Little puppies are so much fun. Before 5 or 6 months puppies tend to be dependent and connected. They are like little sponges who are hungry for more information and this is a great time for learning. When I taught puppy classes people would bring their puppies to class and tell me how their puppy never left their side, went outside off leash, always comes when called and were amazed at how their puppy was fully trained at such a young age. Imagine how I felt like the bad guy telling them that this will all change very soon when the puppy comes sliding into adolescence.
Just like humans, and other species, dogs go through an adolescent or teenage developmental period which can be trying to say the least. Adolescents can be impulsive, independent and persistent, all of which can make them frustrating to deal with at times. You may have taught your 4 month old puppy several behaviors that seemed reliable and well trained, but when you cue your teenage dog, your dog responds incorrectly, if at all. This can be more than a little damaging to the relationship you have with your dog because you take these responses personally, which you shouldn’t.
I have raised MANY puppies over the years. Heck, right now, I have three dogs smack in the middle of adolescence and I understand it can be frustrating. It isn’t surprising that the majority of dogs that end up in the animal shelter are adolescents (true for the bird world, as well). It isn’t difficult to figure out why, teenage dogs can be difficult.
What can you do?
So, how are some ways we can help ease our dogs through their crazy teenage years? There are a lot of things you can to help your dog through this challenging period. There will still be trying times, but it doesn’t have to be a battle of wills.
The first thing I want to encourage you to do is to try not to get frustrated. I know that can be difficult, but the truth is that the dog is not “doing” it. The dog is not being a “jerk” on purpose, he is just being what he is and doing what makes sense to him in that moment. This is not unlike how human adolescents respond. Human and canine adolescents can be impulsive, reactive and independent.
Try to keep your relationship with your dog intact by staying calm. Don’t resent him for being what he is. It is better to just manage, train and work your way through it.
Build a Solid Foundation
Train as much as you can when your dog is a young puppy. When puppies are very young their little brains are like sponges. They are so happy and eager to learn. This is the best time to instill some important foundation behaviors.
The best time to start this is from as young as possible. For me, as a breeder, this is going to start at 4 and 5 weeks old. When my puppies come from another trainer, it starts the moment my puppy comes home. The following list is a good place to start for your puppy foundation behaviors:
- Name recognition
- Hand target
- Leave it
- Come here
- Stand (default)
Additionally, young puppies should learn:
- How to sleep and relax in a crate
- How to travel in the car
- How to accept grooming/husbandry behaviors
- Potty training – at home and in other locations on lead
By building a very solid foundation in your puppy you will be setting up your pup’s adolescence to be a little bit more manageable.
One of the best ways to help your teenage dog is to offer plenty of mental stimulation. Mental stimulation is exercise for the mind. The nice thing is that mental stimulation can burn as much if not more energy than physical exercise. Yep, you read that right. Some well planned, structured mental stimulation can be a great way to burn energy and enrich your dog. Here are some great ways to provide mental stimulation:
- Training sessions
- Nose work games
- Trick training
- Puzzle/food toys
Many teenage dogs are exhibiting problem behavior because they are not getting enough exercise. Most dogs do not get sufficient exercise from just running around the yard or house and require more exercise.
It is important to know and understand your dog’s exercise needs. How much and what type of exercise a dog needs depends on the individual dog, the breed, the age, the family’s lifestyle and much more. A walk around the block will be fine for some dogs while others will be grateful for a 3 hour hike. Here are a few ways to offer safe, healthy exercise for your dog:
- Neighborhood walks
- Wading or swimming
Remember to be safe and take your puppy’s age, condition and any physical limitations into account. Be careful of running your young on pavement or for extended distances.
Also, we left playing ball off of this list. Ball play can be a great way to exercise your dog, but be aware because ball play can also ramp a dog up and increase arousal which may not give you the results you were hoping for.
Train and Manage Through It
If you have set a solid foundation when your puppy was young, you will be setting yourself up for a much easier time when your dog goes through adolescence. Continue to train and work on all the things you taught your dog when he was a little puppy. All those behaviors that seemed so easy and reliable like sit, lie down, come here, keep working on them. Keep training! Continue to reinforce ALL correct choices. By continuing to reinforce all correct responses you are not only are you making those behaviors stronger by creating a strong reinforcement history, but you are making the bond with you and your dog even stronger.
When you don’t think your dog can have success and respond correctly, don’t ask for the behavior, instead manage through it. What is the difference between managing and training? Well, training affects the outcome of the behavior for the “next time”. Managing just makes sure things go smoothly. For instance, when your dog is completely trained you may be able to ask him to sit and wait when guests come into the house, but when he is still learning you may need to have him on leash and have treats to help him. For this situation, training IS still happening, but you are managing the dog also by having the leash there to make sure he doesn’t make a bad choice, practice behaviors you don’t want him to and have a frustrating situation for both of you.
When does this start and how long does it last?
When adolescence starts and ends can be dependent on the individual dog. Some breeds and some individuals mature earlier, some later. In general, adolescence starts around 6 months and usually wraps up around 2 to 3 years old. The most shenanigans seem to go on from 6 months to about 16 months!
You got this!
Teenage dogs can be challenging and frustrating, but you can and will get through it! Admittedly, it takes time and work to raise a puppy well, but if you really put the work in when your dog is a puppy things will likely go a lot smoother.
Puppyhood and adolescence is a lot of work, but try to look at it and enjoy it as the amazing journey it is. You and your best friend, getting to know each other while he or she gets to know the world. It can be just as wonderful a time as it can be difficult depending on how you look at it and what you put into it!