By age 3, your dog is in her prime and ready to enjoy her best years. She is fully integrated into your home and a real member of the family. If you have done your work — putting in the time and effort to train and exercise your dog — this phase is your reward. She is now officially your best friend.

Physical and Mental Development

Your companion is now physically and mentally mature. Gone are the daily battles for dominance, replaced by a gentler, more secure dog who is ready to share her life with you. If your dog is well adjusted, she will see her role as submissive to you, her leader. Of course, she may still challenge you in small ways, maybe tugging on the leash here and there to make sure that you’re still in control. Expect your dog to be happier at this age than she has ever been. She will eagerly go on walks and will thoroughly enjoy playing with you. Interaction with other dogs will generally be calmer now. She won’t feel the need to challenge every dog she faces, but some of this is dependent on the other dog, so caution is still warranted in these situations.

Behavior Changes

Much of your dog’s temperament is established by now. If you have just adopted an adult dog struggling with her leadership role, you have some work ahead of you. An older dog with a developed personality can display a range of behavioral problems that are different from those exhibited during the puppy stages. A dog at this age may already think she is the leader if she has not been taught otherwise. A dog in this state of mind may fixate on one particular problem, like mail delivery or a ringing phone.

Don’t waste time when faced with a potential behavior problem. Contact your veterinarian, who may be able to offer advice or recommend a trainer or veterinary behavior specialist who can help get to the root of the problem.   

Health and Nutrition

Adult dogs need to be fed according to their size and energy needs. Talk to your veterinarian about the best diet for your dog and how often she should be fed. All dogs need to be provided with separate food and water dishes, with water bowls cleaned daily and fresh, cool water available at all times.

Dogs are great beggars, but don’t let her sad brown eyes charm you into handing over your food. You’re not helping her by giving her food she doesn’t need. Instead, choose healthful dog treats to use as rewards for good behavior. Additionally, people food can cause gastrointestinal upset and other ailments, as well as upsetting the balanced nutrition that your dog is getting from her quality diet. The practice of feeding your dog your food is also likely to leave you with a pooch who persistently begs or demands food from the table or kitchen. Feeding dog treats as a reward for good behavior is preferred. Never give your dog a bone — bones can splinter or damage the stomach and intestines. It is wiser to stick with chew toys appropriate for your dog’s size and chewing voracity. Your dog should always be supervised when playing with any toy or chewy treat.

Dog foods are available in canned and dry varieties. Some dogs get one or the other, and many dogs get both — either option is perfectly fine. Dry food tends to be less expensive than canned food and can be left out throughout the day for dogs who like to nibble. In contrast, canned food should only be left out for 20 minutes or so and removed if the dog doesn’t eat it all. Both types of diets have advantages, so ask your vet about the best option for your dog. And, of course, always keep fresh water available at all times.

CAUTION: Never give your dog chocolate. It contains theobromine, a chemical that is toxic to dogs. Other people foods such as garlic, onions, avocado, grapes, raisins and sugar-free candy or gum can also be toxic to your dog. When in doubt, don’t give human food to your dog.

Training Tips

The 3- to 4-year age can be a hard stage when it comes to training. But, as with younger dogs, stay positive. Never show anger; a calm rebuke lets her know her place in your pack. You can correct her by withholding praise, denying attention and using a stern tone of voice.

Another important factor in training any dog is consistency. When your dog learns and performs a command consistently, use it the same way each time and never change its meaning. Two common command words that your dog likely knows well are “sit” and “down.” They are separate commands, but if you tell your dog in an offhanded way to “sit down,” you will confuse her.

You can also inadvertently teach her bad behavior by rewarding bad behavior — for instance, when the phone rings. Instead of ignoring her when she barks, you pet her so she will be quiet and so you can hear the caller. Soon, she is barking every time the phone rings, which is what you have taught her to do. Correct the behavior by having friends call just to practice proper phone behavior with your dog. That way you can let the phone ring while you focus on commanding her to sit or lie down, before answering the phone. Show her that you’re consistent no matter the situation.

This is a lovely time to share with your dog. If you keep her routine consistent, provide her with mental stimulation and give her plenty of love and affection, she is sure to return the favor.