Doggy Adolescence: I'm not such a happy dog owner right now

Doggy Adolescence:  I'm not such a happy dog owner right now
"Queen" Isadora Duncan on her throne

The featured photo is a picture of "Queen" Isadora (Izzy) on her throne.  She has recently de-throned Wigglebutt Duncan from his favorite chair.  All this with no bloodshed in the war of chairs that is going on between them.  Dunkie, a more mature 4 year-old, seems resigned.  But this is not why I am not such a happy dog owner right now.  Queen Isadora has decided that she is now too old to sleep in a locked crate and will protest for hours, actually all night.

OK, we blew it:  We allowed her on the bed with Dunkie for a night or two, but that wasn't good enough for her.  She wanted to sleep on the chair in our living room.  I wouldn't be too upset about it in other conditions, but Izzy is still not totally reliable either in the eliminating department or in the chewing department.  While we've finally have attained success in the housebreaking department in the last several months, the ability to let us know she needs to go out is questionable.  Particularly at night.  Izzy typically stands by the door (and yes, the door has jingle bells on it, and yes, we are training her to use them) and … waits … just waits.  If we are in the bedroom and she is by the kitchen door waiting, you can guess what will happen.  Also, she is still not trustworthy in the chewing department.  Izzy loves chewing on our dining room chair legs, which I have painted with tabasco sauce and seems to be working for the moment.  But you never know, and I fear that the chairs may not hold up under her tremendous jaw-work destruction if she chews some more.

So we need to keep her in the bedroom until she's a bit older.  I wouldn't mind having her sleep on the bed, but she has taken to scratching the bedroom door … one very persistent little girl.  Neither my husband nor I have gotten a good night's sleep for several nights, alternating between letting her howl punctuated by taking her out briefly to eliminate if needed (less for the elimination and more for the attempt to not reward her for the howling) … she just happens to eliminate and who wouldn't after all the vocal work.  There does not seem to be a medical reason for this change nor antecedent conditions.

I don't know all that much about dog adolescent behavior, but I imagine that it must mimic human adolescence unless I am again anthropomorphizing.  So I went first to the web to search for dog adolescence.  There were a lot of 'hits' but not much information out there to tell me what I already didn't know.  Here are sound bites of what I've learned about doggy adolescence in general:

  • Ian Dunbar, noted expert in dog behavior, discusses adolescent behavior (occurring at age 6-18 months), but only in terms of household etiquette (primarily housetraining), basic manners, bite inhibition, and socialization.
  • The developmental goal of an adolescent dog is to figure out and learn how to cope with limits in its life via veterinarypartner.com.
  • Thani Mosconi, an animal behaviorist at the Peninsula Humane Society discussed her own experience with her adolescent dog, noting that it changed its night-time sleeping spot. Her experience seems to have mirrored my own, but started earlier, with the dog taking over the bed, edging the writer to the edge of the bed at night.  Her solution was to bring the crate into the bedroom (already in there in our home) and re-crate her at night, thinking that in several months she would experiment with letting her dog out of the crate and on the bed again.
  • Returning to past training was also suggested by another Gina Micciulla, who cautions to not get angry or frustrated, but instead to treat the puppy as if it were 8 weeks old.  She also suggests that we should scold ourselves rather than the adolescent for not watching the dog closely enough to avoid mistakes.
  • Finally, it was noted that once you let your dog make the decisions instead of you being a leader, your dog will certainly usurp the leadership role (some call it becoming the "alpha").

So much for my searches ....

Then, of course, I went to my Tibetan Terrier Facebook friends for help.  They helped me tremendously when I first got Wigglebutt Duncan and was being eaten alive by his puppy teeth.  They likewise had good suggestions, including ruling out any medical condition, creating a bedtime ritual (yes, dogs are very routine driven), and giving a night-time special treat when going into the crate.  There were also some suggestions that I might not use, but are routinely used by certain dog trainers, including a shaker can to make noise or spraying water from a mist bottle (which I actually used to do when I owned cats, with great success … at least when I was present).  These just didn't feel 'right' to me.  Finally, a number of people who own Tibetan Terriers allow them to create their own sleeping patterns and conditions rather than trying to impose restrictions on them.  I can see the sense in that, if nothing is going to be destroyed or the dog won't get into trouble being unsupervised at night. But Izzy is not yet reliable or trustworthy enough to let her make ANY decision, particularly because she is so persistent.  Most interestingly was the variety of responses and the lack of consistency among my group as to how to cope with this issue.  I also thought about calling my fellow ChicagoNow.com blogger, author of Good Dog, and pet expert, Steve Dale.

So, as a clinical psychologist, I figured that I needed to apply principles of learning and reinforcement (in particular) with my stubborn, persistent howler.  My husband and I agreed that she needed to be crated, and would be allowed to howl all night for several nights, with breaks every 3 hours to take her out of her crate briefly to eliminate if needed and then quietly re-crate her.  We planned to do this for one week and then evaluate our progress or lack thereof.  I am happy to report that 3 days into our "intervention," we may be making progress.  Night 1:  Howling began as soon as the lights were off.  She was taken out briefly to poop and then re-crated quietly.  She protested about a half hour more and then went to sleep.  Night 2:  Izzy did not howl at all and went to sleep.  I should add that she had spent the day at daycare.  It is now Night 3.  We are wondering if lack of reinforcement (paying no attention to her howling) is working out.  We might add a treat at bedtime to help her associate something she likes with being placed in her crate at night, giving her the treat (reward) after she goes into her crate.  We currently crate both dogs in the family room before leaving the house.  Wigglebutt Duncan and Izzy  run into their crates enthusiastically and wait for their special cookie.

It is a work in progress and I hope to again be a happy owner soon.

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