Adolescent German Shepherd. Excitable. Biting

Adolescent German Shepherd Knight is a challenge. He is now nearly nine months old, wilful and strong. His owners do all they know to give him a good life – they walk him, feed him and love him.

Unfortunately, living the life of a much-loved family pet just isn’t enough. Knight is a working dog without work to do. Much of how he is will be genetic.

Adolescent German ShepherdThe poor lady showed me the bruises up her arms and a bite mark.

He is big, bold and confident – and a bit of a bully. Unfortunately he missed out on early training because the couple both had fallen ill when they first got him at eight weeks old and things have basically got out of hand as he’s got bigger and become adolescent.

The family of five adults sat opposite me. Knight repeatedly targeted the two youngest, jumping on them with his mouth open. He also did the same with me.

Throughout the time I was there we were rescuing one another. Telling him off only fired him up further, as it does, so I had a person across the room calling him away and giving him something else to do. Diversion only lasted briefly.

I did some clicking for calm which gave us some respite. I lent him a Stagbar to chew and then an Ancoroot. Both kept him occupied for about five minutes.

He was already trailing a lead, but there was simply nowhere to put him away from us. There was no door between the two downstairs rooms and the gap was too wide for any gate. Even the garden isn’t secure.

It was hard to know where to start with improving the situation for both the family and for Knight. 

So – getting down to basics first.

The biting is unacceptable.

When I was ready to leave, the young lady took Knight into the back garden on the lead – just as they do for a toilet visit. I needed to pick up my Stagbar and Ancoroot with him out of the way as he guards resources – even his own poo. We said goodbye.

As the door shut behind me I heard “He’s attacking my sister!” and loud screams from the back garden.

She was very shaken, her arm was bright red but thankfully the skin wasn’t broken. The whole morning had been very arousing for Knight with so many people all together for so long and, unfortunately, she got the fallout.

On the plus side if there is one, although the biting is dreadful, the adolescent and angry dog was actually able to show a some degree bite-inhibition and self-control.

Control and management

The challenge will be in implementing new boundaries without using force or confrontation which can only make things worse whilst also enriching his life. He needs more happening – more constructive stuff. This will be a big undertaking.

The times and places where the behaviour is most likely to occur are predictable and must now be controlled using management and change in routine – or Knight muzzled.

For instance, they always have trouble with him leading up to his meals. He won’t leave them alone while they themselves eat (there is nowhere in the house to shut him apart from a crate) and he gets more and more rough and hyped up until he’s fed.

I suggest now that they break the routine and feed him first – in the crate, and leave him there until they have eaten and cleared up.

This isn’t the problem solved for the future, but it’s managed for now.

Control and management also means making it impossible for the behaviour with some physical restrictions. Physical restrictions are hard in a small house with no doors, and gaps too wide for a gate.

We considered anchor points with cable attached and at making the crate a place he loves to be.

Free use must be made of the muzzle. He knows he can control them by using his teeth and he can sense their own fear. With a muzzle they can relax and no longer give in to him.

The more the adolescent biting, grabbing and bullying is rehearsed, the more of a learnt behaviour, a habit, it becomes.

Adolescent, frustrated and bored.

Knight has little space at home, is at present unable to be outside off-lead in the garden and can’t be trusted off-lead when out. The lack of freedom must add to an adolescent’s frustration. Something needs to be done about this along with working on his recall (we will look at this later). Meanwhile, maybe they could perhaps sometimes hire a safe field so he has a chance to run.

Knight’s roughness and biting is all about controlling people but he wouldn’t do it if it had never worked. There are times when he’s gentle and peaceful, but once aroused – frustrated or angry…off he goes.

They should now add as much fulfillment to his life as they possibly can. Getting the fine line between enrichment and stirring him up will be tricky.

Earning some of his food.

They were a little resistant to using food. It’s almost impossible to train without food unless you use force, old-school style. Then it would all be about dominating the dog and his complying only to avoid punishment. The result of this approach would likely be real aggression, particularly when the person exerting this control wasn’t present to keep him under check. I’ve met many dogs like this.

Positive methods are the only way to go. Barking Up the Wrong Tree for 110 years, by Ian Dunbar.

Knight can earn the food he would anyway eat – it’s not treating him, it’s payment. Food is also for reinforcing the desired behaviour – positive reinforcement. The end result, with sufficient time and effort, is a biddable and cooperative dog.

There is a lot more to cover over the weeks I shall be working with them. Walking on a long line in the park, they can work on recall whilst giving him some freedom. They can teach him to settle on a mat when he’s calmed down a bit. Work needs to be done on his resource guarding and also separation problems.

Finally, they have a cat. Just hearing the cat at the door gets him going.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Knight and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Adolescent Dog and Raging Hormones

Adolescent dogI have never met a Longhaired Weimeraner before – and what a stunning dog!  Rocco is about one year old and deliciously friendly.

The family put in a great deal of thought and research before getting him and a lot of effort since. There are three sons, two in late teens and a younger boy, and this is a family venture where each person plays a part.

They are still taking him to training classes and he is a model student. They have researched canine diet and feed him on the best possible food.

A few weeks ago, adolescent dog behaviour hit them!

To quote Nicole Wilde: Adolescent dogs are fur-covered containers of raging hormones. Even if the dog is spayed or neutered, the body–and temperament–is changing. The dog who formerly ran in fright from other dogs might now take the offense. And many dogs who are genetically predisposed to aggression begin showing the signs at this time. Whatever the cause, aggression often manifests between the ages of six months and eighteen months. Intact male dogs are the most likely to show adolescent-onset aggression, particularly toward other intact males’.

A few weeks ago, Rocco began to throw his weight around with certain other dogs, standing over them and intimidating them. He has been going to daycare once a week where the now adolescent dog has been picking on a smaller dog, also a male of similar age. This is causing problems.

Many people now would be advising castration, but this is another thing the family have looked into closely. When is the best time to do this? Whether to castrate or not is a huge topic, not least because there are far too many unwanted dogs in the world already. 

To castrate, or not to castrate, that is the question.

Here is some food for thought when considering neutering or spaying a larger breed dog, from Dr. Becker. With Rocco, it’s not going to happen yet.

He can be very excitable and this is not surprising with three boys who play enthusiastically with him. The younger boy gets the brunt of Rocco’s excitement, particularly when he is running around the garden. This is common.

Freedom in terms of space can make a young dog more wild. He jumps at the small boy and, when too aroused, mouths or nips at his clothes. His unwanted and pushy behaviour with other dogs also seems to be when he has more space and has built up a head of excitement.

Our objectives are both for the adolescent dog to be less aroused/excited when meeting other dogs and to take note when called. A mix of self-control and owner-control.

This requires the adolescent dog to take a lot more notice of his humans in general and have a very solid recall before he is set free again. A long line, when the technique is learned, makes the handler into a safe human flexilead without the constant tension from a retractable-type lead.

There was an unfortunate incident with an irate owner hurting Rocco and making him scream. It was probably the first dog that Rocco took on a few weeks ago and may have started a downward trend – a negative association with certain kind or colour of dog. He has never actually caused a dog harm. He just seems to want to intimidate or dominate it. It seems he picks his victims.

It is sad for the conscientious family. It’shard to know what more they could have done. He has been very well socialised and is generally friendly and playful with all dogs. The best of families can have difficult teenagers, can’t they/

Excitement and self-control aren’t compatible.

If Rocco is more relaxed in general, both at home and when out, he will be in a much better state of mind when meeting another dog. At the moment he is ‘throwing his weight around’ as his hormones are taking over.

The whole family will be working together to avoid unnecessary arousal. They will avoid triggers such as the dog and youngest son running around the garden together, and rough and tumble play with the older boys. Even scrapping with one another gets Rocco very worked up so they need to go and do that somewhere else.

Mental stimulation is a lot more helpful, particularly the kind of training that gets him to use own brain (which clicker would).

Despite all the training classes, Rocco still pulls on lead. This is because they have been told to ‘teach him not to pull’ rather than ‘to teach him to walk on a loose lead’. Negative v positive. He’s a big dog and they have resorted to a head halter which he hates. He must be uncomfortable and very frustrated by the time he’s let off lead and has his freedom.

They will now work on walking him on a loose lead – force-free so that he likes walking beside them.


They will all also work on being much more engaged with him when out. Being more relevant, he will then be more likely to take notice of them when it’s really important. (Like many dogs, his recall is fine until they really need it!).

For now the adolescent dog should lose all total freedom, particularly in open spaces.

A long line can be up to 20 metres.  Rocco will learn, over the next few weeks or months, that when he sees another dog he automatically ‘touches base’. They can then decide whether he can go and play – or not. If they simply drop the line to start with, they can easily get him back if he becomes too excited.

In a few months’ time, Rocco will no longer be an adolescent dog. Having already decided to wait until he’s eighteen months old, they will decide whether they want to castrate him, or not.


NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Rocco. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any form of aggressive behaviour is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Jumping Up at People

Six month old white standard poodle


I’m sure most of us who, over time, have had several dogs from puppies, forget what monkeys they can be when young. I have just been to see two wonderful friendly, gentle Standard Poodles – Asia is eleven years old and Sunny a large, adolescent six months.

Compared to the majority of dogs I have met of that age, Sunny is an angel! His only two ‘crimes’ are jumping up at everyone and jumping up at the sides to nick things – counter-surfing.

Inadvertently he has been taught to do both through reinforcement.

‘Get Down’ may make Sunny get back down again once up – he’s a very biddable young dog, but ‘Get Down’ doesn’t teach him not to jump up again the next time he feels like it.

Jumping up at people is his most trying habit. The lady herself had begun to ask Sunny to Sit before touching him, but the clever dog has merely learnt that, with her, the sequence is ‘to jump up, be told to sit possibly several times, to then sit down, to get fussed, then possibly to jump up again’!

If sitting is what she wants and sitting is incompatible with jumping up after all, he needs to learn to sit straight away without jumping up first. Having already on several occasions asked him to sit, if she now just waited and ignored the jumping, he would soon work it out for himself that sitting does the trick. Unfortunately there are quite a lot of people in Sunny’s life who all, unwittingly, encourage the jumping up.

Why does he do it? He is a lovely, gentle and friendly dog and it’s probably merely because dogs may greet face to face (if not face to bum!), and he wants to get to face level. He doesn’t jump at children who are already level with the tall dog’s face. Sunny merely needs to learn that to welcome humans there is one rule that may seem weird to him but is necessary if he wants his welcome to be reciprocated.

White standard poodle


The rule is that his feet must be on the floor.

The attention he expects and gets is by way of being touched, looked at or spoken to. He usually gets all three! Dogs are experts at reading body language. Looking away and waiting usually gets the message across about what he should not be doing, but that’s only half the story. He also needs to know what he should be doing, so feet on floor needs to get him what he wants.

I am a great believer in dogs working things out for themselves rather than being constantly told or ‘commanded’, and Sunny will soon get the hang of what’s expected if everyone is consistent. Currently when he jumps up, one person puts his hand up above him as though to push his head down (ah – a hand to jump up at), and other people give him quite a wild or exciting welcome whilst he is jumping up, even though they may at the same time be saying Get Down!

I predict that if the humans can be trained (always the hardest bit) Sunny will soon politely keep his feet on the floor when people come in.

Jumping up at the sides is the other jumping problem, something all the lady’s Standard Poodles have done. They do it because the can – they are tall – and there is sometimes food up there so it’s reinforced. Sunny will actually nick anything so long as it’s on the side, food or not – stuff like paper that he would not be interested in anywhere else!

The easy solution is to remove all opportunity by shutting him out of the room when unsupervised and keeping the surfaces completely clear. It’s one of the things that becomes a habit and he will have seen Asia doing it too. Stop him doing it for long enough and the habit should become unlearned – along with more reinforcement for keeping his feet on the floor!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sunny. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).


Adolescent dog gets attention for being 'naughty'

Adolescent Dog Fun Causing Trouble

Irish Wheaten TerrierEleven month old Irish Wheaten Terrier, Barney, is a mischievous adolescent dog who, when his humans are sitting down or busy, is looking for entertainment.

He finds one of the most entertaining things is to have them chase after him to retrieve a tissue, a sock or something else he shouldn’t have. He likes to grab cushions to chew and to drag his bedding about – anything really that gets a reaction!

What is really entertaining is to bark at the man until, as he always has to do eventually, he gives in and reacts in some way. It may be crossly or it may be to throw a toy. Either way it’s a result!

Barney is absolutely delightful. He is so affectionate and friendly and his coat feels like silk. He is a fantastic family dog.

His super-friendliness is the cause of a lot of jumping up, particularly at people he doesn’t know well. He really wants to get to face level. Again, it gets a result. The consequence is a lot of attention in terms of ‘Get Down’ and being held, and the person petting him.

I showed them how to teach him that the attention comes only when his feet are on the floor. If everyone does this, it shouldn’t take long for Barney to get the message, but it will need to be every time. Just one weakening will prove to him that it’s worth persisting – for the same reason we play slot machines. If you go on for long enough and you always get a result. If we knew there was no money in the machine, would we play it? No.

When he quietly settled for a moment, we quietly ‘marked’ that moment with a tiny bit of food. What is wrong with a dog earning some of their kibble for good behaviour?  As well as rewarding him when he is being good, they will also initiate plenty of activities under their own terms, play, training games, hunting and cuddles, which will more than compensate for any attention lost due to his self-entertaining adolescent dog strategies being ignored.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Barney, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Won’t Come When Called

Adolexcent Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still


Monty goes hunting. He comes back when he is ready.

On the left is eight month old Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still while I took his photo! He lives with elderly Cocker, Millie.

The main and ultimate thing they want just now is for young Monty to come when he is called. He will do so, when he is ready and if there is nothing he would rather do.

Elderly Cocker Spaniel


Monty is a teenager after all.  I myself remember the trouble I got into when I was told to be home by ten and didn’t get in until eleven! I was even willing to endure my parents’ anger and do it again next time.

Sometimes ‘recall’ is a straightforward training procedure and classes will fix it, but this isn’t always the case.

Reliable recall starts at home.

If our dog doesn’t find us sufficiently relevant so doesn’t listen to us at home, if he is selective about how quickly he does as we ask at home – even simple things like sitting, and if he only comes when he wants to when we call him from across the room, then it’s not reasonable to expect him to come to us in a field full of smells and little animals to chase.

Reliable recall begins when he listens to simple things we ask him to do for us at home. We can make a game of recall around the house so that he is conditioned to come when called. Most importantly, he has to have reason to do our bidding. Is there something ‘in it’ for him? These things should be established inside before he is granted freedom outside again. Meanwhile they can give Monty exercise on a long line and work, work, work on a reliable recall in the face of distractions.

We tend to do things back to front. Because a puppy normally sticks with us, we give him freedom. Then, when adolescence strikes we may try to take that freedom away. Far better the other way around, to limit freedom initially and gradually grant it. Everything is much harder when the dog has already got used to freelancing.

One last thing about recall is that out in the fields we are competing with exciting stuff, so we need to make ourselves motivational, and the reward, whether it’s food or play, needs to be worth coming for.  Just as my angry parents didn’t stop me going awol in the evening, being grumpy with a dog that returns late won’t help at all. Little did my parents realise that extra pocket money for coming home on time would probably have worked a lot better with me!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty and Millie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

A Supremely Confident Cocker Spaniel

Confident Cocker SpanielThe main reason a dog may snap is because of fear – he feels threatened in some way.

A very confident young dog

Sometimes a dog may snap because a resource he regards as his is being threatened. In the case of Lewis, a beautiful ten-month-old golden Cocker Spaniel, it’s certainly not due to fear.

Lewis is scared of nothing.

He is supremely confident, friendly with everybody and all dogs – and his recall when out is excellent when a ball is involved! In most ways he is a joy to have.

He’s snapped at his lady owner

What’s upset them is that Lewis has snapped at his lady owner several times. Each time it’s because she has tried to move him. Sometimes, due to circumstances, he has had to share their sleeping space  and it’s possible the confident dog regards this space as his resource.

He also isn’t keen on being brushed. Fortunately he hasn’t yet actually bitten.

He believes it’s quite OK for him to invade their space when he feels like it, but not so good if they invade his uninvited. He can be very excitable and quite demanding for attention. Clever Cocker Spaniels can be very creative and very persistent at finding ways to get under our skin!!

The concerning thing is that Lewis doesn’t give a noticeable warning before he snaps. He may go still and he may curl his lip, but because it’s usually dark this goes unnoticed. There is no growling.

As I’ve said before, growling is actually a good thing. The dog is telling us how he feels and it’s for us then to work out why and to do something about that. It is much more difficult if the dog acts impulsively and lacks this inhibition.

Removing opportunity

The two issues that need dealing with are ‘opportunity’ and his relationship with his owners.

It’s fairly simple to ensure Lewis always sleeps in his own space when away from home. Because they are afraid he may snap, they are afraid to manhandle him in any way. They are relying on bribing and enticing him to give things up or to go somewhere. This gives a defiant teenage dog plenty of scope to play them up and to take control!

They will work at gaining his cooperation and respect using rewards relevant to Lewis and getting him to work things out for himself: ‘If I do this, so and so will happen, if I don’t do that, so and so won’t happen’.

They may need to be imaginative and sometimes outwit their confident dog also! They themselves need to be more relevant to Lewis, in that when they do ask him to do something, to give something to them or call him to them, he is eager to oblige.

In Lewis’ case, this quote from Jordan Rothman is especially relevant: To control your dog, control what motivates your dog: food, toys, belly rubs, attention, access to other dogs etc.’

Regal Alaskan Malamute

Malamute Mia lying on her backSixteen-month-old Mia certainly knows she’s wonderful! What a confident dog!

In the morning when her lady owner comes downstairs, Mia will open one eye and beckon with her paw as if to say ‘You may come here’!

The lady will then go over to her, get down on the floor and make a big fuss of her.  Homage! People often just don’t realise how much their dog controls them until they see it through the eyes of somebody objective like myself.

Mia is adolescent.  She has just had her first season and she is becoming a bit of a bully with some other dogs, especially smaller, less confident ones.  This has escalated and for the first time she has bitten one.  Her owner is devastated, because she has put a lot of effort into socialising and training Mia who has been very popular in the area until recently.

In the nicest way possible Mia needs to be brought down a peg or two without the use of confrontation. If a command is used and she is defiant and refuses, what next? If they back down they have lost, and if they try to insist they risk making her angry. She needs to be eager to cooperate.

At present every resource belongs to Mia, and it’s obvious she considers her lady owner to be a resource also. She objects Malamute Mia is a regal dogwhen one of the young daughters wants a cuddle. She will grumble when one of them walks past her bed. Depending upon her mood, she may grumble when someone comes near her while she has a chew.  She has become very touchy when one of the girls grabs her around her neck to cuddle her.

I suggest that now nobody invades Mia’s personal space, either upon her invitation or not, but that she also is encouraged to respect the personal space of her humans. We don’t want to reduce her confidence in any way but she is beginning to show some instability.  She is too powerful to be allowed to rule the roost. For her to become respectful and controllable out on walks with both people and dogs, she needs to be respectful and controllable at home.  In many ways Mia is a credit to her owner, but this goes a lot deeper than ‘training’. Knowing what is required of her is one thing, but whether she willingly does it or not is another! She is a teenager after all.

Once again, it’s about parenting and leadership.  In Mia’s opinion, just who is the real leader and decision maker in this family? I think we know!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.