Surviving Your Teenage Dog

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You survived the first few months with your new puppy. And that’s no small feat! Puppies are a lot of work. On the horizon, a new challenge awaits you: canine teenagerhood. Yep, dogs go through puberty too! Similar to humans, puppies go through this development stage, as they reach physical, social and reproductive maturity. 

Teenage dogs can be challenging for owners as they navigate all the changes this stage brings. It’s common to hear that teenage dogs are easily distracted, bouncing off the walls, and ignoring their owners. They may even seem downright moody, obnoxious, or rebellious. Sound familiar?

Whether your teenage pup has you pulling your hair out, or you’re preparing for your puppy’s upcoming teenage phase, this article will help you understand what’s going on with your teenage pup. It will also give you some practical ways you can maintain a positive relationship and survive the teen phase.

What is Canine Adolescence? 

During canine adolescence, your puppy experiences physical, mental, and behavioral changes. These changes are sparked by increasing hormones, which help your puppy develop into an adult. 

Additionally, your puppy’s brain is reorganized as they go from a baby puppy to a physically and socially mature adult dog. It’s common for puppy owners to wonder where their sweet, adoring puppy went as they enter their teenage stage, and to feel some frustration over the behavior they see.

When Does Canine Adolescence Happen?

The teenage phase can start around six months of age and may continue through two to three years of age. Small dogs may complete their teen period more quickly than larger dogs, who may experience a longer teenage stage. 

There are no hard rules on when teenagerhood will start and how long it will last. Each dog is unique so the timing will vary. Again, this is similar to teenage humans!

How Does Adolescence Affect My Puppy?

There are a wide variety of changes you may observe as your puppy becomes a teenager. These changes may be less noticeable in some dogs, and for others, it may be like someone flipped a switch from perfect puppy to teenage delinquent. 

If your puppy was spayed or neutered at an early age, this can affect what kind of changes you see as your dog grows. They will still go through teenagerhood though. 

Hormonal Changes

As your puppy becomes an adult dog, their bodies produce hormones that can change their behavior. Male dogs may start urine marking, though females are known to do this as well. Your pup might start humping their dog friends, or even their human friends too. Again, this is more common for male dogs, but normal for females too. 

Female dogs will have their first heat, or estrous cycle, typically between six and eighteen months of age. During their heat, they are able to become pregnant if they mate with an intact male. Males will become more interested in female dogs, especially if they are in heat.

Behavioral Changes

One of the most common complaints from teen dog owners is that their dog no longer listens to them. It’s like their puppy has forgotten everything you taught them. The dog is now impulsive and independent. 

You may find that they ignore you and have their own ideas now. You may have worked hard during puppy training to get your pup to focus on you, but now they are easily distracted by every little thing.

Science backs up what dog owners experience with their teenage dogs. This 2020 study found that dogs entering adolescence show a decrease in obedience toward their owners.

You may also observe that your teen dog picks up some undesirable habits around the house. Perhaps they start jumping up on counters to see if they can grab a tasty snack. Maybe the TV remote becomes a favorite chew toy. Your young puppy never once got into the trash, but now your dog is raiding it behind your back. This kind of behavior is common for pups in this developmental stage.

Social Changes

You might also notice that your puppy who used to be a social butterfly is now barking and lunging at other dogs on leash while out on walks. Or perhaps they are instigating scuffles with their friends at the park. It’s common to see an increase in reactivity as dogs go through adolescence.

To learn more about reactivity, check out this article. 

What Can I Do to Survive My Dog’s Adolescence? 

It’s important to know that this is normal dog development. Your pup is flooded with hormones, and their brains are being rewired, which can impact impulse control and learning. They’re not trying to make your life difficult.  It’s simply part of the process of raising a dog from a young puppy.

Besides remembering that this is typical and that your puppy hasn’t been replaced by an evil twin, there are some things you can do to help you and your dog navigate this time. Just like a human teenager, your dog needs your support and guidance as they grow up.

Keep Your Teenager in School

Many owners take their new puppies to puppy classes and spend a lot of time working on training. Now puppy class has ended, and your pup seems to know the basic cues, so training isn’t as much of a priority as when you first brought them home. Sometimes owners start training their pups less and less as they start to enter the teenage phase. 

It’s a good idea to keep training your dog. As your dog’s brain is rewired during adolescence, it’s important for them to continue learning. Positive reinforcement training helps your dog do more of the behavior you like.  

Keep training sessions short and positive. Help your dog be successful by ensuring the environment isn’t too distracting for them. You may find that you need to go back a few steps with your training and make things a bit easier for a while.

Give Your Teenager a Raise

Often dogs seem to “lose their brain” during adolescence. This will pass as they continue to mature and their brains finish developing. At the same time, the world may become increasingly interesting to your dog. Suddenly coming away from some goose poop or a friend is really hard. The kibble or store-bought treats that worked great when they were a puppy are no longer worth it to your teenager.

Using higher-value treats to reward your dog when you ask them to do something can help you get more reliable behavior from your pup. They may have had no problem doing what you asked when they were younger for a cheerio. However, now hormones and a total brain rewiring have changed their internal environment, and the external environment has become much more interesting. These environmental changes make listening to you harder. So it’s important to pay your dog accordingly with higher-value treats.

Every dog has different food preferences, but here are some high-value treats that many dogs enjoy:

Provide Appropriate Exercise Outlets

You may notice that your teenage dog has a lot more energy than when they were younger. Baby puppies need a lot of sleep and typically nap often throughout the day. All dogs, including teen dogs, need quality sleep, but teens may need more physical activity before they feel able to relax and snooze.

Off-Leash Adventures

If you have access to spaces where you can safely let your dog run and explore off-leash, this is ideal. Walking on a six-foot leash is not a natural behavior for dogs, so leashed walks don’t fulfill a dog physically and mentally the way an off-leash romp can. When your dog can move their body freely and sniff to their heart’s content, they feel fulfilled.

Sniffspot is a great way to find private locations where you can let your dog loose safely.

Long Leash Walks

If you don’t have access to places your dog can be off-leash, using a long leash and a harness for walks can be a great exercise outlet. I recommend starting with a fifteen-foot leash, and as you and your dog get comfortable with that, you can graduate to 20 feet, 30 feet, or even longer. The longer leash gives your dog more opportunity to move around and sniff the environment. It’s probably not a good idea to walk your dog on a long leash in your neighborhood, but a soccer field or quiet trail could be great. 

The goal of these walks is to fulfill your dog’s physical and mental needs. They are very different from a walk in the neighborhood on a six-foot leash. It’s okay if your dog isn’t right by your side. In fact, it’s a good thing if they’re moving around and exploring.

Give Your Teenager Some Structure

Similar to human teens, adolescent dogs can benefit from some structure in their lives. Left to their own devices, your dog may make some poor choices that cause you frustration.

If your pup is routinely getting into the trash, figure out how to prevent that from happening. You could buy a sturdy, locking trash can, or move the trash to the garage for now. If they’re barking at everyone that walks by your house, put up a baby gate so they can’t access the front of the house or put some frosted film on the windows so they can’t see the neighborhood happenings.

It’s also common for some teen dogs to struggle with settling themselves in the house. Even when exercise needs have been met, they may loiter around the house and whine a bit.

My own teenage dog can be this way every so often. Rather than let him flounder, I have him go in his crate, where he falls asleep quickly. Sometimes teen dogs are tired, and simply need some guidance to get the rest they need.

Don’t simply hope that your teenager will make good decisions. Take action to make sure they do.

Continue Socializing Your Teenage Dog

Hopefully, you were able to socialize your puppy from a young age. Socialization is about exposing your puppy to the world in a way that builds their confidence and helps them learn that they are safe while out and about. The critical socialization period for puppies ends at around sixteen weeks. What a puppy learns and experiences during this phase can impact their behavior and temperament as an adult dog. Even though that time period has passed, it’s a good idea to continue getting your teenage dog out and about.

Think about the kind of environments you envision bringing your adult dog into. Do you want to go camping with your dog? Do you hope to bring your dog with you when you visit friends and family? Perhaps you want to bring your dog into dog-friendly stores while you run errands. Think about what sort of things your dog will encounter while doing these things. New people, new dogs, wildlife, new smells, new objects, etc.

Remember that your adolescent dog may not be fully ready to do these things and be in these environments quite yet. They may find it hard to listen to you with so many distractions. That’s okay. Break down the pieces that make that place or activity challenging and think about how you can expose your dog to those things in a less intense way. 

If walking the aisles of Home Depot is too much, start by hanging out in the parking lot. You can reward your dog for focusing on you and practice some easy cues, while your dog is exposed to new people and shopping carts.

Remember Adolescence Won’t Last Forever

When your teenage dog is blowing you off for something more interesting, or engaging in some other annoying adolescent behavior, it can be hard not to feel frustrated. Try to remember that your dog isn’t doing these things to make your life hard. It’s not personal. 

Think of yourself as their guide, someone who is helping shape them into a good canine citizen. This takes time and patience. And while it won’t happen overnight, it also won’t last forever.

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