Adolescence is a difficult time for both humans and their furry friends. Just like teenagers, dogs go through significant physical and emotional changes during this period of their lives (if you have a teenage human at home you are all too familiar with this). As a pet parent, it can be challenging to navigate these changes, especially when it comes to taking them on trips, going out and about, or even having other visitors over. In this blog post, we'll explore the basics of dog adolescence and offer tips and tricks to help save your sanity with your furry friend as keep this time as stress-free as possible.
Understanding Dog Adolescence
Most dogs enter adolescence around six months and can remain there until two years old, depending on breed and size. The once perfect, learning so fast like a sponge absorbing everything, adorable puppy of yours now hits the time where you tend to question if they even have a brain today. During this time, they experience significant physical and emotional changes, including an increase in hormones that affect their behavior. Some common behaviors that you may notice during dog adolescence include:
Increased energy and playfulness
Seemingly Testing boundaries and testing limits
More frequent vocalization or barking
More interest in other dogs and people
A decrease in obedience and increased in "blowing you off"
Seemingly not hearing you or not responding to "easy" stuff
While all of these changes can be frustrating, challenging, and honestly feel overwhelming for the human, the most important thing to remember is that your dog is not trying to give you a hard time, they are actually having a hard time. During this period, their brains are sort of in overdrive and they haven't quite gotten to the development stage to be able to think things through and settle the chaos that is their hormones.
So what can you do to get through this stage?
Start as young as you can with your pup and reward the behaviors you prefer OFTEN! The stronger their reinforcement history is for the behaviors you prefer, the easier it will be for them to make that choice in the harder moments. It's ok if you are just starting this journey and don't yet have a reinforcement history for those preferred behaviors, just start today by heavily reinforcing those good choices. You can even use their breakfast or dinner to reinforce them throughout the day or in a specific training session to really get a lot of repetitions in. Make sure you also have a solid enrichment plan as those needs tend to drastically increase during this time. You can utilize food puzzles, boxes or packing paper for shredding, ball pits, scent games, a dig pit, or really anything that enriches your dogs life and meets their natural needs.
Exercise and Rest!
Exercise is essential for adolescent dogs, so make sure that your furry friend gets plenty of exercise, but even more important is REST. Take breaks frequently and give your dog plenty of opportunities to down regulate. We want to encourage them to take breaks, to truly rest, and to avoid being stuck in a high arousal state for extended periods of time. Our adolescent dogs actually need MORE sleep than we typically realize, so be sure to pair that awesome exercise with ample amounts of sleep.
Consistency is key to really building solid behavioral choices and getting through this stage. Be sure to reward your dog every time they exhibit a desirable behavior, and ignore or redirect them when they exhibit unwanted behavior. Make this easier for yourself by having success stations or cookie jars throughout your house for easy access. This is a short lived stage if you can be consistent, patient, and kind. You've got this!
Use Play to Your Advantage
Playing with your dog is not only an amazing way to burn off some energy, but also a super effective way to help build skills that are challenging for our adolescent pups! You can work on things like arousal control, impulse control, and even behaviors that you may need like drop, leave it, find it, and retrieval. Be sure that play is not only high arousal but incorporates a lot of down regulation too as that will help our adolescents start to understand how to bring it back down when they get a little amped up.
Don't forget to enjoy the little things!
It can be so easy to get lost in the things that are challenging, the behaviors that are unwanted, and even in the sheer chaos of trying to meet needs. Don't forget to breath and try to enjoy the journey. It can feel long and challenging in the moment, but it is short lived and you will get through! Try to spend a few moments each day just doing the things that make you and your dog most happy. Take the pictures, run in the grass, throw the ball, cuddle on the couch, and most of all, Just Love The Dog!