Our latest in a series of columns on the growth cycle of dogs, from puppy to senior, with a continued look at the adolescent years.
Think back to your child’s first day of kindergarten. You shopped together for crayons and glue; you pondered over that first-day outfit and you kissed away a few tears as your son or daughter headed to the front door of the school to line up with his or her new classmates. Fast forward to their first day of junior year: You had no idea they even left the house that morning, much less what they wore. Granted, your dog will always require more hands-on care than your son or daughter as they get older but you shouldn’t expect them to act like they did when they were puppies. In fact, you may need to adjust to their behavior just as much as they’ll need to adjust to yours.
See the signs
Dogs who’ve been trained to go to the bathroom outside won’t deviate from that behavior unless they’re placed in extreme circumstances. In other words, if your dog waits to go to the bathroom until you let her out each day when you come home from work, you’ll expect her to keep your house urine-free unless you extend that window of her time spent alone. Home by six? Perfectly fine. Home by nine? Expect to see a puddle or two when you come home. You may not like having to clean up a fresh mess when you enter your house but you’ll probably understand why it happened. But if your dog pees in the house after a couple of hours, or worse, when you’re sitting in the other room, it’s probably a sign that something isn’t right. He may be nervous about some new sights or sounds in the area, angry over a change to his routine or showing symptoms of an illness or ailment. In the third case, call your vet. If it’s one of the first two scenarios—they’re building a new house next door, meaning your dog’s mornings of quiet reflection—OK, sleeping—have been replaced by anxious hours or pacing and whining; you’re paying a lot of attention to your sister’s puppy, who’s spending another week with you while your sibling spends another “I have to find myself” weekend in Las Vegas—than you can hep make adjustments—shut the windows and crank NPR while you’re not home; tell your sister she just needs to get a job and you can’t watch her puppy for the third weekend in a row—so your dog can live a more harmonious life.
Keeping up appearances
Some of the least desired changes with dogs may be the undeniable changes to their appearance. That puppy with the soft fur who would snuggle up to you each night? Now she’s a dog with coarse hair who leaves a mark on your neck when she comes in for a hug. Like your son’s wonderful curls that ended up on the hair salon floor after that first haircut, only to be replaced by something that felt like paintbrush bristles thereafter, your dog’s fur will change. So expect your care of that fur to change as well. If you put your dog through an occasional brushing that seemed as easy as mixing cake batter, don’t be surprised if you find yourself fighting with the brush to work through mattes and curls. If you’re in love with a particular style of hair, be sure to check the breed before you bring a new puppy into your home. Like that kid with the natural curls, your dog’s hair is going to change—and maybe, at least in your opinion—not for the better.
Mine, mine, mine
As dogs get older, they get more territorial. Like the teen who locks you out of his room, dogs want their space, so don’t be surprised when they retreat to their cage or collect their toys in one area of the house. And like teens, dogs can become selfish with their time, especially with you. Sure, you have a ton of responsibilities but if you chose to own a dog, that responsibility should always be pretty high on the list. Take your dog for walks when you come home or spend some time running around with him in the yard. Think of them as those late-night, kitchen-table talks you have with your 17-year-old son. Your son may not directly come to you for advice but if you do it right, he won’t even know you’re passing on some wisdom. Dogs are the same. They should always be part of your routine, regardless of age. Don’t let a few awkward months keep you from continuing to develop your relationship.
Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.