Features March 2018 Issue

Adolescent Dogs: 6 Facts To Know

What to expect during your dog’s adolescence - that time after puppyhood otherwise known as the teenage years!

Just about everyone knows to be prepared to deal with crazy/relentless puppy behavior, but way fewer dog owners, it seems, have been warned about the other challenging period in a dog’s life: adolescence! A quick Google search on the topic produces results peppered with words like “surviving,” “dealing with,” and “misbehavior.” These pages offer up a long list of things that can go wrong, and suggest it will be more than difficult to get through. Goodness, it sounds horrible!

It’s true that this period involves a ton of changes to your dog’s biological, physical, and psychological makeup. By extension, his behavior is affected. It’s also true that there are times when this transformation is accompanied by some challenging moments. But rest assured it’s not all doom and gloom! For every challenging feature of canine adolescence, there is an equally awesome element that makes this a very special time.

The adolescent period typically begins around six months of age, and will be over when a dog reaches physical maturity around two to three years old. The most pronounced behavioral issues will be noticed between six to 12 months old.

Keep in mind that although hormones have a lot to do with adolescent changes, they’re not the only thing responsible for some of the behaviors you may see (even neutered dogs will exhibit these behaviors). Your dog’s brain is growing and developing, and the apparent quirkiness of the process is all perfectly natural.

As a trainer and a person who is currently in the adolescent trenches with my Border Terrier, Bennigan, I can testify that it’s not all bad. Here are some facts about canine adolescence that you may not be aware of, and some tips that, I hope, will help guide you through this challenging time with your “teenaged” dog.

1. Bonding with your teenage dog is important.

The foundation of your relationship with your dog is taking shape and getting stronger. If you’ve had your adolescent dog since puppyhood, time has been on your side. You’ve had several months to get to know each other and to build a bond. That’s a very good thing. It’s always much easier to forgive and to exercise patience with someone (or a dog) we care deeply about. So while puppyhood antics may have pushed your buttons and left you scrambling for a moment’s peace for several weeks in a row, adolescent shenanigans can be surprisingly easier to tolerate, thanks to that bond.

You’ll still need to draw deeply from the patience pool during this time, but by now your dog will have improved in other departments: He’ll know some basic cues thanks to your training; he’ll be housetrained; and his needs won’t always require an immediate response on your part, like when he was a young pup.

adolescent dog chewing

Nancy Tucker

A puppy’s molars erupt between four and six months of age. Once the molars are fully erupted, the adolescent dog’s obsession with chewing should begin to wane.

2. Teething is almost done!

Most of the really difficult teething phase occurs before adolescence, and while it doesn’t really wrap up until about seven to nine months old (on average), it’s not nearly as dramatic as the earlier stages. Some dogs remain power chewers throughout their adult life, however, and it’s important to evaluate and adjust the types of chew toys you’re giving your adolescent dog.

What was suitable for a five-month-old puppy might no longer represent a safe option for your dog’s newer and more powerful jaw. For example, if it used to take him an hour to work his way through a bully stick several weeks ago, it might now only last him 10 minutes and he should be watched closely. Or he may now be able to chew off chunks of a chew stick that previously he could barely dent.

3. Adolescent dogs have different sleeping schedules.

Remember when your puppy used to spend more time asleep than awake? Yes, well. Those days are gone. Your adolescent dog now seems to have access to an endless supply of energy! If you arm yourself with lots of short, fun training sessions and brain games, you’ll fare much better than if you rely solely on physical exercise to tire out your young dog. Besides, you’ll want to avoid any serious physical activity that involves sudden stops and turns, or jumps and bounces. Your dog’s skeletal structure isn’t quite done taking shape yet, and you’ll want to protect his joints until at least 12-18 months of age, depending on his size. (Speak to your vet for advice about this.)

Back to sleeping: Your teen dog will very likely experience some disruptions in his nighttime sleeping pattern, which means you’ll also experience a few sleepless nights. He might snooze the entire evening away, and just when you’re ready to call it a night at 11 pm, he’s suddenly wide awake and ready to party! There’s little you can do to convince him to settle down. Don’t worry. These episodes will come and go, and all that’s needed is a little bit (okay, a lot) of patience and time.

4. Socializing your adolescent dog is important!

Socialization needs to continue. You’ve done a wonderful job socializing your pup during the sensitive socialization period (before 12-16 weeks of age), but it shouldn’t stop now that your dog is a teenager. Even if you’ve just adopted an adolescent dog and his socialization history is unknown, it’s important to continue to carefully expose your dog to different places, people, other dogs, and different situations (like riding in the car) while associating these events with something positive.

You might notice that your dog may quite suddenly appear wary or even fearful of things or situations that he previously had no issue with. This is normal. These moments will come and go several times during adolescence and may last anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks. He may give a scary fire hydrant a very wide berth during your walk, or he might decide that new people or dogs (or trees, or shadows) should be barked at.

Don’t worry. Handle these moments with calm and patience, and understand that your dog isn’t always able to control his emotions during these phases. Don’t push or force him to “confront his fear,” and don’t scold him for what may look like rude behavior. Give him time to process whatever spooked him. If he wants to turn away and avoid the scary thing, that’s fine. If he barks at it, that’s fine, too. Often, just crouching next to him and talking with a gentle voice is enough to calm the barking.

girl and dog

Nancy Kerns

Keep introducing your adolescent dog to kids, old people, and people who look different from you and your family.

Some people “lay low” when they notice their dog is experiencing a fearful phase, opting to avoid situations that cause their dog stress, like busy streets or large crowds (such as a fair or a dog sporting event). When their dog shows signs he’s feeling more confident, activities resume as normal.

5. Adolescent dogs become more interested in going for walks.

Many young puppies balk at wandering too far away from the safety of home. They’ll take a few steps on-leash and then will suddenly slam on the brakes and stand still like a statue. Nature designs them this way, for good reason. Adolescence serves to create just the opposite: A biological urge to wander further from the nest and to explore new places. You’ll notice your adolescent dog also has more stamina to keep up with you during daily walks, and that he enjoys investigating the various scents.

Adventures with your dog now become a lot more fun. Resist the urge to let him off-leash, unless you’re in a safely fenced area. Remember that he’s genetically predisposed to explore! His recall isn’t nearly as reliable as it was when he was a puppy (very normal), so don’t count on how good he was just a few weeks ago. Use a long leash if you want to give him more freedom. Keep practicing calling him back to you and reward him with a very yummy treat every time he comes. You’ll want to maintain this high rate of reinforcement until he’s an adult.

Speaking of unreliable cues…

6. Your dog's training might seem to come and go.

Remember how proud you were of your puppy’s training results? How quickly he learned to sit, to lie down, to come, to leave it, to drop it, etc.? Where did all of those skills go? If it seems as though your dog has forgotten all of his training, don’t worry – he hasn’t. The information is still there, floating around in that rapidly developing brain of his. He’s just having a bit of trouble accessing all that knowledge right now. This too will return to normal when he’s done with the teenage phase. Keep teaching, keep rewarding, and keep breathing. All of your efforts will pay off later.

Nancy Tucker, CPDT-KA, is a full-time trainer, behavior consultant, and seminar presenter in Quebec, Canada. Her Border Terrier, Bennigan, is smack dab in the middle of adolescence.

Comments (11)

I need some advice. I have a giant 7 month old puppy. Because he is giant I can't neuter him until 12-18 months. I've socialised him a lot growing up, dog park, 2 puppy classes, doggy daycare, the beach, he's had tonnes. Suddenly he's gotten growly with some other dogs. Today at dog park he got on top of a lab puppy and growled quite loudly. It's embarrassing and I have to remove him. Unfortunately the only solutions I find on line is neuter him... or the behaviour is due to not enough socialisation. Neither can help me, or are incorrect. Do I just stop going out socialising or do I continue to risk this nasty behaviour, or is there somehow I can train it out of him so he can keep socialising. Ugh so difficult

Posted by: Tiggerpup | September 20, 2018 3:24 AM    Report this comment

I have an eight-month-old Irish Setter. Need I say more? According to the breed standard, they are supposed to have a "rollicking" temperament. No kidding! On the other hand, I've had Irish Setters for 40 years, and they were all party animals from beginning to end. Which is exactly why I love them so much.

Posted by: GiftofGalway | July 3, 2018 6:37 PM    Report this comment

Continuing: Now she doesn’t want to walk past homeless people (who are rife in this city) with or without dogs. She also freezes and has to be dragged past outdoor cafes where dogs frequently sit beneath their owner’s tables and have sometimes surprise her with unexpected barking. I try to stay calm, put my body between her and whatever she fears, and move briskly away from it/them. But I feel like I’ve somehow failed her in not managing to solve her behavioral problems.

Posted by: califgrl | July 3, 2018 3:32 PM    Report this comment

I wish I’d had this article when my now 9 yr. old Irish setter was a teen. I acquired her when she was 13 wks. old and I had a 9 yr. old male Dalmatian mix who was dying of lung cancer. We lived near a private dog park and she played eagerly with other dogs of all ages, sexes sizes and breeds. Dogs that didn’t want to play had to rudely and persistently rebuff her before she got the message. This changed abruptly one day when she was about 1 to 1-½ yrs. old. She’d been playing with a favorite companion, another female about her age and exactly her size, that was thought to be part-setter. When a sudden change of direction by the other dog resulted in a head-on collision, both dogs seemed initially startled, then mine ferociously turned on her former friend. While she didn’t actually bite the other dog, she made a very convincing show of pretending to do so—snarling and lunging with snapping teeth and seeming oblivious to my yelling at her to stop and attempts to collar her. After this, her former BFF was understandably wary of her and my own dog seemed newly indifferent to her old pal.

Later, when she was 2-1/2, we moved to a new city. At first, she played with other dogs if they liked to rough-house. (Pit bulls and boxers were her favorites.) Basically submissive though, she would drop and belly up to alphas or freeze and avoid truly aggressive dogs. More concerning was her new impatience with younger or smaller dogs’ bad manners. If they insisted on chasing her, barked too much or, god forbid, tried to grab a ball from her, she would erupt in the sort of mock-attack display I’d witnessed during her dog park collision.

I assume this was her idea of “disciplining” a dog who’d violated some form of canine etiquette. But it was scary to other owners and their dogs and, therefore, to me. Thus, we enrolled in several training classes, the most useful being a T-Touch class for “reactive” dogs.

What finally seems to have ended the behavior was a very negative experience two years ago in which my dog was ambushed and attacked (I think, but I can’t be sure who did what first) by a homeless person’s pit bull.

Posted by: califgrl | July 3, 2018 3:17 PM    Report this comment

Thank you!!! Our female Westie just turned 6 months old and this is EXACTLY what we are going through right now. I so appreciate having the reinforcement/words of wisdom at this time!

Posted by: dblack8050 | July 3, 2018 12:34 PM    Report this comment

and sadly, the majority of dogs surrendered to animal shelters are between 9-18 months of age ... the owners simply were not prepared to deal with the crazy teen months !

Posted by: KatzDawgs | June 19, 2018 5:21 AM    Report this comment

It's the time that they throw in the towel and it seems that they have never picked up on the lessons you gave them. It's the time you sometimes, secretly or openly, regret ever taking him in. But....then one day, out of the blue, everything seems to fall into place and you will see the dog you had in mind when you met him as a cute little bundle of furry joy. That is, if you never gave up on him/her and worked through all this crazy stuff. And, many years later when he stumbles behind you from old age, you would give anything to do this all over again with him/her. Enjoy your crazy adolescent; I have a 6 month old working line German Shepherd who has not entered this stage yet... but my sleeves are rolled up.

Posted by: Wolfy | June 17, 2018 12:36 PM    Report this comment

What age is there teenage

Posted by: sueden | March 31, 2018 2:45 AM    Report this comment

Good article. Does the age change for larger dogs. I heard Large dogs grow faster but mature slower. My Goldendoodle is 4 years old but acts like a teenager. She knows all her obedience words and responses but is still the "party animal". When company comes and especially great grandchildren she acts in kind. I hope I'm not alone in having and active lovable companion.

Posted by: LovemyGD | March 25, 2018 2:10 PM    Report this comment

Great artical

Posted by: JackieSC | March 9, 2018 2:02 AM    Report this comment

Very Nice Article For Every Dog Lover.Very Informational .Keep good writing...

#dogloverthirt

Posted by: Dog Lover Tshirt | February 18, 2018 6:41 PM    Report this comment

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