Adolescence: The Other Most Important Phase

Much attention is given to the importance of early puppyhood.  The first four-months imprinting period is widely accepted as critical time in a dog’s overall development.  It is increasingly acknowledged by animal behavior science that the adolescent period is equally important on the dog’s journey to adulthood.  Adolescence in dogs begins at about seven months of age and continues until the animal is around 18 months of age.  This period is longer for some breeds.  Dogs change through adolescence, so we humans must recognize these changes and understand ways to guide our friends through it in effective and human ways.

We’ve Lost Their Minds

The head of an adolescent animal (biped or quadruped) can run all over the map.  While many adolescent dogs show wonderful working focus, that same dog can become mentally disconnected just as readily.  A mental connection between dog and handler is key to any productive learning.  Setting up to maintain the dog’s threshold at the optimal level is key, too.  This is where thinking and learning occur. 

The challenge is in determining these “sweet spots” and refraining from pressing past them when the dog is telling you, “enough for now”.   Continue to expand the dog’s world during adolescence.  Work gradually.  So many interesting sights and smells!  We are competing for our young dog’s attention.

Behaviors Blossom in Adolescence

When potentially problematic behaviors appear small in a puppy, they are very likely to blossom in an adolescent.  If your puppy displays tentative behaviors towards new people and places, you can believe these won’t look so subtle in adolescence.  Over threshold behavior displays with other dogs or people approaching will become more dramatic in adolescence.  Many small signals that owners observe in a puppy become more obvious when adolescence rolls around.

Stimuli become more impactful during this time.  Owners are often puzzled at the changes in their dogs from puppy to adolescent.  Everything just looks “bigger”.  The adolescent dog is hyper aware of elements in the environment that escaped his puppy notice. 

This is a Process

There is no point in rushing through adolescence, because nature will prevail.  It can be a test of patience.  The most fruitful attitude is accepting that each growth phase is a process.  There is no time limit on using the crate as a calm down or safety spot.  There is no time limit on using food foraging toys and other games and activities to provide important mental exercise outlets.  There is no time limit on keeping a leash or drag line attached to help your adolescent dog reconnect to his handler.  Make steady progress one day at a time.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC