Typically, adolescence occurs anywhere after five months of age and often if you are having a problem with any of your dogs’ behaviour and have done nothing about it, adolescence is the time it becomes worse.
Living with an adolescent dog can be tough, and you will find that most dogs are re-homed or dumped at this age. The cute puppy stage is over. Now, when your dog jumps on someone they will not think ‘how cute’, you will more than likely get a verbal spray for not controlling your dog.
One of the best lifestyle skills I taught Ben was to ‘get your toy’. I use this cue as soon as I get home and often when people come in to my home. If Ben has a toy in his mouth he is less likely to jump and cannot mouth me or any of my guests. This was easy to teach Ben as he is a mouthy dog. If you have a dog that is also like this you shouldn’t have too many problems teaching them to get their toy.
When you come home, and before you greet your dog, find a toy they value. As soon as you greet your dog put the toy in their mouth and play a game with them through the toy. As you are doing this they may drop the toy, point to it and as they pick it up you can cue them to ‘get your toy’. Start asking them to ‘get your toy’ at random times throughout the day. Once they are doing it in this situation you can then ask for it when they are excited. You can reinforce this behaviour by playing with (or giving attention to) your dog when they bring the toy to you.
Adolescence is a time of unstable behaviour. Your dog will still be getting in to mischief when you are not looking and destructive chewing is probably at its peak now.
To combat this you should continue to use your confinement areas, this may be a crate or a safe room with a baby gate. Trusting your dog to ‘be good’ when you are busy with something else is a sure way to destroyed belongings. Coupled with confining your dog, continue to provide them with lots of stimulating chewing objects. Stuffable chew toys, raw hide bones, dentabones, pigs ears and fresh raw bones will redirect destructive chewing.
Separation distress also reaches its peak when your pup turns 10 months old. Of course your dog will miss you when you are gone, but it becomes a problem if they are harming themselves and disrupting neighbours. There are a few things you can do to help your adolescent dog cope with separation in a healthy way. These will be addressed in my next post.
The socialisation period is finished. A puppy that has not had adequate socialisation during the period of 8-16 weeks of age stands a high risk of never becoming the dog they could have been. Adolescence is the time you will start to see some antisocial behaviour if your dog has not been continuously exposed to novel people, places and objects. If you are having trouble with your dog in this area, it is all about confidence building, lots of positive experiences, and helping to make good associations with something they dislike.
Unwanted behaviours will occur during adolescence, but will also disappear quickly if you have been on top of your training. However, starting your training at this time will make things more difficult. Your dog may have already learned a certain way of behaving, and now this needs to be stopped, and a new behaviour put in its place. This is not impossible, it simply takes more time and effort than if you were to start with a baby puppy.
It is a mistake to assume that just because your adolescent dog did Puppy School or a beginners dog training course that this is all they need. Your dog has not finished maturing until they are around three years of age (in most cases), so formal training should continue until this point, as a minimum. If this sounds excessive bare in mind that you may have your dog for more than 13 years, three of those years is not much time when you consider the benefit for the remaining 10 plus years.
Tantrum throwing is also another behaviour that occurs during adolescence. Your dog may suddenly start jumping on you, biting and, if on the lead, tugging at the lead. Usually this behaviour occurs as a result of frustration or past treatment.
In order to stop this behaviour you must recognise the tantrum as it is on its way. Your dog may start by pawing at you, fiddling with the lead, pacing, whinging etc. They are trying to get the message across and if you do not listen they will escalate it.
Once you can see the tantrum starting to happen you need to distract your dog. You can let them off lead, ask them to sit or do some heeling. You need to release the pressure build up they have by allowing them to run free, giving them something to chew, or by doing some calm quiet and controlled exercises. These exercises should be reinforced with food, not play, as play may hype your adolescent up even more.
If you have missed the signals and the tantrum is in full swing you have a couple of options. You can leave your dog alone to cool off, ignore them or ask them to do what you want, usually this is ‘sit’, but do not reinforce them for it. After they are sitting run them through a few more calm exercises before you reinforce them. You do not want your dog to associate the tantrum, then sitting, as part of what they got reinforced for.
You should not find yourself in this reactive position too much. Your adolescent dog is not stable enough to just forget about. Always be aware of the signals they are giving you. If you have missed the warning signals of a tantrum, deal with it, and put it down to a mistake on your part.
Adolescence is a testing time, continue your formal training, be proactive, and do not allow your dog free range of the house, and you should navigate this time fairly smoothly. Mistakes will be made, that’s OK, learn from them so they don’t become problems.