Adolescence…in DOGS??

Yep, it’s real.  And it’s EXACTLY what you think it is.

Every dog goes through an adolescent period and some breeds and mixes have it worse than others.  It generally begins when dogs are six months and continues until they reach maturity, around two or three years old.  

If you have an adolescent dog in your home, I feel your pain.  And I’m here if you need a shoulder to cry on. 

As a dog trainer, and a person who is currently in the adolescent trenches with BOTH my dogs (Willow at 18 months and Marquisa at 6 months), I’m going through it, too.  But I can testify that it’s not all that bad!

Canine adolescent can be a blessing or a curse.  And it all depends on who you talk to.  

Experienced and prepared puppy owners see it as an opportunity to get down and dirty and make some awesome things happen.  They take this time to proof behaviors like recall and social manners, start some really fun stuff like off-leash reliability and big-kid activities, and build an even stronger bond with their pet.  In their mind, it’s just another step on the journey to a well-behaved dog!

New or unprepared puppy owners, though…they’ll tell you you’re in for the ride of your life.  

And I won’t sugar coat it – you are.

It’s going to be challenging and hard, and you’re going to feel like you’re just going backwards…but don’t worry.  It’s an amazing experience if you just know what you’re doing.

And we’re here to give you some direction and guidance to help you through it all.

A lot of owners choose to give up on their adolescent dogs because yes, it is hard.  Their once-perfect puppy is now a crazy lunatic that wants to chew the furniture and bark at everything and just won’t listen!

They didn’t think they signed up for this nonsense when they brought home that adorable bundle of cuteness a few months ago.

But they did, and they’ve got to deal with it or else they’ll never know the pleasure and joy that comes with an amazlingly raised adult dog.

Something to keep in mind:  Just like human teenagers, while hormones have a lot to do with adolescent changes, they’re not the only thing responsible (even neutered dogs will exhibit these behaviors, sometimes a lot more than intact dogs).  Your dog’s brain, body, and emotions are growing and developing, and the apparent quirkiness of the process and the undesirable behaviors you’re experiencing are all perfectly natural. 

Here are some facts about canine adolescence that you may not be aware of, and some tips that, I hope, will help guide you through this challenging time with your “teenage” dog.

1.  You will experience occasional lapses in their attention

 At times he may look at you as though you had just addressed him in Mandarin, trying to convince you that you never taught him the sit command. Handle these lapses the same way you would with an untrained dog; take a step or two backward in your training plan and patiently re-teach him the command by luring him into the requested position.  Be sure to make it worth his while to listen!  Keep his focus on you, using favorite toys and treats, and keep your training sessions short and functional, always ending with a game or playtime.  If you take away the fun, he will show even less interest.

2.  Have patience . . . lots of it . . .

This is not a time to expect any quick fixes.

Remember to breathe; realize that your dog is also going through changes in his life and needs you to coach and parent him.  Remember to provide plenty of exercise, continue to crate/confine when he or she is unattended, and keep your training sessions fun. And by all means, hang on to your sense of humor. Although your pup may try your patience, take heart — adolescence is one thing your dog is guaranteed to outgrow!

3.  Have Fun!

It’s easy to feel down and unmotivated, especially when it seems all your dog wants to do is ignore you.  But keep your chin up!  You’ve just got to show him how awesome YOU still are!

Play with your dog.  Play is an underused tool in dog training and relationship building and if used correctly, will help you build an even stronger bond with your dog.  Use play after a session to let some pent-up energy out, or use it as a reward for good behavior!

Tug-o-war, fetch, hide-and-seek, or even a simple game of “find it” will help build your bond, and he’ll start coming to you for entertainment instead of seeking it out elsewhere.

4.  Exercise your dog

Adolescent dogs tend to have a lot of excess energy; providing appropriate and ample exercise can make owning one of these teens a whole lot easier! 

Take a walk, throw a ball in the backyard, play some tug, enrichment his mind with some mental puzzles…these are all great and easy ways to burn off that never-ending stream of energy.

Adolescence is difficult for every species but always remember your dog will grow out of it!  Take advantage of this difficult stage in your dog’s life to re-establish your bond with him, build your relationship, and learn from eachother.  It’s just one more step on the journey to an amazing life-long companion, and you’ll never reach your goal if you give up too soon.