Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
What Happens During Dog Adolescence?
After surviving potty training, puppy nipping, and the critical socialization phase, it's quite normal to feel quite exhausted. However, you should know that doggy adolescence with all its associated problems is right around the corner. It won't be a walk in the park!
Also known as the dog teenage phase, the adolescent stage in dogs hits right when you thought you could have started to relax a bit. And unlike puppyhood, which seems to pass in the wink of an eye, the teenage phase tends to linger for much longer.
Indeed, the gawky teenager phase tends to start around six months and will last until 18 months or even longer in larger breeds (in Rotties it can last up until they're three years old).
A Transitory Phase
This transitory phase is between puppyhood and adulthood. Indeed, your dog during this stage may start looking more and more like an adult dog but his brain at times may still be of a puppy. He may move about with gangly movements, and his puppy coat may start to shed out, in one of the biggest shedding events you may ever witness.
His adult teeth have already set in, but he'll still need to chew, chew, chew. This is the age when jumping and running around is no longer cute, but more like having a bull in a china shop.
And what about energy? You'll certainly miss the old days when your puppy had the zoomies and the next minute he was snoozing in no time. During the teenage phase, your pooch will have turned into a machine of perpetual, motion requiring you to find more and more creative outlets for pent-up energy. Your dog will need loads of mental stimulation too!
If you haven't spayed or neutered your dog during this stage, your dog will become sexually active. For the ladies, the first heat will appear, while for the males, leg lifting and a keen interest in female dogs and their urine output will be observed.
Unless you are planning on pups, you want to keep your female dog away from any intact males during this time. Keep in mind that intact males may be showing all the way up to your doorway!
You should also consider that your intact boy at this age produces testosterone at a rate several times higher than the adult level! This means other dogs may be alarmed and more on the defensive side! For more on this, read "Why Is My Dog Aggressive Towards Intact Males?"
Stuck in a "Duh" Moment
Gone are the days when your puppy was eager to please you. You'll now likely notice your dog act as if he has never heard a command before. These "duh!" episodes of memory loss are quite common during the adolescent stage and will require your patience and understanding. Getting mad and frustrated when your dog doesn't come to you when called won't do any good.
Fortunately, this is a transitory phase and you'll eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. One day, out of the blue, you may notice things falling back into place if you remain persistent in your training.
Just like human teenagers, adolescent dogs will want to have it their way and will want more independence. We can't blame them—this is the age wherein the wild, canines separated from their families to form their own. They are lured to try new behaviors and test their boundaries.
Gone are the days when your puppy loved to stick by your side and would come running the moment you were out of sight! There are many more interesting sights, smells, and sounds at this time just waiting to be discovered.
Deteriorated Dog-Dog Interactions
At this stage, dogs may get picky over who to consider a friend. And it makes sense as in the wild it's not likely that canines would warm up with unfamiliar dogs and readily accept them as we often expect from Canis familiaris to do in a domestic setting! It's quite unreasonable to expect all dogs to be best buddies.
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Yet, it's often during adolescence that a dog may get into a squabble with another dog. This often marks the end of his socialization with other dogs. Small dogs will no longer be socialized for fear that they will get hurt by large dogs, and larger dogs will no longer be socialized for fear they will hurt smaller dogs.
Soon a vicious cycle is formed, and the less the dog is socialized, the more he'll be likely to want to fight and be less social, explains Ian Dunbar in his booklet After You Get Your Puppy.
While the young puppy used to cower behind the owner when he was worried about certain people approaching, when the puppy turns adolescent, he may decide to take a bolder, more proactive move by barking, growling, and lunging.
As seen, many things will be going on during this stage, and it's a good idea to be prepared. There are many things you can do to prevent adolescent problems and make this stage more bearable.
With patience, consistency, and persistence, you'll help your dog through this phase. The next paragraph will provide you with some tips and ideas.
5 Ways to Nip Dog Adolescent Problems in the Bud
Dog adolescence is also a time when problem behaviors start to emerge. These need to be nipped in the bud. It's during this adolescent time frame that statistics show that dogs are likely to be relinquished to shelters the most. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent dog adolescent problems, or at least reduce their chances.
1. Keep That Body and Mind Busy
As mentioned, this is a stage where dogs are always looking for something to do and can easily get bored. A bored mind is a devil's workshop, so don't be surprised if Rover starts acting up when you don't provide healthy forms of entertainment!
At the same time though, you need to watch when it comes to exercise as those growth plates are still forming. For more on this, read my article "Puppy Exercise Needs: How Much Is Too Much?"
This is a good time to enroll in classes and other activities your dog may thrive on. Twice-a-day walks are important. Interactive toys that encourage foraging will keep the mind stimulated so make sure to have plenty on hand.
2. Keep up the Training
You certainly saw this coming, didn't you? Thing is, if you let things slide at this age, you'll soon see the many pitfalls that come along with that. This is an age where your dog will be lured to distractions that will attract him like a magnet.
Chasing squirrels, investing rear ends, sniffing pee-mail, and rolling in who knows what will be activities that will draw your dog more than your presence. It's important to keep the training up and to identify distractions and see them as opportunities to train more rather than challenges.
Keep up with classes and apply what is taught there at home, then in the yard, and then on walks. You may need extra tempting treats at times to reward behaviors, but don't get in the habit of bribing. Make sure you are always there to praise good behaviors as they unfold!
3. Continue Socializing
While it's true that there's a critical brief window of opportunity when it comes to socialization in puppies, it's also critical that your adolescent dog continues his socialization. Truth is, if you socialize only when your dog is a puppy, things will start crumbling once he hits the adolescent stage.
It's important to continue letting Rover meet the world, and it's a myth that this only applies to puppies, and once your puppy grows all the hard work is done; rather, it needs upkeeping. And if you were curious, there is such a thing as "desocialization." Don't let your dog be comfortable only with a small circle of friends; rather, make sure he gets to see also plenty of unfamiliar people.
And what about socialization with other dogs? As mentioned, squabbles tend to happen during doggy adolescence, but fortunately, most of them are more noise than anything else. Growling and fighting at this stage is often a sign of lack of confidence in often under-socialized adolescent males.
As the dog matures, he should no longer need to "prove himself," explains Ian Dunbar. It's important to evaluate realistically the level of damage, Dunbar further suggests. A good question to ask is: how many times did your dog get involved in a fight and how many times did he cause the other dog to get vet assistance?
Chances are, in most cases, the fight-injuring bite ratio is low with most dogs never inflicting any damage to the other dog. Also, where did your dog bite? Many times dogs who aim for the scruff, neck, head, and muzzle don't mean particular harm (meaning aren't likely driven to kill) and adhere to the Marquis of Dogsberry Fighting Rules.
Much more concerning are bites directed towards the abdomen or limbs that cause substantial injury further, adds Dunbar. So ultimately, chances are high, if your dog just hit the adolescent stage and never caused injury to other dogs, he is not dangerous, just needs to learn better social skills.
Consult with a dog trainer who specializes in socialization classes for such types of dogs before things deteriorate.
4. Refine Bite Inhibition
Your dog now has a complete set of jaws and his mouth is now more powerful than ever. Let him keep playing with other dogs he gets along with so to refine his bite inhibition and continue hand feeding him both kibble and treats so to keep that mouth nice and soft.
Examine his mouth and get him used to having his teeth brushed. Bite inhibition games are also great ways to help your dog continue to gauge that pressure.
5. Get Help as Needed
If your adolescent dog has started showing aggressive behavior towards people, get professional help as soon as possible. The earlier this behavior is nipped in the bud the better.
These forms of aggression tend to get worse and never better if ignored. Your dog won't just "outgrow it" as there's a strong, learned component when a dog rehearses aggressive behavior.
As seen, there's a lot you can do to prevent dog adolescent problems from showing up and putting roots. Early socialization and training in early puppyhood really go a long way in preventing a good chunk of problems.
Indeed, puppy owners who provided their puppies with good training and socialization, have an advantage when doggy adolescence arrives, but they still have to roll up their sleeves and continue working on creating a fulfilling and rewarding relationship... an investment that will pay back as the dog matures into a wonderful companion who is a joy to have around.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 14, 2014:
Hello natural holistic, our two Rottes went through the stage together and yes, it sometimes seemed like they really wanted "the last word" as you describe. Luckily, through training and consistency we went through it and now at 6 they are pure gold.
D. Lemaire from Arizona on February 14, 2014:
Good article :).
My dog is in that stage now, although he has calmed down quite a bit since getting neutered. He is still a typical teenager who likes to "have the last word" but consistency is the word and also that book "surviving your dog's adolescence" is great and has lots of good tips! Nice article:).
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on February 11, 2014:
Thank you for the clarification! Forewarned is forearmed.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 11, 2014:
Hello, grand old lady, thanks for the votes up! Bites on the neck can still cause harm (this depends largely on the dog's level of bite inhibition, the size of the other dog, the intent etc.) and that's why I emphasize to see a professional if there are cases of dog-to-dog bites. Resource guarding bites are also carried with a different intent than a dog that has just turned into an adolescent and is testing his social boundaries. It tends to happen quite reliably. Management is very important to prevent accidents from happening, so please keep them separated for safety.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on February 11, 2014:
Now I understand my dogs better. I used to get mad when they would fight, but usually it's over food, so I separate their plates really far away. If it's REALLY bad, the smaller dog gets a bite on the neck, so at least I know it wasn't the kind that is really aggressive like on the body or limb.
The stages of dogs growing up are very helpful. I used to feel abandoned when my dogs wanted to hang out in other parts of the house because before they always wanted to be with me. Now I know better.
Much of what you say is recognizable, and the explanations are quite a revelation. All along, I thought emotionally dogs only grow up to two years old, but now in other ways I understand that they have teenage years and other years onward which are manifested in behavior. Voted up.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 11, 2014:
Thanks for stopping by Bk42author and Giblingirl.
GiblinGirl from New Jersey on February 11, 2014:
This actually explains quite a bit about my dog :)
Brenda Thornlow from New York on February 10, 2014:
My little guy is 2 -1/2 and it feels like he's still in this stage. (He's a toy Maltese) He doesn't like to listen, tests his boundaries a lot and when we used to take him to doggie daycare he would sometimes try to bully the bigger dogs. He seems to be calming down a little bit lately but can still be a little bit of a challenge at times. Very interesting hub! Thanks for sharing!