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Unleashed: Getting through the ‘teenage years’

Most of us are aware that puppies, whilst seriously cute, can be lots of hard work. I often hear clients exclaiming that they are ‘looking forward to their puppy growing up!’ However, it can often be a case of be careful what you wish for. The next stage in dog development, the adolescent stage can be equally as challenging and if you have adolescent kids, you’ll know this already…

By Russell D Russell

Sunday 12 September 2021, 01:30PM

Photo: Josh Rakower / Unsplash

Photo: Josh Rakower / Unsplash

Like with children, once puppies hit the adolescent stage they go through a shedload of biological, physical, chemical and psychological changes, and accordingly their behaviours can (and usually are) affected. It’s not all doom, gloom and panic, but there can be challenges ‒ and if you’re not ready for them, it can come as quite a surprise. 

When does it happen?

Dogs tend to hit the adolescent stage at around six months of age and work through it until around two years old when they reach full maturity. There is a bit of variance as smaller dogs tend to mature faster than larger ones, however, you’ll notice the bulk of the changes in the first six months or so.

Lots of people often advocate early sterilisation as a way to ‘prevent’ adolescent changes in dogs. But understand that whilst hormones clearly play a role in the changes that our dogs go through, they are not the only thing responsible for behavioural changes. Your dog’s brain is growing and developing and the changes and quirks you notice are natural and likely occur regardless of whether they’ve been ‘snipped’ or not.

If you’ve had your dog since a puppy, you may find it easier to tolerate this phase of their development having gone through the full on process of raising a pup. Whereas if you’ve just adopted an adolescent, you may find this more challenging if you were expecting to have avoided the puppy/chaos stage and adopt a calm, easy going dog. Either way, the bond you have with your new dog will help guide both of you through this stage and makes things easier to work with.

What Will I Notice?

One of the things that starts to tail off into adolescence is the seemingly endless teething and mouthing that young pups enjoy. If you’ve worked well with this in the puppy phase, to redirect to good chew toys, you’ll find your dog naturally choosing these anyway. Some dogs just like to chew and remain power chewers for life, the difference as they get older (and thus stronger) is that they may need more suitable chew toys that can sustain the stronger bite of developed jaws and teeth. 

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For those who have had puppies, you’ll note they seem to sleep forever. Sure, they are whirlwinds when awake, but tiring them out is quite easy. Adolescents however have different schedules with more ‘awake time’ and lots of energy. The best counter to this, is lots of short burst exercise, training sessions and mentally stimulating games, toys and activities. Exercise on its own is fine, but just makes them fitter, faster and stronger. Mental activity is what will really tire out your power house dog. Equally, even though your dog seems bigger and stronger, their bones and joints are still fusing and developing and are not yet ready for long powerful runs, jumps and impact work. 

Part of the benefit of these ‘more awake’ hours, is that adolescent dogs seem to take more of an active interest in going for walks, and exploring ‒ far more than puppies usually do. Pups have that inbuilt, biological trigger that seems to keep them ‘close to home’ ‒ and for good reason. But as they get a bit older, they now have the desire to explore their surroundings, and equally, now have more energy and strength to keep up with you on those slightly longer walks.

A note of caution here, you’ll probably also find that your dog’s recall, and desire to be next to you, is waning considerably now - so don’t be surprised if Rover is less interested in coming back to you. To this end, always keep your dog on leash, work him daily to build that recall so down the road, you can walk off leash with no issues.

And on that note, it may not be just his recall that seems to fade. You may feel that all that hard puppy obedience work you put in has suddenly left. It hasn’t, but you still need to keep working with your pup. Again, a bit like child adolescents, their brains can be all over the place at times. Be patient, stay the course and keep working through it. It will pay off later down the line. And with that in mind…

Keep Socialising!

It is still really important to continue to properly socialise your dogs through this stage. Remember this doesn’t mean just ‘let them play with other dogs and people’, it means getting them ready to be sociable members of society. This may appear more challenging with a recently adopted adolescent dog with no history, but it’s still possible and we need to expose them POSITIVELY to as many situations, people, places and so on as possible. 

If you’ve just acquired a new puppy, or have an adolescent dog and need some help, then please contact us on 091-6541960, email, or check our website CPA is accredited with the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), as an American Kennel Club (AKC) Evaluator and a Professional Member of the IACP.

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