As your puppy starts to get to six months of age, you’ll discover that your baby has grown into a teenager. This is a period that many owners don’t anticipate as they often expect their dog will just slip seamlessly from being a puppy into being an adult, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Canine adolescence is a recognisably different stage of puppyhood, as your teenage puppy starts to mature into an adult.
There’s a reason why the most common age for dogs being given to rescue centres is between 6 and 18 months old, and this is because canine adolescence can be a tricky time. With a little knowledge, preparation and a fair bit of patience however, you will find that you can deal with all the issues that living with a teenage dog can bring. With this guide, you’ll both be able to sail through puppy adolescence and out the other side with your relationship and sanity intact.
When does a puppy become a teenager?
Canine adolescence starts at different times for different breeds and can last for varying lengths of time, but a good benchmark is between 6 and 18 months old. Smaller breeds tend to hit their teenage phase earlier than larger breeds who develop more slowly, and a small breed dog will often become an adult dog by around a year old. Giant breeds can be two years plus before their puppy adolescence is behind them.
What happens during puppy adolescence?
During this period there are several developmental processes at work. Being aware of what they are and the effects they are likely to have on your puppy’s behaviour during canine adolescence will mean you can be prepared to deal with them. This in turn will shorten the time they will have an impact on both your lives.
This is a time when your teenage puppy will be starting to become more independent. During puppy adolescence they are beginning to look on the world as an adult rather than as an infant – and so rather than relying on you for security, they are more likely to feel independent. This can often mean that their instinct is to listen to you less, wander further from you when on walks, and be less likely to respond to you when you call (no matter how good their recall was before). Some will even take flight or actively avoid you when you call them. In fact, it’s sometimes easy to believe that a teenage puppy has never been taught a recall at all – which can drive many owners to despair!
How to deal with puppy adolescence
The important thing is to stay calm. Don’t punish them in any way as this will just make them even less likely to come to you, and instead go back to basics with your recall training and include lots of rewards. Most importantly, do not let your teenage puppy get into the habit of not coming back during canine adolescence. This means using a long-line for a few weeks, so your dog still gets freedom to run, sniff and explore but isn’t able to ignore you or take off into the distance. By doing this, you will shorten this flight period and get your training back on track relatively quickly.
Why is my teenage puppy suddenly scared?
Dogs also have a second fear period that happens somewhere between 6 and 18 months of age. Sometimes this just happens once, but in other dogs it can happen several times - this may coincide with growth spurts or hormone surges. This period is characterised by your teenage puppy seeming to be reactive or scared of things that haven’t bothered them in the past – strange people, unknown dogs, unfamiliar objects or places. Managing this period properly is vitally important as this seems to be the time when single-event learning is the most likely to occur. In other words, a bad experience at this time can have a lasting effect on your dog’s behaviour even if all their previous interactions have been positive.
Watch your dog closely during this period in canine adolescence and notice if they seem to be reacting differently to things they normally take in their stride. Do not think they are being difficult, tell them off or punish them for these behaviours, otherwise you will exacerbate their fear. Instead, remember your initial socialisation and habituation techniques and work to make all encounters positive. Don’t force your dog to ‘face up to their fears’ but instead keep a comfortable distance where they do not feel they have to react or be worried, let them approach, retreat and explore in their own time, and reward them with treats to keep all interactions positive.
Avoid negative encounters or potentially worrying situations as far as is possible in this period of puppy adolescence, as a bad experience now could colour the way your dog looks at the world and effect his behaviour as an adult. While continued socialisation is vital, keep it to dogs, people and places you know, as this is the period where it is better to have little experience than a bad experience. So, get out and about, keep encouraging your dog to be social, but work hard to keep all these experiences and encounters positive and fun.
Why is my adolescent dog behaving differently?
The 6 to 18 month period combines with the hormone surges that come with puppy adolescence, and this can increase excitability, intensity and over-reactions to just about everything, and a heightening of existing behaviours. Shy dogs can become shyer, and confident dogs can become more confident. This is the time where a lack of adequate and appropriate socialisation and habituation can become an issue, and those dogs who have missed out on this can start to show behaviour problems associated with fear, including reactivity and aggression.
If you haven’t already, talk to your vet about neutering and decide if it is right for your dog. There are health benefits for both male and female dogs and it may make certain behaviours easier to manage.
Are teenage puppies teething?
As if behavioural changes weren’t enough to be dealing with in your teenage puppy, dogs also get their full set of adult teeth at around six months of age. These teeth need to set properly in the gums - and for this to happen a teenage puppy really needs to be able to chew! Many people don't understand this and think their teenage puppy is just being destructive, when they actually have a physical need to have things to gnaw on. Kong toys are perfect for this, and stuffed with food they will provide ideal chewing opportunities while your puppy is teething – and can save your furniture and your shoes!
While sometimes it is easy to think that your adolescent dog is intentionally trying your patience, in reality canine adolescence is a complex developmental time for your dog. Keep that in mind and, with a bit of teamwork, you will get through it together!
If you do have serious concerns about your dog’s behaviour, consult your vet, or a qualified and experienced behaviourist.
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