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Adolescent Antics: A Pawrent's Handbook for Dogs Aged 6 to 24 Months

Ah, adolescence! It's that time when your once-sleepy pup suddenly becomes a whirlwind of energy and unpredictable behaviours.


As your dog grows both physically and behaviourally, you might notice a shift in their demeanour, leaving you scratching your head and wondering what happened to your well-trained companion.




The Rollercoaster Ride: Brain under construction and hormonal Hijinks


Navigating adolescence with your pup can feel like a topsy-turvy journey. Between the ages of 6 to 24 months, expect your dog to exhibit behaviours reminiscent of human teenagers – increased impulsivity, difficulty regulating emotions, and changes in social behaviour.


During canine adolescence, the area of the brain that influences cognition, social behaviour and decision-making isn’t yet fully developed, and the part of the brain that influences arousal and reward-seeking behaviour shows increased activity. Because of this, adolescent dogs may display behaviours like we expect in human teenagers – increased impulsivity, higher likelihood of risk-taking, difficulty regulating feelings, changes in social behaviour, and more. Surviving adolescence means being aware of this stage of development and then being proactive about management and training to help our dogs navigate through it safely and successfully.


During this phase, your dog may appear less responsive to known cues and seemingly forget their manners. This challenging developmental stage often requires patience, consistency, and a back-to-basics approach in training.


Izzy, my Border Collie, went through similar changes during her adolescence. There were days when her response to cues seemed nonexistent. Backtracking to fundamental training methods, a quick refresher, and positive reinforcement helped her regain focus. Yes, it required daily reminders, but consistency paid off in the end.


Remember, your dog isn't purposefully misbehaving; they're simply navigating a phase of development that brings along its share of challenges.


The Training Dilemma: Feeling like all your hard work in training your puppy has vanished into thin air? Fear not! Your dog hasn't forgotten everything; it's just a bit harder for them to focus with those pesky hormones playing havoc. Moreover, unintentional reinforcement of rambunctious behaviour might occur. Keep training sessions short, enjoyable, and stress-free for both you and your furry friend. Remember, perfection isn't the goal right now—making training fun is.

Bonding Amidst the Chaos: Did you know that most dogs returned to shelters are adolescents? The energy and challenging behaviours during this phase often leave both pawrents and pups feeling frustrated and disconnected. Take time to bond with your dog, engage in simple and enjoyable activities, and cherish the little moments that bring joy. Remember, this phase won't last forever, and soon, your pup will mature into a well-behaved adult.


Understanding the shifts in behaviour and needs during adolescence is crucial. From altered social interactions to changes in responsiveness and evolving conflict resolution strategies, it's all part of your pup's developmental journey.


Let’s delve into how your pup's requirements shift in these crucial aspects:


Interacting with other social dogs through play is vital for dogs (who seek out dog-to-dog interactions) at every life stage.


However, during adolescence, their socialization needs evolve. Here's what to expect:

  • Shift in how other dogs interact: Around 5-6 months, dogs stop granting "puppy passes," holding your pup to higher standards in dog-dog interactions. Behaviours previously tolerated may now prompt mild or moderate corrections.

  • Altered engagement by your puppy: Adolescent pups may test boundaries, showing impolite behaviours and missing subtle cues from other dogs. Choosing playmates carefully becomes crucial to prevent bullying tendencies.

Tips for Managing Dog-Dog Play Sessions:

  • Understand dog body language to gauge when to intervene or continue play.

  • Train a solid recall cue to redirect your pup during dicey situations.

  • Choose appropriate playmates: similarly aged pups or patient adult dogs with clear boundaries.

  • Avoid mismatched playmates: very young puppies or overly aggressive adult dogs.

Excessive Energy:

Remember the days when your pup was a bundle of fluff napping in your lap? Well, those days are over! Adolescence brings forth a seemingly boundless surge of energy. While it's essential to provide mental and physical stimulation, teaching your pup to relax is equally important. Incorporate daily schedules that include relaxation and decompression time. Seeking guidance from a qualified trainer can greatly assist in this process, preventing your dog from turning into an unruly ball of energy.


Listening Skills & Manners

Adolescent dogs might seem less responsive to cues and manners can regress.

With the onset of adolescence, your furry friend might start exhibiting some undesirable behaviours. It's crucial to establish consistent rules and guidance during this phase. Reinforce positive behaviours with praise and treats while calmly addressing unwanted actions like jumping or excessive barking by withdrawing attention or ending play. Clear and consistent responses help communicate expectations to your adolescent pup, leading to more desirable outcomes. Management is key during this process. We manage the environment to set our teens up for success.


Consider these points:

  • Focus on positive, engaging training methods. Encourage a relationship where your dog enjoys cooperating and trusts you, even while exploring independence.

  • Manage the Situation: Temporary adjustments in your environment and routines may be needed to support your pup during this phase.

Fearful Episodes:

Dogs experience two fear periods during their growth. During these sensitive times, your once-confident pup might suddenly become fearful of familiar things. It's crucial not to force your pup through these fears. Avoid triggers that scare them and, if encountered, gently encourage your pup to move away from the trigger using treats and praise. Keep things simple, safe, and stress-free for your pup during this period.


Conflict Resolution Strategies:

Adolescent dogs might experiment with different problem-solving approaches.

Here's what to observe:

  • Changes in behaviour towards triggers: fearfulness could shift to proactive distance-increasing behaviours, which is what is mainly perceived and labelled by pawrents as their dog becoming “reactive”.

  • Shifts in communication signals: from submissive to more assertive displays indicating discomfort.

Seek guidance from a skilled trainer or behaviour consultant to discern normal developmental changes from issues requiring specific interventions.


Understanding Changing Behavioural Needs in Adolescence:

Expected changes in your teens' behaviour:

  • Changes in dog-dog interactions.

  • Variations in responsiveness to training and manners.

  • Evolving conflict resolution strategies.


Izzy is 3.5 years old, and we successfully navigated the ups and downs of her adolescence. I might have gained more grey hairs, but she has blossomed into a fantastic adult dog. I'll confess we threw a big birthday celebration for her second birthday because both of us were relieved to have passed that stage.



Hang in there, pawrents! This phase will pass, and your dog will emerge as a well-rounded adult. If the journey feels overwhelming, don't hesitate to seek guidance from certified trainers or behaviour consultants. Embrace this phase with patience and love; it's all part of the adventure of raising your furry companion.


References:

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00441-013-1581-2 (Rodent data regarding onset of mental health problems during adolescence; not quoted in presentation but directly relevant)

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/acel.13007 (also relevant regarding neurogenesis through adolescence – summarises some behavioural studies in rodents relating to neurogenesis)

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091305708004048 (not specifically referenced but includes many of the topics discussed)

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