Is your trained dog acting out? They could in their teenage phase
Training tips for keeping your dog safe and entertained during their teenage years.
Noticing that your puppy is more active, energetic, playful and getting into mischief or chewing things up might make you wonder if they’re going through a transitional phase. It’s fair to think that, similar to humans, as dogs grow from puppyhood to their adult years, they might experience a teenage period in between.
According to Dr. Emily Singler, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, those behaviors are actually normal for adolescent (or teenage) dogs. During this time, pups are often less obedient, forget their training or become anxious, she adds.
“Adolescence starts around puberty, or sexual maturity, which is often about 6 months of age,” Dr. Singler shares. “The phase will be shorter for smaller breed dogs, perhaps until 15 to 18 months of age, but it can go until 2 years of age for larger breed dogs.”
Changes in teenage pups’ behavior can also lead to health problems. The most common are gastrointestinal issues, often because of worms or gastroenteritis from a diet change, stress, foreign body obstruction or eating foods they aren't supposed to, Dr. Singler explains. Skin issues, like mange, fleas, skin infections or allergies, also flare up during this time, she adds.
“Because they’re often very active and inquisitive, younger dogs are also more prone to accidents and injuries,” Dr. Singler says. “This can happen from falling, being stepped on, tearing a ligament, getting bitten by another animal and other injuries.”
Chances are, if you’re a parent to a teenage pup, you’ve probably noticed these behavioral changes. To keep your dog safe during this transitional phase, we spoke to Fetch's on-staff celebrity dog trainer Michael Hill of Michael Hill Dog Training. He’s sharing teenage-specific training tips to ensure you meet your adolescent pup’s needs during this time.
In your experience, how does a teenage dog usually act?
Just like in humans, adolescence is a process of transitioning from dependent youngsters to more independent adults. That takes a lot of brainpower, so it’s common for teenagers to overthink. A happy-go-lucky puppy might show a bit more anxiety, distraction, less enthusiastic responses to cues and, in some cases, reactivity, particularly with less confident dogs trying to overcompensate.
Could pet parents consider dogs’ teenage phase as slightly rebellious?
Many pet parents use the term “rebellious,” but I don’t think that’s an accurate description. We shouldn’t take it personally, as we would if we only look at dog parenthood and training being directed towards control and obedience. If you look at your dog relationship more like a human relationship, it would be odd to be focused on “obedience” and being upset when your relationship partner “rebels.”
So how about we understand the natural maturation process to adulthood as an opportunity to learn to better communicate with our dog and use the right management techniques to minimize conflict and frustration and encourage motivation?
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Should pet parents update their environment during a dog’s teenage phase? If so, do you have any tips?
Don’t get hung up on your dog’s process yesterday or last week. Live right here and now, and if your teenage dog becomes destructive or relapses on house-training, use a safe and secure crate to keep them safe when unattended and a leash in or out of the home if a dog is displaying behaviors that are a liability to their environment or themselves. Don’t get frustrated or overthink it. The more steady you stay, the faster the dog can progress through natural learning and development.
Do you have any training tips for pet parents raising a teenage dog?
Whatever activities the dog and parent enjoy and feel motivated to work at. Training a teenage dog to “obey” with increasing pressure usually backfires. Instead, increase management of meaningless freedom and time unattended when problems arise and build communication enjoyment by making training more of a game and less of a chore. Short, frequent and consistent training opportunities work better at building focus in a teenage dog’s brain.
A lot of dogs love high-intensity games like tug of war. I love using this to make training really fun and get the pup to a high level of stimulation quickly, so I can shift gears and ask for something requiring a high level of composure, like “stay,” for example. Training work that sets their brain up to practice transitions from high intensity to high composure is a great mental workout and keeps that bond strong while your dog has fun.
Continued socialization is also important at this age. Getting your dog out and about in the world and teaching them there’s no pressure to handle the potential threats of their environment as long as you’re calm and relaxed. Reward them for matching your affect, interrupt and remove the dog if something triggers them and they’re not able to stay calm and focused on you.
Is there anything pet parents shouldn’t do during their dog’s teenage phase?
Anything causing frustration when the dog or parent are mentally checking out. If something’s not working, beating your head against a wall doesn’t help anyone. Stop the training sessions earlier if your dog gets bored, work farther away from triggers if they’re too distracted and always try to end on a good note, even if it’s something really basic.
Do you have any tips for pet parents preparing for their puppy to transition into a teenager?
Ground your expectations. Don’t compare your dog’s development to the past or neighbor dogs. Remember not to take behaviors personally and let your ego get in the way. Instead, use this phase as an opportunity to reflect and learn how to better communicate with a maturing dog with a more complex brain than the baby puppy you brought home. Be conservative in choosing outlets where your dog will be successful, and climb the hill of adolescence one step at a time. The teenage phase in dogs goes by much quicker than in humans.
Do you have any additional tips for parents of teenage dogs?
There’s no shame in asking for help. You might be a great dog person, have had dogs all your life or feel like a pet in your home should be easier than it is, but some dogs can be particularly difficult to manage during adolescence.
Professional dog trainers can offer an experienced-based, objective insight into your home dynamic to smooth the transition. However, always advocate for both yourself and your dog. Check reviews, reference their body of work, proceed with methodologies that make sense, are logical or not seeming like voodoo and ask questions if you’re unsure.
The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.
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Image source: @michaelhilldogtraining Instagram