Teenage years are rough for both children and parents! Hormones are raging and boundaries are tested, creating a lot of tension in the home. We’ve all been there—those of us that have raised children have been there twice or more!
There are many correlations between human and canine development and adolescence is certainly one of them! We receive so many concerns and complaints from parents of adolescent pups that we decided we should write about it.
What is Adolescence?
The period of adolescence begins when a pup turns about 6 months old and will last until the dog is about two years old, in general. This timeline, though, is not set in stone. Some dogs will “grow up” earlier than others, and for some dogs, adolescence may last years. Founder and director of Tully’s Training, Mary Tully, has this to share about her own dog, Kai: “Kai stayed in his adolescent phase until he was about four years old. I wasn't sure both of us were going to survive. He was a nightmare. Now at age 10 he's such a good boy - but I still remember those years!”
Puppyhood can be difficult, but most new dog parents are prepared for it. But then adolescence hits and by this time, many parents are at their wits’ end. Adolescence brings more energy, intelligence, and curiosity. Those three things combined can cause many a headache for their people. For example, the 4 month old puppy who wanted to follow you everywhere is now much more interested in chasing a bunny or exploring a tree away from you.
For this reason, living with an adolescent can be very fun in that they can be hysterically funny and creative. It is extremely important to set boundaries and structure so that the shenanigans they get into are safe and cause minimal damage. Also, this is the time to instill appropriate behavior patterns that will continue into adulthood.
Training for Adolescents
Above all, adolescents need structure, socialization, and exercise (both mental and physical).
Exercise and Enrichment
The first thing every dog owner should do is evaluate how much physical exercise their dog needs. Generally, dogs are at the peak of their exercise requirement during their adolescent period. The amount and style of exercise varies greatly. For example, a young Labrador Retriever likely requires at least 60-90 minutes of intense, tongue-dragging exercise per day, while a French Bulldog needs far less—in fact, you have to be very careful with brachycephalic breeds because of their limited ability to breathe and handle heat.
Mental exercise or enrichment is equally as important as the physical requirement. Dogs are very intelligent—more so than we give them credit for! Besides basic obedience training, there are many ways we can provide mental stimulation, including puzzle toys, agility, scentwork, herding, and many more! One easy way to incorporate more brain games into your dog’s life is to stop feeding them from a bowl and instead have them work for their diet by putting their meals into a puzzle toy and tossing it into the yard for them to find, or work on helpful basic behaviors like sit, stay, down, come, leave it, leash walking, etc. There are many easy ways to incorporate enrichment.
For this behavior you will need:
4-6 foot leash
15-30 foot training line
A variety of high value treats (try cheese, chicken, and beef liver!)
Optional: a whistle
Begin by “charging” the cue word (usually “Come!”) by saying it cheerfully in a quiet, non-distracting environment and immediately following it with a delicious snack. Repeat this many times until your dog gets very excited about hearing the word.
Next, you’ll practice this same thing in that same indoor environment, this time running excitedly away from your dog as you cheerfully say “come!” then rewarding with a high value treat the moment your dog gets to you. If you have a nervous or shy dog, adjust your movements to minimize any fear or discomfort, perhaps going more slowly. Repeat this many times over the next several days until your dog follows you easily and with enthusiasm. Pro-tip: vary your reinforcements by using a range of yummy treats and mixing in your dog’s favorite game like tug or fetch as a reward.
Good news! You are now ready to take this behavior outside! Start off in a low-distraction location like your backyard with your dog on a 4-6 foot leash with your treat pouch full of real meat or cheese.
Lastly, use a long line in a park!
A mat, rug, or bed
Begin in a quiet room, seated next to a dog bed or mat. Lure your dog to the bed, praising and reinforcing the minute their paws are on the bed. Ask for a “sit” and then a “down,” rewarding as soon as they are in a relaxed, down position. Reward frequently at first, every couple of seconds while they remain on the bed. After many rewards, calmly add in the cue word “stay.”.
Continue building this stay by adding onto the distance, duration, and distraction levels. Some things to keep in mind:
-ALWAYS praise and reward BEFORE you release them.
-Use a calm, lower voice when working on “stay.”
-Build their long stay at home by asking them to lay down in a dog bed and stay. Then move away from in short periods and distances. Start with a short stay and build from there.
-Work on stay in distracting environments like parks or on walks.
So, while you are working, you will want to reward your dog frequently for staying, and remind him to do so with your calm verbal “stay’ and hand signal often. Your goal is to get up to 5 minutes, going back to reward them frequently!
If they ever get up and break the stay, just calmly bring them back to their spot. Do not reward them. Ask them to stay again.
*Do not work on this when they are overly excited or energetic. You will be setting them up to fail. Work on this when they are calm.
Optional: a rug or mat
Greeting someone is a very exciting and rewarding experience for a young dog. So, they must show us they are able to remain calm and not jump up in order for them to be able to say hi to someone. To do this, put your pup on a leash. The person they want to greet can approach slowly. If they jump up or pull towards the person, back them away from the person. When you have their attention again, you can try again. Here’s how the process will look:
1. Begin with a sit and look. Praise and reward.
2. Walk towards the person or let the person approach, praising them with “Good!!” as long as the leash is loose, and they are not pulling or jumping..
3. The moment the leash becomes tight, take 2 steps back.
4. When the leash is loose again and their attention is on you, begin moving toward the person again, talking to them the whole time and using name recognition.
5. Once you make it all the way to the toy, ask them to sit, or sit and stay. Then, you can reward them with the allowing them to greet the person.
6. If they ever jump or mouth a hand, they must go backwards or the person must move away.
**If they can approach a person calmly, they can say hello. Keep the greeting short and sweet, as they can get very stimulated by touch and attention.**
Alternatively, you can choose to teach your pup to go to her place when someone comes over.
So, when you have people come over, meet them outside with your pup on leash. Go through the greeting routine. If you do not have time for this, it is better to put them outside or in a safe room until they can calm down.
Socialization during adolescence is so important that it gets its very own heading! Many adolescents are social butterflies yet still learning how to interact appropriately in social situations, both with other dogs and with people.
Here are some wonderful ways to socialize your teenager:
Group or solo hikes
Group Dog Obedience or Agility Class
Play-dates with other people and/or friendly dogs of all ages and sizes
Take them to Home Depot and praise each time they pass something new
Bring them to a dog friendly party
Go to the dog park*
Walk around a lake or through a park
Visit a pet supply store
Often, as a dog goes through adolescence, they get into minor scuffles with other dogs in a play session, at daycare, or at the dog park. Many people see that as a sign that their dog is aggressive and stop taking them to interact with other dogs. This is unfortunate and can be very damaging to a dog’s social skills. If the scuffle isn’t major and the dogs can work it out for themselves with little to no human intervention, let it be! The next time you bring them to play, just monitor the play more closely and call them out of it before it get too stimulating. If the scuffle is more of a fight and it makes you nervous, don’t completely shut down their social life! Just find more structured ways to socialize, like pack walks or one-on-one closely monitored play-dates. If you are unsure, it is best to call a professional.
*If your dog is not social and instead fearful of new situations, dogs, or people, please contact a dog trainer to help boost their confidence.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember when you are in the throws of adolescence is that this too shall pass! This time is a wonderful opportunity to enroll your adolescent pup in a dog training course to save your sanity and to set them up for success. At Tully’s Training, we provide group obedience classes at your nearest Healthy Spot and in home, private training programs.