Bouncy young dogs, who lack social skills are often the focus of ‘hot’ debate amongst dog guardians and trainers.
Understandably so. Most young dogs have a lot of ‘unbridled energy’, and can cause mayhem when visitors arrive, or during social encounters in public spaces.
Today on our walk we were approached by a very bouncy young Labrador who seemed a little unsure and conflicted. He showed interest in greeting my dogs, but the hair along his neck and spine, all the way to his tail was raised (piloerection), which indicated that his arousal level was pretty high. Thankfully we had plenty of space (safe open field) and after a quick check-in with the lab’s guardians, we let the dogs off leash to greet each other - giving them the space and choice to greet in a way that was comfortable for each of them. The young lab bounced wildly between my two dogs, very excited, and thankfully my dogs stayed calm, and then moved along swiftly with me when I called them to continue along the path. I was pleased with the way my dogs handled the situation - it certainly might have looked quite different some years back. This brief encounter gave me the opportunity to reflect back on those earlier years with my dogs, who are now aged 10 and 8.5 years. Those years were tough. There was conflict, there were tears, and there was a lot of mis-communication and frustration. Of course there was a lot of fun too. They were fit, fast and had a healthy appetite for experiencing life and everything it had to offer. I recognised that in the young Labrador today. I thought about all the training and management elements I put into place when my dogs were young. I really worked hard at setting up the environment, teaching and role modeling ‘good’ social skills, teaching boundaries and incorporating exercises to build trust, confidence and self-control. I wondered what part this had to play in the way they handled the situation today. Sure, I think some of the training practice did pay off. But, if I am honest, I think they are simply at the age where they are now emotionally and socially more mature. And, so am I. I have learnt a lot about myself, my emotions and the reasons I often felt triggered by my dog's behaviour. I have learned not to take things so personally, and not to feel judged by others or guilty for my dog’s behaviour. I have learnt to breathe, be calm, stay grounded and light-hearted in situations that used to leave me feeling uncomfortable and out of control. I have learnt that I have a choice in the way I want to be and the way I want to respond to any situation in life, and I have taken responsibility for learning the skills and developing the mindset that allows me to do this.
And, I believe that this has helped us (me and my dogs) in more ways than any/all of the training has.
I also realized that a young dog’s social inadequacies are no different to ours as young humans.
I remember my own lack of social skills and disregard for social etiquette when I was a teenager. And, similarly I experienced and witnessed my own two sons going through those tumultuous years.
For both the parent and the youngster, it's a difficult time. Each individual needs to find their own path, and I believe it's our job as parents to be good role models and support them as best we can.
And that means, growing and developing our own social and emotional awareness and intelligence.
Young dogs have it hard. We expect so much from them, and they often don’t have good role models or the support they need. Instead they get a lot of training and discipline.
They need time. They need life experience and they need guidance.
So, my advice to you if you have have a young dog:
Use these years to build your relationship with them. Put your energy into getting to know your dog as an individual and getting to know yourself. Take the pressure off both you and your dogs to ‘make it look good’ and ‘fit in with society’s expectations.’ Allow your dogs to safely experience life (within healthy limits) and most of all allow them the time to mature naturally.
Adjust your tiara, put a smile on your face, and know that one day when both you and your dogs are more ‘emotionally mature’, things will likely look a lot different.
Join us over in the Paws Reflect Connection FB group for conversations, support and guidance. It's a place where our community of caring and conscious dog parents gather together to learn and grow, and support their dogs and themselves in living their best life together.