Are you struggling with your adolescent dog? This can be a particularly frustrating and challenging time. Many parents don’t think they will survive their dog’s adolescence. The good news is that it doesn’t last forever. And you’re not in it alone – your dog is struggling, too.
A young dog’s annoying behaviours are often considered an attempt to ‘test us’ or be bratty. However, adolescent hormones and brain development can make even the simplest of things challenging for young dogs. It’s common for them to:
- get easily aroused
- lose focus
- become fixated on things
- have difficulty settling down
Behaviours you thought you had on track might re-emerge, such as mouthiness. Skills that seemed well underway might suddenly vanish. Many young dogs seemingly lose their recall around 5 months of age. And that once-doting pup may now find everything else more interesting than you.
Do any of those sound familiar? They are all common with adolescent dogs. Let’s talk about how to survive these challenges.
Assess Your Training and Whether Your Teenage Dog Needs a Change
It may seem that a top-down solution is what’s needed. A focus on obedience, getting stricter with the dog or showing them who’s boss. But these bandage cures typically don’t help in the long run and can actually be detrimental.
Instead, it’s better to acknowledge the phase of development your dog is in and have appropriate expectations. Rather than pushing them harder and expecting more, many dogs need to ease up or even have a pause on some of the things they have been doing. I am not suggesting you abandon all training. But taking a break from training that has become difficult or shifting gears to things your dog finds easier or more enjoyable can help. It is not a cop-out. Adjusting goals will help your dog continue to enjoy training, reduce frustration and maintain the bond when you are working together.
Have Empathy and Patience for Your Teenager
Your young dog may be struggling in a number of ways. Often, their actions and moods can be trying on us. Staying out of a cycle of conflict can be challenging at times. But nothing productive or positive will come from adding to your dog’s challenges and putting yourself on their list of struggles. A shift in perspective is required instead. Be sensitive to your dog’s situation. They are not intentionally being difficult, even though it may feel that way sometimes!
Don’t Stop Using Management
While changing or building new behaviour, you must have appropriate management options as part of your training. If your adolescent dog needs to go back to basics with certain behaviours or real-life situations, then your management will also need to change. Do not feel this is a failure. You will be supporting your dog by not putting them in situations they can’t handle. Don’t be in a rush to get rid of tools that will help your dog cope and that set them up to be successful in daily life. Something as simple as a baby gate or keeping your counter clear can prevent your dog from getting into a habit you don’t like, get rid of a source of frustration for you and allow you to tackle the issue when you’re ready. Management is a must-have survival tool for dog adolescence.
Make Sure Your Adolescent Dog’s Needs Are Being Met
This is something that is on the top of my list when helping clients and their dogs. We may be dealing with a young dog’s habit of nipping at the kids when playing or chronic barking out the window at passersby. Whatever the issue, a discussion on meeting needs always takes place. Usually, BEFORE we start working on the behaviour or training issue. And here’s why.
Many behaviours that we find annoying or inappropriate result from a dog feeling frustrated, bored, or conflicted. If the reason the dog feels this way isn’t addressed, then the resulting behaviours will still have a driving force. Alternately, focusing on the dog’s needs and making any necessary adjustments can positively impact the behaviours. So, dealing with the dog’s needs first sometimes takes care of the behavioural issue. This is an important consideration in not just surviving dog adolescence, but making it through unscathed.
Here are 5 dog needs from my list:
Provide Safety and Security For Your Adolescent Dog
- Our dogs need to feel safe and secure with us. They need to know that they can trust us because of what we do on their behalf and how we teach them, handle them and care for them. Are we consistent and fair in handling, training and day-to-day interactions?
- We must teach them the skills they need to be successful, confident and safe in the life we share with them. Are we preparing them for the situations we put them in?
- They need to feel safe and secure in their home and have peace and proper rest daily.
- Do they have a consistent routine? This is related to safety and security because the predictability of routines helps our dogs know what to expect and, in turn, gives them confidence in what happens with and around them.
Assure Your Young Dog Gets Appropriate Sleep
Not having an appropriate amount of rest and sleep impacts mood and behaviour. You may have heard that a tired dog is a good dog. Well, a growing dog that isn’t getting an appropriate amount of sleep or rest can lead to inappropriate behaviour.
Have A Suitable Balance of Mental Stimulation and Physical Exercise
Another cause of inappropriate behaviour is an imbalance in physical exercise and mental exercise. I have found that most dogs don’t get enough mental stimulation. Teenagers are already a bundle of hormones. Too much activity that adds more adrenalin and cortisol to their system is not beneficial and can make it difficult for your adolescent dog.
Provide Natural Behaviours For Your Young Dog
Are you providing appropriate outlets for natural behaviours and ones that your dog finds enjoyable and rewarding? Denying dogs a chance to engage in fulfilling and enriching activities can lead to undesirable behaviours that result from frustration, depression and boredom. How many natural behaviours does your dog get to do?
Understand Your Adolescent Dog
This is a vital part of our dog’s success. We may share a major part of our lives with our dogs, but basic communication is often missed or misunderstood.
- Many people think a wagging tail always means the dog is happy. Nope.
- Can you tell the difference between an affectionate kiss and a kiss to dismiss?
- What other ways than growling does your dog signal that they are uncomfortable?
Signs of stress often go unnoticed. Routine interactions are interpreted as OK when they are not and dogs are put into situations they are not comfortable with. Adolescent reactions can be more intense than a puppy’s. It is important to recognize low-level signs of stress or conflict with teenage dogs.
Add More Joy To Survive Dog Adolescence
Do you know your dog’s favourite things to do, and do you give them the chance to do them regularly? Exploring new places, going for a swim, spending time at the beach, or dog-centric activities such as digging, chasing, scavenging or scenting are just a few common favourites. Whatever your dog’s hobbies, it’s vital that they can partake in them to prevent boredom and frustration.
And this applies to you too! What things do you love doing with your dog? Are there things that make you happy when you are together? During trying times, focusing more attention and time on things that bring joy will keep your bond strong and reduce frustration. This is a fun way to survive dog adolescence.
What do you think about the hipPUP Adolescence Survival Checklist? Which would you like to try? Implementing even just one of these will help move you and your adolescent dog in a more positive direction to survive adolescence.
Do you need a hand changing YOUR habits? If you have questions or would like more guidance on surviving your dog’s adolescence, join our babyBRAT Online Adolescent Class.
Do you prefer working one-on-one? You can also get private coaching with me. To find out more or book a session, visit Work With Me at hipPUP.