7 Techniques to Help You Survive Your Puppy’s Adolescence
Adolescence is a transitional stage between puppyhood and adulthood.
It generally occurs between nine and twelve months of age, but the onset varies. Smaller dogs may begin adolescence earlier (eight months or so) and grow out of it earlier (twelve months of age), while giant breeds may not even begin adolescence until closer to a year of age. These big dogs won’t finish it until later, too, at maybe two years of age. Take into account that every dog is an individual and will experience adolescence in his own unique way.
Adolescence is a complex process involving physical growth, sexual development and behavioral changes. Human teenagers often make poor decisions and their impulse control is poor during their adolescent years, and your canine teenager is apt to be the same way. Although your adolescent dog won’t tell you, “I hate you,” and stomp off to his room, he may challenge you in other different (but similar) ways. He may ignore you, challenge you and defy you. He may also become incredibly affectionate, or he may run away from you. Your puppy may also do all of these things (and more) to any older dogs you have at home. Thankfully, though, there are techniques to deal with these adolescent months so you both still like each other when he grows up.
Train Your Teenager
Ideally, you began training your puppy long before adolescence reared its ugly head, because, although training won’t prevent this stage of life, the training will have established communication between the two of you. That communication is important, especially during the times when your defiant teenager doesn’t want to listen to you.
Enroll in a training class. If this is your first class, that’s fine; a basic obedience class is the place to start. If you and your dog have already done some training, you might want to repeat the basic obedience class so you and your dog can begin talking to each other again.
No matter what training technique you decide to use, keep the obedience training fun for both of you. At the same time, set some rules of behavior and don’t let your dog argue about it. If you ask him to sit and stay at the front gate so he doesn’t dash out, keep the leash on him and help him do what you’re asking him to do. Don’t let anything turn into a battle between the two of you; instead, think of how you can help your teenager succeed.
I like my dogs to keep track of me: paying attention to where I am and what I’m doing. In addition, if there’s a problem, I want my dogs to look to me for guidance. When my dogs are close and paying attention to me, we can handle things as a team and my dogs won’t get into trouble.
To achieve this, I teach an exercise called “watch me.” You can use a treat, a ball, a favorite squeaky toy or even a happy tone of voice to get your dog to look at you. When he does, praise him—”Watch me! Yeah!”—and give him the toy, treat or ball. Keep this happy, fun and exciting. Never punish your dog using this exercise.
Use the Leash A Lot
Your puppy may have worshipped the ground you walk on and followed you everywhere when he was younger, but your teenager is not going to worship you or follow you. In fact, he’s probably going to try and ignore you. Hence, the need to refresh (or teach) obedience training and the “watch me” exercise.
It’s also important to use the leash a lot right now. You can concentrate on off-leash skills when your puppy has finished adolescence; right now, it’s more important to show your teenager that he’s not allowed to ignore you when you ask him to come to you. Nor is he allowed to pretend you don’t exist. Think of the leash as an umbilical cord between the two of you.
Keep all of this training fun with good rewards, but use the leash to keep your dog close and to prevent bad behaviors from occurring in the first place.
Keep His Brain Busy
A bored teenager is one looking to get into trouble. The obedience training you do will help keep his brain busy, but other outlets for his mental energy are also needed. This is a great time to start trick training, or begin some fun agility training. Scenting games are great. I also like commercial brain games that double as food-dispensing toys. Keeping your dog’s brain busy helps keep him out of trouble; plus, the two of you will have fun together and that’s important right now.
Interrupt Rude Behavior
If your teenager is pushing the older dogs in your family too hard—perhaps stealing toys or treats—or being physically rough with them, interrupt that behavior. Put your adolescent dog on a leash and have him lie down and be quiet with you for a while. Rudeness and being a bully are not allowed.
If the older dog growls at your younger pup when the young dog is being a brat, that’s fine. Back up the older dog. My rule is that, as long as there is no bloodshed, the old dog is allowed to teach the younger dog.
Interrupt your adolescent if he’s getting too rough with other pets in the family. In my household, there will be no chasing the cats since that turns into chase and catch, and the dogs can potentially kill the cats if things get rough. One of my friends has livestock and she says that unsupervised chasing of the livestock is never, ever allowed. Her herding dog can help her with chores, of course, but is never allowed to go chase animals on his own.
The key is to interrupt behaviors and actions you don’t want to happen again, and then decide what behaviors or actions you do want to continue in the future. Teach your dog those behaviors and reward him.
Leg Lifting Can Be Limited
Excessive leg lifting (marking) usually begins in adolescence and can quickly become a problem. Although usually seen in males, females can also be leg lifters and sometimes these girls can be just as bad as boys who mark excessively. Male or female, there is absolutely no reason why a dog must mark every vertical surface; the world doesn’t belong to him and he doesn’t have to try and claim it.
On a walk, use the command you taught him during house-training when you wanted him to relieve himself. When he does relieve himself, praise him and continue on your walk. When your dog begins sniffing and giving you his signs that he’s going to lift his leg (usually a sideways motion to position himself), tell him, “No, not there,” and walk him away. Halfway through your walk, let him relieve himself again on command, and praise him. With repetition, he’ll learn that lifting his leg every few steps is not allowed.
It’s Not His Fault
It’s hard to watch your wonderful puppy turn into a canine adolescent, but he can’t help the fact that he’s a teenager any more than your human teenager could change who he or she was. Don’t get angry with your puppy, punish him, yell at him or get rough with him. None of those things are going to change the fact that he’s a teenager and these things will only damage your relationship with your dog. Instead, focus on helping him be a good dog as he grows up, because he will grow up. It may take a few months, but it will happen.