Just when you thought the hard work was over and done with, your puppy is now becoming a teenager. That sweet pup who never wanted to leave your side now looks at you blankly before walking the other way when you call.
Adolescence starts between 6-9 months of age and can last until 2-3 years of age. Symptoms include some or all of the following: selective listening, increased activity (barking, digging, sniffing, chewing), changes in sleep habits, leg lifting, humping, possessive behaviour.
If this sounds familiar take heart, it’s all perfectly normal, will eventually pass and there are lots of things you can do to make it easier on both you and Rover in the meantime:
Be calm. An emotionally charged environment will only escalate things and/or further confuse your dog.
Be patient. Remember that your dog is not always purposely defying you but his brain has been temporarily hijacked by hormones. This is just a necessary phase and it will end.
Be prepared. Make sure your dog has great stuff to chew on to release some of that tension and anything you don’t want destroyed, put away.
Be proactive. Continue to supervise your young dog attentively and confine or limit freedom when you can ‘t.
Be realistic. Don’t just assume that your pup is trying to stage a coup, ask yourself how much you actually worked on reinforcing attentiveness when it was easy for him to do? Did you really train that recall to a high level of reliability around distractions or did you just unhook the leash at the dog park and hope for the best? Assess Rover’s skill set as well as your training efforts critically and if he isn’t ready for the freedom, put him back on leash or long line while you get back to work.
Provide adequate physical exericse. Puppies lack the stamina and often the confidence for big adventures but now that your pup is a little older you can and should start to enjoy more activities with him. Do ask your veterinarian and/or breeder about what is an appropriate amount of exercise for your dog’s age and breed.
Provide adequate mental stimulation. Providing only large amounts of physical exercise in an effort to tire out your dog can result in an overstimulated youngster who has trouble calming down and staying focussed. Make sure that your teenager gets ample mental stimulation through training, puzzle toys and new experiences. Feed him his meals though puzzle toys such as Kongs, Treat Balls and Snuffle Mats. You have to feed him anyway, why not take advantage of the opportunity to keep him busy rather than waste all that food in a dish on the floor?
Keep working together. Your relationship will now start to transition from predominantly care-taking to a growing companionship. Continued work together will allow you to really cement that bond while ensuring Rover is a pleasure to have around. Take a positive reinforcement based class. Then take another. Work on some tricks. Schedule brief training session through the day. This doesn’t have to be as onerous as it sounds, grab 15 small rewards, pick a skill to work on and do 15 repetitions; voila! one training session done.
Continue to socialize. While the initial critical period for socialization is now over, social maturity is an ongoing process and your teenager needs continued positive exposure to new people, places and things. He may even enter a very sensitive ‘fear learning’ phase between 8 & 14 months where he may get spooked very easily by things that never bothered him before. Just go back to puppy basics and expose him in small doses while creating lots of positive associations.
Don’t sweat the bad days and celebrate the good. Be Patient, Prepared & Consistent. For all the challenges of adolescence it’s also a wonderful time where you and your pup can really develop a profoundly special friendship. Try not to let the bad days discourage you, keep your sense of humour and remember all the things you love about your dog.