What to expect when your dog hits adolesence?
Anyone who’s raise a puppy will be able to tell you that puppies are hard work! What they’ll also be able to tell you is that a teenage dog is even harder work! Yep, sorry puppy owners – you’ll be wishing for these days back soon enough. The good news, though, is that it’s all normal. Your unruly teen is not broken and you’ve probably not done anything wrong – it’s just biology’s fun way of humbling us. So, what can you expect when your puppy reaches adolescence?
Hazard Avoid Period (or Fear Period)
You may be aware that young puppies go through a hazard avoid period, where they are more fearful and susceptible to developing aversions and phobias to things if they have a bad experience. Well, dogs have multiple fear periods throughout their development – the exact timing of these later fear periods varies from breed to breed. So, you may find that your confident teen suddenly becomes worried by things that didn’t bother them before. Take note of their nervousness and try to avoid scary situations for them. Give them plenty of reassurance if they need it, and treat them with the same compassion and gentleness you would have when they were little. They need your support to avoid developing any long-lasting fears during this period.
In contrast to the fear period, dogs will often find new-found confidence during their adolescence and start to roam further from you on walks. They may start taking more interest in the things around them, particularly other dogs. Their hormones are telling them to do this, and it’s important we don’t let them practice inappropriate and unwanted behaviours. You may find our previously stellar recall has deteriorated – this isn’t a failing on your part, but a natural symptom of your dog’s development. Pop the long line back on and work on the recall just like you did during puppyhood, before your dog learns that running off after other dogs is the best thing ever!
Struggling to Focus
As they go through numerous physiological changes, including their brain rewiring itself, you may find your dog regresses back to puppyhood. Some annoying behaviours like jumping, lead biting etc may creep back in. They’re not being naughty or difficult, they’re genuinely struggling to concentrate and may be feeling more frustrated than usual as their impulse control deteriorates. Help them out just like you did when they were a pup – keeping training sessions and even walks, if necessary, a bit shorter so they’re not too tired to concentrate by the end, using food scatters instead of the behaviour and help them calm down, and cueing a more appropriate behaviour are all good ways to avoid these behaviours become ingrained habits. Be patient and try not to get annoyed with them; they’re having a tough time, too!
Not Listening to You
Did you know that evolution has taught our adolescents to ignore their care giver? Possibly not surprising to some parents out there – or owners of teenage dogs! But it’s true – studies have shown that adolescent dogs will actually respond better to cues from strangers than their carer. This is because their biology is telling them that they don’t need to focus on the secure relationships they already have and that they need to instead start to disperse and build new relationships. Think about wild, social animals who may start to venture away from their family and form new social groups when they reach adolescence. So, when your teenage dog completely mugs you off in favour of literally anyone else, don’t take it as an insult or a failing on your part!
You may notice that your teenage dog starts to take more umbrage with other dogs. They may be more defensive or vocal towards other dogs. This doesn’t mean your dog is “bad” or “mean,” they’re simply going through lots of hormonal changes and feeling tetchy! It’s also very normal for dogs to become more “dog selective” as they get older – just like us humans, not every dog will get along with every other dogs. Puppies tends to be more indiscriminate and will play with anyone, but as our dogs age they start to have preferences and some dogs will just rub them up the wrong way. This isn’t unusual, and we should respect this and listen to our dogs – watch for the signs that your dog is not comfortable and remove them from the situation.
While this isn’t unusual behaviour, it is important we continue to give our dog lots of positive experiences around other dogs and help them learn to be calm and relaxed, as well as able to engage and respond to you. This is why ongoing group training classes throughout adolescence are so useful – studies show that aggression towards other dogs, including towards other dogs in the same household, is lower in dogs who are continuing to attend group classes.
We know that adolescence is a tough time for dog owners – we’ve been there! But consistent training throughout this teen phase and into adulthood is the best way to avoid any lasting bad habits, as well as maintaining and building on the work we put in during puppyhood. This is why we offer a 44-week training course to support dogs and their owners throughout the first year of their life, to help with their continued socialisation and keep their training on track. Book training here