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Why are Adolescent dogs so difficult?

28/02/2022 - Adolescent Dogs

Why are adolescent dogs so difficult?

As anyone who has raised a dog (or a human!) will tell you – adolescence is a difficult time! Many of our clients have done everything right: as dedicated and proactive owners, they got their puppy into classes shortly after they arrived home and have worked hard to instil good habits and get some solid training under their belt. It’s not unsurprising, then, that they might feel more than a little disheartened when their perfect pups reach adolescence and suddenly develop a serious case of cloth ear! So, what’s going on?

Unfortunately, there are very few studies to tell us exactly what our teenage dogs are going through. However, what we do know is that adolescent mammals are undergoing a huge shift – with dramatic hormonal changes and extensive reorganisation of the brain both occurring during this time. We know, too, that adolescence increases risk-taking, affects mood and irritability and can create conflict with primary caregivers. In our domestic dogs, reaching reproductive maturity means competing motivations: being with humans vs finding a mate. For these reasons, we may see teenage dogs straying further on walks and being less inclined to come back when called. They may struggle to focus & manage their emotions – leading them to regress into the jumpy, bite-y creature we thought we left behind in puppyhood – and become generally less obedient. 
While quality research into this period of our dogs’ lifecycle is thin on the ground, one in-depth study does show us that adolescent dogs are more likely to not respond to cues from their carer while still responding to cues from other people. We also know that dogs with insecure attachments – those who suffer more anxiety when separated from their carer, for example – are more likely to hit puberty earlier in life and are more likely to show disobedience towards that person. The good news is that the evidence shows us that dogs do, indeed, grow out of this phase!
Unfortunately, adolescence is the peak age at which dogs are often rehomed. The problem behaviours that can arise during teenage-hood can also lead owners to either give up and stop working with their dog or to resort to punishment-based training methods – both of which can have long-term impacts on our dogs’ welfare and our relationships with them. It’s important, therefore, to remember that this is a passing phase and isn’t a sign that our dogs are “bad” or that our training hasn’t worked. Just like human teenagers, our dogs are going through big changes – physically and behaviourally – and they need our support more than ever to help them transition smoothly into adulthood.
So, now that we can reassure ourselves that these problems are not our fault and that our dogs are simply going through a difficult, but normal, time in their lives – what can we do to support them and get through this? Some simple things we can do include:
Go back to basics: Just as we did during puppyhood, using management (such as baby gates at home and long lines on walks) will help to prevent our (now bigger, stronger) dogs from practicing unwanted behaviours such as jumping up when we walk in the front door or running off on walks. Using these important tools to avoid conflict and keep everyone happy and safe, alongside rewarding the small things just like we did in those first few months, will make it much easier for our teenage dogs to be successful. This will ensure they continue to learn the right lessons – that paws-on-the-floor is the best tactic to get attention from us and coming back when called pays off well. Management is key to ensure they don’t learn those big lessons we really don’t want them to learn – like how much fun it is to completely ignore our increasingly frantic yelling and chase after that dog/deer/squirrel. This is why our training classes are a 44 week programme to ensure you have the right support during the most critical time of your dogs life. Details of these can be found here

Be sympathetic & patient: We’ve worked hard since our puppy came home to teach them important lessons which will last them a lifetime – we do ourselves, as well as our dogs, a disservice to fall at this last hurdle. It’s a universally rubbish feeling when our previously angelic and faithful pup starts to ignore us – especially when they happily listen to our friend they’ve only met today! – but as the studies show us; this is normal! It’s not just us going through a difficult time – our dogs are, too. At the other end of this transitional period, we will be met with the adult dog we have invested so much time and effort in. Patience is a virtue and continuing to trust the process will preserve your relationship with your dog.

Set your dog up for success: This goes hand in hand with “going back to basics.” Our dogs aren’t being “naughty” or disobeying us out of spite – so don’t fall into the trap of feeling cross that your pup isn’t doing something he “knows” how to do. When our pups were small, we carefully set them up to succeed by making things easier for them in new places and around new distractions. Think of the changes your dog is going through as internal distractions – these changes to their brains and hormone levels make it genuinely difficult for them to continue performing to the level they did before puberty hit. Keep this in mind and stick to walks on a long line and working on those important foundations.

Avoid resorting to punishment: If we’ve followed the steps above, hopefully we are avoiding most situations where our dogs may really start to push our buttons. But we’re all human and our dogs are teenagers, so it’s bound to happen at times. Think ahead and plan your escape: don’t be afraid to cut a walk short if you can feel your blood beginning to boil. There are worse things than heading home and setting pup up with some fun enrichment indoors or in a secure garden. What we don’t want to do, is resort to yelling, lead jerks or other forms of punishment – we know these things increase aggressive behaviour and anxiety in dogs and will harm our relationship. This will not only make adolescence harder, but could have a lasting impact on your dog’s behaviour into adulthood.
So, remember that you made it through puppyhood and you’ll make it through this! The training you’ve done so far WILL pay off, even if it doesn’t feel like it now. Actually, it already is – imagine where you’d be right now without it! Don’t blame yourself – and don’t blame your dog, either! This is just an inevitable part of your puppies growing up and you will both get through this together. You know that everything you did got you through those tricky months of puppyhood and it will again!

For more help join our surviving adolesence course here online.

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