Your puppy is nearing his first birthday? Let’s talk about adolescent dogs and some of the behavior you may be noticing now that is confusing you. Adolescence can be a difficult stage in a pup’s life and it will be helpful to know how to help them through this transition into adulthood.
Adolescence in dogs marks the change from puppyhood to adulthood and can start anywhere between 6-12 months of age and usually ends between 18-24 months of age. During this time there are huge hormonal changes and a pretty dramatic reorganization of your dog’s brain.
Some of us would say our dog’s were going through a “rebellious stage” during this time. We see behaviors that we thought we had gotten over reappearing sometimes.. regression to having accidents in the house, counter surfing, new fears etc.
The normal changes your pup is going through make him appear less obedient. What’s actually happening though is that he has an increased motivation to explore, interact, run and a greater need to interact with his environment and the people around him. Like a human teen, he has the energy and motivation to do more. More play, more exploring, more interaction with friends. However, he lacks the knowledge and experience necessary to manage his actions and reactions to things.
Just like a human teen, teenage dogs have a lot more energy and are much more interactive, making it harder for them to simply calm down. They may be conflicted when asked to stop doing something even in a situation where they would have been “obedient’ before. The changes are often mistakenly interpreted by their owners as the dog being stubborn or trying to assert dominance. Really they are just having trouble controlling their impulses.
I wanted to talk about this now because we have had a run of owners complaining of just these issues over the past year. Most of them have had dogs in the 18-24 month range and are frustrated to the point of wanting to regime their dogs. While I find this deeply disappointing, I do somewhat empathize with these people. Adolescence is easily the most frustrating stage of a dog’s life and it is for this reason that so many dogs do find themselves being rehired or left at shelters at this age. It is a lack of understanding on our parts that puts them in that position. That’s something I am hoping to combat with some good information.
During adolescence owners will complain of a new rash of nuisance behaviors, excessive barking, chewing, even perceived aggression or fear issues. These are all normal parts of the adolescent experience in dogs but do need to be managed accordingly obviously.
1.Too Much Energy
It is far easier to focus on how to manage the high energy levels of an adolescent dog, than to try to focus on controlling him. Focus your energy on structured play, short training sessions etc. The learning ability of an adolescent dog far exceeds that of older dogs so this is prime time to get some training in. Searching games, scent puzzles and long sniffy walks are great ways to dissipate some of the energy your dog has pent up and will help keep him calm as well.
2. Frustration at Meal Times
If your adolescent dog get frustrated at meal times, begging at the table, jumping, barking etc, rather than scolding or punishing ( I’d be frustrated too if everyone was eating but me) try feeding your dog before you eat and then give him something to chew or to occupy himself with while you eat.
3. Too Rough with Other Dogs
IF your dog starts playing too roughly with other dogs during this development period try to distract him and remove him from the situation, Stick to socializing with dogs he knows well but avoid new dogs at this time in order to avoid negative interactions.
4. When all else fails, call a professional!
Adolescent dogs also often exhibit fear or fear aggression in situations they were once comfortable in. This is also normal, if very frustrating, and it is important that they not be punished for having bad manners during this time. Yelling at the dog or using physical punishment is only going to make the fear worse. It’s far better to simply avoid the scary situations for a tie or hire a professional trainer who can help you work through this issue,