Adolescent Dogs

Dogs and humans are very different, but they do have this in common: adolescence is often a rocky period. Like human teens, adolescent dogs explore their world and test their own abilities in ways you won’t always like. (What’s on the other side of the fence? Can I boss these other dogs? Can I catch that skunk? Who’s that cute Collie?)

All this adolescent adventuring can be wearing on owners; most dogs abandoned at shelters are between eight and 18 months old, at the height of adolescence. This is also a prime time for dogs to be banished to the backyard–a boring and sad place for such social animals.

The good news is, adolescence goes by much more quickly in canines than in people. And if you keep up with the guidelines that got you through puppyhood, as well some new ones just for adolescents, you can keep enjoying your dog and lay the foundation for a happy life together.

What defines the stage

Adolescent dogs aren’t so very different from teenage humans, at least in attitude–hyper, inattentive, driven by hormones (if they’re not neutered or spayed, anyway), exasperating, but somehow lovable in spite of it all–at least most of the time.

During adolescence, your dog will:

  • Become more interested in the big, wild world than she is in you. A dog who once happily bounded up to you when you called may suddenly become deaf to the “come” command.
  • Have lots of energy and need a good amount of exercise.
  • Become sexually mature. Males may hop fences and take off in search of the ladies, and they may mark in the house to claim their territory. Females will mark to advertise their availability to the guys. Both may become aggressive with other dogs of the same sex.
  • Forget commands and have a very short attention span. You may find your pup looking at you like you’re speaking Martian when you give her a command that she knew backward and forward last week.
  • Possibly become shy or frightened of things she took in stride just a few weeks before. Don’t force your dog to confront something that frightens her, but don’t coddle (and thereby reward) her fears, either.
  • Reach her adult height but be a bit awkward and gangly.
  • Lose her cottony puppy coat.

Things to keep in mind

Keep your adolescent dog in a gated-off, puppy-proofed part of the house when someone can’t keep an eye on her, because adolescents are often chewing machines. Just make sure she also gets plenty of time to hang out and bond with the family.

A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. Your adolescent probably has energy to burn, so give her plenty of exercise. Just avoid letting her run and jump on hard surfaces, such as concrete–your dog’s bones and joints are still developing, and the impact can hurt her.

Keep training sessions short and fun, using treats and toys, and be prepared to go back a few steps to practice things she’d learned before. Your adolescent pup has a very short attention span.

Be calm but consistent about house rules. Your dog is learning from you all the time, whether you want her to or not. Give a command only when you mean it, and (kindly, gently) insist that she obey.

Enroll in another obedience class. The guidance of a good trainer will help you get through adolescence, and so will the support of other people who are in the same boat with their teenage dogs.

Bottom line: As in humans, adolescence is a rocky time in a dog’s life; it’s also the age when dogs are most likely to be abandoned to shelters. But if you understand the phase and know how to handle it, you’ll continue to enjoy your pup and will come out the other side with a great adult dog.