Teenager. It’s a word to drive fear into the stoutest heart. You have come through puppy biting, toilet training is done and your dog is attentive and listens to you then overnight they turn into a hormonal mess, running off to every dog they see, going selectively deaf and all those cues they knew seem to have flown right out of their brain. You’ve put in so much time and effort and it seems like it was a huge waste of time and the magical relationship you dreamed of with your dog seems a distant goal. Take a deep breath, grab a cuppa and read on.
Depending on your breed of dog adolescence will hit anywhere from 5 months for small breeds and end as late as 3 years for giant breeds, although the first few months see the biggest changes. Just like in humans adolescence is an individual experience for each dog with some dogs barely changing whilst others briefly become a devil child. Don’t despair though as it isn’t all doom and gloom – adolescence brings some special milestones too and is a time for you to enjoy together. Adolescence is a short period of time in the life of your dog who will be your companion and best friend for many years to come so think of this time as an investment in your future relationship.
So what’s actually going on during adolescence? Your puppy is growing up and getting ready to join the adult canine world. This means hormones are surging and causing all sorts of changes in their body as well as your pup’s brain is developing and maturing (these changes happen in neutered puppies too). Some of the good things about this will be the end of teething around 7 to 9 months. Going for walks together is one of the things dog mums and dads tell us they most looked forward to before getting a puppy; during adolescence your pup will likely be keener to explore the world and as they grow your walks can get longer meaning you get to enjoy one of the reasons you got a dog in the first place. You will also find that your teenage puppy will be sleep less than they did as a tiny puppy so you get to spend more time with them awake and interacting.
So if things are feeling frustrating or tough what can you do?
Remember that relationship is key. Think of your relationship with your dog as a bit like a bank account – doing positive things together is like making a deposit but being in conflict is like making a withdrawal. Unfortunately we will always need to make withdrawals so it’s down to us to make sure that we make as many deposits as possible so that our relationship credit score is excellent and we can withstand any bumps in the road. Do things together that you both enjoy – go for a walk, have a cuddle with the tv switched off and your phone in a different room, play games. There are lots of ideas in our free community group for fun filled activities you can do together. Having a lovely time together means that you will be better able to stay patient if challenges do happen.
Use Management to prevent unwanted behaviour. Use your big non-hormone addled brain to its best advantage and put things in place to prevent the behaviours you don’t want. The more times your dog gets to practise unwanted behaviours the harder they will be to stop in future. If your dog is running away on walks keep them on a long line or lead, if they are barking at things out of the window consider using window film to block their view and if they are stealing your things try to make sure you don’t leave things out where your dog can get to them. It’s really worth keeping a diary during adolescence so that you can spot patterns; for example if you know your dog has zoomies and loses the ability to listen to you at about 9pm start doing a calm activity like scentwork at 8:30.
Reward the good. Noticing and rewarding the things you do like makes it more likely that your dog will do those things again. Keeping pots of treats dotted around your house so you can always reward the good is really helpful and can quickly yield positive results. You may need to go back to basics wit your training and increase the number of rewards you give. It can feel like your dog has forgotten everything as previously solid training can come and go but it’s all still sored in their brain – they are just having trouble accessing it right now.
Be patient. Although it can sometimes feel like it, your puppy really isn’t being naughty or doing it to spite you – they can’t help themselves at the moment. You may find that your dog is suddenly scared of things that were fine just the week before, this is normal during adolescence and you just need to take things slowly and support your dog. Socialisation and habituation don’t end when puppy classes finish and it’s really important to continue to expose your dog in a positive way to the world that they will live in.
Adolescence is on thing you can guarantee your dog will grow out of. Whether you sail through the teenage months or find them as hard as early puppyhood remember that this too shall pass. The time and effort we invest now will pay us back a thousand times over the many years that we are privileged to share our life with our canine companion.