Managing your puppy through adolescence

The last couple of years has seen a huge increase in people buying and adopting puppies as they looked for companionship during the lockdown period. Fast forward and many of those puppies are now approaching their first birthdays, as well as adolescence - their equivalent of their troublesome teenage years! 

This can be a difficult stage in your puppy's growth, so keep reading to find out more about managing your pet as they transition from puppy to adult dog.

Understanding adolescence in dogs

Adolescence marks the change from being a puppy to becoming an adult. In dogs, it can start any time 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's really happening is that they're increasingly motivated to explore, interact and run, and they also have a greater need to interact with their environment 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 non-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're asked to stop doing something, or simply to calm down - even in situations when they were previously '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 impulses.

Dog adolescence can cause frustration

Some dogs, depending on their temperament (or personality), may become frustrated when they can't get what they want, and because this is a negative emotion, it can trigger negatively motivated behaviours. This includes excessive barking and annoying 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've pulled together some top tips to help you through this difficult 'teenage' phase.

Dealing with adolescent behaviour in dogs: four ways to help you and your pup

Rather than focusing 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 adult dogs or puppies, so the best thing to do is to focus some of their energy towards structured play and exercise sessions, such as searching games, scent puzzles and long walks in quiet areas.

We also need to think about how we can prevent situations in which our dog may be more excitable or frustrated. We can do this by giving them some activities before the event or by 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 their frustration 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 dog's routine, such as playing with a ball or a frisbee, or even simply hiding something that your dog has to find.

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. When you want to finish, just say 'finish' and throw the toy in the opposite direction, or remove it and give your dog something to occupy themselves with. 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 your dog off

If your dog was used to playing with other dogs, but started to become too boisterous or even aggressive, telling them 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 with the dogs they know and minimise their 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 don't follow their owners' requests or even start to show behaviours such as destructiveness, house soiling or excessive barking.

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 their behaviour can get worse. In these types of situations, ask a professional for help.

What if nothing is helping?

If nothing you're doing seems to help, it's important to get some help and advice. Sometimes bad behaviour can be caused by an underlying medical or health issue, 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.

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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