By Diana Logan
The adolescent period is a challenging one for all species, including dogs. Reflecting on our own adolescence chapter may bring to mind its uncomfortable soup of emotions as we rollercoastered our way toward adulthood. We were oblivious to the fact that we were, in essence, hostages in a critical stage of our development. The other side was invisible to us, but our parents knew (hoped!) that with enough support, guidance, and work on their part, everyone would survive and eventually, maybe even thrive.
“I have a 10-month old puppy who jumps on everybody.”
There is no such thing as a “10 month old puppy” or an “8 month old puppy.” A puppy loses her puppy license long before that, at about 5 months. Our young puppies sometimes enjoy a privileged life full of successfully pushing the envelope of acceptable behaviors to the breaking point, then, when they have officially been sucked into the depths of teenagerdom, those same behaviors are suddenly the reason for their humans to react negatively. We can do better if we understand the developmental stages of our dogs.
Biological, physical, and hormonal changes abound as any youngster of any species approaches the adolescent threshold. Our puppies may demonstrate that they’ve grown into, rather than out of, behaviors we assumed would automatically vanish over time. Environmental stimuli that never before seemed to bother a puppy suddenly strike abject fear in him. A pup who always seemed to get along with other dogs is now growling at them when they get close. The skills we worked so hard on and with so much success seem to have suddenly flown out the window. And now he’s into chewing again?
Adolescence happened, and it’s here for the long-haul.
Surprise! New puppy owners can be unaware of this very significant transitional period, and it arrives quickly! We tend to think there’s a direct connection between “puppy” and “adult,” but there’s actually a lot that has to occur before a puppy is fully ready to crawl into her adult dog skin. We need to respect and understand this, and just like our parents did for us, patiently support and guide our teenaged dogs towards a better future. It will pass. Your teenage dog will become an adult. Things will settle down. But first you need to get through this as you keep a constant and hopeful eye on the light at the other end of the tunnel. Yes, the velociraptor will come and stay for a while, but he will eventually leave, with your help.
Puppies will start to enter adolescence around 4-5 months. When I say, “puppyhood flies by”, it’s true! You get your puppy at about 8 weeks, and a mere 9 weeks later he’s rounding the bend towards adolescence. The work you do in that short window of time especially will have a direct impact on how well you all survive his adolescence. This is why puppy classes are recommended so strongly - they help build a strong foundation which can set the whole team up for success.
Adolescent dogs between 8 and 18 months make up the majority of dogs relinquished to shelters. Dogs don’t reach physical and social maturity until about 2.5 to 3 years of age, so it’s not a quick transition phase.
The good news is that you can prepare yourself and your dog for this potentially tumultuous period and be ready for what may lie ahead.
- Skill building, skill building, skill building
- Take classes that use positive reinforcement training
- Practice basic skills and games frequently (ex: recall, eye contact, targeting, leash walking, settle, retrieve, tug),
- Exercise! Dogs of all ages need regular, age-appropriate aerobic exercise and a healthy diet.
- Establish boundaries and structure, predictability, and safety
- Happy handling, from the get-go. You will have to physically handle your strong, sometimes resistant adolescent dog, so heavily-rewarded cooperative care practices are vital to start when he’s a puppy.
Adolescent dogs have “a temporary membership in a planet-wide tribe of adolescents.”
Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers, “Wildhood.”
“Pretending that puppyhood extends far past the actual cut-off age disguises the behavioral emergency that is puppyhood.” dogster.com