It is a joy to share life with a confident dog. He’s always ready for adventure, going into new places and situations with ease. Some dogs readily try new behaviors with little inhibition. There is a point where confident experimentation can cross into boldness. Adolescence is the developmental phase when these situations are most likely to happen and increase in frequency. Owners’ responses to bold, even pushy behaviors determine whether they stick or change. Reinforced behaviors stay. Please note that dominance is not a temperament trait; it describes behaviors. A dog is not dominant, although many of his behaviors might be described this way.
Establish Boundaries and Order
Dogs thrive best when daily life has a structure and order about it. It’s not appropriate for the dog to decide what this daily order will be. A confident dog is comfortable trying out new behaviors to quickly obtain what he wants and needs. Is there an obstacle in his path to interesting space? He will experiment until he figures out a route over/under/around it. Has a new person entered the house? The dog persists in obtaining attention from that guest with whatever behavior works best. These are two examples of behaviors, which, if reinforced, grow into pushy habits.
Dogs adapt to the order that we establish. It’s easier to identify and temper bold adolescent behaviors when training starts during puppyhood. Limit the puppy’s access to space and avoid free feeding. These are the simplest forms of boundary-setting. Pushy, attention-seeking behaviors turn into habits when reinforced. It is counter-intuitive, and therefore difficult, for us humans to avoid making eye contact with a jumping puppy or one who is barking at us. Understand the purpose of the puppy’s behaviors and avoid making the undesirable ones gratifying for her.
During adolescence, a return to puppy behavior management strategies can help, too. Keep a short leash or grab tab attached for easy and clear control. Use some form of confinement – even if a crate/gate “refresher” is in order. This is easier for those who have increased their dog’s access to greater space in a gradual manner.
Learn to Earn
Boundaries can be clearly communicated when we ask our dogs to work for what they want and need. A “learn to earn” lifestyle can work nicely in turning a bold, pushy dog back around into a respectful and confident companion.
A “learn to earn” lifestyle can benefit a dog of almost any temperament. Most dog breeds were engineered to perform some sort of work for or with us humans. The majority of dogs today have one “job” – pet companion. This can mean a lot of unharnessed canine brain power. Bold dogs, especially, benefit from a program of compliant behavior requirements to 1) help them understand their priority access to resources; 2) gain clarity about who controls those resources (we do), and; 3) learn which behaviors they must practice habitually in order to obtain them.
Resources in the dog’s world include: food (primary motivator), access to space (at times more motivating than food), human attention, favored toys and chews, novelty (people, objects, places), and opportunities to play with humans or other dogs, and work (herding, agility, scenting and tracking, etc…..)
A “learn to earn” lifestyle means asking something of your dog before delivering any of these resources. A handful of trained in basic obedience cues will suffice: sit, down, come, and stay. Be prepared to remove that resource momentarily for non-compliance. Many dogs learn to “sit” for access to the food bowl. This is a great start. Generalize this training to set up your bold dog to earn his all of his “good stuff”. This program doesn’t have to be permanent, although it is a real job for your dog! It is an effective and humane means to an end.
Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA, 2017 all rights reserved
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC