Vizsladogs, Ltd.

Vizsla Adolescence

By Lu Hart

Take a few minutes to think HONESTLY about your own human life. Did your parents toilet train you, teach you your alphabet, then sit back when you started school and relax because their work was all done ? Did they expect you to keep contentedly playing the same games that you enjoyed when you were five ? Did they act as though you would magically become a responsible adult all on your own, now that they had given you the correct infant and toddler training ? Guess what - responsible adult dogs do not happen automatically, either.

What sort of things did you work on when you were a teenager ? Most likely, many of them were things that an adult human would normally do. So what would an adult dog do, apart from human civilization ? Number one, hunt for food. It doesn't matter that your dog has all the nutrition he needs in his dog chow, he is driven by instinct to find and grab food. PUT FOOD AWAY SAFELY - ESPECIALLY CHOCOLATE. Chocolate can kill your dog. So can raisins or grapes.

Yes, your vizsla can be trained to leave food alone. It takes TRAINING - weeks and months of training - and everytime you leave food out for him to get, you slow down that training.

Number two preoccupation is sex. Do not be surprised when your adolescent dog seems to be off in a hormonal brain fog. Remember how hard your English teacher struggled to keep the attention of teenaged students ? Keep training, but be patient. Patient repetition will eventually penetrate the hormone fog.

Number three preoccupation is guarding the home pack's territory. You may likely have to work on barking or growling issues. If you have questions about such training, consult a good trainer. (Look for APDT certification.) You may also notice your teenager going through one or more "fear periods" , spooking at ordinary objects. Patiently re-socialize them, using the same techniques you did with the baby puppy. Do NOT reinforce their fear. Petting or stroking a dog and telling them "It's okay" is seen by the dog as reinforcing. Ignore fear; pet & praise when the dog relaxes.
And most of all - very much like a human teenager, your teenaged vizsla has a strong need to feel that he is a competent individual and that he has a secure place in the world. Take him hunting, start an agility class, get him ready for pet therapy work - or simply teach him to fetch you all the sticks in the yard over and over - but do not leave him unemployed. He desperately wants to work for you and to earn your approval.
Don't fall into the "He knows better" trap. He doesn't. He is a DOG, and a confused adolescent dog at that. He needs you to keep being his teacher as well as his friend.

Notice that wording : KEEP being his teacher. You probably passed an awful lot of tests during high school. Do you think you could pass them all again, right this minute? Maybe - but it would be hard to remember some of the material that you last studied years ago. It's hard for your dog to remember, too, unless he gets "review lessons" once in a while.

It's also lots easier for your dog to pay attention to those lessons if they are not boring. You may think that "Sit" is the same lesson everywhere, but your dog does not. If you take him out to the sidewalk by the local Laundromat, "Sit" becomes an exciting new adventure for both of you. Dogs are very literal in their thinking, and do not generalize as readily as humans do. If you change the situation, the dog is likely to think that the old command truly does not apply. You have to teach a command in lots and lots and lots of different places before your dog will understand what the command really means.

Surprise your teenaged dog. Take a different route for your evening walk. Teach him to "Sit" for you while you are lying down on the floor. ( That's hard !) Show him that you can think of things he didn't expect. This will really raise your status in your dog's eyes.

Use "life rewards" as much as possible. If your dog wants to go play with his doggy friends, have him do something for you first. If he is waiting for his supper, have him do something for you first. If he wants to be petted, have him do something for you first. Go ahead and "spoil" him - but first make him "say please". You and your dog will enjoy life together much more if you insist on good manners.

Be flexible. Your teenager will have good days and bad days. On the bad days, demand simple easy things from him. Save the really hard stuff for his good days. (Don't you wish your high school teachers had done that ? <G>)

Manage the environment whenever possible. If your dog is on a leash, then it won't matter whether today is one of the times he comes when called , you'll have him safe anyway. Professional trainers think that a dog is understanding and performing well if the dog correctly obeys a command 90% of the time. (And how many of us humans are correct 90% of the time?) Remember that other 10%. Take care for your dog's safety.
Ask for help right away when you have concerns about your teenager's health or behavior. Problems are quickly and easily corrected when they are new and small. Don't wait around for him to "get over it". He might, but more likely it will just get worse. Other owners have been through the same things and will sympathize. Don't feel that you have a "bad" dog or that you are a "stupid" owner. EVERYONE struggles with adolescence.

One day you will look at your teenager and see an adult. On that day, you two can be proud of what you have achieved together. It IS worth the work.

Vizsladogs, Ltd.
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Last updated 02