Tick-tock

Silas will be two years old at the end of next month. It’s something I approach with a little nervousness. I know with my logical brain that no door is going to snap shut, but two is the last date you usually hear about for making big changes, for good or ill, with a dog’s mental development. I’ve read in a few places that it’s easiest to fix socialization gaps before age two. I’ve read a lot of reactive dog stories that contain the phrase “Oh, he was okay until he was about two and then he started … ”

It’s left me with the feeling that there’s a big clock ticking over my head. Especially because we’ve seen a lot of behavior changes in the last few months, on both sides. Silas is finally capable of loose leash walking! He’s learning to take treats and do simple commands at the park! He’s reacting better and better to people in familiar environments (like strangers in a store or park we go to frequently). He’s learned to jump in the bathtub on his own, and he’ll play with water in puddles. He ate dinner for my mother one evening while we were there over Easter.

On the other hand, he seems to be getting particular about other dogs. He only reacts badly to maybe two dogs out of ten, but that reaction is no little mild grumble. He will wake up from a dead sleep to bark hysterically at someone talking on the sidewalk in front of our house. That last one I don’t get at all–we’ve lived in the same house, with the same street noises, since he was five weeks old. He would rather die than walk down our sidewalk or even put his head out of our garage door.

I’m trying to take it one day at a time, but looking ahead I’m worried. I feel like we’re working through his mild problems, while the big problems are silently escalating in the background. For the first time, I’m seriously considering going to the veterinary behaviorist (we have a good one locally) and getting him professionally evaluated and medicated, at least for the short term. I can’t train him through a problem that instantly turns his anxiety dial to 11, and it seems like that’s what we’re getting down to. We’ll see.

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8 thoughts on “Tick-tock

  1. I do not have a reactive dog so I can’t know how you’re feeling and am not qualified to offer advice…It’s just my opinion but meds would be my last resort

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    1. Mine, too. I’m not doing anything until we finish our current round of classes, which are helping a bit. And then our veterinary behaviorist does a lot of training, including some classes at a local training facility, that I would try first.

      The temptation for me is to put him on a mild anti-anxiety medication so that I can get myself a little room to work through some of his problems. Like, he’s so scared of cars that I can’t get close enough to a car to counter-condition it. There is no distance from a car that is far enough that he isn’t scared. I wouldn’t want him (nor does I think he needs) a strong medication long term.

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  2. All 3 of my dogs struggle with reactivity in different situations & to different degrees but the idea that you can’t change behavior after 2 years old is hogwash. Training is a lifelong endeavor and the greatest improvements with my older two came around the 4-5 year mark. Sure, young dogs are easier to train because their brains are like sponges but I think it’s the mid years when you start to see the maturity & mellowness compliment training in a real way. Please don’t be too frightened of the future! I can guarantee Silas’ best years are yet to come.

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  3. I would stress too much about reaching his second birthday. You can only do your best and it sounds like he has really come a long way. And I could be completely wrong on this, but it seems that the big change at age 2 is much more significant in purebred dogs where their instincts for which they are bred really kicks in and can cause issues. Kaya turns 2 next month and I find her easier and easier to manage because she is getting the hang of what’s expected of her. I bet Silas will be the same way considering how much you time and effort you put into him and you are already aware of what it takes. So many people are blindsided when their “puppy” becomes focused on different things in life.

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    1. That’s a perspective that I hadn’t thought of. Very interesting.

      Silas has definitely improved in a lot of areas, don’t get me wrong. This time last year going to the park with him was misery because he was so bad on his leash. Now I’ll get two or three pulls per outing, and that’s usually for a squirrel or a car.

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  4. My thoughts are, take it one day at a time. As time goes on and Silas matures, he may improve. The way I always look at behaviors and fears is: does it really matter? For instance, our Forest is too terrified to walk through town. No big deal, he doesn’t go. Hiker loves walking through town.

    So, just try and relax. Enjoy Silas for what he is!

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    1. The only real problem is that we’re in such an urban area. Even in the quietest park, at the most “off” hours, we will see people and/or dogs. We don’t have a yard, so I have to take him out for exercise at least a few times a week. Which, right now he’s okay with that. I don’t have to take him to the dog park, and he’s not too big to physically control, even if he’s having a fit.

      Some of it I have just let go–I don’t really care if we can ever have people over. My family all lives 12 hours away, and we can meet friends places besides our house.

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