Tips to help your canine companion through their terrible teens
Canine behaviourist, Nikki Mather, explains our dogs’ adolescent phase and provides useful training advice on how to work through this stage successfully. Nikki, founder of Positive Steps Dog Training, is a qualified, force-free dog trainer (IMDT) and behaviourist (BCCS), predominantly working on cases including dog reactivity, separation anxiety and fear/anxiety-related behaviours.
Most new puppy guardians prepare well for bringing home a new puppy, from toilet training to mouthing to sleeping through the night. And, just when you feel like you’ve mastered this stage of your puppy’s life, they turn into a teenager!
The teenage phase is a testing period of your puppy’s life, bringing new challenges and frustrations to you as a dog guardian. During this time, your dog may seem like they are purposely ‘ignoring’ your requests, they may become a little more anxious than before, or they may completely fly off the handle – but let’s take a look at what is really going on for our pups during this stage, as well as training tips to help you navigate this challenging time.
What is adolescence in dogs?
The transition from puppyhood into an adolescent “teenage” dog can happen anytime from around 6 months, lasting until your dog reaches anywhere between 18 – 24 months. During adolescence, dramatic hormonal changes take place within your dog’s body, resulting in a rewiring of their brain.
During your dog’s teenage months, you may notice an increase in their confidence, becoming increasingly motivated to explore and interact within the external environment. Alternatively, your once seemingly confident pup may begin to exhibit more anxious, fearful behaviour. Regardless of the change, it’s important to remember that although older, your pup still lacks the experience and skill set to appropriately navigate our world and, therefore, is sometimes unable to rationally manage their emotions and reactions.
Behavioural changes you may notice
1. Increased anxiety (and therefore reactivity)
Most new puppy guardians are well aware of the importance of appropriately socialising your pup between 8-16 weeks. However, most aren’t aware that our dogs enter into a second fear period generally between 6-14 months.
During this stage, you may notice your once confident pup has become a little more anxious and fearful, which could result in an increase in reactive behaviour towards external triggers they once may have been comfortable around, such as people and other dogs.
In order to work through your dog’s second fear period successfully, it is important to continue their socialisation training to ensure they are continually exposed to triggers at their pace. This will help continue to build positive associations that will create the foundations of a well-adjusted, confident adult dog.
2. Regression in training
We’ve all been there – we bring home a little puppy and immediately begin working on their loose lead skills and recall training. All goes seemingly well…our pups don’t want to leave our side so their lead work is perfect, their recall is second to none and they hang onto every word we say!
Then, the teenage stage hits, and it feels as though everything goes out of the window and our young dogs know nothing!
You’re not alone in this – ‘regression in training’ is completely normal. During the adolescent months, our dogs’ hormone levels change, and they can become much more confident in themselves and their environment. You may notice they listen to you less, they run over to distractions outdoors and they don’t come back when you ask – super frustrating! During this stage, our dogs are often conflicted when asked to do something, driven predominantly by their uncontrolled impulses.
When you begin to notice this regression, don’t panic! You just have to go back to basics in your training – in other words, you need to make it easier for your dog! This might mean you go back to working with a long training lead when teaching recall, or you may give your dog a little more distance from distractions to help them focus on you more. Take the time to work through your dog’s regression, training at a pace they can handle, and you’ll come out the other side with an adult dog that is an absolute dream to have!
During your dog’s adolescent phase, you may become increasingly frustrated by how much they are choosing to ignore anything you ask of them – you may even call this stubbornness! Whilst this may seem like your dog is actively choosing to defy you, it is more effective to try and understand where this ‘ignorance’ has come from.
When they were pups, YOU may have been the most exciting, rewarding thing for them. Now that they’re a little older, their motivators and preferences will change, and you’ll need to up your game in order to keep their attention in a stimulating world.
To do this, you can try using high-value treats to reinforce behaviours you like, such as fresh meats, doggy pate or cheese (within moderation). You can also use chase toys, tug toys or balls to better engage your dog and reward behaviours you like. The more you reward a behaviour, the more likely that behaviour will be repeated!
4. Increased energy levels
As a pup, your dog will have needed around 16-18 hours of sleep per day. Now that they are a teenager, their sleep requirements will reduce, so they may become more active around the home for longer periods of time (more time to get up to mischief!)
Now more than ever, it is important to ensure you are meeting all of your dog’s needs, including physically, mentally, socially and breed-specific. Consider the quality of your dog’s walks, how often do they engage their brain in stimulating activities such as sniffing and problem-solving, do they have ample opportunities to engage in play with you and other dogs (when suitable), and are their breed-specific needs to chase/dig/search etc. being met?
If your dog is restless and exhibiting unwanted behaviours, there is probably an unmet need that needs to be addressed!
5. Nuisance behaviours
The adolescent developmental stage is when most young dogs begin to show troublesome behaviours, such as excessive barking, jumping, lunging, destruction or biting/nipping. Such behaviours are typically a result of your dog working through some pretty big emotions, frustration sometimes making top of the list.
If you notice your dog showing unwanted behaviour, ask yourself WHY? There’s always a function behind our dog’s behaviour – is there something they want, is there a need not being met, are they bored, tired, frustrated etc. Once you understand why the behaviour is occurring, you’re better equipped to implement efficient training solutions!
Quick tips to help satisfy your adolescent dog:
- Let them sniff on their walks as this will tire them out mentally.
- Provide indoor mental stimulation such as enrichment boxes, snuffle mats and treats rolled into a towel!
- Balance high-energy activities with brain work-outs e.g. 5 minutes ball throwing followed by 10 minutes sniffing to help reduce adrenaline.
- Ensure you’re engaging with them through games, training or just cuddles – our dogs are social creatures!
- Teach them how to settle using a settle mat and ensure they have a quiet, undisturbed space to relax around the home.
Remember, your dog’s adolescent period will not last forever. Be patient and guide them into making more appropriate choices to help them co-exist peacefully with you. ‘Bad days’ are inevitable, but your hard work and consistency will pay off, and the relationship you’ll build with your dog along the way will be the most rewarding of all.
This entry was posted in Dogs