Adolescent Dogs & the Pandemic
We’re weeks into social isolation in my area – it’s not a huge difference for me, although my local Starbucks may close down as I no longer go there on every whim. I’m lucky that I live in the country, and life hasn’t changed much for my dogs – Mulder doesn’t go to a group to practice PSA anymore but we are able to work on that at home. But for some dogs, life has changed a lot! I’m thinking of the group of dogs just hitting adolescence – that tricky age of about 6-12 months. For these guys, life has changed a lot!
As puppies, these dogs were used to saying hello to canine and human friends while out on walks. Due to social distancing, that is no longer possible. With the sudden changes, there’s going to be some frustration and reactivity – dogs pulling and lunging to go and say hi to all of their former and new friends.
Now is the time to work on impulse control – at home and out on walks. You can use portions of your dog’s kibble/ daily caloric intake for exercises such as leave, eye contact, going to sniff and paying attention to you on walks. Set your dog up for success (start with small distractions) and provide plenty of reinforcement.
I cannot count the number of times I have recently recommended snuffle mats, food dispensing toys, and going to sniff in the yard or the house for food/treats. We can try and burn off our dogs’ physical energy, but it is sometimes easier to tire them out mentally (this is coming from a working line Malinois owner). There are endless online options for nosework and tracking and even trick training, and snuffle mats are easy made at home or ordered from your favourite local pet store. Get those noses working!
Depending on the area you live in, your veterinarian may not be able to perform sterilization surgeries due to covid 19 restrictions on their businesses. Your adolescent dog may go into sexual maturity, and there are a few things you can do to be prepared for this.
For female dogs going through a heat cycle, they may need underpants with a sanitary napkin to absorb discharge, depending on how “messy” the cycle is. Once the bloody discharge stops, they are most receptive to breeding so it is imperative for them to not be outside alone. It is very easy for intact male dogs to smell females dogs in heat, and a fence is no obstacle for them!
For maturing male dogs, people sometimes notice excessive “humping” and urine marking around the house. I’ve found that time-outs work well for inappropriate humping, and depending on your dog and his marking, it’s back to remedial house training. If urine marking becomes an ongoing issue, you may need to use a belly band (available at your pet store).
For adolescent dogs, this is the time to train, train, train! There are literally hundreds of online options to help you through this time. I recommend reaching out to your local trainers to find out their offerings and to use your extra time at home to continue building your bond with your dog.