Adolescents in Dogs. Some Things You Should Know.
We get lots of questions about behavior problems when dogs start to enter the adolescence period. It goes like this:
You're puppy’s cute and attentive behaviors are starting to fade. He seemingly won’t listen to you anymore. He is more interested in what’s going on in his environment than paying any mind to you. He would rather play with other dogs or go explore an enticing scent. What’s going on you ask yourself?
Interestingly, some studies have now shown support for adolescent phase behavior in dogs and that this phase can be a vulnerable time for dog-owner relationships.
Puppies entering adolescents around 6 to 8 months of age, may begin to show reduced attachments or relationships with their owners, increased relationships to others, and reduced trainability and responsiveness to commands. This phase can last up to 2 years of age and longer in some larger breeds.
“Adolescence is the final developmental stage of reproductive function, in which a juvenile becomes an adult, and incorporates puberty. “In mammals, dramatic hormonal changes and re-organization of the brain occur during puberty. When puberty begins, so will the potential for competing motivations in the domestic dog”. [Lucy Asher, Gary C. W. England, Rebecca Sommerville, and Naomi D. Harvey. Published May 13th, 2020].
When the adolescent period starts, it important for you to know that your dog is not defective. He is not stubborn, willful, or stupid, so don’t let these labels keep you from your original training goals. (More on labels in my next post) In fact, it will be more important than ever to be patient and stay the course with the understanding that your dog may not be as flexible, reliable, or responsive as he goes through this developmental period.
What can you do to make things less frustrating?
Keep training but also make room for some fun playtime to keep your relationship intact. This developmental stage will pass.
Try not to assign labels to your adolescent dog. This just keeps you from addressing the problems and training through them.
Understand that your dog is going through some hormonal changes in his brain that are a normal developmental process and may be contributing to his issues. Training may be more frustrating for a while. This doesn’t mean he is "no good". Taking a break for the day is OK if you're frustrated. In fact, it's a good idea. Keep your temper in check. You can do way more damage by getting frustrated or angry and causing fear and stress for your dog.
Dog’s go through a teenage phase too so be patient when it starts, and keep training with the understanding that this phase will pass.