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How to help adolescent dogs through this teenage developmental stage

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A large majority of dog guardians are not even aware that their dogs go through developmental stages.  One of the most challenging phases is the teenage phase or “adolescence”.  Generally speaking, adolescence in dogs is roughly between 6 months and 12 months or up to 18 to 24 months in age (dependent on breed, type or individual).

Just think about teenage humans, it too can be a challenging time as the brain and hormonal development can cause behavioural challenges, mood changes and frustration. The same applies to our dog companions.

The unfortunate reality is a massive population of dogs are handed into shelters or given up as unwanted during this “teenage dog” phase, purely because of the lack of the family’s knowledge or preparedness that comes with this passing developmental stage.

What to expect:

– Exuberant, boisterous behaviour
– Excessive chewing
– Fearfulness of novelty
– Appearing to not listen
– Chewing, chewing and more chewing

Understand that they are not being naughty or purposefully disobedient- remember this is a challenging time for teenage dogs too!

How to help:

Remember, dogs learn by association and will repeat what they find rewarding. So, reward behaviours you do want them to do using food, praise and play.  For example, if you do not want your dog to keep jumping up on people, then teach them an alternative behaviour- like rewarding them when they have four paws on the ground or redirecting them to fetch a toy.

Learning should always be FUN and enjoyable using positive reinforcement methods. Punishment will only cause more fears, the inability to learn if they are worried or stressed and will break their trust in you.  Go back to the basics like teaching a recall (your dog coming back to you), exploring a fun obstacle course, teaching a high five, a sit and so on.

Brain games! Teenage dogs have plenty of excess energy and it is advised to provide more mentally enriching activities that aid problem-solving, promote calm and reduce frustration. Food puzzles, feeding from Kongs, snuffle mats, and plenty of edible chews are recommended as well as scent games and teaching them fun exercises will help tire their minds without compromising their growing bodies.

Keep things predictable, safe and consistent. Young dogs typically experience another “fear period” and need your support and understanding.  One day they may seem full of confidence and the next be fearful of things.  Help them feel safe by gradually helping them learn positive associations to things that may worry them at a pace and distance they feel comfortable.

During this stage, relationship building is the most important. Continuing to have a strong relationship with your dog is important because it will help you continue to exercise patience in times when your teenage dog is simply being a teenage dog.

If you are struggling to understand your teenage dog’s behaviour it is advised to seek the professional help of a certified or accredited animal behaviour consultant or a certified trainer who uses force-free, positive reinforcement methods only.  Quick fixes will always do more damage in the long run.

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