Tips to Survive Your Dog's Adolescent Stage
What Happens During Dog Adolescence?
After surviving potty training, puppy nipping, and the critical socialization phase, it's quite normal to feel quite exhausted, but hold your horses; doggy adolescence with all its associated problems is right around the corner, and granted, 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 that 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 3 years old!).
A Transitory Phase
This transitory phase is between puppy-hood 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 and keep in mind that intact males may be showing all the way up to your doorway!
Also, consider that your intact boy at this age produces testosterone at a rate several times the adult level of this hormone! 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 male dogs?"
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 trying new behaviors and testing 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 like 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.
Yet, it's often during adolescence that a dog may get into a squabble with another dog and 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 your 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 frequently 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. Also, 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 up-keeping. 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 further suggests Ian Dunbar. 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 Ian Dunbar. So ultimately, chances are high, if your dog just hit the adolescent stage and never caused injury to other dogs, he's 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 goes 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.
How was your dog's adolescent stage?
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