Liz Mahony is an experienced Dog Trainer and Holistic Therapist for all animals. In her monthly column, Liz aims to promote mutual respect between carer and dog. Contact Liz at
Any parent with children who are in or have gone through their teenage years will know exactly what I mean when I talk about teenage tantrums. Your adorable son or daughter suddenly becomes moody, flounces around, challenges you or argues over the smallest situation, making you question your sanity!
Well, puppies go through the same sort of period as they mature to adulthood. Saffron has reached that age where sometimes she’s still my beautiful bundle of joy, returns immediately when called, behaves impeccably and continues to trust my judgement. Then, suddenly, when I ask her to do something that she used to do automatically, a curtain seems to descend, her jaw juts out in belligerence and I can almost hear her saying, ‘Why should I?’
Yes, I’ve been through this teenage tantrum business with my own children and then with all my puppies to a varying degree. And, generally, it happens just when I’m congratulating myself that my puppy is behaving so well. Talk about falling into the trap of false security! And how to deal with these challenges which are so out of character?
I’d like to say that I have all the answers but despite knowing what I should do, I can’t say I’m always immediately successful.
One of the first times it happened with Saffron, she had jumped onto a bank to go into a field. As there was a bull in it, I thought it wise to call her back to me. She wasn’t having a bit of it. She deliberately ignored my call, turned her back and hopped into the field. Even then, I didn’t lose my cool, I just got out my whistle and gave the usual recall. Saffron would normally return with satisfying alacrity amidst loads of praise. She had been doing so well that I’d no longer felt the need to mark the good behaviour with a treat. What an error of judgement!
On this particular evening, I continued to whistle and peeped over the bank to see her reaction. Imagine my fury to see her boldly meeting my gaze while slurping on a cow pat! After a short display of double defiance, she hopped back onto the road, giving me a saucy look as though asking me what was I going to do about it!
I called her back to me while trying very hard not to let my anger and dismay find an outlet, attached the lead and we walked home in stony silence! During the silent procession I reviewed the situation. Obviously, I’d become a little casual in my training and so the remedy would be to go back to basics and give her little training sessions both at home and out on walks.
So, the very next day, I began my plan of action. Keeping her on lead, we set off for the morning’s walk. Saffron loves to run in the fields whenever possible and I do so enjoy letting her expend all that energy. But, there was no way I could allow that until she began to listen to me again.
And, there was the problem. I might have got a little casual about training, but Saffron had stopped listening to me! On that first walk, whenever I first asked her to Halt, Sit, and Look at me, it was like a sulky brat had replaced my beloved puppy. She stood like a pudding, deaf to my commands, refusing point blank to look me in the eye. And the jut of her chin! Boxers always have a slightly pugnacious look about them purely because of the conformation of their jaws but this pose went far beyond that.
Persevering over the next few days, I took her back to basic commands while positively praising and rewarding any good behaviour. And, hard as I found it, I pretended I didn’t see the saucy looks or the outright challenges. However, I did find it difficult that this touchy feely, affectionate little puppy had become aloof on occasion.
During this debacle, I had to go away for the day and a friend kindly looked after her. The following morning I got ready for our walk, prepared to train and face any challenging behaviour from Saffron. Lo and behold, perhaps it was my sudden disappearance the day before, but she showed me model behaviour.
I didn’t push my luck by letting her off lead that first time. But, since then, I’ve allowed her more freedom while still maintaining a modicum of training. Apart from a few minor lapses, she seems to have returned to her normal affectionate, obedient self. However, I’ve also learnt my lesson. I’m not relaxing but continuing to ask for her attention both in and outside the house.
Each puppy is different but the stages they go through towards maturity are the same to a greater or lesser extent. The difference with each one is that their specific characters can accentuate each phase making it an endurance test.