The Joy of the Adolescent Dog

Ah, adolescence. Dobby haz it, and some days I feel like it may be easier to just bang my head against the wall rather than take him out to train.

Don’t misunderstand me. Dobby is a phenomenal dog. He’s actually the perfect house pet, which is so much more important to me than any competition. My dogs are, first and foremost, companions, and Dobby excels at companionship. He’s quiet, house- and crate-trained, snuggly, and well-behaved inside. He listens when it counts (such as respecting the open doorway threshold while I’m bringing the 15-year-old Lab compassion case inside and not dashing out). He gets along with the other two dogs. He really is a very, very good dog.

Dobby's enthusiasm is great, but can be exhausting! Photo by Ryan Windfeldt.

All this perfection doesn’t do anything for his focus when we go places, though. Training Dobby is exhausting. Half an hour with him feels like a day with Layla. Trying to keep his focus can be like trying to teach a class of kindergartners who’ve been fed Mountain Dew and Pixie Sticks to sit still, and heeling with him is like heeling with a hummingbird. I love his enthusiasm, but good god! – there’s enough enthusiasm for 10 regular dogs in there. The difference in his confidence level is unbelievable, and sometimes I need to remind myself that less than a year ago he was pancaked to the floor and would pee all over himself in fear if I even looked at him. This is not the same dog, and I’m proud of his accomplishments.

So, what’s the game plan? At this point, quite honestly, it’s to wait. I know that many of Dobby’s focus problems are just normal adolescence, and I really believe that once he matures a little bit they’re not going to be an issue any more. He just needs more time to grow up. We’re not going to start on agility, or even work all that seriously on obedience, until I have more than 10% of his attention devoted to me. It’s not that he could’t do it – he could. But I have limited time and energy, and there’s no reason to work so hard at these sports now when I can do about half the work in a year for the same results. Much as I want to get in the ring with him, I know I’ll have years and years to compete once he’s no longer distracted by every falling leaf in a five-mile radius.

That doesn’t mean he’ll get a free pass while we’re waiting for his brain to come back. In the meantime, we’ll work on weight pull and keeping playing around with Level 1 rally. We’ve also got plenty of foundation skills to master, such as a reliable “out” and targeting at a distance. I’ll start a few very simple agility skills, like a 2on-2off contact at the bottom of my steps and on a ramp, and we’ll continue to work on his dog-dog skills. Dobby’s already somewhat dog selective at a little over a year of age, and he’s plenty “gamey,” so I’ve established that his job around other dogs is to focus on me and ignore the dogs. I can see him becoming somewhat dog aggressive as he matures, which isn’t unusual for a terrier, but don’t think this will be an issue since it will be quite manageable. He’s got a very, very strong desire to “be good” and is quite soft, so he’s very easy to redirect if he does something I dislike.

The difference between Dobby and Layla is fascinating, and I love watching the two of them interact. Layla still adores him, and it’s amazing how much she enjoys spending time with her dog: snuggling on the couch, walking together, even lying next to him to eat a bully stick!

Lure coursing Layla is pure predator.

Layla is the polar opposite of Dobby in many ways. Layla is NOT the perfect house pet. Much as I adore her, I understand that most people would hate living with her. Living with Layla is like living with a wild animal. She doesn’t particularly like to be touched, so petting and snuggling are things she tolerates rather than enjoys. She does like to snuggle up on occasion (about 5 minutes a day), but it needs to be on her terms and she prefers to lie on top of me without me petting her. Besides not wanting to spend close time with me, Layla is also incredibly tricky and smart. She can open the refrigerator and the gate in the backyard. She jumps baby gates and kills (and consumes) small animals on a regular basis. If she gets out of the house or yard she doesn’t come back, and instead searches for a squirrel or other little critter to kill and eat. She barks, she steals food if the opportunity presents itself, and she views house rules more as guidelines.

On the other hand, Layla’s a dream to train. She learns new things quickly and has amazing focus. She tries her heart out for me and being in the rally ring with her is the best high I know. She loves it, and I love that she loves it. She’s been a phenomenal teacher and I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

If I could choose the perfect dog, I would blend Dobby’s wonderful companionship with Layla’s amazing focus and trainability. Since I can’t choose though, I’m glad I have the dogs I do. Both give me so much, and I could certainly have much worse. And who knows? Maybe in a year, once Dobby’s matured, I’ll have everything I want in him. If you notice a large flat area on the top of my head in the meantime, know that it’s just from banging my head against the wall. Ah, adolescence.

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1 Comment

Filed under Dobby, Layla, Training

One response to “The Joy of the Adolescent Dog

  1. Great entry, Sara! Cuba, as a slightly more than a year old intact male adolescent Saint Bernard, sounds much like your own Dobbie. I’ve felt a lot of pressure from his breeders to get him in the ring, but he’s just not ready yet and I won’t go in with him until he is. Seriously, trying to get his focus now, at this point in his hormonal life, when surrounded by thousands of dogs, none of whom he can interact with and many of whom are bitches in heat, just doesn’t sound like fun for either of us! So we practice foundations, impulse control, and patience (for both of us).

    Looking forward to hearing of your continued progress and adventures.

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