Training a Teenage Puppy

Two dogs are sitting on a couch. The younger red and white hound dog on the left has a playful look on his face. The older, larger, black and tan dog looks happy but tired.
Clara looks as tired as I feel. (But notice how happy she is!)

Whew! It’s more than a month later and I maybe, possibly, barely can write about how things have been with Lewis.

Preparation

I had only a couple of days to prepare for Lewis before he came. I did three main things.

  1. I moved Zani’s old crate to my bedside. It is a good size for him and has a lovely cushy bed and blanket in it.
  2. I got a 48-inch-tall exercise pen that’s been in my garden for several years and set it up in the main living area of the house. I outfitted it with a good-sized donut-style bed. The bed is not puppy-proof, but it is sturdy and doesn’t have a lot of tempting chew areas.
  3. I inventoried and cleaned up my food toys and chews.

Number 1 was a bust, Number 2 didn’t work out the way I expected, but Number 3 paid off.

1. The Crate

Lewis had been living at a veterinary clinic for the past two months, so I assumed he was accustomed to being in a cage or crate. It turns out that accustomed to and accepting are two different things. The first night, after a very active day which was undoubtedly stressful for him, we went to bed. I showed him the crate door, and he went in. I gave him some treats and closed the door. He instantly tuned up to yell. I, just as instantly, let him out. I have experience with hounds. They are persistent and loud. For both his benefit and mine, I knew not to even try to let him cry it out. So I caved ASAP.

Lewis wandered around my room a little, then settled into a dog bed I had stashed in a corner. He slept there the first night and half of the second night. Midway through the second night, he got up onto my bed with me and Clara. First, he slept on a throw blanket at the foot of the bed. Over time, he moved closer to me and now he cuddles.

I scrapped the sleeping crate idea and returned it to its normal location. I found out much later that part of the problem was the plastic crate. He likes wire crates a lot better. But he still probably would have protested. I got super lucky with my last two dogs, Clara and Zani, who both came to me thinking crates were nice.

Why had I tried the crate?

  • I had no idea of the status of his house training.
  • My bedroom is not puppy-proof.
  • I didn’t want him to bother Clara.

Luckily, his house training is great. He has woken me every morning (at first on veterinary clinic time, yawn!) to go out to potty. My bedroom is not puppy proof, but I wake up if an animal gets off the bed, so he is safe at night. And the extent of his bothering Clara has been to become more assertive about getting a prime spot on the bed. Nothing Clara and I can’t handle.

I am doing very slow and careful crate training with Lewis in a wire crate (see photos at the bottom of the post).

2. The Ex Pen

I had this idyllic mental image of Lewis chilling in the ex pen when the rest of us were also in the room. (Bwa ha ha!) In my defense, I did that with Clara when she was a very young puppy. She was so little that I suspect she hardly registered it as an enclosure. Ex pens, in a household of four not-entirely-compatible dogs, were just a fact of life for her since she came to me so young. Zani, who came to me as a teenager like Lewis, also did fine with them.

But Lewis had three problems with the lovely ex pen.

  1. Lewis is not good at chilling. In fact, he is in the dog life stage probably least amenable to chilling.
  2. Lewis showed early on that he would try to climb out of the ex pen. Whether he could be successful I’m not sure, but he would have hurt himself the way he was trying. He probably would have toppled the whole thing on top of himself or gotten his toes hurt in the wires. He is a capable, near-full-grown dog, not a malleable puppy. Think of those awful YouTube videos showing beagles escaping impossible situations or climbing impossible things. He’s like that.
  3. Lewis tuned up to yell about the ex pen confinement the moment he wasn’t eating something or the moment I left the room.

So I kept the ex pen but only closed it when I was right there. In the last month, I have helped him build up good feelings for the ex pen. He bounds to it to eat. I can now leave the room for a few minutes, off and on, while he is eating from a food toy. I pull the pen closed, but I make it my business always to return before he might object. I don’t want to trigger the song of his people or a climbing incident. And we’re working on chilling skills.

3. The Food Toys

The food toys have been a success and are very helpful. So far, I have used frozen Zogoflex Toppls, Zogoflex Tux, and Kongs; a Kong Wobbler and a couple of other action-based food toys; gullets and buffalo horns; and tendons using holders to prevent choking.

Behavior Issues

Here are some of the problematic behaviors Lewis already had going strong when he came to me.

  • Grabbing sleeves.
This is a very early video, and the grabbing behavior is virtually gone now. I taught him something else to do to get my attention when I was seated, and he learned it quickly.
  • Biting/mouthing hands.
  • Grabbing arms with his teeth or scratching with his paws when the person is sitting.
  • Jumping up when the person is standing, including from the back, sometimes while biting or scratching.
  • Grabbing items from human hands.
  • Trying to grab other dogs’ treats.
  • Opening baby gates (see video below).
  • Mild toy resource guarding from Clara.
  • Mild reactivity to strange dogs and humans.
  • Humping Clara.
  • Repeatedly trying to initiate play with Clara when she doesn’t want to. This is probably our biggest ongoing problem. I should also mention that Clara does like playing with him and they play a lot!
I was trimming Clara’s toenails. I have not put him in this position again.
  • Demand barking in general.
A red and white hound mix dog wearing a harness sits on a hardwood floor and barks.
  • Finding and chewing up all sorts of things I should have put out of his reach, including the hardwood floor (which would be hard to put out of reach!).
  • Expert and ongoing countersurfing. Not just kitchen counters: every counter, dresser, desk, and table in the house. And not just for food. Even a view seems reinforcing.
A red and white hound mix dog shreds a large, raw baking potato on a mat on the floor.
He scored this raw potato and chewed up a fair amount of it before I even realized he had it
A red and white hound mix with a curled tail stands on top of a large crate
Lewis has expertise in climbing and escape
  • Asking to go outside over and over, not to eliminate but because the rest of us are just being too boring.
  • Eating dirt and acorns.

Lewis’ Needs and Emotions

Just because I wrote out the above list of behaviors from the human “problem” point of view doesn’t mean I don’t see these as what they are: Lewis expressing his natural doggy needs.

The behaviors above are either hard-wired dog behaviors, such as the scavenging-related ones and the humping, or ones that have worked in his previous environments, such as hopping along behind a person with their shirt in his mouth and clawing at their back.

As difficult as Lewis’ behaviors are for me and my household, our behaviors and constraints are at least as difficult for him.

Besides food, water, health, and safety, Lewis needs human attention, doggy companionship, love, and novelty. The ways he asks for these things are part of who he is. I am respectful of that in the ways I attempt to influence them. (This is between tearing my hair out and trying not to yell. I don’t always live up to my intentions!)

Two dogs are walking together in a yard with trees. We see them from the rear only.
I’m breaking the photography rule of “Don’t show the south end of an animal going north.” I like the companionable way Lewis and Clara are walking, though.

As for Lewis’ emotional needs: I am more accustomed to dogs whose primary difficulties center on fear. Lewis’ primary uncomfortable emotional state, per my observation, is frustration. This is new for me, but I’m giving it my best. He definitely led a life of deprivation for the 10 weeks before he came to me, and his life experience before that is unknown. My goal is for Lewis to get a lot more of what he wants and needs without 1) endangering himself; 2) hurting humans; 3) terrorizing other dogs; or 4) damaging property excessively. It’s a given that he’ll damage some property, even with my best management attempts.

In the following clip of Lewis and the Manners Minder, he frustration-barks when I ask him to lie down. I have a couple of theories about why; see what you think. He hasn’t done it in any sessions since then. This is a minor example, but frustration, and the attendant barking and throwing of behaviors, is usually right under the surface for Lewis.

Lewis shows apparent frustration when I cue him to lie down

My Training Philosophy

I want Lewis to be happy. I want him to express his dogginess in all the ways that are in keeping with my four caveats above (not hurting himself, humans, or other dogs, or damaging much property). So I am in a paradoxical situation. I have to limit some natural and learned behaviors while I try to satiate his need to express himself and satisfy himself in dog activities. This is, of course, a normal paradox for those of us who live with dogs. But because of his previous deprivation, it’s extreme with Lewis.

I believe in training dogs. I wouldn’t always have felt the need to say that. But there are trends, even among professional trainers, that are actually anti-training. I understand this as a response to the common tendency to over train and over-control dogs’ lives. I do not understand it as an achievable primary goal with all dogs. There are some dogs who fit into the human world easily and naturally. I think there are more like Lewis, who need to be taught ways to get what they want without hurting themselves or others.

When I look at the list I wrote above, I wonder how I could address those issues without training. For instance, the pestering of Clara. It seems to me my choices are:

  1. Let him do it and ruin Clara’s life for the near future.
  2. Prevent him with a leash, barriers, and constant supervision.
  3. Somehow teach him different behaviors with her. Or teach her. She doesn’t tell him “No” convincingly. But anything besides positive interruption of him, which I already do, is likely beyond my skill level.
  4. Teach him that going into a crate or ex pen or even another room with a nice chew object and being alone there for a short period is pleasant. Ask him to do that when he is ramped up in a loop of bothering Clara.

Right now I am doing #2 (barriers, a tether, and constant supervision) while I work slowly on #4. I don’t know any acceptable long-term solutions except training. But this training is not obedience-based. It’s heavy on classical conditioning because I don’t want him to hang out in a crate just because he has to; I want it to be pleasant for him. I want Lewis to be happy.

Progress

I’ll use the list above as a framework for future posts. I’ll fill in links to the follow-up posts as I address the issues. I have already gotten a good start on one (door behaviors) and linked back to it above in the list.

P.S. My dear friend who also lives with Lewis just pointed out that I didn’t mention that Lewis is good-natured, sweet, a love-bug, and a lot of fun. More posts on that in the future!

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Copyright 2022 Eileen Anderson

19 thoughts on “Training a Teenage Puppy

  1. Lewis is certainly cute! But a handful, too. You’re doing such a good job with him. Keep us up to date on his progress. Lewis got really lucky when he came to you.

    1. Thank you so much! I don’t feel amazing, but I do like to share the journey. I so appreciate that you are following along and being so supportive!
      Eileen

  2. I get that the behaviours are problems and he needs to learn alternative ways of doing things….especially learning not to annoy or bully other dogs….but…well….I read your post and looked at the vids and saw normal smart teen dog? yes PITA and high on the intensity scale but no more problematic than the “normal” dogs I have had from pup hood. Even though I did all the right things, I have never had a dog who would choose crate over not crate indoors, although one and all, crate in the car has been fine..

  3. I am excited to hear more about dealing with the frustration issues. I’m having a few problems with that also. Lewis is very cute!

    1. Aww, thanks Marge! And thanks for your help when I come whining to you! Couldn’t do it without you, friend!
      Eileen

  4. Thank you so much for this. This describes our foster dog to a tee and I’ve had a helpful retake of the situation and options reading your post.

  5. This was such a wonderful read. We enjoyed all the information you shared and hope this will be very helpful for pet owners out there. Thanks for taking the time to share. Have a great rest of your week.

  6. He sounds like our 5yo worky spaniel cross! Ours wasn’t exactly badly treated before we got him (aged 3) but he was shut behind a baby gate a lot for being too boisterous, he has a lot of frustration issues and does a lot of leaping to head height, climbing the bookcases, stealing everything, eating paper, etc. Plus SA. Work in progress! I’m interested that you are using the manners minder rather than treating him by hand – is that because he’s grabby?

    1. Yours sounds like a handful!
      Lewis can be grabby, but I’m just teaching him the MM as an option. I’d like him to learn that not all reinforcement comes straight from me so maybe we can work on some distance behaviors.

      Eileen

  7. I enjoyed your blog post about life with the teenager. I can so relate. I, too, have a teenage dog of unknown background. The crate particularly resonated. I wish “crate trained” actually meant happy to be in his crate overnight instead of meaning “has been shoved in a crate at night.” We’re slowly getting his happy to be in his crate. Meanwhile he sleeps against the front door–he’s a guardian breed so it makes sense. His big brother has been good about explaining rules of acceptable doggy behavior (“keep your nose out of my bowl when I am eating”, “no crashing in on my petting sessions although polite entry is allowed”, etc) We’re playing a lot of impulse control games since that’s his biggest issue. It’s been almost 2 weeks and I can see improvement so I know he’ll get there.

  8. Eileen, I loved this post! I laughed out loud several times. He is adorable and you are doing such great things with him. I especially loved the video of Lewis and Clara mouth wrestling. Your writing is wonderful, humorous, and informative. Keep up the good work!

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