The Key to Adolescent Dogs – Patience, Management and Training

Adolescent dog with head tilt

Our adorable girl, Cailie, turned one year old in June. It’s hard to believe how quickly she moved from a little fluffy, spirited puppy into a beautiful adolescent dog.

Our effervescent Cailie

There are multiple developmental stages in dogs and for most dog guardians, the adolescent phase can be the most trying. Never fear! You can get through this phase with a smile on your face.

Dogs move through puppyhood, into adolescence and on into adulthood. Each stage brings about typical species behaviors.

The developmental phases consist of prenatal, which is prior to birth (known as in utero); neonatal, from the time the puppy is born up to two weeks; the transitional stage, which is two to three weeks of age; the socialization phase which is three weeks to 12 weeks of age and when your puppy is most open to being appropriately conditioned to all the people, places, things, sounds and surfaces; the juvenile stage from 12 weeks to sexual maturity; the adolescent phase from sexual maturity to social maturity (usually around six months to 18 months and up to 24 months); adulthood, understood as social maturity; and lastly our dogs move into the senior phase which is eight years and beyond.

Understanding each of the phases will help you know what to expect during that specific developmental period and how to meet your dog’s differing needs during that time.

Let’s talk a bit about adolescence, which is exactly where Cailie is right now. The adolescent developmental period begins around 6 months of age and lasts till around 18-24 months. Of course, this varies by breed and these ages are approximate (just as children reach puberty at different ages). Because of the brain changes, hormonal changes and growth of a dog’s body, a dog’s behavior will also change.

The adolescent stage is when most dogs are relinquished to shelters.

Fractious puppy behaviors that were once ignored or inadvertently reinforced are no longer appreciated as the dog has grown into a larger, stronger body.

If you’ve implemented early puppy training it will benefit you greatly in helping you survive your dog’s adolescence!
Make early training FUN for your pup!

When our former girl, Willow, turned 6 month of age, I swore that someone broke into our home in the middle of the night and replaced my sweet little puppy with a look alike dog……..with a new slew of obnoxious behaviors.

The impulse control she had gained seemed to fly right out the window. The patience she formerly had around other dogs disappeared. Her focus on me was more difficult to gain.

Fortunately, because of all the early training I did with Willow, we moved through her adolescent period easily. Thankfully this is also the case with Cailie.

The adolescent period is when a dog begins to explore their world, so it’s no wonder the dog’s attention is sometimes more difficult to gain.

Instead of becoming frustrated, it’s important to focus on what you can do.

Be patient.

Continue to help your dog learn in short daily training sessions. You may need to back up a bit in training to where you dog was last successful, before again moving forward. 

Here’s a post I shared on our Cold Nose College Facebook page a few months ago:  “Patience and deep breathing. As I sit here at 7:00 am on a Sunday getting ready to put up another post about dog training, Cailie, who is now 7 months old as of yesterday, is raring to go! Come on, Mom, play with me! We’ve been up since 5:45 am and after outside potty time, she’s already finished her breakfast out of a Kong Wobbler, enjoyed some Greek yogurt on a LickiMat (which gave us time enough to down a cup of coffee), chewed on a bully stick for a sufficient amount of time (before she buried it for later enjoyment) and licked on a cheese-stuffed hoof. All of the things I’ve mentioned are management tools. We’re preventing unwanted behavior (fractiousness) and giving her something else to keep her from pummeling our 19 year old cat with normal dog play and also preventing her from being too rowdy with our other dog, Cody, who is 12 years of age. He doesn’t appreciate the over the top effervescent play this early in the morning. It would be easy to get frustrated with her incredible energy while we wait for daylight. Instead, we take lots of deep breaths and keep her busy until we can get outside and let her burn off all that adolescent Australian Shepherd energy. Mental stimulation and physical exercise are needs that must be met for all dogs. After one more deep breath, I think we’re headed outside before daylight!

Management is arranging the dog’s environment to prevent unwanted behaviors.

Vitally important in puppyhood, management is also important during adolescence (and by the way, throughout your dog’s life).

Sometimes all you need is management!

Example: Instead of trying to train your dog to stay out of the trash can (oh so tempting!), merely put a lid on it.

We still use a pet gate to keep Cailie out of the kitchen when the cat is eating. While she now waits patiently outside the open kitchen gate when we’re in the kitchen (even if the cat is eating), all bets are off if we leave.

Management to the rescue – we merely close the gate when we leave the kitchen to prevent her from eating the cat’s food (thereby getting reinforced from doing so). Reinforcement causes behavior to happen again and in this case not something we want, so we employ management. 

Mental stimulation and physical exercise are two important needs all dogs have, particularly active adolescent dogs.

Make good use of interactive puzzle toys, sniffy walks (amble along and let your dog sniff to her heart’s content) and playing hide n’ seek. All are lovely ways to enrich your dog’s life.

Cailie particularly loves The Muffin Tin Game, an easy and inexpensive way to provide mental enrichment.
The Muffin Tin Game

Meeting your dog’s physical exercise and mental enrichment needs (what we refer to as brain games) is important throughout your dog’s life. Even more so during adolescence. When you do, you’ll see less unwanted adolescent behaviors.

Understanding your dog’s needs and focusing on what you “can” do during your dog’s adolescence, will help you weather this oftentimes challenging developmental phase. And will help you enjoy every moment of your dog’s adolescence….with a smile!

Lisa Lyle Waggoner is the author of The Original Rocket Recall™: Teach Your Dog to Come. She’s a CPDT-KA, a CSAT (Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer), a Pat Miller Certified Trainer Level 2, Faculty for the Victoria Stilwell Academy of Dog Training and Behavior, a dog*tec Certified Professional Dog Walker and the founder of Cold Nose College in Murphy, North Carolina. The company’s trainers enjoy providing virtual behavior consulting and training solutions to clients around the globe and offers coaching, mentoring and behavior case support for pet professionals. www.coldnosecollege.


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