CHRISTMAS LOCKDOWN AND A BIT OF FAIRY DUST
This is a long one, so crack out the mince pies, grab a mulled wine and put your onesie on…
Anyone living with a fizzy teen might already be feeling a bit Bah-Humbug about Christmas. For anyone living with young dogs, every new day can bring more fizzies. Sometimes it feels like most things press the Giddy button in a pup’s brain.
A second lockdown meant that many of us have been home with our dogs again. For a lot of us, it seemed like a good idea to bring forward some Christmas sparkle and get the tree up early. I’m not usually one for much tinselly twinkle (think Grumpy Grinch more than Festive Fairy) but this year was different.
SEASON OF SPREADING GOODWILL
I’ve been very lucky through 2020. The best thing that has come out of a hard year has been a small and very treasured group of Fizzy Teen owners who have become friends through their teen dogs. We set up a WhatsApp group in March to support some of our owners who had dogs with similar issues and a magical thing happened. We found that we shared a lot in common – from the things that made us laugh to a shared love of books, films and even the odd political comment thrown in now and then.
We’ve been through a lot as a group. There have been some very bleak moments and some joyful ones. We share all the groans and grumbles that living with teenagers can bring but we also celebrate all the little steps towards calmness. Anything calm and we throw a small (subdued) party …
TINY PAW STEPS FEEL LIKE GIANT STRIDES
Some of those steps feel huge to some of our Fizzies. Last year, most of them had no chance of having any decorations in the house because their dogs were too over-aroused by anything new. Adding sparkle, jingles and twinkle was a festive mix that wasn’t going to feature on anyone’s play list.
One of our boys, Henry, has come a very long way since we started working with him over a year ago. We all remember the days when he couldn’t even make it into the training hall because he was so excited. Forward movement to Henry meant dancing on his back legs like a meerkat. With occasional squeaky sound-effects for good measure.
He was incapable of being in a shared room with his family, particularly in the front room, because he did instant zoomies. His mum despaired that she would ever be able to have him in the same room as visitors or family members because he was so excitable and would bark for attention if he was confined to the kitchen behind a baby-gate.
Henry is a bit of a special case. We love him dearly because he’s so quirky and, although most of our fizzy families are contending with some challenging teen behaviour, not all of them are bothered by quite as much as Henry is.
He finds change difficult. Change of any kind. A change in routine, a different place, or even the appearance of something on the kitchen counter can up-skittle him and result in him barking at it until it’s removed.
He had quite a long conversation with a tub of cocoa that had been left out on the counter one day. His family have learned to be very tidy …
Pippin is another of our boys can be uneasy about anything new. He was particularly bothered this year by a flappy snowman that loomed at him from a local garden on his early morning walks. He’s also been known to take offence at neighbours daring to put out new flowers in the planters by their front door.
UNDERSTANDING THE TEEN BRAIN
Our Fizzy teens’ mums have become expert at understanding how their teenagers’ brains work. They’ve learned that they can’t do anything too quickly with them. Too much, too soon results in some crazy fizziness. By ‘fizzines’ I mean behaviour that would probably feel overwhelming for many owners. In fact, in the past most of them have felt overwhelmed. Being on the end of a mouthing dog who launches himself at the nearest person and holds onto them by his teeth can be daunting. Even though each one of our Fizzy Mums generally knew their dogs weren’t ‘aggressive’ (which several canine professionals had told them) they were still justifiably deeply worried by their behaviour.
So let’s explode a few myths. Mouthing in puppies and teenage dogs isn’t abnormal or aggressive. It’s normal behaviour and is part of their development. They often grab hold of things with their teeth because they feel frustrated and lack the ability to control their emotions. For anyone with teenage children, they’ll understand the ‘lack the ability to control their emotions’ bit. The teenage brain is a rollercoaster of hormones and emotions and part of teen development is learning to control those feelings so that outbursts are generally a thing of the past once adolescence is over.
At least teenage dogs don’t slam doors or come home with tattoos and tongue studs…
SURFING THE TEEN TSUNAMI
Mouthing and lunging may be natural teen behaviour, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok. We work with a huge amount of teens and their families, teaching them how to help their teens calm down and stop doing all the things that they find so difficult.
There are two things that teenage dogs need. The first is reduced stimulation and lots of rest – which goes against a lot of what people believe about dogs. The second is consistency. They’re really not that different from human teens.
Reducing stimulation can take quite a lot of thought because it’s hard to know what may over-stimulate the fizzy teenage brain. Our Fizzy Teen WhatsApp group’s Christmas Appeal was led by Henry’s mum, who posted a brilliant account about how she helped Henry adjust to having aliens in his living room. She knew that he would get cross with a tree on the floor (and would very possibly use it as a pee post …) She also knew that he would feel bothered by anything that twinkled and sparkled. So she took things really slowly with him. This is what she posted:
If anyone else has a dog like Henry who hates to have his environment changed...this weekend I have gradually started bringing Christmas into the house. On Friday I moved around lamps and removed picture frames/ornaments etc. Yesterday I slowly decorated in the conservatory and today am working in lounge. I have left all packaging upstairs out of the way and every time I go upstairs I bring down a gift bag full of decorations and put them out.
I have just put up the lounge tree and put on the lights...Henry has watched calmly from the sofa the other side of the lounge. This way is working for him, not reacting to any changes as am doing it very gradually and there are no boxes or packaging to over excite him...in case it helps anyone else bring in a bit of sparkle without freaking out their dogs!
I love this. It shows such a good understanding of what might press Henry’s buttons. It may have taken a couple of days and some careful thought about how to help him adjust to Christmas twinkle, but that careful thought has meant no tears and tantrums over the festive period.
SETTING OUR DOGS UP FOR SUCCESSFUL CHRISTMAS SPARKLE
Henry’s trees are on tables so that he can’t get to them. For the first year ever, he’s able to lounge around on the sofa and not take any notice of anything that flashes or twinkles. Pippin, the dog who just six months ago couldn’t have anything near him indoors that remotely resembled a ball, or anything that could get pulled down and wrecked, can lie quietly next to the Christmas tree.
Neville used to be Shark Boy and now makes us laugh most days with his staffie sillies. The most sharky he gets these days is doing roly-polies across the floor during our Zoom classes… Peggy, (who can go rather giddy around balls and baubles) has welcomed two new family dogs into her world. Her mum has changed her from a zippy, crazy teen into a settled girl who has been able to lie calmly with Ruby and George. And Flash, our youngest member, has learned to use his nose as a way of calmly channeling his energy and is much more settled at home.
BG has given a joyful welcome to his dad returning after time away from home and is a much more relaxed boy on his walks. Nala has gone from Chocolate Labrador Craziness to a much more settled girl who loved the snow in Sleaford this year. Tam is another Chocolate Labrador who has fewer moments of crazy because she’s older. Her mum joined the group because she’s one of our training team and gives tips and advice along with Sand, Sally and I. And that’s another amazing thing about the group – the Fizzy Teen mums have become very knowledgeable about dogs and all give each other ideas about how to train and care for their dogs.
SUPPORT AND SMILES
The women in our Fizzy Teens group are remarkable They’ve added sparkle and joy to my life. No matter how things go, they make me smile every day.
This started out as a post about how to help your teen dogs cope with Christmas, but it kind of meandered into a thank you for one of the most important things of my life this year. So, it’s a little ‘thank you’ to the amazing women in my life.
Fizzy Teens, you rock.