Adolescence in dogs
It’s common knowledge that puppies are hard work, and no doubt you will have prepared yourself well for the challenging first few months of living with your new friend. There’s no denying that all puppies are cute and loads of fun, but they also bring quite a bit of mess, general chaos and quite a few sleepless nights and this is something we often expect and embrace as we know it’s not going to last for ever.
Once you and your puppy have mastered toilet training, a good recall, sleeping through the night and so on, you might dare to believe you’ve cracked it… but then your adorable, well behaved puppy suddenly hits adolescence. In other words, your puppy is now a ‘teenager’. Just like their human equivalents, dog teenagers vary hugely – some may temporarily go off the rails, some may become a little more anxious than usual and some may remain steady and easy going throughout.
As with all things, it’s best to be well prepared and expect a few challenges along the way – it won’t last for ever and more than anything, your young dog will need your patience and support during this potentially tricky developmental phase.
When does dog adolescence start and how long does it last?
Puppies usually become 'teenagers' at around five to six months of age and, depending on individual and breed, adolescence usually finishes around 18 months to two years.
What should I expect from my teenage puppy?
The most common reported issues around this time are general exuberant and boisterous behaviour, not coming back when called and failing to respond to training that has previously been taught.
There’s a lot going on in the teenage dog’s mind and body at this time and just like a human teenager, adolescent dogs can be frustrating and on occasion difficult to live with!
Here’s some advice on some of the common problems you might face and how to get through them:
Not coming back when called
Although it might seem that your dog is refusing to return to you when you call them, the truth is that they have a lot going on in their brains and this is overriding any previous training.
Free roaming dogs would naturally become more daring and exploratory during this time, and our pet dogs are subject to the same internal influences.
If your dog is persistently not returning to you when called, it’s wise to attach a long line to their harness when out and about – the length will give your dog the freedom to explore, but will prevent them from running off entirely. Having a bit of control at this time is important, as a dog that doesn’t come back when called is not safe. Not only might they annoy or worry other dogs, people or other animals, but they might run into a road or chase a deer for miles.
Continue to work on your dog’s recall, but go back to teaching this in an environment where there are fewer distractions – this is likely to only be a temporary setback and if you invest lots of time in retraining, you’ll hopefully be able to let your dog enjoy total freedom once again. For recall tips, watch our video.
Behaviour around other dogs
Even if you have done a great job socialising your puppy well with other dogs, during adolescence many dogs will to show an increased interest in interacting with and playing with other dogs on walks, which is perfectly natural.
Meeting, greeting and playing respectfully with other dogs is absolutely fine if all the interactions remain polite and friendly, but interrupt if things get too boisterous and make sure you can always call your dog away from other dogs if necessary. Your dog is young and impressionable and you’ll want to avoid them developing a preference for seeking out and playing with other dogs on their walks, as it may make it harder for you to influence their behaviour.
It’s always best to channel your dog’s playful instincts into playing with you and toys – this way you are the most interesting thing down the park, not other dogs! As with recall, increase your dog’s desire to play and interact with you where there are fewer distractions, so best to begin at home first.
Young dogs typically experience another ‘fear period’ around adolescence (they had their first one when a very young puppy). It may come as a big surprise when your seemingly confident and friendly young dog suddenly gets scared about things they previously didn’t - but try not to worry too much as usually it’s a passing phase and often all they need is your understanding and support.
Revisit your socialisation information paying particular attention to the areas that might be concerning your dog – make sure you expose them to things they are worried about gradually and at a pace they are comfortable with.
Avoid potentially stressful events at this time, such as a stay in kennels, a visit to a busy country show or neutering (unless an emergency of course) and try to keep things consistent, predictable and safe for your dog. Although it can be a worry seeing your dog a bit more jittery than usual, try to be calm and relaxed when around your dog – they are really perceptive and you’ll not want to give them more reason to be concerned.
Although your dog is likely to have his adult teeth by now, they may be some discomfort as they settle into their jaw – expect a need to chew harder at this time and make sure you provide plenty of opportunity for them to carry out this important behaviour. The good news is that chewing is calming for most dogs, so a win-win!
As persistent as your dog’s ‘bad habits’ appear to be, be persistent and consistent with your training and eventually it will pay off!
Things to remember
- Learning should be fun and enjoyable, never scary. Blue Cross recommends using positive reward based training methods as we know they work. Training techniques that cause pain or fear are counterproductive as dogs, like people, find it difficult to learn if they are stressed or uncomfortable. There is also a risk that the relationship between owner and dog will be damaged as the dog will find it hard to trust somebody that they’re frightened of.
- Dogs learn by association, and tend to repeat things they find rewarding. In training, it’s important to reward the things you want a dog to do, using the things that they like – this might be food, praise or play. If there is a behaviour you would rather your dog not do (such as jumping up at people which can be very rewarding!), then try to teach an alternative instead, such as sitting calmly or fetching a toy.
Brain games for dogs
Your adolescent dog will have plenty of energy at this age and it might be tempting to take them out for hours and hours to help burn off some of the excess! However you’ll still want to ensure that they aren’t doing more than they should from a physical point of view, so as well as training, it’s a good idea to introduce lots of enrichment to help keep them mentally occupied.
Activity feeders, scent games, trick training can really help mentally tire your young dog out without compromising their growing bodies
Will neutering help calm my dog down?
It’s a popular belief that neutering helps ‘calm a dog down’, but the truth is that unless your dog’s behaviour is motivated by a sexual drive, then it won’t make any difference.
Neutering is a complex issue and finding the right time to neuter is really important. It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your vet and we have some advice to help you make the right decision for your dog here.
Your relationship with your dog
As mentioned, it can be a frustrating time when it feels like your dog is going ‘off the rails’, but rest assured, this won’t last for ever. Make sure you have lots of fun with your dog, and be patient and consistent, even on the ‘bad’ days.
We all go through the teenage years at some point and it’s the people around us that can often make a big difference and help the most, and this will be the same for your dog.
For dog training tips, watch our videos.