My puppy’s a teenage dirtbag, baby!
He doesn’t listen to my recall, lately!
Cause he’s just a teenage dirtbag, baby!
Yeah! What do I dooOOOoooo?!!??!?
Right, now that I’ve got that out my system, let’s talk about adolescent dogs. As you can see, Rack Pack dog Max has left puppyhood behind and entered into the dreaded teenage phase. Yes, even I, a dog trainer, can’t escape this part of doggy development. It is a trial by fire with trials ranging from:
dogs forgetting what their name is
suddenly developing an interest in everything other than their owner
seemingly discovering what their ancestors were bred to do and practicing it. A lot.
Testing every boundary you have put into place
apparently losing everything you’ve ever taught them in some mental black hole.
The list goes on. I can feel you nodding along emphatically. I’m willing to bet you called your teenage dog a dickhead already at least once today. I won’t even get started on the Kevin & Perry-esque tantrums that can occur when an adolescent dog gets frustrated. Jesus.
Now, I hear you think with mounting horror… ‘What’s the reason for it? How do I stop it?’
The answer: gin and an exorcist.
Ok, I’m joking about the exorcist but you will likely need the gin, preferably a bottle.
Let’s talk about the whys.
Canine adolescence and canine puberty are two distinct things. Adolescence, while varying across breeds, tends to expand from 1 to 2 years of age. Puberty, on the other hand can start from 6-9months of age in males and 6-16months of age in females. It’s important to remember that these are all natural parts of a dog’s development into maturity. The adolescent phase is very much a ‘coming of age’ where young dogs naturally start to peel away from their family. This increasing need for independence goes a long way to explaining why your puppy is starting to seek more in their environment.
During adolescence there are a lot of changes going on in your dog’s body. Their brains are going through developmental changes, some parts maturing faster than others, leaving these young canines sensitive to punishment, easily frustrated and unable to fully process the emotions they feel. Top that with the raging sex hormones of puberty, you have a melting pot of teenage woe. I think we all had a goth phase at some point. Better hide the eye liner from your teenage dog!
So, what can we do?
Firstly, you can’t stop this. Not even neutering will stop this and can in fact cause more trouble for your dog. This is a natural process that mammals go through, and as personal survivors of our own adolescence, I think we can offer some understanding about it.
Have some empathy and patience, which I know is asking a lot, but try to remember being in their place.
Ensure you have a solid bond in your dog’s puppyhood and work to maintain that relationship during adolescence. Offer comfort and reassurance, be a safe space and train your dog with clear boundaries positivity.
Manage them during times of training back slides. It can seem counter intuitive to take the foot off the accelerator when training a young dog, but during the teenage phase, doing exactly that will help prevent too much frustration or reinforcing behaviours you don’t like. This can mean going back to using a long line, for example.
Take days off and select some quieter walks for your dog to have a chance to decompress and not become over stimulated. Some days your dog might just be randomly fearful or finding it hard to regulate their emotions. Going to quieter places, or a quiet day at home with prevent bad experiences for you both.
So, with this knowledge in hand, you have my understanding and sympathy when your teenaged dog acts up. It’s ok to get annoyed or loose your cool, it’s a frustrating time for everyone, but hopefully this post will have given you some clarity as to the why it is happening. It isn’t just you, and your dog isn’t doing it to spite or dominate.
Now, may the odds ever be in your favour… and don’t forget about the gin!