How To Handle Teenage Dog Behaviour
Welcome to the March edition of our free dog training blog where we’re talking all about what to expect and how to handle teenage dog behaviour. If you’re new here, welcome! If you’re one of our dear followers – welcome back. We love to have you here.
Can dogs really be teenagers?
The answer is a great, big resounding YES.
Just like people, dogs enter a teenage phase of life between approximately 6 and 18 months of age. It’s all part of their sexual maturity and it can be a rollercoaster.
Changes are governed by be genetic, environmental and physiological factors. Our dogs bodies and minds both develop with increases in hormones and reaching sexual maturity. This can really impact how they behave in a normal day.
Growing up can bring about different patterns of behaviour that often trip owners up during training such as sudden fear phases, or big jumps in confidence or cautiousness. You may have noticed some of these already.
They can be really frustrating! But as they old saying goes, knowledge is power. Once you know what to spot and how to manage symptoms of teenage struggles, the entire phase will feel a lot easier to manage.
What does teenage behaviour look like?
Teenage dog behaviour is tricky, because no puppy is fully trained by 6 months of age. However it can really feel like they’re 99% trained when they look so grown up. Dogs are such an important part of our family we can forget they’re still babies learning the ways of the world.
We get used to their personalities and routine in just a few short weeks. But oh wait – here comes teenage behaviour to put a spanner in the works. Your perfect puppy seems to be acting out. What’s going on?
At 5-6 months old, our puppies are often on the cusp of a huge amount of change. Although approximately 90% of their physical growing is done, their bodies are still developing.
You may notice that their hunting or prey drive is suddenly much stronger. Their nose might be glued to a scent or they can’t stop barking or staring at interesting things or people. Walks can feel stilted and difficult. Here are some other signs.
You may notice:
- Inability to settle at night
- Scent marking indoor or a relapse in toilet training
- “Forgetting” simple commands
- Selective hearing or poor recall
- Becoming highly distracted on walks
- Increase in the urge to play
- Struggling to concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time
- Fear phases (suddenly afraid of things or people that they were previously fine with)
- Fidgeting or switching off during training
- Chewing more regularly
- Becoming selectively sociable with other dogs
- Increase in zoomies
We saw a lot of these behaviours with our Border Collie. In the summer, at around 7 months old he was calming passing by police cars – amidst all lights and sirens blaring and screaming. The next week he was nervous of scaffolders and their trucks. One week his recall was perfection the next he was distracted by horses in a neighbouring field. At Christmas he was about 10 months old and suddenly started nervously barking at friends and family he had met several times before. By new year he was as cool as a cucumber as fireworks blazed and crackled in the sky. This is the see-saw we experience as our dogs grow up.
Of course, how we handled his training was one of the most important things that helped him through all of these ups and downs. Dogs must have guidance for their handler in how to react to the world.
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Are they acting out of spite?
Being a teenager is incredibly tiring – this can impact your puppy in lots of different ways. Most owners notice “relapses” in training – particularly in toilet training, recall or a vast increase in “hyperactivity”. It can feel as though your dog’s personality has changed (and not for the better).
Teenage phases vary between breeds. Some dogs might not show any change at all from 6 months to adulthood. Working line dogs and herding breeds with high intelligence tend to show the most noticeable or challenging teenage phases, as they are capable of more joined- up thinking and will try testing boundaries to see what happens. They are independent thinkers.
This can look a lot like “defiance” or acting out of “spite” – but it isn’t.
Dogs are driven by survival – to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. They do not live maliciously, they just want to see what happens if they test the waters of life with humans. Will jumping on the kitchen counter result in a delicious, roast chicken? Will following that scent result in the ultimate squirrel chase? It’s easy to see where they can struggle to “behave”. This is where consistent training is so important.
Don’t take it personally. If you’re feeling really stuck, get in touch to book a 1:1 session.
How should I handle teenage dog behaviour?
Remind yourself not to humanise behaviour. Your dog is not acting out of spite. They do not hate you or want to make you feel embarrassed on walks. They are going through a wave of change that we need to help them ride. Be calm, confident and reward positive behaviour.
The old saying that a “tired dog is a good dog” is not true. Over-tired dogs are more likely to struggle to listen, train and learn. Tiredness hinders the ability to regulate emotions and settle.
Sleep is the fastest way to allow any dog to decompress from activity.
Ensure your teenager is getting a lot of rest in between training, walks and play. This will allow their bodies to grow, rest and repair. The same goes for their minds! Adult dogs need 16-18 hours of sleep per day. Puppies often need more than that to allow for both recuperation and shaping emotional stability.
20 Minute Limits
After 20-30 minutes of activity, adrenaline can spike in puppies. The cortisol levels in the bloodstream rise and this feeling can accelerate from fun/excitement to stress/hunting instinct. It sends a lot of dogs over their emotional threshold and this can result in:
- Inability to listen
- Hyperactive behaviour
- Hyper-arousal or poor manners during play
- Increase in anxiety
Too much of a good thing can result in a mentally overwhelmed or easily excitable pet. The best way to combat that sneaky adrenaline junkie effect is to give them short activities followed by crate rest with a stuffed Kong or chew. By doing this, your dog will learn their limits, be calmer and able to self-settle outside of their crate as they get older.
It can be hard to see where your dog’s training programme is inconsistent. Mostly we see owners reducing rewards too quickly, or forgetting to lay solid foundations in obedience before moving onto big, exciting walks. Adolescent dogs can struggle for all sorts of reasons but often it’s a case of too much too soon.
Remember to always reward your dog for the little things in life, at home and on your walks. If you’re feeling as though something is really amiss, we’re here to help. Become a VIP member today and get immediate access to training videos, advice and guidance.
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