Teenage Troubles: Surviving Adolescence

People often think they’ve survived the hardest part of dog ownership when they’ve cracked toilet training and got their puppy sleeping through the night. The cute, neediness of puppies, as well as the novelty of them, can make those troublesome puppy days feel worthwhile. The challenges are worth it because the puppy is adorable and harmless and it NEEDS you so much.

Just when you’re thinking things are going rather well and what a well-behaved puppy you’ve got … BAM adolescence hits and suddenly your lovely puppy has turned into a nightmare.

Sometimes it feels like it happens overnight. One day you’re gushing about how perfect your puppy is, and the next you’re in tears thinking “what happened to my dog”. This is the part of dog ownership that many of us are completely unprepared for.

We might know about teenage phases and the challenges of adolescence but we don’t really think about what it entails.

Adolescence can begin at around 5-8 months old and can last until they’re up to two years old. It depends entirely on the individual, some will breeze through with no challenges, while others will hit one hurdle after the next. It’s at this age that most dogs are rehomed as owners struggle to cope with the changes and instability that tends to occur.

In adolescence, hormones are continually changing and the brain is being ‘rewired’, it also encourages individuals to explore beyond their family group and learn self-sufficiency.

Some typical behaviour changes can include:

  • Lack of focus, short attention span or seeming to lose interest quickly

  • Increased frustration levels (which may lead to barking, mouthing, or other challenging behaviours)

  • Easily over-aroused, over-stimulated or stressed. Excitement levels may be higher, but anxiety may also increase

  • Increased fear. Most dogs will experience ‘fear stages’ where they can become spooked by things they have previously not taken notice of

  • Testing boundaries … increased independence may mean recall slips and the dog goes further from their owner

  • Changes in sociability. Some dogs will become increasingly interested in other dogs or people, while others may become less tolerant in social situations

  • Hormonal changes. Your dog may show more interest in other dogs (excessive sniffing), may become obsessed with following scents, may mark in the house or excessively on walks, or may become the target of other entire male dogs. For the girls, your dog may start guarding resources when she comes into season (or as she finishes her season)

What should you do?

Don’t Panic

First things first, remember this is a phase. It doesn’t mean your dog will be difficult forever, many behaviours change and pass relatively quickly. You may bounce from one challenge to the next, but gradually the changes will slow down and your dog will become more consistent and stable.

That doesn’t mean you should ignore any challenges. All too often people think “I’ll just see what happens” or “I’m sure he’ll grow out of it”. But that won’t happen.

Dogs don’t just grow out of problems, they’re far more likely to grow INTO them as they practice it more and more. So don’t panic, but also don’t allow them to keep practicing unwanted behaviours.

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