, the puppy must play, interact with the people and have exercise. But for short-term confinement, the crate is ideal. Dogs who are crate-trained regard their crate as a den, a safe quiet place to retire when it’s time to rest or in times of stress.

These are just a few hints, but having hands-on help in a class situation will really help. Good luck.

Jane Fink, Greyfaire Kennel Anderson Dog Works, Inc.
http://www.westielovers.com/arf4westies – site for natural feeding