Adolescence: What to Expect and How to Survive It!
Like humans, dogs go through what I like to call the “teenage phase.” From the ages of 6 months to 2 years (depending on the size of the dog), your puppy goes through the period we call adolescence. This may be the time you start to notice your pup is starting to become quite stubborn or she just won't listen like she did when she was a puppy. You might also notice your once courageous and fearless pup has begun spooking at the smallest things. Your pup’s adult teeth will be fully in, but they will still be chewing on hard toys or maybe things they aren’t supposed to. The fluffy puppy coat is beginning to fall out and the adult coat is growing in. Your pup is almost fully grown, yet looks gangly and awkward. Your pup will begin to test boundaries and become more independent, basically forgetting you exist. I want you to know that this is all normal and your dog will grow out of it. But what can you do to make sure all of the training you did during puppyhood sticks and you don’t completely lose your mind?
Your pup’s body is going to be going through some major changes! Most dogs will become sexually mature between eight months to a year. Female dogs will have their first heat and male dogs will begin to lift their legs and show some interest in their female playmates. Spaying and neutering will help some unwanted behaviors that come with these hormonal changes; increased indoor urination, lack of attention, inter-dog aggression, etc. Most vets recommend waiting until 6 months before spaying a female and 9 months to a year before neutering a male.
Adolescent dogs will seem to have no attention span. Sometimes it may seem like your dog doesn’t hear you or is just out right ignoring you. My dog, Orisa, is currently in adolescence and sometimes when I tell her a command, she looks at me like I just spoke to her in another language or tries to convince me I never taught her said command. I recommend handling these moments the same way you would with a dog who had never learned the command. Drop down a few steps and go back to luring your dog into the position, essentially you should reteach the command. Always follow through with that command though! Don’t let them get away with not doing it, no matter how long it takes (and resist the urge to repeat the command!!!!). Remember to keep training sessions short (5-10 minutes max).
Your pup is 6 months and I’m sure you're excited that teething is finally over! But keep those chew toys around. Between 8 and 10 months there's another “chewing phase” while the adult teeth settle into your pup’s mouth. Remember, redirection is the way to change any behavior. Go back to puppyhood basics of redirecting your teen dog to a chew toy anytime they chew on something they aren’t supposed to.
Fido the Explorer
A common mistake owners make is giving your pup too much freedom too early on. Your puppy that once stayed by your side 24/7 is now most likely going to be a little bit more explorative. If you walked your pup off leash during puppyhood, it may be the time to put on that long lead and practice some recall! Young puppies have an inborn desire to be near you- it’s how young pups survived in the wild. This often gives owners unrealistic expectations that their pup won’t ever run off. But as your pup gets older and more confident, she may not stay nearby anymore.
So we know what to expect, but what do we do about it?
Proper Training and Self Control
Train your puppy early! It is never too early to start training. Dogs go through something called the peak socialization period between the ages of 4-16 weeks. This is when your pup’s mind is most malleable and the things that happen during this time period will affect your pup’s behavior for the rest of their lives! I recommend starting training around 10 weeks. During this time, you should also socialize your puppy to all sorts of people, places, and objects! It’s important for your pup to learn the basics (sit, down, come, touch, etc) and it’s just as important that you remain consistent with this training throughout your pup’s life! It’s also important to teach your pup self control commands (wait, stay, leave it, drop it, etc).This will transfer over into other areas of your pup’s behavior. Find a positive reinforcement based trainer to help you teach you the proper way to reinforce good behaviors and phase out the bad ones!
Lots of mental and physical exercise!!
This is important for dogs of all ages, but adolescence seems to bring some superdoggy stamina with it. You’ll want to make sure your energy filled pup is getting plenty of exercise or else she might get bored. A bored pup tends to find all sorts of trouble- chewing, digging, etc! You can help prevent the damage these bored pups may cause by continuing my crate training rule of thumb, similar to the one I use during puppyhood. Basically if you can’t keep your eyes 100% on the puppy, they should be in the crate. This will not only keep them safe, but your house as well! (Don’t worry this crate training system isn’t forever! Your pup will slowly gain their freedom to roam the house unsupervised. But we have to work up to it!) Activities like puzzle/food-dispensing toys, fetch, walks, advanced obedience, and puppy play dates are a fantastic way to keep your pup’s mind busy and their body healthy!
Consistency is always important, but you want to make sure you’re following through during adolescence. If you tell your dog to sit and she ignores you, follow through and get her to sit! If you don’t do this, next time she won’t do it because she didn’t have to last time.
It’s easier to prevent bad habits than fix them once they are formed.
Be Patience and Laugh About It
There will be days where you will wonder why you even got a puppy in the first place. Your teenage pup will push every button you have and some you didn’t know were there. When this happens, it is important to relax and take a breath. Your dog will outgrow this. When these days happen, and they will, skip the training and just play with your pup. Have fun with her and your relationship will grow because of this.