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Vimy's Birthday Week - Day 4: When adolescence hit hard

Vimy is a semi-feral bird dog so I just assumed he would always be a little challenging to handle. But, when he didn't hit adolescence around the time I was used to with my other breeds (starting young, around 9 months onwards) by 18 months, I assumed we skated right through that phase. Wow, how easy is it to raise a GSP? Everyone should have one....


A black and white puppy being held in the arms of a person in a dress
12 week old Vimy - Too cute not to share!

I got smacked in the face with a whack of adolescent behavior around the time Vimy turned 18 months old. To my surprise, even though he had always seemed like a wise and easy puppy to me, he really took his time maturing and that really wasn't evident until he was almost 2 years old when I assumed I'd have a fairly mature dog! To my surprise he wasn't anywhere near socially mature and I was actually heading into our worst season yet.

Behaviors that reared their ugly head:

  • Hyper sensitive to dogs in his space

  • Less social with other male dogs

  • Unpredictable performance and work ethic

  • Less likely to check in on our walks

  • Zero, and I mean ZERO impulse control in the hunting field

  • Over-arousal and frustration for even simple tasks

  • Marking (yeah, I mean pee-pee)

  • Huge need for exercise of the off-leash variety

Now at 3 years old, Vimy is a completely different dog. It's laughable that I thought at 2 years old, we were over the adolescent hump but this just goes to show how each individual and breed can mature so differently.

I can tell you that these adolescent behaviors did not just go away on their own. I had to really problem solve and work through these things as they came up...a bit like playing whack-a-mole (I always hated that game as a kid...who loves unpredictability). So, in celebration of me surviving Vimy's adolescence and his third birthday, I'd like to share with you the three most valuable skills I taught him. Obviously, I met his exercise and enrichment needs as a baseline, training won't replace that... and, I did just have to ride some of this out and not push as hard on some of the goals I had set out for us, but, my next strategy was to cultivate the following skills:

  1. Collar give

  2. Not there

  3. Mat

These 3 simple skills really saved my sanity when I was trying to navigate all his hormones and feelings about the world and helped us both come out the other side of adolescence without piling on any behavior issues. I'd love to share these skills with you! Let's go....

Collar Give - You know, there's nothing worse than trying to wrangle your puppy when putting the leash and collar on, and Valor is one of those dogs that no matter how many times you put your hand out, he will move his head away making it impossible to put a leash and collar on. I wasn't doing that again....instead, I taught Vimy that when I put my hand down at my side and say "here", that he pushes his collar into my hand. Umm, lifesaver when trying to leash up a squirming bird dog!

Not There - NOTHING gets me more more fired up about dogs than dogs marking in inappropriate places! Not every vertical surface is appropriate for pee-pee and adolescent dogs don't really seem to care what you think about that. So, to combat his marking on all the vertical surfaces, I taught a "not there" cue. This is so simple but consistency and good timing will pay off here. When out walking, watch your dog and if they look like they're going to sniff at a place to mark, say "not there" and lead them away from the spot. Then, take them to another spot and give them their potty cue. Praise lavishly. Rinse and repeat!

Somehow, despite all the signs on the front of the building, there is always pee on the wall. However, my dogs don't contribute to this collection as they know the "not there" cue and we can move along past the smells as we enter the building. This cue has also been really helpful in my pee-pee comeback in scent detection. More on that in another blog!

Mat - This is a hugely under valued skill! I have used the mat skill for everything from settling in the house to incorporating it into my competition obedience warm-up and even using it in staging areas for scent detection. Never mind the more practical aspects such as visiting a patio! If done right, this skill creates a conditioned emotional response to the mat that then becomes portable. Need your dog to chill in a certain environment? No problem! I'm putting together a webinar on how I've used this skill in a diverse set of scenarios, so stay tuned for that!

Look, these strategies are just the tip of the iceberg for surviving adolescence. I can honestly say that Vimy's adolescence wasn't that bad but I can also say with confidence that we got through it with only a few bumps and bruises due to my management, consistency and the skills that I taught him along the way.

Tomorrow is Vimy's Birthday! OMG!!! Are you ready for the celebration? Hint: I have some giveaways that are going to add a ton of value for your training! See ya tomorrow!

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