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Teenage Behaviour in Dogs
You've survived the puppy stage, and now have a lovely behaved dog
You've trained her well, she sits, lies down, stays on command. She gets off the furniture when you want her to and comes back when called. The dreaded biting and nipping stage is long over and so much in the past you've forgotten what it was like.
And then, one day, suddenly everything changes. You tell her to sit, she looks at you in defiance. She disappears on a walk and won't come back when called. All of a sudden the willing puppy who was your shadow and wanted to please you has turned into a wilful, independant dog!
Adolescence in Dogs
Depending on your breed, dogs start to mature sexually from the age of six months, and just like a human teenager, the hormonal changes they are experiencing mood swings, and want to exert their independance. Like a teenage human, your dog may be nearly fully grown, but his brain has not fully matured yet.
Some people find the teenage phase a shock which they were not expecting, and this is the most common time that older puppies are given up to Rescue Centres because they feel they cannot control their dog. They might have thought they'd stopped their puppy chewing - and come home to a destroyed house. The once house trained puppy might have accidents again. And walks might consist of an hour of calling whilst the adolescent runs circles around them.
This is the time to reinforce and repeat the early training. Perhaps go to training classes again. Be consistent and patient, and understand that it's her hormones which are making her behave this way. A teenage dog will challenge your authority.
She will have more energy, and her impulse control may be out of the window. Her body will undergo a growth spurt as they fill out and develop more muscle, and a bitch will come into her first season. Male dogs will have testosterone raging through his body which might make him wary of other dogs, resulting in handbags, or even fights. During this time you will have to be extra vigilant about his behaviour with dogs you meet on walks.
How can I help my Dog get through this Teenage Phase?
First off, prevention is better than cure. The more you can get good habits ingrained in your puppy's brain, the easier the adolescent period will be. Prevent behaviours you don't won't a fully grown dog to do - like jumping up on visitors. Practice and practice recall, and reward each time. A puppy will stay close by as it's young and nervous, and come quickly when called. Don't just think you've got it cracked, make it worthwhile to come back to you, and always reward. You're dog will still mature and have problems, but if you've hard wired the basic commands in his brain then it will be easier for him to do things out of habit.
And once you reach the dreaded stage, train, train, train. Even though it might seem like it's not going in. Establish boundaries and keep to them. Make sure you keep up your exercise routine, and provide stimulating toys and make sure there is nothing left out for them to chew or destroy. On walks you may need to resort to a long line or extending lead to give your dog exercise, but keep it safe until you have reestablished a solid recall. Play challenging games to stimulate your dog's brain and make her think.
Knowing that this period will come, and being well prepared for it, will help you and your dog through it. Above all, remind yourself that this is just a phase, albeit a possibly long one. You will reach that stage you always dreamed of, of having a dog which is a faithful companion, that you can trust not to demolish the house, that will return to you on walks.
Your dog hasn't permanently turned into a monster, so don't give up on her.
If you are really struggling then do consult a behaviourist as they will be able to help and advise you. Ask your vet for a recommendation.
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You cannot stop this phase - all dogs go through it, and the time it lasts depends on the breed and size. Small dogs mature faster and can start acting like teenagers at 6 months - some larger breeds don't enter the teenage phase until they are more than a year old. It can last anything from a few months to a year or more.