When I worked in a shelter, the average dog given up for adoption was often an adolescent. Adolescence is a time of hormone surges, growth, testing, increased activity as dogs try to navigate life as they mature.
It is often recommended to spay or neuter young dogs to stop undesired behaviors. This is false. Many factors play into behaviors from genetics to the work we do. Studies indicate it is better to alter after a dog has hit full maturity. So, “fixing” your pup at 6 months of age will not fix adolescence.
As I write this, I have an adolescent hooligan of my own. Lilith is 7 months old and wow! She is a handful.
Surviving adolescence begins with the pup. Are you doing your homework and getting a good fit for your lifestyle? Consider the source of the pup and the work done before you bring the pup home. The less work at the source, the greater your disadvantage may be.
Now what are you doing once the pup is home? The breed or type of the dog, its genetics, and maternal care received during pregnancy, along with early socializing at the breeder or rescue and the work you do, all go into how the puppy will develop. Hopefully, things were done well and you have a puppy you adore. Suddenly, at about 6 months of age, that darling puppy became a Tasmanian devil crossed with a shark on caffeine with a tad of honey badger tossed in. What happened? Adolescence.
Adolescence starts when a pup is about 5 to 6 months old and lasts until about age 2. Here are some tips to help you survive this life phase.
Have patience: Understand this is a time of change. Dogs are not trying to dominate us. They are trying to figure out how to live with us.
Keep teaching: Refresh lessons. Teach self-control. Games are a great tool for this.
Remember social graces: It is important during this time that you keep teaching good manners.
Management: Your pup will be doing things like counter-surfing and stealing things. He is not being bad. There are often good things up there and he is curious. If he finds something great, this behavior has been reinforced. Put things away.
Respect his changes: Although your puppy seemed to get along with others of his species, this can change as he matures. We cannot make our dogs want to be best buds with all other dogs.
Fear phase: During this time, dogs may go through what is often termed an “adolescent fear phase.” Go back to careful work to help him through.
Physical needs: Your puppy may be napping less and needing more activity as he enters adolescence.
Mental needs: Boredom leads to undesired behaviors. Sniff walks, food-releasing toys, games, trick training and the like will help. Dogs need a combination of active and quiet activities.
Teach relaxation: Just as important as physical and mental activity are, learning to relax and hang out is also a needed skill. Sadly, many dogs are not getting this lesson.
Safety: That cute pup who followed you all over the place may now be less inclined to do so. Leashes, baby gates and closed doors will all help keep him safer as you work to develop good manners.
Seek assistance: It never hurts to contact a good, positively based trainer to help you through this time.
Adolescence is temporary. It can be worked through. The keys are: Be reasonable, be willing to make needed changes, be understanding, and of course, make sure the puppy you acquire is a good fit for your life.
Karen Peak is the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project and owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County.