How to Ace Dog Adolescence

Preserving your adolescent’s trust and affection is absolutely everything.


From the perspective of pet-food formulators, there are just two important canine life stages: “growth,” which takes in pregnant and nursing females and growing puppies, and “adult maintenance,” which encompasses everything else. But they miss a life stage of dogs that I, as a shelter volunteer, have gobs of experience with and genuinely enjoy: adolescence, which dogs enter between 6 and 12 months and which can last until the dog is 18 to 24 months old.

I’m sure that’s appropriate from a nutritional standpoint, but adolescence is a critical developmental life stage for mammals of all kinds. It’s when youngsters lose their dependence upon others and are increasingly drawn to new experiences. In all species, adolescents exhibit what’s been described as an “instinct to learn” – a charming characteristic. Less heart-warming is their immature impulse control and ability to tolerate frustration.

But if you can overlook the sometimes disastrous consequences of their still-developing judgment and independence, and provide them with warm, patient, tolerant guidance during this time, adolescents can be some of the most fun and adventuresome companions ever. It’s a blast to observe their curiosity, their cognitive leaps and bounds, and the physical expression of their biological imperative to test the limits of their growing bodies.

However, in order to best guide their development into friendly, confident, well-socialized members of our families and society at large, it’s crucial that we cultivate a warm, trusting relationship with them. If we want our adolescents to look to us for direction, observe our various rules and edicts, and take what we say to heart, we have to make sure we are holding up our end of the relationship. We have to meet their burgeoning needs for fresh air, nutritious food, appropriate things to chew, and (especially) age-appropriate exercise. If we don’t want them to tune us out when they are off leash and have tempting options in front of them, we have to make sure we are not tuning them out with our electronic devices and busyness. During this phase, we may have to work a little to make sure that we remain relevant, interesting, and enjoyable to them. And most of all, we have to be encouraging and forgiving.

If you really dig in and work to keep a close connection with your adolescent, the payoff is almost always a well behaved, affectionate, enjoyable adult. Make it a priority!