COMING OF AGE…when did your sweet puppy turn into the teenager from hell?

Why is it that we see a large number of adolescent (teenage) dogs surrendered to shelters and pounds?

The reason might be that when some dogs hit teenage-hood, they can become difficult to handle, destructive and even challenge their owners in some cases. We can liken them to 15 or 16 year old human teenagers who believe the world evolves around them and that society owes them something. Most owners are well prepared for this stage of their dog’s development, but for some this stage can hit them like a freight train, as their once mild, meek and biddable puppy is now the teenager from hell.

It’s important to know what’s going on within the body and mind of a teenage dog and be equipped with strategy if you are to survive this tidal wave.

Adolescent development usually occurs between 7 months to 2 years of age in dogs. The exact time in which each dog enters this phase of development will vary greatly depending on breed and size of dog. The obvious physical changes you will notice in dogs during this time will include, but are not limited to: rapid physical growth, changes in facial and head structure, change in coat and vocal deepening. In males we will also see formation of testicles and in most cases the introduction of territorial marking (to include lifting of the leg to urinate). In females we will notice development of the mammary glands, as well as some bitches coming into season (oestrus cycle) from around 8 months of age. At this stage dogs have reached their sexual maturity as well.

Apart from the physical changes, there are also physiological changes taking place within the dog’s brain. These include increases in the sex hormones, for males it’s testosterone and females it’s oestrogen, and there is also increased production of other chemicals which are required to instigate the growth of cells, fibres and tissues in your dog. The combination of increased chemicals and hormones results in not just physical change, but changes in your dog’s cognition and social maturation. Your dog will no longer act as he did when he was a puppy and may refuse to ‘obey’ known obedience commands and/or challenge you at times. If you have another dog in the house, then there may also be a social shift among the dogs.

During all of these physical, cognitive and social changes, we also notice an increase in the dog’s activity levels that means that your dog may become bored much more easily.   Due to this increase in activity level, and subsequent onset of boredom and frustration, you may experience any of the following:

  • Higher incidents of destructive behaviour
  • Increased barking
  • Inappropriate toileting
  • Aggression
  • Escaping

Unfortunately some dogs are incorrectly diagnosed with Separation Anxiety during this time as the symptoms presented can be similar.  Owners are usually willing to try absolutely anything to try and curb their dog’s unwanted behaviours and in some cases will medicate their young dogs as a quick fix approach.

Survival Guide…

During this transitional period in your dog’s development it is imperative that you follow the following steps to assist you:

  • Continue with formal obedience training (or enrol into a good, local dog training school)
  • Increase or introduce activity levels (safe and breed appropriate)
  • Engage in a dog sport (breed appropriate)
  • Tighten rules and boundaries (practice good management and leadership skills)
  • Provide extra mental and environmental stimulation around the house/yard especially when you’re away and/or your dog is outside (Refer to Environmental Enrichment handout)
  • Be patient, cool, calm and collected at all times (anger and frustration will not help)
  • Get the help of a good dog trainer to assist you

It does get better

It does get better and once you’ve survived your dog’s adolescent stage, you can look forward to the relative tranquillity and contentment of adulthood. You may come out the other end a little battered from the experience but the bond you’ve developed with your dog during all of the trials and tribulations will never be broken.

Note:  It’s interesting that most of us who have owned dogs for many years always forget the craziness that was puppyhood and the stress-inducing adolescent stage…yet we always remember our wonderful adult dogs. We always forget that they were all young once!!!

Trish Harris