Adolescence: What Happened to My Puppy?!?!

All animals, including dogs, grow through developmental phases. The adolescent phase begins at around seven months of age and can continue until around 18 months of age. Early training and behavior management makes an enormous difference in adult behavior outcomes. Puppy training is a great beginning. Consistent use of learned obedience cues along with behavior management and remedial socialization strategies significantly ease the way through adolescence.

When training only starts after six months of age, owners must change already practiced behaviors in an animal with an adolescent mindset. (Any parent of teen-aged humans knows exactly what this means.) While this is absolutely doable, large doses of patience and fortitude are in order.

Common Behavior Changes from Puppy to Adolescent

Adolescence is a time to try out new behaviors. Bold moves, such as jumping on counters and furniture, are examples. Where puppies tend to stick close to their humans, adolescent dogs are more exploratory and adventurous. After several months of going into the yard off-leash, the dog decides the time has come to check out the neighbor’s yard. There is less inhibition in your dog’s behaviors. He becomes more distracted by the interesting stimuli in the environment and less responsive to the sound of your voice.

An adolescent dog is likely to actively avoid obedience cues, if she doesn’t want to comply at that moment. It’s not unusual for an adolescent dog “parent” to describe him as defiant or bratty.

Behaviors that were left unaddressed during puppyhood tend to escalate. Puppies with low self-control grow into dogs with increased impulsivity. Shy puppies grow into adolescents with more obvious fear displays. Reactivity often erupts in adolescence. While many dogs lack innate emotional self-control, it’s not a behavior set to excuse with “he’s just a puppy”. Dogs don’t outgrow behaviors like humans do. Dogs grow into behaviors, because they “work”.

Strategies to Survive Adolescence

If your puppy hasn’t been subjected to house rules and boundaries, NOW is the time to establish them. This will only become more challenging in adulthood, with your dog being less accepting of these changes. All dogs thrive best in a structured environment, where boundaries are set and communicated clearly. (We all are more comfortable knowing what is expected of us.) You may return to puppy management strategies, such as more quiet time in the crate and attaching a leash or drag line. Continue to use learned obedience cues often, so your adolescent remains clear on your control of her resources.

Adolescent dogs are either sleeping or in a seeking mode, and they spend less time sleeping than when they were puppies. Jump start a training program that includes recalls and stay exercises. This higher level of training requires focus and provides mental stimulation. Use food-foraging toys rather than bowls at mealtime. Start with a Kong Classic and other “beginner” options. If your adolescent figured these out as a puppy, move to more advanced food-foraging toys and puzzles. It’s a wonderful, easy way to channel his persistence and problem-solving skills. Adolescent animals (two-or-four-legged) plus boredom equals trouble.

This Too Shall Pass

Adolescent dogs can test the most patient among us, but the phase passes. You should expect new behaviors to emerge during this time, and many of them will be undesirable. If you attended a puppy kindergarten class or taught your puppy several obedience cues, continue to diligently practice them every day. No free lunches for adolescents. Complying with cues and boundaries can be your adolescent dog’s “job”.

Hang in there and always keep your cool. This, too, shall pass. With the right plan, your adolescent can gracefully grow into adulthood.

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2016 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC