How to deal with your adolescent dog

All puppies are going to grow up to be adult dogs. But just like us, there’s a stage in-between when they are adolescents. And just like teenagers, this stage of development can be testing. The sweet puppy you brought home will become more challenging and it can be a confusing time for everyone in the family.

Adolescence can begin anytime from 13 weeks old and can continue until your dog is just over 2 years old, depending on their breed. In general, small breeds mature slightly faster than giant breeds.

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Changing behaviour

The adolescent will begin to struggle with certain things as they suddenly have new hormones to contend with. This can mean they’re easily distracted by the environment and equally, they find it more difficult to learn and retain information. They will also develop a desire to be more independent and engage in more risk taking and thrill seeking behaviours. Adolescent behaviours include:

  • Not coming back when off lead
  • Barking at dogs when on the lead
  • Being destructive when home alone
  • Not responding to training
  • Being OTT with older dogs in the home
  • Refusing to do things they had previously been good at
  • Stealing items and running off with them

What to do about it

Adolescence can be a really testing time for your family and your adolescent dog as both want different things. Try to make allowances for young dog, remember this is a temporary stage and will pass.

Your adolescent dog is not going to respond to being controlled, they need to hear ‘you can’ not ‘don’t’. There are a number of things that will help get your dog through this time and keep a good relationship between them and your family.

Channel your dog’s energy

By giving them the right activities to do, your adolescent is going to be less inclined to do the things they shouldn’t. Look at their breed type and select activities they will enjoy doing; this will engage their brain and help to keep them out of mischief. 

Activities could include scent work games, hiding treats or toys for them to find, trick training or catch and retrieve games. This will channel your dog’s need for thrills and excitement into something constructive. For example, catching a football can be as exciting as chasing a jogger.

Set your dog up to succeed

Dogs need to be set up for success when it comes to training. If they succeed in doing something more than they fail, they will enjoy training and want to continue. In many cases the basics need to be reiterated to them, as they can forget at this age due to the changing chemicals in their body.

Tailor the training to your dog’s specific abilities – they won’t want to train if you expect too much from them. They can’t go from being a puppy to a worldly adult overnight, so make to celebrate their successes to keep them motivated.

Tailor their training

Adolescence means your dog will start to struggle to learn new things and get distracted easily, so make your training sessions short with breaks in the middle. By breaking off after 5-10 minutes to play a game, your dog’s desire to learn will increase.

At this time, concentrate on training behaviours that are essential for living in harmony with the family. Unexciting non-essential training can restart after your dog’s adolescence, when their ability to concentrate is better. 

Retrain don’t punish

When it has all gone wrong or your adolescent is doing something less than desirable, always retrain rather than punish. If your dog suddenly only hears you say ‘no’ and ‘don’t’ they will either stop listening or stop trying to do the right thing, because they aren’t getting rewarded for it.

Dealing with jumping up

If your dog has always been allowed to jump up, they will assume it is fine. It’s going to be difficult to stop this behaviour by simply saying ‘no’. Instead, prepare your visitors to throw a treat or toy before your dog’s front feet have left the floor. If your dog has this every time people visit, they will learn that they should keep their feet on the floor when meeting and greeting people.

Dealing with destruction

It’s very important to never punish destruction in the home when your dog is left alone, as this will cause more problems and increasing their anxiety.

If your dog is destroying things they find lying around the home, the chances are this is through boredom. In the majority of cases, looking at the activities your dog has when left home alone is the first step in retraining the behaviour. Provide them with a good level of exercise during the day and leave them with varied activity feeding toys and other things to do while you are out. There are many different toys on the market to suit all dogs.

Dealing with other dogs

If your adolescent becomes overexcited when they see other dogs, try to calm them before they meet them. Stopping them meeting other dogs altogether won’t help, but meetings should be kept as calm as possible.

Equally, it’s important your dog doesn’t behave inappropriately with older dogs in the home. If they’re allowed to bully or dominate older dogs, it will lead to problems later on. Sometimes the older dog may try to discipline the adolescent – and if they don’t accept this, squabbles may begin between the two. If your adolescent is behaving inappropriately to an older dog, they should be removed from the situation.

Dealing with pulling on the lead

If your dog pulls on the lead, then changing from a standard lead to a harness can help. However, it’s also important to train them to walk nicely on a lead. Loose lead walking is taught at most dog training classes. We strongly recommend taking your dog to training classes, as reward based learning in the company of other dogs is a very worthwhile activity at this stage in their development.

Adolescence can be a challenging time, but if you engage your dog in the right way, it can also be a fun and enjoyable time too. Remember, it won’t be long until your gangly teenager grows into a mature adult.