Behavior and Training Needs for Different Ages
Vivian Leven, CPDT-KSA
Dog Training Director

puppyAt every age there are some factors that require a bit more attention than others when it comes to your dog's behavior and training needs. Below gives you a short description of each developmental stage to help you along the way.

Each dog is an individual with their own needs and wants. This is why it is always good to find out what makes your dog tick. Larger breeds mature later and also age sooner than smaller breeds. There are of course individual variations as well.

The puppy (8 weeks up to about 6/10 months)
No puppy should leave her mom before 8 weeks of age. There are lots of important information about what it means to be a dog that the mother teaches her pup.  In addition, important experiences are gained from interacting with siblings as well.

Because the most impressionable time for socialization will close in puppies between 12-14 weeks, this first time period should be focused on lots of positive experiences with new situations and novel objects and sounds. Meeting people and dogs is also very important in this time period. However, in order to make it a pleasant experience for your new puppy these events should be planned as much as possible. The experiences should all be SAFE and at the pace of what your specific puppy is comfortable with. No dog parks and make sure you introduce your puppy to more chaotic environments gradually so you have an idea about his threshold.

In addition to socialization this is the time we want our puppies to learn to do their business outside, spend some time alone, not chew on human possessions and learn a variety of cues we want to use to communicate with the new family member. It can be intense.

Puppy proofing your home is very important. Having said that, make sure your puppy gets plenty of social time with you/your family. Dogs are very social and need companionship. All day home alone is not a good idea. Get into a puppy class as soon as possible. A good one will not only help with building a communication system of various cues, but also get you started on handling protocols and how to properly set up socialization exercises. Never punish your puppy. Learning happens by showing them what you want. Mistakes will occur along the way. This is why it is key to puppy proof a space where your puppy can hang out and be safe when you are not able to supervise.

A puppy does not need much exercise, as a matter of fact it may be bad for their growing body with too much. They need socialization, play time and to learn some good mannerly routines around the house.

The adolescent dog (about 6 months to 1 ½ years)
This can be a very rocky period, as it can be for human children as well. This is the time for your dog to venture out into the larger world...to engage, explore, and try new things out.  Your desires and the motivations of your dog may not always coincide.  Have some patience and understanding. The body and mind is still growing. The dog is fluctuating between puppyhood and the dog she is about to become. If you have built a solid relationship and good habits in your puppy this will help you be more prepared.

An adolescent dog will require more exercise both mental and physical. It is strongly recommended to keep attending training classes, ideally several to keep heavily reinforcing good behaviors and get lots of positive influences from you. It is very easy to become the "fun police" with your adolescent dog. Do not slack on the socialization because your dog is not a puppy anymore. It is super important to keep it up....but tweak it a bit. Through the adolescent period you should play it very safe. Sometimes adolescent dogs can have a second fear period where they do not get along as well with other dogs or spook more easily to other people or new things. Make sure that you give your dog some reprieve if that happens. Let them play with dogs they know, like, and feel safe with, and have them meet people that they don't have a problem with. Continue the socialization in controlled setting where you can have some control over distance, the time the dog is exposed and the intensity of the stimuli. We just want the socialization to build on the good and not create a scare. It is part of the developmental stage to have a tightened awareness of the various stimuli around them.

If your dog stops listening to you, then this is a good time to do lots of capturing (rewarding the dog for good behavior even if you did not ask for it). Do not repeat cues in situations your dog is likely to ignore you. Have a management strategy in place for those times. Work on the obedience with minimal distraction with high-value treats where you will be the most interesting thing around. It will pay off later in more public areas as well. Keep a set routine and reinforce some core manners in your house. For walks, take some time out of your day when you can and drive to a more rural area, put a long line on your dog, and let him be a dog. Chances are you will both enjoy it. And...count yourself lucky...the adolescent period in dogs is much shorter than in people!

The adult dog (about 2/3 years old to about 6/10)
If you put in the work in the puppy and adolescent stages this is the time you will reap the rewards. This is a relatively low maintenance period in your dog's life. Your dog still needs physical and mental stimulation and your company. But this is more the time to enjoy the companionship and enjoy how it deepens. Some people swear their dogs can read their minds! Your dog should now be fully house trained, only chew on her things, you can leave him home alone without putting the dog in a crate, your dog will listen (reasonably) well to cues and you have developed a routine together where your dog is pretty reliable and predictable in his ways. This is the time to try different classes just for fun or continue with obedience for sake of maintenance or polish up.

The senior dog (6/10 years and up)
Your older dog will be content doing less and sleeping more. At this time it is important to keep up with exercise and mental stimulation to the ability of your dog. Remember the wise words "if you don't use it you lose it,"  so keep your dog's mind and body active the extent of her ability. Because the aging goes so much faster in the dog, visiting the vet every 6 months can be a good idea. The dog will get similar ailments like people; arthritis, poor sight and hearing and change in appetite. This is the time where your hand signals can become really handy if the dog starts losing his hearing.

Change can be harder for older dogs to deal with. The same goes for loud noises or thunder so be mindful of this. A dog who is deteriorating physically can feel more vulnerable and can become more clingy. Old dogs may need to learn to go up a ramp to ride in the car, depending on size, they may no longer be able to walk stairs in your home so it may be wise to make preparations for this. Also, make sure to not startle your dog waking him up. If you have kids in your household, be prepared for some stricter rules with private spaces for your dog. Watch for behavioral changes. Dogs can become senile just like people. There is even a name for it "cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS)." It is nothing you can fix, but you want to be patient and understanding with your old friend.

Nosework is a great way to engage your old dog. It allows him to participate in an activity at his own speed.