Caring for a Canine Adolescent
A canine teenager’s body is growing and changing, not unlike a human teenager.
This is a short stage between puppyhood and adulthood. Adolescence in most puppies is between 9 and 14 months. It will vary according to your puppy’s breed or mix of breeds, with smaller dogs hitting it sooner and giant sized breeds going into puberty later.
Good Food for Growth
My adolescent dog, Hero, has a long nose, a long tail, and his legs are impossibly long. In fact, I’m amazed he doesn’t trip over his own paws more than he does. An English Shepherd, Hero will be about 22 inches tall at the shoulder when he’s grown and weigh about 55 pounds. He’s got most of his height now but is still lean (almost skinny), so he’s got quite a bit of filling out to do.
All of this growth takes a good quality food. I feed The Honest Kitchen’s foods at night to both of my dogs. For morning meals I use one of the base formulas (my dogs like Preference) with cooked meats depending on what I have on hand. One day I might feed cooked chicken and another day beef or fish. This allows me to tailor their meals to their needs. If you have any questions about your teenager’s nutritional needs, talk to your veterinarian.
You can also adjust your dog’s food by paying attention to their weight. He needs plenty of food to fuel his growth but not too much. A puppy who is too heavy will stress growing joints and bones potentially leading to problems later.
I check Hero’s ribs often. Are they prominent? Too prominent, or covered by` meat? Does he have a nice waistline tuck up or is he too thin? I then adjust how much food he gets according to how he feels, how active he’s been, and whether or not he’s going through a growth spurt.
Teeth and Tooth Care
Most puppies begin losing their baby teeth between four and six months of age. The front incisors are lost first and this is a good cue to owners that this stage is beginning.
When puppies lose their teeth and the adult teeth are coming in, they can be fussy, run a low fever, have swollen gums, and can be grumpy. They also want to chew everything and this desire to chew will continue on into adolescence as this is when the big teeth come in. Those big molars can appear anytime between seven and nine months of age and when they are coming in, keep your puppy supplied with things to chew on.
If you didn’t introduce tooth care to your dog during early puppyhood, do so now. Not only will you want to monitor the teething process (make sure no puppy teeth are retained that might need to be pulled) but you’ll also want to care for these new, bright white teeth. Start the tooth care gradually, teaching your teenage puppy that this is okay, not painful, and just a part of life.
The Coat is Changing
Most puppies begin showing that their coat is changing from the soft fluffy puppy coat to the new adult coat at about four months of age. There might be a strip of adult coat showing along the spine. The majority of the adult coat comes in during adolescence, however, with the puppy coat gradually disappearing.
As the puppy coat is shed and the adult coat grows in, you need to brush and comb the coat often as that soft puppy coat can tangle and get matted. Plus, your teenage puppy needs to learn what his normal grooming routine is going to be as a grown up. Begin a combing, brushing, nail trimming, and ear cleaning routine.
Every breed (or mixture of breeds) has unique grooming needs so if you have questions, make an appointment with a groomer and ask questions. She can guide you as to what grooming tools (including combs, brushes, shampoos, and more) will suit your dog’s coat best. She can also show you how to care for that coat if you need some help.
Dog owners are often told a tired dog is a happy dog and when their puppy reaches adolescence, they tend increase the exercise in hopes of preventing rowdy or destructive behaviors. After all, the teenager is looking more grownup so he can participate in grownup exercise, right? Well, no.
As a general rule, exercise needs to be monitored well until the young dog’s growth plates on the long bones close. Too much strenuous exercise prior to this can cause bones and joint problems later in life. The growth plates close at different rates according to the dog’s size, with smaller dogs closing sooner than giant sized dogs. Talk to your veterinarian for guidance as to when this will happen with your puppy.
Acceptable exercise includes retrieving games (but not so hard and so long that the puppy is exhausted) and walks. Play with like sized dogs is fine, too. If you like to run, take your teenager but do walk-, jog-, dash-type runs with alternating speeds. Vary the surfaces, too, with grass and dirt alternating with harder surfaces. Avoid hard, fast runs on hard surfaces and avoid jumping; especially high jumps.
Although spaying the female and neutering the male do tend to lessen some of the issues with puberty, not all are alleviated by surgery. Plus, since recent studies have suggested that waiting until the puppy is over a year to a year and a half of age prior to spaying or neutering, more owners are seeing full blown puberty in their teenagers.
Signs that your male puppy is reaching puberty including an increase in size of the testicles, lifting his leg to urinate, and leg lifting to scent mark vertical objects. This may include trees, lamp posts, and fences where other dogs have also scent marked. Some teenagers will even experiment by marking in the house; which of course must be interrupted immediately to prevent a habit from getting established.
Some male teenagers will also begin experimenting with their status in the world. They might challenge other male dogs by standing tall, growling, or even lunging at them. This, too, should be interrupted if it continues. You might find your boy to be more aware when people approach your house, too.
The girls aren’t immune to puberty although they approach it in a different way. If not spayed, the first season (heat) usually happens between six and nine months of age although wait until closer to a year of age. Before and during their season, the teenage girl may be moody, grumpy, and lethargic.
Caring for a teenager going through puberty can be challenging. With hormones surging, your teenage puppy’s behavior can be erratic. Be patient, be consistent with your training and household rules, and if you need help talk to your veterinarian or dog trainer.
Adolescence Is a Time of Change
As your dog goes through this teenage stage, keep in mind that this s a time of change. Your puppy is changing into an adult dog and this several months long stage is the transition. Although your dog isn’t mulling over the changes happening, it can still be a confusing, challenging time. If you are worried, confused, or simply have some questions about your teenager, contact your veterinarian, groomer, or trainer. Then be patient; your puppy will grow up.