Managing your puppy through adolescence

Last year saw a huge increase in families and individuals buying and adopting puppies as they sought additional companionship during the lockdown period. Fast forward to 2021 and many of those puppies are now approaching their first birthdays as well as adolescence.

What age is adolescence in dogs?

Adolescence marks the change from being a juvenile to becoming an adult. In dogs, it can start anytime between six and 12 months and can end between 18 and 24 months. During this time, there are dramatic hormonal changes and a reorganisation of the brain.

Do dogs go through a rebellious stage?

These hormonal changes can make adolescent dogs appear less obedient, however, what is really happening is that they're increasingly motivated to explore, interact and run and they also have a greater need to interact with the environment around them and the people in it.

Just like human teenagers, adolescent dogs have the energy and motivation to do more. More exploration, more play, more interaction with their friends (humans and not humans!) but they lack the necessary knowledge and experience to think about and manage their actions and reactions.

Because teenage dogs are so much more energetic and interactive they can easily find themselves in conflict when they are asked to stop doing something, or simply to calm down, even in situations when they previously were 'obedient' and responded immediately. Sadly this kind of change is often interpreted by owners as the dog being stubborn or trying to assert their dominance rather than understanding that their dog is finding it difficult to control their impulsivity.

Adolescence in dogs can cause frustration

Some dogs, depending on their temperament (or personality), may become frustrated when they cannot get what they want and because this is a negative emotion it can trigger negatively motivated behaviours. This includes excessive barking, excessive behaviours like jumping up, scratching, nipping, biting the lead and even aggression.

It's therefore unsurprising that many owners report big changes in their dogs' behaviour.  Sadly, adolescence is a time when some puppies may find themselves being rehomed. However, the good news is that this period of problematic behaviour does pass and we have pulled together some top tips to help you through those teenage years.

Dealing with adolescence behaviour in dogs: Four ways to help you and your pup

Rather than focussing on how to control an adolescent dog, we need to think about how we can satisfy their physical and behavioural needs.

Research suggests that the learning ability of adolescent dogs is better than that of adults or puppies and so the best thing to do is to focus some of their energy towards structured play and exercise sessions, for example, searching games, scent puzzles and long walks in quiet areas.

We also need to think about how we can prevent situations during which our dog may be more excitable or frustrated. We can do this by providing some activities before the event or giving them something to do that can help them to cope with frustration.

1. Avoid frustration at dinner time

Dogs in general and young dogs, in particular, get frustrated when people eat. Because they also want the food and cannot participate, they may jump, bark and scratch. You can minimise frustration and its behavioural consequences by feeding your pet before you eat and then giving them something to chew or perhaps a dog puzzle while you eat.

2. Keep your pup stimulated

Not being able to get people's attention can also be frustrating but predictability is the best way to avoid frustration. Try increasing the variety of interactive games in your do's routine, such as playing with a ball or a frisbee, or even simply hiding something that your dog must find etc.

Remember to give cues about when the play session starts and when it finishes. For example, you can tell the dog 'playtime' or show a toy and when you want to finish. Just say 'finish' and throw the toy in the opposite direction or remove the toy and give the dog something to occupy himself. This is useful to minimise the frustration at the end of a pleasant activity. You can also scatter some treats or give your dog something nice to chew.

3. Don't tell you dog off

If your dog was used to playing with other dogs but started to become too boisterous or even aggressive, telling him off is only making the problem worse. Instead, try to distract your dog and remove them from the situation using a happy voice rather than a reprimand.

If your dog has dog friends, you can continue to socialise them with the dogs they know and minimise the exposure to other dogs for a while. Avoiding repeated negative experiences in the presence of other dogs will help stop the problem from getting worse.

4. Keep your dog active

Adolescent dogs are energetic! Longer walks in quiet areas, lots of exploration and simply using their nose are a few of the most rewarding activities for dogs.

Some adolescent dogs seem to become more fearful and anxious and this can be the reason why they do not follow their owners' requests or even why they start to show behaviours like destructiveness, house soiling or excessive vocalisations.

It's really important that they're not punished for their 'bad manners'. Telling dogs off, shouting or using more physical methods can make dogs even more scared and worried and the behaviours can worsen. In these types of situations, professional help needs to be sought.

What if nothing is helping?

If nothing you're doing seems to help, then it's important to seek further advice. Sometimes behaviours can be caused by an underlying medical or health issue and so it's important to get your pet checked by a vet first to rule this out. They can then refer you to a behaviour expert if necessary.

Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you'll need to contact your vet by phone first and follow their guidance as to whether it's necessary to go to the practice. If you can't visit the practice then you'll still be able to discuss your pet's behaviour over the phone and the behaviour expert will carry out a remote consultation - don't worry, this is something they're used to doing. It's important to find a suitably qualified behaviourist. Visit the Animal Behaviour and Training Council to find a list of qualified clinical animal behaviourists.

To sum up, if your adolescent dog seems to have lost his 'manners' - think about how to provide more positive activities, avoid exposing them to situations that may excite or frustrate them, avoid any kind of punishment and be patient. This phase will pass!

Find more advice, tips and health information for caring for your dog.

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