There are lots of articles written about younger children and dogs but what about teens and dogs?
Quizzes and star charts or too many instructions are more likely to provoke eye rolling then enthusiasm but investing in their relationship with puppy is just as important.
Asking teens to take puppy for a walk might seem like a bonding opportunity but it is asking a lot of them both. However brilliantly your teen interacts with pup at home, out on a walk there is so much they have to think about. Out there, it’s not just about managing the pup, it’s about managing the environment and other people too. About being able to anticipate events and respond to them. To notice the dog approaching on the same side of the road and cross over to give both dogs space, to be observant when puppy’s body language is saying they are a bit apprehensive and to give them time to just watch and sniff and to process, to avoid areas where friends might congregate because will they listen when they are asked to let puppy choose whether to be touched. To engage with the puppy not their phone!
The ability to predict events and consequences has nothing to do with capability or even how sensible they are, it is a developmental stage. Teenagers’ brains are undergoing rapid change with new connections forming and unused ones dying off. The brain develops from back to front, they think with their amygdala (the part responsible for fight or flight), adults use their pre-frontal cortex (the rational, thinking part).
Teenagers use emotion to read emotion and The Pre-Frontal Cortex, the rational, thinking part of the brain, doesn’t finish developing until the mid to late 20’s. This is the part of the brain responsible for staying focused, being able to predict consequences and make decisions accordingly and for empathy, including reading body language. In short, all the skills they need to employ to safely walk a puppy!
Because the connections to this part of the brain are still under development, teenagers think with the emotional, fight or flight part of the brain, the amygdala. This means they find it harder to focus, they take more risks, acting on impulse especially when peer pressure is factored in and behaviour is more likely to be led by emotion then reasoning. The circular arguments when you’ve unwittingly needled them with the wrong ‘look’ or tone of voice?! That’s their amygdala doing the talking!
Dogs are very much in tune with us and our emotions. They know that teen is not the same as mum or dad and will know when they are feeling emotional or frustrated which might make them feel anxious. If they don’t feel quite as safe going out with teen or feel rushed, over time you might find puppy refusing to go out when your teen picks up the lead. The most likely response from your teen (remembering they think with emotions), is instead of thinking pup doesn’t feel safe without mum, is to conclude pup doesn’t like them. Then there is the risk that your teen withdraws from interacting with pup altogether.
The good news is that there are lots of things they can do around the house and garden that will not only protect and benefit their relationship with the puppy but will also help build their feelings of self esteem and value. For example:
Ask them to let pup out for wee when they get in from school
Ask them to scatter or hide meals or treats in the garden to find
Ask them to look up how to make a snuffle mat or ideas for home made food puzzles and food treats
Use your daily routines to get them involved with training without calling it training “Whenever you let puppy out the door, please can you wait for a sit first” or “if you happen to see puppy on the bed, please can you chuck a treat on the bed”- and leave a pot of treats by the door and on a shelf near the bed to make it easy to build a habit
Ask them to help with 5 minutes of training. Keep it short and specific: “Please can you ask for 5 sits in different places” or “Please can you walk round the garden once, giving puppy treats as they follow”
Also remember, they don’t have to be actively doing something together, just being together builds bonds too. The way we frame a request can make a big difference to how it is received. “Pup is asking to sit with you, is that ok?” Then give pup a chew to enjoy while teen watches their programme or plays their Xbox game (providing puppy is
comfortable eating around people). The more positive experiences pup has with your teen, the more they will seek them out.
Finally, remember to give your teen a way out too, to avoid fatigue and frustration building up. Make sure they have a clear ‘go to’ option if pup isn’t listening or they don’t feel like interacting, for example popping pup in their crate or behind a gate with a Kong or chew (having some made up in the fridge helps).