Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Nico is a punk

5 month old Nico - Courtesy of Nico's owner

Dear Dogfather,

Nico, my 5-month-old Spinone Italiano, is a brilliant charmer 99 percent of the time. He seems to be able to control some natural instincts, and his training gets better and better every day. Even if he makes some training mistakes, he seems to understand what is expected. We can run together off-leash, and he stays within close range and comes when called. We can roughhouse and play, and he will grab a toy on his own to prevent nipping. If he grabs something he shouldn’t, he gives it up for a toy without a struggle. He is also good when cooking is going on (except for pasta sauce, which is irresistible).

The problem is that there are a few times during the day when he gets excited and cannot calm down without being put in a crate or the back of a car. It can happen at the end of a walk when I go to put his leash on, or in the middle of a walk when he is on a leash. He’ll jump, claw, and nip — he just seems to lose control. Using a halter helps, but do you have any suggestions on how to control this behavior?


Dear Fred,

Time is on your side. Most dogs go from puppy to punk, to young adult, to adult, to senior. Based on Nico’s age, your Spinone Italiano is presently a punk. The breed description uses the words “gentle,” “docile,” and “affectionate,” which in my experience is true of Spinones. I wouldn’t be surprised if even the pope or Mahatma Gandhi occasionally acted like a punk at age 12 or 14. Sporting breeds (which a Spinone is) generally enter the punk stage around five months, and it can last a bunch of months depending on genetics and environment. Those times when Nico gets excited and doesn’t calm down easily are often referred to as FRAP periods (frenetic random activity periods). Simply put, they’re energy releases, and all healthy dogs have them. Over the years, I’ve had many calls from clients who said, “My dog lost his mind! He’s flying around the house like a maniac. What’s going on?” That’s when I explain FRAPs.

If you use the crate to calm him, make sure he doesn’t perceive it as punishment. Use treats to get him to sit, and then introduce whatever word you want to get him into the crate and toss a treat in. Once he follows the treat in, close the door and toss a few more treats into the the crate.

Another good way to stop his obnoxious puppy behavior is a redirection. When he starts to act crazy, let him know you have a treat, and practice sit, stay, and “go find.” Tell Nico to sit and stay, and then throw a treat while still enforcing the stay (step on the leash if you have to). Then tell him “Go find the treat” and let him go. Slowly start making the treat harder to find. He’ll love the game! Nico’s training should include zero tolerance for jumping. Keep a leash on him in the house and step on it, so he runs out of leash as he’s jumping up as you say “OFF.” Stay consistent; time really is on your side as he matures, so keep up your good work and consistent efforts.

Stay patient and take lots of pics while he’s still a pup.

The Dogcharmer