Adolescent Dogs: The Teenage Stage!
New dog owners are often somewhat prepared for their new puppy. However, many are not as prepared for their puppy to become a teenager!
Has your puppy become a bull in a china shop after reaching the six-month mark? Maybe that sweet, cute, innocent puppy is not so innocent anymore? Maybe your puppy is no longer easily tired out, is more persistent, and impulsive. They may even be pushing the boundaries a little bit more than before. Welcome to the teenage stage of your puppy’s development!
I wanted to write this blog post because my current puppy, Journey has entered the teenage stage. I have started seeing many noticeable changes (for better and for worse.) So, I thought I would take the time to explain this stage in a dog’s life.
Adolescence Has Arrived
Yes, it is true, dogs go through adolescence just like people. (I know you are probably thinking: “Say it ain’t so! Please, don’t tell me this!”) I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes, it is true.
This stage involves many changes to your dog. These include biological, psychological and physical changes. This is when the onset of puberty begins. (Yay for you! You now have a teenager on your hands!) This is where a female can have her first heat cycle and male dogs have an increase in testosterone.
This stage typically starts for dogs between 6 and 8 months. It may even start as late as 12 months. Research varies on the exact timeline, but this range is fairly consistent.
I’m sure you’re wondering, “Anthony, please tell me when this stage ends!” Well, you’ll be glad to hear, the end is in sight!
Though you may think it’ll never end, the teenage stage typically only lasts until 18 to 24 months. However, it can be even later in some breeds. This is where you typically will hear that a dog has reached his/her “social maturity”.
Sadly, the teenage stage is when a lot of dogs end up in shelters or as rescues. At this stage, many people feel their dog is “bad” and they can’t handle them anymore.
Many other people choose to seek professional help from a trainer at this point. This is a wise choice as a trained behavior professional can provide the guidance you need. With training, you and your dog can make it through the teenage years relatively smoothly.
What To Expect
Here are some of the common things you might start noticing when your dog enters the teenage stage:
- Some noticeable changes to behavior. Your dog may no longer come when called, despite listening previously. Things your dog use to know come and go. You will need to be creative at times. You MUST be consistent, as this is where training counts.
- “My dog seems to be more curious and seems to test the boundaries.” I hear this a lot and I would say this is an accurate description of what you might notice.
- Behaviors that you found acceptable or cute when your dog was a small puppy are now unacceptable. Your dog may also become more persistent in these behaviors, worsening the problem.
- You might see your dog gets overstimulated more easily (a lack of impulse control). This might include becoming mouthy when excited or even excessive humping. You might even notice things like your dog, who once walked nicely on leash, is now becoming an excessive puller.
- Your dog’s behavior towards other dogs might change. They might become more pushy, frustrated or even seem to attempt to square off with other dogs.
- Excessive amounts of energy…need I say more? Your dog that used to relax and settle after a walk or playtime is now restless and won’t settle down. (Pro Tip: I usually like to give a bone or frozen food stuffed puzzle after playtime. This may help your dog relax, and eventually fall asleep.)
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Secondary fear periods may appear. Things that a dog is familiar and unfamiliar with all of the sudden become scary.
Being Prepared Is Important
Being prepared will not be easy, but is doable. This is where all the foundations you have taught your once cute, innocent puppy really count. You will need to be consistent.
You will want to:
- Provide your dog with enough mental enrichment. This can include feeding meals out of food puzzles, providing training, providing new and fun chew options, etc.
- Provide enough physical enrichment outlets. Here are just a few examples of activities you can do with your dog:
- Going for walks/hikes
- Dog play dates with a friend’s dog
- Playing tug
- Playing with a flirt pole
- Bringing your dog out with you
- Doing fun dog sport activities
- Continue being consistent with training. This is so important! You cannot slack on this. Make sure you have motivating reinforcement on you at all times. This means high-value food rewards or even toys. I hate when I hear people tell me “Anthony, my dog use to know this and I didn’t need food anymore. I don’t want to have to use food anymore.” What many people do not understand is that this is where training and rewarding your dog counts the most! Making sure you are more motivating then the rest of the environment is crucial, so take a bag of chicken or hot dogs and a tug toy and get to work!
- Throughout the day you should reward behaviors you like and make sure you are not rewarding or accidentally rewarding behaviors you do not like. If unwanted behaviors continue, you will need to figure out how to stop it from happening. Hiring a quality professional may be very helpful so that you can have the right tools in your toolbox.
- After exercise, provide your dog with some downtime by placing them in a quiet place where they can chew on a bone or interactive toy. You may find your dog quickly falls asleep!
- During this stage, relationship building is the most important! Continuing to have a strong relationship with your dog is important because it will help you continue to exercise patience in times when your teenage dog is simply being a teenage dog.
One day you will look back on this stage and laugh! You may also look back with extreme relief! But until then, enjoy it while it lasts and don’t give up! Just know everyone deals with this in some way.
Anthony De Marinis provides private training and behavior modification solutions using humane positive reinforcement methods. He has 6 professional certifications which include: Certified Dog Behavior Consultant from the International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants, Certified Graduate of distinction from the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, Certified Behavior Adjustment Trainer, Certified Victoria Stilwell Licensed Positively Dog Trainer, The Third Way Certified Trainer and is a Fear Free Certified Animal Trainer.