Written by: Cynthia Robertson-Gillette KPA CTP
Most people don’t know that after “puppyhood” comes adolescence. This is often the most difficult period of dog guardianship, as your pup may have behavioral changes while they figure out what does and doesn't work for them in the world. It is normal to feel like all your training has gone out the window!
Many dogs are re-homed and abandoned during this age as these puppy antics become less cute and can become frustrating, especially when you haven't adjusted your expectations. It's important to remember that most of the behavior you see at this time is normal for dogs.
Adolescence typically begins around 5-6 months of age, and ends around 1.5-3 years of age, depending on the individual dog and their size. Small dogs mature more quickly than large dogs. During adolescence, there are changes in the brain chemistry and development, in hormones, and in behavior, similar to human teenagers in puberty. We may see this manifest as increased barking, jumping, counter surfing, digging, chewing, stealing our things, not coming when called or ignoring us, seeming distracted or unable to focus, and changing social interactions.
Reminders we have for guardians with adolescent dogs:
IT WILL GET BETTER!
Guide your dog using patience, empathy, and consistency.
Repetition is vital!
Use management — don’t underestimate the power of prevention through crates, gates, play pens, leashes, and window film
Your dog is just like a human teenager. Through science we know that their prefrontal cortex (the impulse control and decision-making part of the brain) is not fully developed. Help your dog make better choices by setting them up for success.
Keep things positive. Teach your dog what you want them TO DO, rather than focusing on everything they do that you dislike. Reward desirable behaviors so they are more likely to happen again!
Your dog isn’t stubborn, vindictive, or trying to dominate you. They are opportunistic!
If you are feeling upset, annoyed, or angry, it’s time for a break. And it’s okay to take breaks! Ask a friend, neighbor, or family member to watch your pup for a few hours, or find a good doggy daycare or playgroup where your pup can get their crazies out.
Invest in positive reinforcement training. The earlier you start, the better.
Mental enrichment is just as important as exercise. Giving your dog activities to do will reduce undesired behaviors. Meeting species-specific needs such as chewing, chasing, digging, and sniffing, will help tire your dog out and fill their cup.
Just like humans, dogs have good days and not-as-good days! Remove some pressure and don’t expect perfection.