It happens to the best of owners. That sweet puppy who came running to you every time you called now stares at you blankly or runs in the opposite direction. That pup who did so well in Puppy Kindergarten has developed a major case of the “stupids.” He may decide not to respond to familiar commands. He may pick only one thing to refuse, or it may be everything. Does this mean that you have a lemon? No, it just means that your sweet little puppy has become an adolescent.
Adolescence is the time for young dogs to test their boundaries and find their place in the world. They will check to see if old rules still apply, or if they can challenge authority a bit. Hormones are beginning to play a major role. This challenging stage can start around six months of age and last until the dog is fully mature, which may be anywhere from one to three years depending on the breed. This is when a wild canine might challenge the more alpha members of its pack in an attempt to move up in rank, and this is what a young dog may do with its human “pack.” All of this doesn’t mean that your pup doesn’t love you as much as he did when as a baby; it means that he is discovering the big world now and that you may no longer be his 24/7 Center of the Universe.
Unfortunately, some people find that their adolescent pets have become almost uncontrollable and they give up on them, turning them over to shelters or trying to find them new homes. Surviving a dog’s adolescent period is sometimes a trial, but with humane and consistent training it can be done. Your sweet puppy can definitely become a loveable adult with some work. Things will run more smoothly if you already began teaching basic obedience but if you haven’t, enroll in a good dog obedience training class now. Even if the dog had gone to Puppy Kindergarten and basic obedience classes it will need continued training, if only to remind him that you are still in charge. Keep it fun, but keep yourself in place as pack leader. Behavioral problems may also present themselves at this age. If the owner ignored or missed the signs that a problem was developing, those problems will come to the forefront now. The young dog may now challenge its owner by growling over a favorite toy or its food bowl. He may grump when the owner tries to remove him from the sofa or the owner’s bed. He may start to show some aggression towards other dogs, and he may be begin to be protective of his owner and his turf. Working with a competent and experienced trainer or behavior specialist will be vital when problems present themselves. Issues such as these can become serious if they are not dealt with now.
For some dogs, the need for exercise may greatly increase during this period. A puppy who was content to play in the yard may now need miles of walking or running to satisfy its need for exercise. In many cases, problems fade away if the dog gets as much exercise as it needs. Increase the length of walks, play a vigorous game of fetch, or enroll in an agility class to help burn off some of that adolescent energy. This will go a long way in maintaining your sanity. Some adolescent large and giant breed dogs go through a really uncoordinated phase, which makes exercise interesting. Their feet and legs just don’t seem to connect to their brains any more. Thankfully, they grow out of this klutzy stage. Get your veterinarian’s advice if you are considering starting a rigorous exercise program for your young dog so that you will keep it at a level that is safe for his stage of growth.
My young Airedale, Fergus, has just hit adolescence head-on. He often surprises me by doing spectacularly dumb things such as trying to play with crawdads and garter snakes. He has decided that doing a "down" on command is way beyond his ability, although he was very good at it previously. He also loves to run full-tilt-bozo through my house and yard with a crazed expression on his face when he feels a need for speed. He has definitely become a teenage goofball, but I love him anyway.
Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor and judge of canine events. She is a published author and contributes regular columns to several dog publications. She is currently a trainer at That Place for Pets and teaches weekly classes for the Allen Correctional Institution’s PETS Program.