Training Dogs And Humans For A More Enjoyable Life Together

By Susan Smith, East Valley Dog Training

Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted.

As a professional trainer, I hear people refer to their dogs of all age as puppies. I also hear professional trainers refer to dogs of all ages as puppies, but they’re usually new to the business. Because once they’ve actually started working on behavioral problems, they realize that there’s a big difference in behavior, depending on the age of the dog.

Technically, dogs stop being puppies when they have their adult teeth, which is usually around 5 months. Puppies are generally pretty malleable, good natured, and somewhat fearful of the unknown which makes them more dependent on us. The behavioral problems humans have with most puppies are focused around basic manners: house training, chew training, puppy biting, jumping on people and things, etc.

From about 4½ to 6 months of age, they begin transitioning from puppy to adolescent, and there are significant behavioral changes taking place during this time. The dog is becoming more independent, testing his boundaries, becoming more protective of what he perceives as his property, etc. This is the time when owners start having behavioral problems such as the dog running away, not paying attention, pushy behavior, and more serious behavior such as aggression. The aggression can run the gamut from simply finding out if growling at you when you try to take his toy will work, to biting strangers and fighting with other dogs.

Then there’s another time in your dog’s life when he’s transitioning from adolescent to adult, and that’s around 18 months. Around this time, you may see more aggressive tendencies developing and less desire to play with strange dogs – they’ll maintain the friendships they’ve already created, but are less likely to make new doggie friends.

These developmental changes are all normal and to be expected. For most dogs, the aggression will be mild and not something to worry about, but if you notice it continuing and becoming worse, you should consult a professional. Also, these guidelines change with breed. Generally, small dogs develop more quickly than large dogs, so you may see some of these tendencies earlier in a Chihuahua than you would a Labrador Retriever, and you’ll see the crazy puppy and adolescent behaviors last longer in some of the larger breeds, as well.

If you think of it in human terms, calling an adolescent dog a puppy is the equivalent of calling a 15 year old human kid a toddler. There’s simply no comparison between the two and our expectations of their behavior are very different. As a professional trainer, I refer to the dog appropriately, because of those behavioral expectations. Also, knowing the age of the dog can clue me in to a lot of what may be going on, and it allows me to normalize that behavior for the owner.

If you have questions for the trainer, please send them to Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.