Guilty golden puppy dog biting his owner's shoe on sofa

Surviving Your Puppy’s Teenage Phase

Reading Time: 4 MIN

What is Adolescence in Dogs?

Adolescence is the period of development between six and twelve months of age, sometimes longer for larger breed dogs. It’s usually around six months when people notice their puppy is changing. This time can be challenging for pet parents because your puppy is larger but still acting like a puppy.

The Physiological Changes of Adolescence

dog training at leash with a puppy

During this period, dogs begin to look physically more like an adult, but the brain is undergoing massive reorganization and change. This is a huge time of development for your dog’s brain and body. We can’t expect a puppy to have the impulse control of an adult dog or to be able to learn to the extent of an adult dog.

One of the biggest changes is sleep. Adolescent dogs tend to crash early in the day and then they’re wide awake at night. They can be restless and difficult to get to sleep at night. To mitigate this, make sure your dog gets daytime sleep. Giving them a place like a crate or exercise pen during the day will help keep them awake in late afternoon.

With male dogs, testosterone levels are at their highest in their life at adolescence. This can lead to more behavioral changes. Females are starting to have their first heat cycle, and this can alter behavior as well.

Most common changes for adolescent dogs are emotional changes and fear periods.

The Emotional Changes of Adolescence

When talking about fear periods, the classic sign is suspicious behavior or lack of confidence. For example, if your dog walks outside and is startled by a trash can or other object, this is usually a fear period. It’s important for the dog to develop more independence, and the brain is preparing for that. Often, puppies will become detached and more aware of possible dangers. The good news is that this period typically lasts only 3 – 4 weeks.

Often, people feel guilty for not liking their dog’s behavior during the adolescent period. Knowing that as pet parents, you’re not doing something wrong in terms of training and understanding that this phase will pass, can be very comforting.

During a fear period, you’ll want to help get your dog through this period. For example, if your dog is scared of the trash can, you’ll want to start from a long distance away and reward your dog with food once they look at the trash can. Over time as you get closer to the trash can, you’ll continue to reward your dog with food. This will create a positive association.

Common Complaints During Adolescence

Not listening is the biggest complaint. They’ll look right at you, and then go off and do their own thing. Impulse control issues, such as jumping, counter surfing, mouthing, and inappropriate chewing are also at the top of the list. Another common behavior is leash reactivity. This can present as barking or lunging toward other dogs.

Management + Impulse Control: The Keys to Survival

Beautiful Hungarian Vizsla puppy and its owner during obedience training outdoors. Sit command side view.

Management is one of the best ways to set your dog up for success and make adolescence easier for you and your dog. Setting up a crate, playpen, or baby gated room is the best way to ensure your dog doesn’t get into trouble. Being mindful of what you’re leaving out that they can access is also key.

This can also be applied to professional environments. Places like the groomer or the veterinarian clinic can be spooky to dogs. With the vet visit, bring an enrichment toy or treats so you can feed your dog during an exam. The more you minimize the restraint that happens during an exam, the less likely your dog will be afraid in this situation in the future. For the groomer, having your dog go for short visits and getting lots of treats will help manage the fear.

To build impulse control, you can practice the concept of “wait”, especially when teaching a dog to wait for food. The goal is to teach your dog to wait until you put the bowl down and then release your dog to eat. To put this into practice, put your dog in a sit position while holding the food bowl up. As you lower the bowl, if your dog doesn’t lung forward, reward with a treat. If your dog does lung forward, bring the bowl back up and reset your dog. Make sure you break this down into baby steps so that your dog can get a win.

When your dog has trouble focusing, does your dog understand what you’re asking for? Make sure you build behaviors in small blocks so that it’s clear what you want. Often, adolescent dogs can be distracted in new environments. You can make it easier by training in a more calm area before jumping to a busy setting.

Overall, a dog’s first year is the most important for development. The human/dog bond is also critical this first year. The bond can really be tested because this is such a challenging time. If we can maximize positive experiences at home, at the vet, and at the groomer, you set your dog up for success in the future.



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