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Surviving and Thriving through Adolescence
Around 7 – 9 months of age (on average) your puppy will enter adolescence. During this life stage, growth and sex hormones will change their physical body, their emotional responses, and change how they respond to you and the environment around them.
This post will give tips and ideas to help you and your dog thrive through this stage of their life.
Behaviours that you thought were well trained start to fall apart. You may stop talking about cute, cuddly, well-behaved, great recall, loves to be near me and may find yourself saying things like unruly, stubborn, mouthy, impulsive, reactive, naughty.
You may see a resurgence in:
Hormonal changes happening in your dog’s body, may bring on:
Your puppy may suddenly engage in higher arousal behaviours such as barking at dogs or people on walks, pulling excessively (far more than ever) on the leash, leaving your side and moving farther away from you if off leash, and exhibiting selective hearing that leans more toward not hearing than actually listening to any cues you might be giving.
The emotional responses from your dog at this age aren’t really within their control. Just like in human teenagers, the emotional part of the brain may be more developed than the thinking part of the brain. As a result, when faced with a specific situation, your dog’s brain reaches for an emotional response and that response is often out of proportion to the situation at hand. Your dog’s arousal goes from 0 to 100 whether it be high excitement, high frustration, or excessive fear.
As a puppy owner, laying a strong foundation of basic skills before and during the early stages of adolescents can set you and your adolescent up for a successful transition.
Focus on growing a foundation layer of:
As your young dog enters adolescence, they start to look like an adult which makes it easy to forget that they still have the mental and emotional capacity of a teenager. Understanding what to expect can go a long way to helping you navigate this life stage.
To thrive through this life stage, it is important to think about providing unpressured support that helps your dog feel secure.
When you are ready to throw your hands up in despair remember that your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time. Let this be your mantra over the next 18 – 24 months!
To navigate this life stage with your sanity intact and your relationship with your dog stronger than ever, check out these 5 tips:
1) Focus on growing concepts instead of obedience
During this life stage, the five most important concepts to grow in your dog are:
2) Back to basics
Grow calmness by reinforcing calm behaviour, utilizing passive calming activities such as scatter feeding, and stuffed Kongs, and making time for active rest. A calm dog is a dog that can make good choices.
3) Proactive management
Prevent your dog from practicing behaviours you don’t like. Does your adolescent dog jump all over people who come into your home because they are so excited and can’t control themselves?
How about setting up the environment so that your dog can’t do those undesirable behaviours. Use a crate, ex-pen, gate, or your dog’s leash, give your dog a long-lasting chew or food puzzle so the guest can enter your home while your dog remains calm and practices behaviour you want instead of rehearsing behaviour you don’t want.
4) Play Games
Games allow you to create a no pressure solution for your teenager.
Rather than focusing on growing obedience type behaviours, use this time to focus on your relationship. Play specific games that encourage growth of the concepts mentioned above, continue to provide clear expectations and boundaries through management, and give extra support when needed during any “blips” that might occur.
Games based training starts with learning and playing at home. You can train ‘for the situation’ before you put your dog ‘in the situation’. This type of training avoids putting your dog in an environment they don’t have the skillset to deal with.
5) Focus on positive interactions
This is the time to grow your relationship bank account. Minimize the withdrawals (negative interactions) as withdrawals can increase or escalate undesirable behaviour. Grow the deposits (positive interactions) to strengthen your relationship.
Be prepared for Blips and know that they are normal!
What is a ‘blip’? A blip is the occasion when something goes wrong such as your dog making a choice you don’t like, or something bad happens to your dog.
By learning skills through the power of games you will be empowered to make good decisions for your dog, you will have the tools your need to avoid situations that lead to poor choices, and you will know what to do if you need to intervene to help your dog make a good choice.
Having an adolescent dog can be both challenging and extremely rewarding. So much depends on what you bring to the relationship both in terms of knowledge, interactions with your dog, and understanding.
To help you navigate this stage of your dog’s life, Proud of My Dog has put together a class just for owners of adolescent dogs.
Our Becoming Adolescent class is available both live on-line (year-round) and in-person (Spring – early Fall).
Find out more on our Upcoming Classes-Overview page.
P.S. Check out these blog posts for more on adolescence in dogs:
1) Annoyingly adolescent! by Kamal Fernandez
"Adolescents is a testing time to say the least, and this is when relationships are largely made or broken. Your young dog is transitioning from a puppy to an adult, and as a result their body will be undergoing lots of changes. Hormones will be running a-mock, and their behaviour changes aren’t them being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’, but physiological changes that they can't help."
2) Adolescent Dogs: 6 Facts To Know by Nancy Tucker
"Many young puppies balk at wandering too far away from the safety of home. They’ll take a few steps on-leash and then will suddenly slam on the brakes and stand still like a statue. Nature designs them this way, for good reason. Adolescence serves to create just the opposite: A biological urge to wander further from the nest and to explore new places."
3) Top 10 tips – for the Adolescent Dog Owner by Nancy Tanner
"I love this developmental phase, love it with a capital L.O.V.E. It’s a time of high energy, opinions, scampiness, testing, freedom seeking, and power. Your adolescent dog is bringing it all to the table, no hidden secrets, good, bad, or indifferent. Raw honesty. Everything feels acutely alive, and with this new amplification in personality and physical power comes specific obligations for the handler."
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