Oh it’s a daunting time isn’t it, one minute you have a tiny ball of fluff who seems fairly biddable and to be honest, quite clingy……and the next you have a giant hooligan who doesn’t appear to even remember you exist. It’s a challenging time, and one I know a lot of dog owners struggle with……adolescence.
Now, I’m a puppy trainer, most of my work is based around those early puppy behaviours, those first few months, the needle sharp teeth and the toilet training etc. But there is always such a variation in the times these changes occur and breed specifics plays a big part.
So, what happens during adolescence? We often call it the ‘teenage phase’, and rightfully so. The intensity of the behaviour changes you will see are dependent on various things, the age of your teenage terror, the breed of your teenage terror, and largely how you tackle the challenges you may face. I say ‘may’, because there is no guarantee you will face any at all, it’s just useful to be aware of the changes your dog will go through, and what this may mean for you.
Adolescence will generally start around 6-7 months old, and these first few months are the most challenging. This is the stage where any behavioural problems will start to appear, which can easily be misinterpreted when trying to distinguish them from plain and simple normal adolescent behaviours. Another reason to be aware of what is completely normal and what is not.
Looking at males, there is a huge testosterone increase (this goes up way above what the normal level will be as an adult!), they may start to show marking behaviour, they may start sniffing more and roaming, and sometimes display mounting behaviour. The changes you see aren’t just specific to males though, although they may be more obvious changes. Females will be due a first season, and this may make your girl a tad more ‘friendly’ and ‘flirty’ with the boys, she may also urine mark to spread about those pheromones to encourage male attention.
Generally, adolescents gain confidence, and this is the root of most behaviour issues at this time I feel. They develop a more independent nature, and this may be seen as ‘my dog won’t listen any more, they’re just being disobedient’. In fact, biologically speaking, they’re doing what needs to be done. A dog at this age NEEDS to be independent, they are looking to reproduce and looking to raise a family of their own! They need to think for themselves and need to break away from the ‘family ties’, so to speak. Try and remember this next time your dog is ‘not listening’, maybe they are just trying to do what nature intended for them to do. Obviously we won’t allow them to, but we can’t give them too much of a hard time for it.
Also, physiologically, brain development is going through rapid changes too. A very interesting article by Melissa Alexander at Clicker Solutions, states that the erratic and unpredictable behaviour your dog may display, can be attributed to signals which were once directed to the cerebral cortex, now being sometimes redirected through the limbic system, giving you a very ‘off the wall’ emotional response from your dog. Sometimes very dramatized and irrational responses to things which are (or were) completely routine.
Your dog may show less self-control, less ability to restrain himself in certain situations, he may pull more on the lead, he may be more likely to grab your dinner from your plate! You may see your dog become a tad more selective in his choice of friends and dogs he has happily played with as a pup he may not be so keen on now, another stage of social maturity. You may see a fearful stage, he may seem ‘neophobic’, a term used to describe an extreme or irrational fear of unfamiliar things. So that dustbin in the street he has walked by a thousand times may well just become the most frightening thing in the world. Your dog will have more energy, which if not catered for may lead to more frustration, and more destructive behaviours.
It’s a sad fact that many dogs do end up in rescue at this age, I would be interested to know if there is a statistic for this, I’ll look into it! Many owners can’t or won’t commit to helping their dog through this stage and sadly, give them up.
So, what do we do? We set our dog up in situations in which he will succeed. We reinforce the good choices he makes, which, if you have set up situations for your dog to succeed in won’t be too difficult. Keep up with the positive exposures you have done since your dog was a pup, keep up with consistent training, reward the good behaviours, keep your dog busy to cater for the extra energy, and try to be understanding of the huge changes your dog is going through. You may well see crazy emotional responses to situations which you haven’t seen before, but that’s what teenagers do, isn’t it?
So breath, relax, remember it’s not permanent, adolescence passes, and give your dog a break…….nature intended him to be out on his own now and fending for himself, so it may just take him a bit of time to adjust to this world of ours we make them live in. But they will!
For any more information or advice just get in touch!