How To Survive The Challenges Of Dog Adolescence

Training and exercise can help you and your young dog overcome the behavior challenges of dog adolescence.

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Adolescent dogs can be more mouthy, pull on the leash and bark more. imantsu/iStock/Thinkstock
Adolescent dogs can be more mouthy, pull on the leash and bark more. imantsu/iStock/Thinkstock
Donna Gleason

Sweet Gretchen came to me as a puppy and was the cutest dog I have ever seen. What made our relationship special is that I helped whelp her, as I was her midwife and was there when she took her first breath. She was charming, sweet and perfect (at least that is how I saw her).

As a puppy, I made sure she was well socialized with people and other dogs. We went to puppy kindergarten and visited many different public areas where I taught her to focus on me no matter what was going on. It was important that Gretchen became well socialized — after all, she is a Great Dane, and there is nothing worse than a big dog who has no manners and behaves poorly.

When Gretchen was about 10 months old she became “that” dog. Here is what “that” dog looked like:

  • The dog who wanted to play with her leash and mouth her owner.
  • The dog who paid attention to everything in the environment except her owner.
  • The dog who pulled on her leash.
  • The dog who began to bark at… everything.

How does a dog go from being a perfect puppy to an unruly canine? It’s called canine adolescence. In my opinion, canine adolescence is no different than what parents go through when their children enter their teenage years. If you have raised a teenager, you understand this perfectly. If you have never had children, think back to your behavior during your adolescent years. I’m pretty sure that now you understand!

Facts About Canine Adolescence
Typically, the stage referred to as canine adolescence can begin as early as 6 months of age and can last until the dog is 18 months old, depending on the size of the breed. Interesting fact: Larger breed dogs tend to mature slower in their earlier years so their adolescent period tends to begin later and last longer. Overall, canine adolescence is a time where:

  • Soft puppy coats are replaced by an adult coat.
  • Dogs become more independent
  • Exercise requirements change.
  • Hormones kick in and they become sexually mature.

Additionally, my personal and informal research indicates that approximately 95 percent of owners who are living (or have lived) with an adolescent canine believe their dog developed some form of selective listening and/or amnesia during this stage. Essentially, owners of adolescent dogs agree, this is a time when their sweet and perfect dog(s) stop listening and forget everything they have ever learned.

The good news is that with a bit of planning, and a lot of perseverance, you can get through your dog’s adolescent stage and still maintain a sense of humor!

Tips For A Happy Life With A Young Dog
Armed with some guidelines, you and your young dog can survive and even enjoy this brief life stage.

1. Be resolute. Your resolve during this time is key to success. Even though living with an adolescent dog may be challenging and even frustrating, the expectations you had for your dog as a puppy still need to apply. You may have to go back to some basic training, but the time you spend standing firm with your expectations will be well worth the investment.

Here’s an idea that you might find appealing. Take the skills you learned in puppy kindergarten and find ways to use them as part of everyday life. Having your dog perform basic obedience skills as part of everyday life helps you to raise a thinking dog, provides your dog with opportunities for mental stimulation, and offers “free training” sessions throughout the day. Here are some suggestions:

  • Teaching your dog to sit can help to keep “four on the floor” when meeting guests.
  • Teaching your dog to sit/wait at a specific place can eliminate begging at the dinner table while you are eating.
  • Teaching your dog to sit/wait at the front door will keep him from bolting outside every time the door is opened.
  • Teaching your dog to sit/wait before eating his meal can help to reduce impulsivity and many times will help slow down fast eaters.

2. Up the exercise, safely. As your dog enters into adolescence, his exercise requirements will most likely increase. Always remember that a tired dog is a good dog.

The first step in changing any exercise plan is to consult with your veterinarian and have your dog’s current level of fitness evaluated. This assessment will help you figure out which activities may or may not be appropriate for your dog. Once you have an understanding of your dog’s medical status, the next step is to look at your dog’s breed and temperament, as each may impact your exercise options. Most important, develop your program so that you are able to follow through on a regular basis.

Note: Younger dogs need to be exercised regularly, but did you know that too much exercise can cause damage to their bones and joints? Veterinarians typically recommended that dogs under 18 months stay away from rigorous and sustained running activities, in order to reduce the risk of causing damage to their developing bones and joints.

3. Understand your dog’s fears. All canines go through a Second Fear Impact Period during their adolescent stage. This stage, also known as Fear of New Situations (FNS), is characterized with the development of fearful behaviors that can range from slight to severe when faced with new situations, people, objects and environments. It can also include new fears with familiar situations. Although there is no documented research as to why this occurs, preliminary findings seem to indicate it may be partially due to growth spurts and hormonal changes that are occurring simultaneously during this adolescent stage. Here are some tips to help your dog through FNS:

  • Don’t force your dog to face his fear.
  • Try to avoid stressful or traumatic situations.
  • Don’t punish or become angry at your dog, Remember, your dog can’t help it.
  • Try not to inadvertently reinforce the behavior by being overprotective.
  • Continue socialization with people, dogs and objects, at a distance and length of time that your dog can tolerate and exhibit no reaction.
  • Be patient.

It’s All Temporary
If you have tried everything and are still frustrated with your adolescent dog, be happy your adolescent is not a human. The adolescent stage for humans (commonly referred to as teenagers) is measured in years. The canine adolescent/teenager stage is measured in months!

Article Categories:
Dogs · Health and Care

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