E331: Megan Foster, Julie Daniels, Amy Cook, and Erin Lynes on Adolescent Dogs

In prepping for the Adolescent Dogs One Day Conference, we brought on a number of the presenters and panelists to chat about what changes we see during adolescence and how we can best handle them.  


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau, and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast, brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high quality instruction for competitive dog sports, using only the most current and progressive training methods. Today I have Julie Daniels, Megan Foster, Erin Lynes, and Dr. Amy Cook here with me to talk about the upcoming one day conference on Adolescent Dogs that FDSA is hosting on November 11th. Hi, all. Welcome to the podcast!

All: Hey, Melissa. Hey Melissa. Hey Melissa.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Hi guys. So to start us out, I wanna just have everybody maybe introduce themselves, let our listeners get an idea of whose voice is whose, and maybe share a little bit about your current canine crew and what you're working on with them. Julie, do you wanna start us out?

Julie Daniels: Sure, I'd love to. So, I'm Julie Daniels. This is my voice. I live in Deerfield, New Hampshire, and we currently have five dogs in the household. Two Australian Koolies, two Border Collie, which are mine, and one adorable Staffie Mix who came to live with me as a serious biter and has came through his adolescence with me and is doing pretty well now and pretty well. No, he's awesome. But anyway, with five dogs in the house, that's a pretty busy crew and we have ages from three months to 15 and one half years. My oldest competition agility dog, the end of an era for me is here with me in his last chapter, but he's doing pretty well at the moment. So a couple in my presentation for this conference, the two main adolescents that come up here are the Staffy Mix and Kool-Aid, my younger Border Collie.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Megan.

Megan Foster: Hi, I'm Megan. I live north of Seattle and Washington State, and we also have five dogs in the house, ranging from 15 and seven eights it feels like, all the way to nearly two and a half. So we do have two completely retired senior dogs, two middle aged demo dogs, and the two, the nearly two and a half year old is my current, just barely post adolescent agility superstar in the making.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Erin, how about you?

Erin Lynes: Hi everyone, I'm Erin Lynes. I live in Quesnel,BC so I think I'm quite a bit more north than anybody else in this panel today. I've got a whole slew of Labrador retrievers in my family and one lone adorable adolescent Beagle. So my Labrador crew ranges in age from the youngest one will be one in January, so we're, we're sort of in the thick of it with Kenji. And then the oldest one is 14 years old, and then little Beagle Leroy will be two in May. So I'll probably be telling you a little bit about him today when we're talking about things adolescent.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. And Amy?

Amy Cook: I'm Amy Cook, I'm the developer of the Play Way and I've got a Marzipan Whippet who is retired and, and blind now, but wishes I could find some sort of job for her still, she never stops. And I have Caper, the Chihuahua terrier thing, small little 11 pound dog, who is my agility dog, who, and both of whom I had through their at least adolescence, if not part of puppy hood. And so I remember it well, and, and I think they are why I, I really love adolescence actually, and agility is the sport I love most.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. So since the topic of the day is adolescence, I thought it might make sense just to kind of start off by talking about why the topic matters. So what changes are typical or have you maybe seen in your own dogs as they've gone from kind of those baby puppies to these adolescent dogs? Megan?

Megan Foster: Sure. I kind of think of it as they know a little now about how the world works, but they think they know everything about how the world works. And so they're developing their worldview. They're maybe coming into some bigger feelings about things that they have exposure to. Like when they're puppies, they're, everything is neutral, and they're like, okay, whatever. Like, this is fine. But then they start to learn about things and they, what they like and what they don't like. So they have more feelings, they have more opinions than they did when they were puppies. And so we just can't, that, that's what it is to me, is that they think they know everything and they really don't know anything and we just have to survive to bridge that gap, huh. Together.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. What about you, Erin?

Erin Lynes: I, like Amy said, actually really enjoy adolescents with dogs. So I think that something that is interesting about adolescents is how things that maybe we're sort of neutral or uninteresting in their life up to that point suddenly become more interesting. So there's a little bit of like a rediscovery period, both for what the puppy is going through and how they're experiencing and perceiving the world, but also how we are experiencing our dogs and how we're, we're sort of in that new place where they're noticing new stuff. They're, maybe we're not the focus of their whole world anymore, which can hurt our feelings a little bit. Sometimes I'm sad that I'm not as cool as I used to be in comparison to the world around me for my dogs, but it also shows you maybe new aspects of their personality that are developing and, and how they relay that to the world around them. So there's, I think you can, I think you can really enjoy adolescence if you think of it from that perspective about how, how things become new again. So you've got another opportunity to reconnect with your puppy in new ways.

Melissa Breau: Amy?

Amy Cook: I, I think that in adolescence what I really, you know, think of it as is that they're going to go through big emotional changes and big opinion changes because they're getting big adult bodies and, and some bravery around what they can now do. They're not, they're not baby puppies anymore. And I love that every day is a different day. Every day is an adventure. It reminds you to stay not on the track you necessarily thought you were on, you know, when you woke up that day, what you were gonna do, what dog you had yesterday. There, there's more, you know, flexibility kind of built into the system. Who do I have today? A bit. And I think it's important because so often people are, are worried about this time their puppy left and their dog's gotten suspicious, and there's a whole bunch of changes and there's so much about this that's stay the course, you're okay, your, your dog is growing, it's gonna be fine. And that's not always the message we kind of bring out. So I'm really glad that we get to isolate adolescence and talk about it so that we can reassure people that it really is just a stage, it's a stage and there's a plan for it and you're gonna be fine.

Melissa Breau: Awesome, Julie?

Julie Daniels: Yep. I think they just all covered it perfectly. Yeah, I love adolescence and, and when I see it coming, of course it carries mixed emotions for the person. Just like there were so many mixed emotions in the dog and I love sympathizing with that brain that, you know, didn't notice something yesterday and today just blows up with alarm because like, who knew that was there and even though it had been there throughout their puppy hood and it was nothing to them, all of a sudden it's a big deal.

So thinking about planning ahead day by day, because like Amy said, like it's a different dog every day and you've really gotta just meet 'em where they are because their brains are all over the place processing things at a phenomenal rate. And their brains are, are guessing machines, trying to figure out where does this fit and how does it affect me? And how to categorize and catalog everything, which is what they're trying to do every single moment of every single day. So my, the biggest takeaway for me is when I see an interesting day coming up, shall we say, boy, just put on the long line again. Like, I don't care how that puppy followed you around as a baby. Like that's gone and it's certainly gone today and it is a different day by day, but we have to bring out, bring back all those maintenance good habits, the maintenance of good habits that we've already created and perhaps we thought we, you know, had installed pretty well and it's still in there. I think that's the thing to remember throughout adolescence. It's not like that perfect recall is gone, it's still in there, but it's just being overwritten by all this attraction to novelty that the adolescent naturally feels a healthy adolescent is drawn toward novelty.

So it's good to remember that, just prepare for it, refresh all the things that you thought they already knew. And like Amy said, like, don't worry about it. It's a phase. It's a phase and how we handle it, handling it with, you know, preparation, good preparation and patience and meeting 'em wherever they are right now today, that's the best way to get through adolescence. Might as well enjoy it.

Melissa Breau: That leads us perfectly into our next question, which is, you know, kind of what, if anything do you do to prepare for this phase of your dog's life? Are there skills or expectations you kind of think about in advance training plan tweaks? Kind of how do you approach it? Erin?

Erin Lynes: Expectations that are flexible is very helpful and, and not being afraid to take two steps back. So when that new dog appears out of adolescence and you're, you're seeing all these behaviors maybe you didn't see before, avoid panic reactions. It's not necessarily permanent. These phases that they go through through adolescences are just, are, are just a blip on the radar.

So like Julie said, put your long line back on it. Maybe today's not an off leash day. Maybe that spooky stranger is going to be someone we don't visit today. You might find yourself revisiting training locations that you've already used before. Recycle those things as new places because your adolescent dog is noticing new things about them for the first time.

And a little familiarity doesn't hurt. So just being, just being open to the idea that it's not going to be necessarily a steady upward climb on building skills. You're gonna be going back a few steps here and there to revisit things and, and not worrying about that too much. It's normal, it's part of the process. All puppies have some sort of regression some aspect and it's not, it's, it's not going to be the end of the world. You're gonna get through it. For me already, having established myself as somebody that the puppy trusts to make good decisions is something I really try and set up in advance. So any situation while we're, while the little one is growing up where I can show them that I make good decisions, that doesn't put them into a scary place, it doesn't overwhelm them is something I hope that we can fall back on later on during adolescence when times get tough. So that's probably the main pillar of what I wanna be building in preparation for adolescence.

Melissa Breau: Amy?

Amy Cook: Well, you know, for me it's about, you know, I care less about for the most part exactly which skills they're doing really well. You know, precision wise as you know, part of my larger goals for them. And I think about it a lot as how are you in environments that I bring you into? What is your emotional life like for you? What is your relationship to your own arousal? Can you handle, you know, being excited about things without kind of losing control of that? What, you know, what is your emotional landscape and how are you taking in the world that I bring you into? So in preparation for that, I want really good interaction skills with my dog, good interactions so that I can read where they are right now, right? My interaction with them will be as assessment, how are you feeling? Can you do what I'm asking you to do? Can you play with me right now? If not, do I need to give you some time to settle where we are? If I come in with a prearranged idea, we're gonna work on these things, I want my dog to know these things here, then I might not be really tuned into how are you feeling where we are right now? Can you do some of this fun stuff we do together so that I can assess how you're feeling right now? It's really important for me not to have dogs overwhelmed, right? And I think it's important for all of us. We don't want our dogs overwhelmed, but if you don't go in with a plan of how you're going to assess overwhelm instead of maybe cover the overwhelm by doing fun things, you know, I want to kind of unveil, I wanna reveal that there's some overwhelm so I can make good decisions for my dog emotionally. So, you know, that period is about am I reading you accurately? Am I supporting you well? Am I giving you the right things to do in the right environments more than what you can do dog?

What, you know, preparation. Have you had like what, what preparation have I put into it to make sure I'm reading you well? Because I want to make sure that my main goals are achieved. That you have emotional safety, you, you are safe where you are, you can think through things where you are, you're not overwhelmed.

And that I have a lot of ways of having fun with you that assesses that because, because after that, whatever behaviors I particularly want, those are, those are just gonna fall in line. Like, you know, that's the relatively easy work. I don't mean to minimize that, but it's the, it's the more straightforward work of raising your dog than the emotional preparation really is. So that's how I see it.

Melissa Breau: Awesome Julie?

Julie Daniels: Hmm. Yeah. So I'll take this opportunity to mention a category 'cause you mentioned skills that you start when they're a baby that maybe you're gonna either revisit or continue with. And one of the skill sets if you will, that didn't make it into my presentation but I wanted it to was, is the potty skillset.

We haven't talked about that like developing when the dog is a puppy, the potty routine and, and when we, how long we go overnight, what time we get up in the morning, what time of day this and that and everything else, how we go pee, can you go pee the four permutations on leash, off leash at home and away from home?

And I find that boy nothing falls apart in adolescence quicker than the potty skillset. And it is a skillset, it's very important in terms of traveling and daily life and sports and all that stuff with your dog. So refreshing, all of that I think is really important. And as it's not just girls that mark in adult, I mean it's not just boys that mark, I've had lots of female dogs that mark right up where they're with the best of the boys and that bit about when to mark, like we go pee first and then we do this or that and then maybe we have free pee sniff time after the work session. One of my dogs in adolescence was a terrible marker in a search area in nosework when she became an an adolescent, something that never occurred to her as a puppy, you take him to pee, you go do the nosework thing and then you know, you take him to pee or socialize again afterwards. And boy that just fell apart in adolescence and all of a sudden we were marking all of the search areas, which as you can imagine is very unpopular in the nosework crowd.

So like it became a whole training regimen. Like I got a certain harness for her, a fleece harness that I put on her when we were ready to go to the search area. So first we'd go out to the pee sniffing thing, you know, that every adolescent really needs acclimation is so important for an adolescent. Then put the harness on, go to the search area, no peeing happens with that harness on ever. And as soon as we're done searching, take that harness off and go back to peeing and sniffing. And I had to maintain that pretty much throughout that dog's adolescence to make sure I could control the potty skillset in scenarios where adolescent dogs often, you know, lose their minds and lose their good manners. So I'll just mention that one as one example.

Melissa Breau: I love that example. Megan, what about you?

Megan Foster: Yeah, so this is the part where going last is like everything that they said, so I'll try to summarize, but when they're puppies it is like Amy was saying about getting to know them and what they're like and how they react to things and how they deal with their own feelings and their relationship to arousal and then how the skills that I'm building with them around those things.

So, and like Erin was saying, trust in me that I know things I know cool stuff you can always count on me building some desire for the things that I have to offer them because when they hit that adolescence and they start thinking of other things like when I'm not as important, if I have some things that they also really like that I can convince them that I'm cool still that's important.

So like really making sure that, you know, can, keeping their interest in food and or toys depending on the dog, keeping that really high. Teaching them some management skills when they don't need them, right? Teach those management skills when they're puppies and it's just fun for them. 'cause what else are you gonna do with a puppy? Teach them precision heeling? No.

So teach them some management skills, teach them some self-regulation skills, teach them how to get excited over something and then come back down and get excited over something and come back down so that when they don't have as much control over those things during adolescence, you can help guide them back through that concept of, oh yeah, you do know how to do these things and I'm still cool and we're still cool and this is going to be okay.

But I'm always, you have to always be open to tweaking and adjusting and you know, setting expectations that aren't for s mostly for yourself that if you misjudged what your puppy could do that day, you are not a loser and you can try again tomorrow and it's going to be okay. So if, so not only putting like reasonable expectations on your puppy, make sure you're putting reasonable expectations on yourself because we also all have lives and things to do. Even though it feels like we're supposed to center our lives around said puppy. We know that that's not possible to do a hundred percent of the time. And so just do the best you can and it is going to be okay. I love the reminder that we have to look at our expectations of ourselves as well as not just our, not just our expectation of the dog. I think can get a little bit outta hand sometimes of what we expect from other trainers or even what, like we're all instructors and like leaders, right? They're looking to us. And so sometimes it can look like we're doing perfectly a hundred percent of the time and that is not the case at all, right? Sometimes the adolescent just goes in the crate with the chew and I can't deal with it right now. Right? Like we all just like need a break sometimes. So it's a cumulative experience, not an everyday reset.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, yeah. And it's a super good reminder. So I think it's not really an accident, right? That a lot of shelters end up full of dogs who are kind of in this age group. So what kind of naughty behaviors, I know Julie already mentioned marking, do we see kind of pop up during adolescence and what, what kind of falls into that they'll grow out of this and what falls into that? Ooh, this is, this is a hint. We might have something bigger going on here and we need to design a training plan to deal with this kind of category. How do you decide, how do you look at some of those behaviors and kind of figure that out as your dog becomes the adult dog that they're working towards. Amy?

Amy Cook: Well, you know, it's funny to think of behaviors as naughty, right? Because you know, those of us who are on the panel, we know that that's really not what's going on. But that's what it really feels like if you weren't expecting any changes, you know, from your dog. And, and so often when you get a puppy, especially if it's, you know, has been a fairly easy puppy, you think you've done training that you haven't, or you know, your puppy's been in a stage where they're not maybe brave enough to go do what you're going to label naughty.

And so they're not doing those things and you think you got that one, you know, for free and you didn't. And I think that naughtiness is often about a dog just having interests now and following them. And so did you leave a bunch of doors open to interest? Did you leave a bunch of food on the counter that this is when you're gonna start seeing, you know, your dog just take, you know, taking initiative. But we're also, I think, not used to funneling behaviors to getting to, into getting good ones. I think we think too much about that. We've trained this, my dog doesn't do this 'cause I've trained them not to do this or trained them to do this. And actually they were giving you that for free or if you were really mindful about this, you're funneling them toward exactly what you want to see from them, right? We're funneling them into potty training by preventing them from doing it any other places and funneling them toward the outside or we're funneling no counter surfing. 'cause we didn't put any food up there we're, we're proactively thinking about it. And so I think the, the, that's not exactly the answer.

It's kind of what I'm thinking about, you know, about naughtiness and what we see in this space. So if I see things that are a dog taking some initiative, if I see things a, a dog having a new opinion about something they didn't have an opinion about before, I'm really just not going to worry about it. I'm gonna set my scenario up so that I'm getting the behaviors I most want and I'm going to stay the course and kind of ride that out.

I expect a dog to be suspicious of new things at this point. They've never seen that. Now they're like, well, I don't know if I like it. Like, that's all right. You can have that opinion. I'm not going to panic about this. I want people not to panic about this and I'm really gonna look for, if I need to design a training plan, I'm gonna look for, is this because I can't funnel this right now and just be getting good behaviors from how I'm setting things up. Do I need to train this? And then if it comes to the, the barking thing or the I I'm worried a little bit emotionally about my dog, I'm really gonna look for patterns. I wanna see transient behaviors in an adolescent. If I start seeing very consistent, strong opinions about something that I'd, I'd like to change their opinion about, that's when I'm gonna start thinking about a plan. Because mostly I know that every day is a new day or every week is a new week with a dog. And so I'm not immediately gonna jump to a training plan. I'm gonna jump to can I funnel this? Can I just channel this dog in the way they need to go before I worry about it too much? And, and that, that would be my line. How, how is the consistency going and what can I control versus what can I, what do I have to teach the dog to do? How are you kind of thinking about consistency there?

Are you thinking like five days in a row or are you thinking this has happened now for three weeks? I mean, You know, I wish there was one recipe and and and maybe the other trainers on the panel have one that would be great. Everyone's like, no, no one has. The answer for me is like, let's say they're, you know, barking at a person, right? That's one of our fears. Oh no, they're gonna be afraid of people. I immediately start to pare down and say, did I just present some overwhelm to them? Is it because it was too much too soon? So I'll emphasize our friends and I'll keep strangers at a little further of a distance so they can take those things in and I'll do some different scenario.

I'll do some different environments so I'm not sort of repeating what it was that happened, so I'm not working on it or anything. And then if I see, yeah, that was transient, good, I'll keep it, I'll keep the scenarios being transient and if I find, oh no, this, this whole new place, even with some distance, I'm still seeing some keying in embarking, okay, another data point, let me change a few more things, be more casual. Oh look, another data point, we're still getting this, even though I've removed some pressure and I've added some familiarity, I still see my dog having some opinion here. Then I might start thinking, all right, do I, do I really have something that, that I, that I missed from before? But mostly with those changes, dogs just go, oh, that was, I didn't really have that opinion anyway. I don't, I don't know what I was barking at. It's gone.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, I don't know if other, if the rest of you think the same, the same way about it Julie.

Julie Daniels: Yeah, I very much feel the same way about it. It and the fact that the adolescent brain is so quickly and easily frustrated because it struggles. So with the huge amount of data that it has to process and even data that it's already processed before that we think they were done with, they are seeing completely differently. So, you know, when you end up with the poor adolescent is trying to fit a hundred new data points into this limited experience excel spreadsheet they've got going on about life, it can be really hard for them. Very frustrating. So if I think about what are some of the most common things that do land adolescents into shelters and things that are relevant to most of us who wanna have a normal and varied life with our dogs, with or without dogs forts, I think of traveling and most of all I think about separation.

So it's really common for little puppies to just sleep in a crate with a chewy. And then, when puppies are young, like when their nickels up, it's up and it doesn't even matter what they're doing, who they're with, who's holding them, like blah, they're just asleep no matter what. But the adolescents got a whole lot more stay awake stamina, especially if his little brain is, you know, all twisted up with problems that he's processing and things that he's working on in his head and they're so in their heads you might say. But, so separation is something where I would say, Melissa, you are asking like, is this a space or is this a make a training plan that's a make a training plan when you see distress from your adolescent simply because he's been put in a crate with a chew boy, it may not be the right time for you to work on it right now, but that's gotta be a red flag that goes into your training plan for the future. So you start, you bring that crate for example, into the kitchen and while you're cooking, like anybody who goes in a crate gets, you know, a piece of hamburger dropped in the back of the crate. So it's time to start working on barrier, frustration, potential issues and separation potential issues to head them off. If I think about one thing that lands a dog in a shelter on a regular basis and adolescence is usually the time when that crops up, it would be a separation issues.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, it's definitely a huge category of problems, right? If our dogs can't be where we're not. Megan?

Megan Foster: Yeah, so mostly like do I train it or do I let them grow out of it isn't really the question because if they're rehearsing it, they won't grow out of it. Whether they no longer have those feelings that are driving it later, like I think what we're, they probably will grow out of those feelings, but the behavior may still exist right out of habit, just this is what it is. So my like metric is because a lot of naughty behaviors can also be cute when they're babies, right? So I just go is this, and you know, today we take a picture of the naughty and we are like, ah, fine, do that, whatever. But then visualize that picture as your four year old or seven year old or you know, especially in these bigger breeds, when your puppy's small, this is maybe very cute when they are full grown full feelings, full everything. Is this still cute? If it's not cute, you might want to start making plans to change this.

But in everything, if you're seeing a behavior you don't want to see, there needs to be some adjusting like Amy was saying about, okay, well they're having some feelings about people we need to adjust so that they don't continue to rehearse that reha reaction, even if that's all it takes to modify that behavior long term. And you might find that as you are trying to modify it, you realize that this is a bigger issue and is going to take a more extensive training plan. But for like general naughty stuff, it's also like, yeah, most of it is normal. They're just getting curious and experiencing things. So the normal stuff I just go, is this gonna be cute? Is this, do I want this behavior? Oh, okay, take one photo and then we're gonna move on and hopefully reroute these behaviors to something I will want to see when they're an adult.

Melissa Breau: Erin, how about you?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, I was triggered by Megan's photo op comment. As a breeder, when I get a puppy that is in a photographic moment of doing something that I know that they will not appreciate in like two years,

I'm like, oh, oh, not the photo. But I actually, I agree with a lot of that. If it's not cute later, probably don't encourage it now. And I like to, I like to prevent rehearsal of things that are troublesome. So that's always my, my first layer of defense against any behavior that is not agreeing with what I want long-term or what I want in that moment.

It's all like, how can I, how can I get this to not happen right away again? And if I'm finding that it's really hard to prevent that behavior from happening again, then that's probably trading plan territory there. I used to work in a shelter, so I kind of think that a lot of the reasons that we see dogs in this like eight month to one year old age group being turned into shelters are probably not things that are our usual FDSA demographic audience would have the same response to.

I think that probably our circle is going to be able to work through a lot of those same challenges, but in general, a lot of the things that are behaviors you seem to get for free as puppies, I think that I was talking about this, like they'll follow you off leash. So they're leash trained and they're, they've got a good recall and then they're eight months old and they don't need you anymore.

You're not that cool. And all of a sudden it's like, he used to do this, he was trained, now he's not trained anymore. And it's like, well he was never trained, he just, you were the only thing interesting when he was little. So at that age you start to see a lot of revelations about behaviors that weren't really trained that you, you kind of were able to cope with easier because they were small or because the puppy didn't have any other interests. So being kind of proactive as we are, as more nerdy dog people, we are probably already reinforcing those sorts of behaviors and already putting money into the bank account for things we want to see more of and being a little proactive.

I do feel like, you know, this demographic, we can probably be a little less stressed about upcoming adolescents, even though the stats about problem behaviors occurring at that adolescent age are sad for dogs. Like that's a, that's a tough time to be a dog in the average pet home, but we're, we're already doing all the things. You're taking classes, you're taking your puppy out socializing them, you're already aware of their emotional state and how to monitor it. So those are all pluses for people to keep in mind. It's like you're, you're already a few steps ahead of the game here. People don't, don't worry.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough.

Amy Cook: If I could piggyback on…

Melissa Breau: Yeah, go for it.

Amy Cook: That something that both of you mentioned, is the malleability of the, of the behavior. Like am I, can I immediately change it by just changing a few parameters? And if so, great, that's how I'm gonna, I'm gonna assess this as this is probably just a temporary, you had an opinion and if I really can't shift it if you aren't really responding very well to just kind of immediate or casual changes, that's kind of an indicator I think people can, can put in their, put in their heads. Because if I, if I remove some pressure or change the environment and I don't get in kind of an immediate change of opinion and you've kept your opinion, I might start to think, huh, you actually are afraid here. You weren't just startled by that or you didn't just have a strong opinion, but without much emotion behind it. You are, you are showing the same behavior and I can't really change your mind about it casually and quickly that would start to give me some pause. So the assessing, like you don't have to just read your dog about it. You can say, I've tried to change it and I'm not getting what I expect as a trainer. So that's one thing to kind of anchor yourself if you're not sure.

Melissa Breau: I like that addition. So one of the things that's kind of come up a couple times as we've been talking about this is the idea of like novelty, right? And the interest in novelty, but also like new things can be scary. So how do, how do you kind of judge how much newness to introduce to your particular dog at this age, right? Do you continue to kind of expose them to new places and new things? Do you shrink their world a little bit and kind of take them places that they've been before and have them re-see things that they've seen before? Anything you avoid, anything you do more of? Why? Julie?

Julie Daniels: This is one of my absolute favorite areas of training and what I always advise my students in this adolescent phase is that you wanna, you want as much novelty as they can carry, but you don't want difficulty, you want variety instead of difficulty. So everybody, not just, not just people with adolescence, but we all have this tendency when we're training to make things harder and harder and they can do this.

So now let's do this and let's do this and let's increase the distraction level. And that is not a good training strategy for an adolescent brain. You just doomed to, you know, meet a point of defeat that's gonna cause either a fear response or a full blown confusion over arousal response. So I think that that's what you wanna avoid. You ask anything that you would avoid, let's avoid the fear response and within the parameter of nothing is scary. I would also say nothing is too difficult, too challenging, then I want as much novelty as possible. But particularly we can't do everything. So we particularly want to expose the dogs to things that they're going to meet in our lives together. So in the way that I intend to live my life with that dog, the kind of sports we wanna do, for example, the kind of traveling we wanna do, it's time in adolescence to introduce at a very low key level and non overstimulating level, you wanna start introducing those aspects of potential life. So I'm always saying, here's just a wild example, I'm always saying to my Empowerment students, I want within the dog's own home, you need to change out one familiar non-threatening item and put it out of place in the training space, in the space, whatever it is. So for example, the dog sees you handling the tea kettle every single day. Well put that down on the carpet, just put it down, put it down and let the dog investigate that. And people always say, well he already knows the tea kettle, I use it every day. Okay, that's why we're using that, but we're putting it out of place. So a familiar item out of place in the environment every single day. And what happens is if you can do it once a day, you can do it three times a day. I think it is possible to overdo it.

I'm always asked that question, yes, I think you can make it so that you know, nothing can be counted on, that's not fair. So maybe up to a few times a day, but if you just do it once a day, just think about that the dog's an adolescent for about a year that's 365 novel non-threatening, fun curiosity responses that are extremely helpful in the going forward into adulthood. So that's what you want is a curiosity response. You do not want a fear or an alarmist response. So I hope that's helpful.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And Megan, you were nodding, so go ahead.

Megan Foster: Yes. Oh my gosh, yes. All of that. So I'm just gonna like continue those thoughts of, yeah, I'm not seeking out brand new experiences I'm seeking in certain, and I'm, I might be seeking some new things or new versions of something that's still familiar. So the training group that I work with on Saturdays, during the nice weather months, we rotate locations where we meet up in practice in public parks. So they all kind of are, they look the same and I'm bringing the same people and the same dogs, but there's just enough novelty that they're, but there's enough context that they're like, oh yeah, we're good here. My people are here, my friends are here, this is great if I'm going to, you know, build more skills or build new skills, I'm gonna do that at home. I'm gonna do that where they're not having open tabs about things.

And then totally what Julie was saying about taking those very familiar, very safe environments and changing one thing about them. So obviously at home it's easy to do, but I was also doing it on my agility field where it was usually just me and her going, everything's the same. I would change one thing, like maybe my coat was on the wing or my coat was on the ground, or my coat's hanging from the tree. That's weird. Like why would you put a coat in the tree? Like, so just changing one thing every time you, you go out to train in your training space or one thing in your house. The, those are the types of things and like as in terms of like how difficult it is if you're, if the adolescent is acting as if nothing has changed, then I would like, maybe you're not, maybe you are doing something, maybe you're not doing anything like that example of changing one thing in the house, the terrier never noticed, nor did he ever care, he doesn't care. But like Julie, you have Border collies, so you know that this is important.

I have Border collies, I know that this is important. They are very aware of things changing in their environment for good and bad. So like raising Sprint, she notices everything that changes, even if I don't. So those things are gonna be more or less important depending on the dog you have. So I'm not, I'm not looking for an overreaction,

right? I don't want that fear response, I don't want the frustration response, but I would like to see them notice it and go, that's fine and move on. That's kind of how I know that I'm in the good spot for any training at any age. But especially important when they're adolescents because when they're older and you have a training relationship, that training relationship can usually take the hit if you mess up and they overreact or they get a little frustrated.

But when they're in this adolescence phase and they're not totally convinced that you know everything, they're right. Remember the term was they think they know everything. So my job is to not, I don't want them to be right about some things that they have ideas about. Right? And so that's my job is making sure that they're developing the worldview that I want them to have. And so it's more important there is a little bit more pressure to avoid those overreactions because they don't have the history of trusting me to be able to survive that withdraw.

Melissa Breau: That makes a lot of sense. Erin? Thoughts?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, building on those thoughts. I think we often inherently know that avoiding like a big fearful response to something is a good idea. We don't want that rehearsed and we don't want, we just don't want our dogs to be scared. But in adolescence, I also want to avoid those extremely over the top excited, over aroused responses too. So like in my wheelhouse is dock diving and my young adolescent dog is like, this is the greatest thing that's ever happened. I am screaming and dragging into the pool and I'm like, we are definitely not dock diving today. So a little bit of caution on that end of things as well, because rehearsal is not good there either. And the bigger and stronger and more opinionated they get, the more that becomes part of the picture, the context for those sorts of things. And it's not just sports stuff, right? Like it's adolescent dogs seeing other dogs on the street that suddenly they desperately want to play with.

I like I come from a world of very friendly, hearty breeds, labs and the beagle, their usual overreaction is like towards something with great gusto. And that can be just as much of a problem as the fearful response. So just be aware of those responses too. And when you need to, maybe now's a good time to start working on more neutral behaviors, ignoring things that are very exciting, working at a distance from things that are overwhelmingly joyful, that sort of thing. So just, just another perspective on that one. I think it's so useful to consider the fact that different dogs are different, right? And like, we'd actually need to look at what our breed tendencies are a little bit and what our particular dog's tendencies are a little bit and kind of absorb those into our plan.

Melissa Breau: Amy?

Amy Cook: Yeah, a hundred percent. I think, Erin, you make a good point that, you know, exposing dogs to everything as people I often think they need to do really introduces a lot of competing reinforcers and makes everything into Disneyland or, or risks making everything into Disneyland. And it's worth being measured about, you know, your newness quotient and what you're trying to introduce. And I think that, you know, I agree with everyone that familiarity is really the piece you want to introduce newness. Not that everything is new, but that one thing is new and or you know, whatever, one, or serve a few things. And I feel like because I work so much in urban environments, I'm really not seeing that I can change, you know, one thing very often or you know, or just a handful of things. And so how I've been mentally kinda conceiving it as or approaching it is that I want a lot of familiar things I can do with my dog. A lot of familiar things to interact over that, you know, games that we always do, games that are easy, games that are low, low pressure or just ways of reinforcing ways that we interact over food and toys. So that, you know, and, and things that I know they like to do when relaxed. So I can really read what they think the newness quotient is of the things around me. 'Cause maybe they're looking at individual things, maybe they're not, maybe they're taking a lot of things in, right? The buses going by or the people across the park or whatever it might be that I can't control. So I want as much familiarity there as I can get. And that's gonna be in how I interact or what I brought or what we're gonna do. Are we just doing fun, simple, easy things rather than are we having school? I don't wanna have school if I have a lot of new potentially around you from the environment that I couldn't control. You know, I want to measure my processing load. I don't wanna be the processing load if you have a lot that you're processing. So it's not gonna be me that you're processing, I'm familiar and in that way I really encourage people to have some training groups. We rush to work alone or we just tend to work alone. And then, you know, if you had training to you, right? As Megan mentioned, you've brought now a bunch of people and a bunch of dogs or a bunch of props or a bunch of rituals to a new place.

If the new place is a lot to process, well you, you brought a lot of things that are, that are from home, so to speak, which I think is very supportive. And then, you know, as far as like braid goes, y'all made really good points. I can tell you that the whippet never cared visually about putting the, the vacuum cleaner in a different place or hanging a coat anywhere. Never ever noticed, never cared. But training could be impacted by, by changes or by changes of where we are, right? She never looked like there was a single reaction in her placid self, but interaction would show, you know, I can't do this here today, I don't know why.

Or I'd rather, I'd rather just lay here quietly. It's like, nah, that's a change in you, right? But the terrier visually absolutely noticed everything and totally cared that that was new and wanted to clock that and process it and, and check everything out. But training, quote unquote wasn't impacted, right? So she'd do all the things we could do,

absolutely take all the foods that I wanted to give her, do I could, I could just make it so that she didn't look like she was impacted by the environment, but if I didn't do the training, I could absolutely see that she was so, so it, it really kind of does matter who you have. If they're, if their processing is gonna show immediately in their behavior, that's a piece that you can seek out. You can look for that, don't obliterate that with training, but if processing isn't gonna show in their bodies, maybe assess it through training, throw training at them so you can see that their responses are different. A very non-reactive sort of dog needs you to look for it. And the quote unquote reactive, responsive sort of dog is gonna show you as long as you don't obliterate it.

So kind of assess the sort of verve you have in your dog. Are they, are they that kind of dog or are they the, you know, in the, in the no, no, everything's fine type in which case you might have to inquire, you know, how are you doing actually with where you are? So always have good assessment possibilities.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, I like that. All right, so I've got one last question here, and then we give everybody kind of a chance to just kind of wrap up their thoughts. This one's kind of, because I personally find it really interesting. So if, I would love to have you each kind of just think back to your most recent adolescent and what a day in the life kind of looked like for them. What was typical? I think people often really worried that they're doing too much or that they're doing not enough or they just have, you know, all those anxieties around life with their next potential sport dog. And I just kinda wanna hear how you each approach it. Megan?

Megan Foster: Yeah, I would say that her, like obviously the routine and everything didn't change much because I live and die by my routines and therefore so do my dogs.

But I think probably like in the balance of life skills versus sports skills, the scales kind of tipped in the direction of life skills during the adolescent period. I was just cataloging some training videos from last year and there's like, in the agility side of things, there's a big gap right around like 10 or 11 months. There's not very many, but in the life, like there's a ton. Like, so obviously the balance was a little bit more towards like, how are you in this environment and how are you in that environment and, and things like that. So maybe she got trained a little bit more because the sessions had to be shorter, they were more sporadic, oh, we're gonna run errands, that parking lot looks ideal, let's go do, let's go see if you can chew a chewy there. You know, little things like that. So something very easy, something very familiar, but mostly everything was the same. I was just adjusting more frequently maybe because everything is changing so quickly when they're in this period.

Melissa Breau: Erin?

Erin Lynes: Yeah, very similar. So, a big emphasis on life skills during adolescence here too. It does vary a little bit from puppy to puppy. So like often when I get to be in that eight to 10 months age with the lab puppies, Kenji is my youngest lab puppy and I'm like, what are you gonna do with your life? We can start to think about what sort of sports you might be interested in and sort of starting to train those things a little bit more.

But at the same time, the things that hold him back from being able to go into more serious sports training aren't the sports skill stuff. It's the, oh my goodness, can you even keep your brain on around other dogs? Are you going to be able to work when there's people nearby? So all of our training sessions right now are like, about the elements of sports that are going to be more difficult for him but they're also, those are also just like life skills. Like walking down the street is the same level of difficulty as trying to do something in a, in a group class for him. So what I'm really working on with him is finding that sweet spot between distraction and challenging environments and making sure that he's at an, at a place where he can cope for training.

And little Leroy the beagle. So his adolescence has been a little bit different, so he notices new things in the environment and he yells about them. So that's embarrassing. But it's also been a very good training experience for me with a new breed and finding out that when kind of Amy was talking about the dogs, who will let you know versus the ones who won't, he'll tell you exactly what is going on in his little brain at that time. So I have to work pretty hard with him to still be cool. And his sports skills actually, if we're training in a, in a familiar environment, he's progressing really fast. He learns things so fast, he's a little genius. And I start, my, my hopes start to rise and I'm like, all right, we're waking, we're making ground here. And then when we start to introduce a little bit of a new environment, oh, there's the beagle yelling again. So basically it's all coming back to how, how what they already know can translate to new environments and making sure that all of the stuff that would happen outside of the ring is going to be okay because that's sort of the barometer that even lets you think about getting into the ring, if that makes sense. So yeah, a disproportionate amount of training going towards the less sexy behaviors at this time, for sure. Amy, I think that what I'm looking for day of the lifestyle is, is a, is interestingly contrasted with, with what Megan said in that I'm not a routine kind of person and I'm looking for kind of specifically kind of proactively, I'm changing routines a lot, changing how the day's going, changing what your day is gonna be like dog. And partly 'cause that's how it's gonna be. And partly because I want to know, I wanna find the things you're telling me you can't do, you can't be flexible on if I change this and you go, no, it should be this way.

I'm like, oh, thank you for revealing to me that opinion because I need, I actually need you to be flexible on that. And I'm seeing that, that, you know, that's not what you're, what you're coming to me with. And so it highlights for me stuff I wanna work on. I don't wanna get boxed in. I'm not saying anyone said they do, I just mean I don't want to, to find out later that, that I've been a little consistent with something such that now I don't have the flexibility in it that I want. So I build in flexibility and, and changes to see how my dog is doing with, with that to, and to look for strong opinions in case I didn't know they were there.

I, and, and often what I get, what I get trapped in, forget to do as a trainer is I forget to have my dogs put away while I'm home. I put them away while I know I'm going somewhere and they're fine. And you know, I find out later in life, I had a couple of dogs back later in life that if I just had to put her away and she wasn't gonna be involved in stuff in the house because she had manners and it was fine and never had to, she's like, wait a minute, you don't, you don't put me away and then not go anywhere. Right? So like, I, well I didn't realize I hadn't asked out of her, right? So I'm always looking for, what, what can't I do? What do you not want me to do? Schedule-wise. And then as far as a routine or you know, or sorry, as far as a what is their day kind of looking like? I tend to try to say, can I take you somewhere new today? 'cause you're an adolescent, you're not a puppy, right? This is a, you know, a year old or a nine month old dog. Can I take you somewhere new today?

And, and that's usually something on my general route. So you're coming with me for my day in general probably and or at least part of it. And so is there somewhere new you kind of haven't seen that's just a little different. I'll take you to that place, a parking lot near something I'm going to or whatever. And then I'll also try to do on that day somewhere that you've been somewhere easy and familiar so that you can have safe exploration time where you're not processing a lot of newness.

Maybe it's new smells, but you've been there before. So I want that for their own mental health. So because I have to manufacture that enough in an urban environment, I'm always looking for where have we been before so that you can just go there again. But where haven't we been? So I can see, you know, how you're doing with some, the slight amount of newness more often as life goes on. I just find myself more interested in growing up my dog rather than starting all the things and getting all the skills and, you know, I wanna look for strong opinions so that either I can use them, you know, for, for fun reasons, you really love this. Great. I'd love to know that you love this. I can work with that. Or I wanna look for rigidity, strong opinions and rigidity so I can build in some flexibility if I need it. And then as far as sports goes, you know, I wanna, I wanna mature animal that's, you know, feeling good in every environment.

So I'm thinking about, do I have good reinforcement skills so we can have fun together? That's what I want. And do I have good focus and I'm not gonna train that. So I'm just looking for where are you on, how important I am and how fun I am. And from, from there, we've built adulthood and, and kind of you coast at that point, and then, then you're installing all the skills you kind of want. I know that there are skills people put in earlier maybe than I do, but I want to focus most on how is your emotional life going? Because then I've put the investment in and I know I can put in skills later, but I know that that's not always the way everybody assembles their dog, but that's kind of how I see it right now.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Julie, what about you?

Julie Daniels: Well, let's see, a day in the life, my days do not look like each other. And I have a shifting and often unpredictable schedule. So my dogs are not ritualized at all. They, by the time they get to adolescence, they do not know what time dinner is. Just like everybody else. They start, you know, hopefully looking for it maybe sooner than it happens, but it does not happen at the same time every day. So for me personally, just because of how I live, it's important that my dogs are, like Amy's talking about, pretty flexible about how the day might go and what might happen when, so they're not concerned about that. But one thing I have tried to put in early in life, so before adolescence would be an introduction to whatever sport and activity that I want us to do together. And so I need that to carry through at adolescents so that when they meet the high arousal, the over arousal phase of adolescence that just sort of has big feelings about everything, my sport will still be relevant to them and still be looked at with a very strong desire to participate. So I would not want my adolescent to be thinking of charging off doing something else because a car pulls up when we are in the middle of a training session on the field that would say to me, oh, I'm no longer relevant. My sport is no longer relevant. The dog would much rather chase a car, for example. Or, you know, see who's coming up the driveway. So that's really, really important to me. And what I'm going to try to do is maintain my relevance and also build into the training. Like I think it was Megan who talked about your balance shifts a little bit from sports skills to life skills.

And I do think that's important, but I think they're not mutually exclusive. Of course, I'm sure we all know that, but there are many, many life skills that help you so much with sports skills. So for example, I start building in one thing specifically start button behaviors. So which are polite and cooperative and which are away from my adolescent to communicate that they would like to have access to whatever activity it is that, you know, we're gonna do together. So it might be going for a hike outside, but it might be, you know, agility training or something like that. So I want to build in start button behaviors, meaning a freely offered way for the dog to communicate to me with their body language through a behavior that they would like to do the thing.

So that helps me a great deal when adolescence hits and the dog becomes over aroused about, you know, a sudden unexpected stimulus in the environment. I still, I may not have a dog who's biddable in doing that sport, but I have a dog for whom the sport is still relevant. The focus narrows the dog's like, I need to do this right now.

And he can communicate that to me and then I have a chance of competing with the environment with my over aroused Adolescent. So I hope that's useful.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. So I wanna just give everybody kind of a chance to kind of round out their thoughts or share any final thoughts you may have or key points you kinda wanna leave listeners with before we kind of call it for today.

Melissa Breau: So Erin, any final thoughts? Anything you wanna leave folks with?

Erin Lynes: Sure. Yeah. So expect some challenges in adolescents but maybe train yourself to look at them a little bit more optimistically than what we normally think about for adolescents. So it's a, it's another fun period where you get to remeet your dog, their, your puppy is growing up in a new way, developing new interests. You get to challenge yourself a little bit with finding new ways to still be the cool dog trainer that they appreciated so much in Puppyhood. And generally everything all works out well. So don't like surround yourself by help when you need it, but don't get too alarmed when you see challenging behaviors. It's all part of the growing up process.

And if you think back to when you were a human teenager, you probably think about things you went through that seemed to very big at the time and now are just a little hilarious blip in your memory. And we can imagine that our dogs have those same settings when they go through adolescence too.

Melissa Breau: I like that. Amy?

Amy Cook: I would say first of all, don't panic. Never panic. Everything's fine. You know, adolescence is my favorite time. It, it really is. I mean, puppies are cute, but puppies are also, you know, a lot of logistical work and adolescence is where you're really, you know, growing your dog into who they're gonna be. And it's my favorite, my, I know this is early, early adolescence, but I sort of secretly wish dogs would freeze at like the five, five to six month mark. I just love them then I, I really do. And so it, you know, look for what's still, you know, what's amazing at a time, if you're feeling challenged and you feel like it's, it's trying focus on the optimism that your dog is really bringing to life, even if they're also bringing a lot of, you know, varied opinions. They're, they're still, they still think everything is amazing. And that's inspiring. It's really fun to raise a dog who's, who's in that stage and along the don't panic, it's temporary. Just tell yourself these things are temporary. These things are just are today and I can change what today is a little bit and I can see who they have tomorrow. And, and remember that adult do they get adult bodies very, very fast, but they don't get adult brains very, very fast at all. So even though your dog looks like an adult, your dog is a, is a baby in there. And keep your sense of humor intact and your sense of inspiration intact and, and look for what's really, really good about adolescence. 'cause soon adulthood will kick in and, and you'll just kind of be on a steady course. And that's, that's a, that's a different, that's a different time. So love your adolescent dog because it's, for me, it's the best, it's the best part of them.

Melissa Breau: Julie?

Julie Daniels: Yeah, for sure what they said. Adolescent brains take a long time to develop. It's somewhere around two years old, but who knows when it is exactly for any individual. And in the meantime, the beauty of the adolescent brain is that it defaults to neuroplasticity. It's good at creating new neural pathways and the circuitry is not so deeply grooved. You know that you've got an unsolvable problem already.

Highly unlikely that you have an unsolvable problem already, simply because the adolescent really is more plastic in the head, more, more open to suggestions, so to speak in the neural circuitry. So it's, it's not a time to be worried that oh no, it's, he's already set in his ways that is really doubtful during the period of adolescence. The circuitry is just not that deeply grooved yet.

So you really don't have to panic. It's true. You can model the behavior that you wish your dog to show, which means the best thing you could possibly do in the face of your adolescent showing you something you don't like is to be calm and to be patient and to treat it like it's no big deal. And remember that distance away from a thing is often your very best friend.

There's often no other way to calm the adolescent brain down. It's very difficult for them. It's easier for them to change valence. It would be easier to get your dog to tug when he is screaming at somebody. But the very best thing to do is just increase the distance, get further away. Just use that routinely whenever you see your dog over his head, your adolescent acts unpredictably sometimes. And don't blame yourself. There's no point in that because we all get it wrong sometimes. So doing things from a distance, you know, find that parking lot, that grocery store parking lot and park far enough away that your adolescent can watch things without having to interact with them directly. The dog needs to process what things look like, smell like, sound like. And that is all more important than interacting with those things directly. I think that's my advice for the parent of an adolescent.

Melissa Breau: All right. Megan wanna round us out?

Megan Foster: I do. So it is, I think the worst thing that they look like adults so quickly because, so I have to just reiterate, they are still puppies, their brains are not developed. And so when their bodies look like adults, we start asking them to do adult things and they are not adults, they don't have the adult abilities. But also if you're struggling with something and you think you're the only person struggling with that thing, you are wrong. There is someone else also struggling with that same thing. So I think sometimes when we, when we have problems, I also experienced this with Sprint when I was going through a thing, I did first assume that I was the only one from that litter. Everyone else is doing fine, their puppies are perfect, they're not having any problems with adolescents. And that is just so not helpful. Like that is as useless as panicking, right? So that's why I wasn't panicking. I was just certain that I was the only one struggling and that was, it just is me and that is my job to just struggle. And it's fine. That's not true. All of us go through this, everyone's puppy turns into an adolescent and you have some problems and someone else is sharing the same problem.

So I think it's also just, I guess I would like to encourage people to talk about these things that happen and just make that more culturally acceptable to, we're not complaining about our dogs, we're just kind of being open about like what's real and what's actually happening. Because I think it can be a little bit isolating if you are dealing with a bigger behavior problem and you think it's only you or you think that you've done this. So I just, I wanna say that it's normal and that we should talk about it more. And so like can we just keep, I would also just like to keep talking today, but I know you're trying to get this wrapped up.

Melissa Breau: Yeah, well fair enough. In other words, there's a lot to say and everybody should join us at the conference. So much more to say.

Amy Cook: I wanted to piggyback on everyone's response every single time. I know. Yeah.

Melissa Breau: Yeah. Alright, well maybe we'll have to do a part two at some point. But thank you all so much for coming on the podcast. I really appreciate it.

All: Thank, thanks. So thank you So much for having us.

Melissa Breau: Absolutely. And thanks to all our listeners for tuning in.

We'll be back next week. Don't miss it. If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available. Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast, music provided royalty free by bensound.com.

The track featured here is called Body Audio Editing provided by Chris Lang. Thanks again for tuning in and happy training.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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