Did you think that the teenage years only affected humans, until your dog started to change their behaviour after turning the dreaded six months old?
Are you worrying because your dog doesn’t seem to think you exist?
Do you feel the eyes of other pet parents staring at you in the park as you desperately recall your once brilliant at returning pup back to you?
I’ve felt the embarrassment as my teenage dogs barked at random objects, ran up to everyone in the park to say hello, and ignored my multiple recalls, so I know how you feel.
This is a common thing that I hear from lots of different pet parents when I start working with their teenage dog and I see it a lot even when working with young puppies.
I remember when my dogs were going through their teenage years I found that wine was my best friend, and I reached for the chocolates after our challenging dog walks and demanding meal times!
Adolescence can be a tricky time, but there are things you can do to help both you and your dog. Unlike humans dogs become teenagers at around six months old, before they enter the adult phase. They grow up fast and don’t always make the greatest decisions. Something pet parents aren’t always aware of.
There have been so many studies into this behaviour change, a study from Newcastle University headed by Dr Lucy Asher found that dogs were more likely to ignore commands by their caregiver and harder to train whilst going through puberty. Sound familiar?
Do you feel like your teenage dog has suddenly forgotten their name?
Adolescence is the transition from juvenile to adult with physical and psychological changes happening to the dog.
For males this usually happens around six to nine months and for females it’s six to sixteen. Small dog breeds mature quicker through this stage whereas larger breeds do not reach their maturity until around 18 months of age. If you think your dog is just acting like a big puppy still this may be why.
You might find that your once incredible recall pup starts to wander further afield, and even at times ignoring your calls, this is because they become less dependent on you and more independent at this stage.
Sadly due to these changes in behaviour, this is usually the time when most dogs are rehomed, in 2015 a study into re-homing dogs found that most are rehomed at five months to two years old.
You might notice some behaviour changes such as an increase in motivated behaviours such as mating, aggression and they might start displaying an increase in resource guarding particularly over food.
Your dog could also show fear based aggression and an increase in territorial marking including leg lifting to urinate whether they are male or female.
This is actually just them leaving their scent for other dogs, it’s the equivalent of us checking what our peers and those around us are up to on Facebook, leaving a post and liking it! So it’s nothing to worry about.
You might start to become afraid of letting them off the lead because their recall is temperamental and you’re scared they are going to run off. But don’t worry, this won’t last forever.
Research has shown that changes in hormones and the brain cause these behaviour changes in your pup. This is because your pup is transitioning from a juvenile to an adult brain, during this time remodelling of neural circuits are driven by dramatic hormone changes which have a huge impact on behaviour.
If you’re finding your teenage dog is behaving differently it’s likely that it’s down to hormonal changes that come with this aging process.
These changes can increase certain behaviours, for instance shy dogs can become shyer, confident pups can get even more and sometimes overly confident!
Other behaviour problems like reactivity and aggression can also come into play.
When your dog is younger they are less sensitive to frustration and have a greater sensitivity to rewards. Your dog can become more frustrated at things such as delayed reward or being on the lead more. This frustration can then manifest into aggressive behaviour. (McPeake 2019)
You might also notice your teenage puppy starting to show fear, barking more and backing away, perhaps they have new triggers which were never a problem before.
This could be a case of secondary-fear stage, which is thought to be caused by the changes in hormones making your dog to become more sensitive and reactive.
Your dog might have shown they are scared of a random object, making you question what’s going on? You may have noticed them barking randomly at road signs on your walk, whilst you try to get them to stop feeling like the whole world is watching you.
Not all dogs will experience this, but if they do it typically lasts around one to three weeks, but it’s essential you are careful with your dog around this time so that they don’t become permanently fearful of these things.
If you notice this behavior, be kind and have patience with your dog. Give them time and space to explore the thing they are worrying about and make their own decisions, so they can feel more confident
As silly as it seems to us with our dog barking at a random road sign they still need our support to show them that it’s nothing to be scared of. It’s like after you watch a scary film and you suddenly become scared of your shadow!
You can always ask your vet if you’re worried about certain behaviours, or work with an expert through this time.
There’s no shame in asking for help and I know a lot of pet parents who have felt like pulling their hair out through this time, or have bulk ordered bottles of wine to get them through!
These essential biological changes can reduce your teenage dogs ability to control their impulses and their emotions, leading to them becoming easily frustrated and more irritated.
Is your dog starting to shout at you whilst you’re preparing dinner? Are they seeming to pick and choose what commands they want to do? Do they want to say hi to every single thing in the world?
Researchers Casey & Jones discovered that there are big changes in the dopamine system at this time, the pleasure hormone, meaning that changes to this can cause your dog to seek fun in different ways such as an increase in risk taking and poor decision making.
Just like teenage humans might start to suddenly reject their parents and want to be around their friends more. You remember what it’s like to be a teenager? Suddenly your parents are far from cool, and all you want to do is lock yourself in your bedroom and ignore your name being called!
There’s also an increase in the growth hormone during puberty, which makes their brain cells even hungrier, it’s during this time that the uptake of sugar to the brain is prioritised. This happens in humans too – ever wondered why teenagers are so hungry?
You can help your teenage dog by feeding them at least twice a day, providing variety in meals and giving them regular chewing opportunities… we know that chewing releases those all essential feel good chemicals for your dog, it’s a bit like the feeling we get when we bite into a big bar of galaxy chocolate (other brands are available).
During this stage you might wonder why your pup has suddenly turned into a crocodile crossed with a shark and is trying to chew everything?!
Well did you know dogs also have a secondary teething stage in this adolescent period? Just like you survived it before you will survive it again! So it’s time to restock up on those teething chews and toys!
Stress is a huge trigger in your teenage dog, so you might find that you have to switch things up to make walking less frustrating for them and lower expectations of them during this time.
During this time give them lots of love, reassurance, comfort and time. Try helping them with feel good activities to help them feel better, they are most likely scared and worried so they need you to be positive and caring. Remain consistent and use reward based training and work with an experienced behaviour practitioner who I promise have seen all of this before and have seen this with their own dogs!
As with all training it’s important to stay calm and carry on! Remember your dog isn’t deliberately behaving this way.
With patience, calmness and training games I promise we can make a difference to you and your ‘terrible’ teen.
Take a deep breath and a big gulp of wine and find comfort in knowing this isn’t permanent, I assure you that you can return to your normal walks and stressless recall as soon as this phase is over – the teenage years don’t last forever!
If you want to turn your troublesome teen to a terrific teen fill out our enquiry form to find out more about our tearaway teen training programmes. We work with clients across the country and internationally so don’t worry if you’re not local, we can still help.
Some of the information above is from Dr Amber Batson and her team, Troublesome Teens: Surviving Doggy adolescence