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Adolescence in Dogs – Surviving the Teenage Years

It is often a shock for many pet owners when their cute, well-behaved puppy suddenly turns into Kevin the Teenager with a ‘talk to the paw ‘cos the face ain’t listening’ attitude.

Puppies go through an adolescent stage from around six to eight months where they start to push the boundaries, frustrating their owners in the process. It is no coincidence that this is the age when a lot of dogs are signed over to rescues.

Just like human teenagers, dogs can vary greatly during this stage, some may go temporarily off the rails, some may become more anxious and some may just sail through with no change.

Therefore, it is best to be prepared to deal with a few challenges knowing that it could last until the dog is around 18 months old, depending on the breed.

Adolescence is a time when a dog will often find the environment more rewarding than anything you have to offer as a result of the interesting smells, squirrels or other dogs. They may also start to seek greater independence and test out their own abilities. The most common signs that your dog is entering adolescence are:

  • Seeming to have boundless energy and becoming more boisterous.
  • Not coming back when called, having previously had a solid recall.
  • Failing to respond to training that has been previously taught.
  • Having the attention span of a gnat.
  • Possibly becoming a bit anxious or shy.
  • Unexpected destructive chewing.

The keys to help you and your dog cope with adolescence are patience, understanding and consistency. This is a developmental phase that your dog has to go through. They aren’t being stubborn, dominant or deliberately challenging, they are trying to deal with all the changes going on in their bodies and brains.

Here are a few tips to ease you through the adolescent stage:

  • Keep your existing rules and apply them consistently. Make sure everyone in the household does the same, as dogs are great opportunists!
  • Provide a mix of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Increased physical exercise alone will not tire out a young dog, it will just create a fitter dog who then needs more exercise. Provide mental stimulation too through interactive feeders, scent games etc. A great book on this subject is ‘Canine Enrichment for the Real World’ by Allie Bender and Emily Strong.
  • Keep up your training. Attend training classes if possible and work particularly on impulse control training. Jane Ardern’s book ‘Mission Control’ is an enjoyable read on this subject. Keep all training sessions short and fun.
  • Focus on the dog you have in front of you. Your dogs will have good days and bad days, so tailor your training, activities and rewards to what works for your dog that day. What works one day may not work the next.
  • Keep your dog safe. If your dog is not coming back when called, attach a long line to his harness so he has some freedom but will not be able to run off. Continue to train his recall in a less distracting environment. A long line will also help you manage your dog’s interactions with other dogs and people, especially if you have an overenthusiastic greeter.
  • ‘Adolescent proof’ your home. Destructive chewing can reappear at this stage so make sure you give them suitable items to chew, and don’t leave items lying around that you don’t want chewed. Leave your dog in a chew proof area if you have to go out.
  • Don’t force them to face their fears. Some dogs may become anxious or fearful of things that seem irrational to you or that they took in their stride a few weeks back. This is all part of this developmental stage and usually it will pass. Don’t force your dog to confront something they find scary, just remain calm and move them away from the situation. Go back to some of your early puppy training with new environments and situations to help rebuild their confidence.
  • Enjoy your dog. Adolescence isn’t all bad, a lot of the time you will have a fun loving, goofy companion who is living life in the moment. Enjoy that time with them, explore the great outdoors together, play together and enjoy their company – this is after all why you have a dog in your life.

Adolescence is a tumultuous time in a dog’s life, but understanding that and knowing how to handle this phase means you can come out the other side with a great adult dog.


Case studies:

Lynn and Bob

Lynn adopted Bob at 14 weeks. Having previously owned collies, the bull lurcher was a change for her and had a different temperament to the previous dogs she’d owned. Training started soon after Bob came home which has helped him to develop his socialisation skills and obedience. Lynn noticed a few changes in Bob’s behaviour when adolescence struck. First, he started barking if he was guarding the property and then Lynn noticed him being what she described as “cocky”. This led to behaviours like jumping up at her. At the same time, she noticed he would be nervous of the slightest thing, like a discarded crisp packet if one of his paws stepped on it. While he still struggles to focus on Lynn if he’s out in the park and sees another dog, the training does seem to be helping to boost his confidence and reinforcing his place in the world.

Ziggy

Bought on the internet before being signed over for adoption, Ziggy had a very tumultuous start to life before being brought into the Clacton Centre. After two unsuccessful rehomings, the nervous adolescent dog went home to the Amy family in February. Ziggy had been given some training while he was staying at the Clacton Centre and the Amys were fully briefed on his fearful behaviour. Ziggy reacts to anything while going out on a walk. Passing dogs were his nemsis followed by other people, cars and even a plastic bag floating across the road. Since his rehoming, Ziggy is walked very early in the morning to keep him calm so that he can slowly build his confidence. A sign of improvement for Michael is that Ziggy reacts when he sees the paperboy out on his bike. For the Amys, it’s all down to patience and consistent training and while they describe 18-month-old Ziggy as very much a work in progress, they are seeing some signs of his confidence growing.

Steve and Bailey

Having previously owned collies, Steve Williams and his wife had always liked the idea of having a sighthound. They rehomed lurcher Bailey as a puppy from the Cornwall centre (he’s Bob’s brother above), and he lives with their Jack Russel terrier Izzy. Although one-year-old Bailey now towers over Izzy, the older dog is very much in charge.

As is natural to his breed, Bailey enjoys the thrill of a chase and Steve says his recall has been selective at times as he moved into adolescence. Over the past few weeks, Steve has noticed Baily stopping and watching if he saw another dog.  Previously he would think nothing of running over to play.

Dogs