Coping with adolescence in dogs
You bought your puppy, and everyone told you about all the pitfalls and gave you a wealth of advice on toilet training, teething, sleeping routine. In fact, you couldn’t get people to shut up about telling you what worked for their dog and how best to train your puppy! Sound familiar?
Now your puppy is six months old, they have been perfect in every way, the toilet training went like a dream, you have worked hard on recall and they were doing fab. Then one day you got up and they seemed incapable of doing anything they knew only days ago. Welcome to the world of adolescence!
They go deaf when you call them, they are incapable of holding their attention on anything, they start mouthing everything they can, their ability to behave appropriately with other dogs is gone and they are sometimes inexplicably terrified of things they weren’t before. These are just some of the joys of having an adolescent dog.
Oh, and if you have a humper, getting them neutered during their adolescence will not fix it, and it will definitely not calm them down.
It is a phase, and they will mature into the dog you knew that fabulous puppy would become. Each dog’s adolescence is different, some you don’t even notice, others are long and arduous for both dog and owner.
There is a reason most dogs are given to shelters during their adolescence, because it can be hard work. If you didn’t know this was a phase they are going to go through and you thought this was it forever, you can see how people think they cannot cope with it.
So, what is happening with your dog? Why is he/she not coming back? It isn’t because they are stubborn or deliberately ignoring you. Our dogs have a lot going on in their bodies during this phase of maturity. The dog is in a phase where they are becoming more exploratory, the world is a new and exciting place, and you need to motivate them to want to come back to you.
Help your dog, attach a long line to their harness in this phase, this helps our dog get it right and reduce the risk of them getting it wrong. We don’t want your recall cue to become tarnished with them finding it more reinforcing to go across the field to play with that other dog instead of returning to you. But also try and remember what it was like to be a hormonal teenager, so you can have a bit of sympathy.
Why are they chewing everything, they have already gone through teething? Well, those teeth are getting bedded in, so they need to chew harder, they need a variety of chews, toys etc of different textures and they will still benefit from cool things to help calm their gums and teeth.
On a positive note, chewing is very calming for dogs, so if they are given the right things to chew, they will not chew your furniture and you are left with a calm relaxed dog.
Adolescent dogs also have increased body sensitivity so playing roughly or being over enthusiastic with our hands on their body can lead to over excitement and more biting which is not what we want for our pups, we want to help them feel calm and more gentle touch in this period can help that.
They are socially awkward with other dogs. The teenage dog can be a lot more boisterous, if they are a boy dog and they smell a female they may feel love is in the air, even if she doesn’t. Help your dog by being more interesting so you are the centre of their world, they want to play with you and don’t allow them to interact with every dog they see. Reinforce them for positive interactions with other dogs when they are respectful and calm.
The positive thing to remember, especially when your dog is being hard work in this phase, is that the training you continue to put in and the training they received as a puppy is still all in there and when they mature, they will be the dog you always wanted.
We don’t give up on our kids when they are hard work, so let’s not give up on our dogs, give them the chance, they need to find themselves, to mature and to become a valuable member of society again.
Our dogs often go through another fear period during their adolescence, which may seem strange if they are suddenly scared of random things. Don’t push your dog to interact with people/things they show fear of. Instead let them approach in their own time, encourage, support and allow them to make their own mind up, so if they don’t want to approach a person, they don’t have to.
Doing training with your adolescent dog is so important, the most important thing to remember though is training has to be fun. If you are not having a good time, neither is your dog. Focus on fun training, tricks, fun recall games but not in the most distracting park in the world, find a quiet spot and help them get the wins they deserve.
Having an adolescent dog can be the most rewarding experience when you see that dog mature into the dog you knew they could always be.