Dogs and humans are very different, but they do have this in common: adolescence is often a rocky period. Like human teens, adolescent dogs explore their world and test their own abilities in ways you won’t always like. Get ready for your pup to start acting on thoughts, like: “What’s on the other side of the fence?” “Can I boss these other dogs around?” “Can I catch that skunk?” “Who’s that cute Collie?”
All this adolescent adventuring can be wearing on pet parents; in fact, most dogs abandoned at shelters are between eight and 18 months old, at the height of adolescence.
The good news is, adolescence goes by much more quickly in canines than in people. And if you keep up with the guidelines that got you through puppyhood, as well as some new ones just for adolescents, you can keep enjoying your dog and lay the foundation for a happy life together.
What Defines a Dog’s Adolescent Stage
Adolescent dogs aren’t so very different from teenage humans, at least in attitude. They’re hyper, inattentive, exasperating, driven by hormones — if they’re not neutered or spayed, anyway — but somehow lovable in spite of it all.
At least, most of the time.
During adolescence, your dog will:
- Become more interested in the big, wild world than they are in you. A dog who once happily bounded up to you when you called may suddenly become deaf to the “come” command.
- Have lots of energy and need a good amount of exercise.
- Become sexually mature. Males may hop fences and take off in search of the ladies, and they may mark in the house to claim their territory. Females will mark to advertise their availability to the guys. Both may become aggressive with other dogs of the same sex. This is one of many reasons you should spay or neuter your dog.
- Forget commands and have a very short attention span. You may find your pup looking at you like you’re speaking Martian when you give them a command that they knew backward and forward last week.
- Possibly become shy or frightened of things they took in stride just a few weeks before. Don’t force your dog to confront something that frightens them, but don’t coddle — and thereby reward — their fears, either.
- Reach their adult height but be a bit awkward and gangly.
- Lose their cottony puppy coat.
Behavior Tips and Things to Keep In Mind
Keep your adolescent dog in a gated-off, puppy-proofed part of the house when someone can’t keep an eye on them because adolescents are often chewing machines. Just make sure they also get plenty of time to hang out and bond with the family.
A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. Your adolescent probably has energy to burn, so give them plenty of exercise. Just avoid letting them run and jump on hard surfaces, such as concrete. Your dog’s bones and joints are still developing, and the impact can hurt them.
Keep training sessions short and fun. Use treats and toys, and be prepared to go back a few steps to practice things they’ve learned before. Your adolescent pup has a very short attention span.
Be calm but consistent about house rules. Your dog is learning from you all the time, whether you want them to or not. Give a command only when you mean it, and kindly, gently insist that they obey.
Enroll in another obedience class. The guidance of a good trainer will help you get through adolescence, and so will the support of other people who are in the same boat with their “teenage” dogs.
As in humans, adolescence is a tumultuous time in a dog’s life. But if you understand the phase and know how to handle it, you’ll continue to enjoy your pup and will come out the other side with a great adult dog.
Are you dealing with an adolescent dog at home? Got any tips for keeping them happy and well-behaved? Let us know in the comments below!