I often feel that the adolescent stage in a dog’s life is overlooked, while on the other hand there is a lot of information out there about puppies; some really good stuff, some not so good. People often do a lot of research about how to care for their new puppy, but many people are shocked by behaviors that emerge once the puppy stage is over. Many surveys show that during this period of a dog’s life they are at the highest risk of being surrendered to a shelter.
I personally receive a lot of phone calls about dogs at this age. The puppy that was walking beautifully on the lead, staying close by their guardian’s side on walks, has all of a sudden started to pull like a train, running off and going deaf when called. Puppy biting is to be expected, but it gets harder when those bites are from an adolescent, especially with big breeds. They can now reach countertops, their jumping up has stopped being cute and instead of everyone stopping to say how adorable your pup is, they are now shouting at you because your over-excited dog is scaring theirs and hasn’t quite learned how to read other dog’s communication properly yet. This is not a ‘how-to’ on adolescent dogs, but a few things that may help. As always, if you are really struggling, seek support from a force-free professional.
Things to consider:
1. The behaviors they are presenting are often very normal! It can be really tough but try to remember they are not being naughty, they are being dogs. Finding appropriate outlets for their normal dog behaviors is key.
2. Adolescence can occur at different ages depending on breed and also the individual dog. Many two-year-olds are still going through this stage.
3. Your dog is not just going through massive hormonal changes but changes in their brain too. Quick castration to reduce these hormonal changes can be damaging and often make situations worse. It’s no different to a child becoming a teenager, apart from a teenager is usually a lot harder to deal with and the adolescent stage lasts a lot longer in humans.
4. Just because teething is nearing its end does not mean they don’t need to chew. Chewing is a large part of being a dog. Not all dogs love to chew the same things. Try different things to see what they enjoy.
5. Sleep patterns change. They will need less sleep and sometimes struggle to settle at night. In this case, use lots of enrichment. This can include toys such as Kongs, Licki Matts, scatter feeding, and Snuffle Matts. Also, have enriching walks; slow down, let them sniff, and encourage foraging. Running around like a loon isn’t the answer and will only tire them physically, leaving you with a frustrated brain and an exhausted body which is a recipe for frantic, hyperactive and frustrated behaviors.
6. It is common for dogs at this age to have spurts of energy around late afternoon and evening. This can be difficult – I’ve known lots of dogs to start biting and pulling at their humans at this time. Try to initiate some level of interaction. Pre-empt this time. If you know they go a bit crazy at 5 PM take them on a sniffy walk at 4.45 pm. Do some scent work in the garden or around the house. Give them a frozen Kong or a raw bone. Make sure they have an outlet for their energy and frustration.
7. Adolescent dogs can have little spurts of fearful periods. It’s common for them to sometimes feel overwhelmed by things they appeared to be OK with before. Let them explore at their own pace. Support them, be patient and don’t push them into situations they are struggling with.
8. Don’t stop telling your puppy they are amazing. It’s easy to ignore the perfect pup walking by your side. It’s easy not to notice the little glances back at you on walks. Don’t just notice the bad behaviors, do a happy dance and have a party every time they get it right. This will make them want to continue these behaviors when they reach adolescence.
9. Your dog’s behavior will be somewhat of a yo-yo. Seemingly forgetting everything they have learned one day and being an angel the next. Keep at it, it’s normal.
At this age, they are finding out who they are in the world. They are exploring, finding out what works for them and what doesn’t. Remember how it felt to be a teenager; the confusion, the change in how you thought as a child and then started thinking like an adult, the emotions flooding over you, the feeling of being out of control. Our dogs probably experience adolescent life in a very similar way. They may appear to be over the top, stubborn, obnoxious pains in the arses, but they are struggling too! They need patience, support, consistency, and outlets for their normal species-specific behaviors. Try to ride the storm with them, not against them. It will be worth all the hard work, I promise