One of the most difficult parts of raising a puppy into a well behaved canine citizen is living through your dog’s adolescence. Just like humans, puppies grow from adorable little fluff-balls into opinionated, obnoxious teenagers. They’ll stay in that state for a few months, and then all of a sudden, you’ll have a wonderful adult dog. However, there are definitely some challenges to surviving and building your relationship through those trying months.
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As I write this, I currently have two puppies right in the middle of this stage. Noelle, the Christmas dog, is just about a year old. She is full of herself, trying to challenge the older girls for a higher place in our little pack hierarchy, and she is sorting out what commands and requests from me are SERIOUS, and what ones she can ignore (hint….they’re all serious. It’s a hard lesson).
Horton, the Bloodhound, is only 8 months, though he weighs almost one hundred pounds. In many ways, he is still very much a puppy. He is filled with energy and joy, but he is also starting to explore the idea of selective hearing. When it’s time for him to come inside and head to his crate for breakfast or dinner, he likes to do a mad dash around the house, then melt into a giant puddle of skin on the floor to avoid heading in (unless I sweeten that food dish with some table scraps or a biscuit).
Both of my puppies are awesome dogs, and I love them both very much. But that doesn’t mean that their antics are not trying. In fact, the majority of the dogs that I see for training are right in this age group – somewhere between six months and two years old. Right in this time is when a puppy changes from a sweet, obedient snuggler into an opinionated teenager, and it can be quite a shock. Here are some tips for you to help you through this trying time!
1. Recognize that this is NORMAL
I know it can seem like your puppy has been possessed by a demon, but I promise you…this is absolutely normal. Just like at about 12 years old a human will start to get a bit of a pushy attitude as they head into those teenage years, that is exactly what happens to dogs. Some are late bloomers, and you may not see signs of it until up to about nine months, and others head into their teen months as early as five or six months old.
As your pup hits more and more growth spurts, they’ll also hit more and more behavioral and emotional milestones. I had one client with an eight month old Goldendoodle who went from happily heading into her crate to eat her meals to stopping and staring at them from across the room, as if to say, “Are you going to make me?” The fun and the play are still there, but there is a lot more challenge in an adolescent dog than there is in a younger puppy. That is a normal, I repeat NORMAL, part of a dog’s development. However, that does not mean that you should sit idly by and watch your teenage puppy take over your house and your life.
2. Keep your expectations consistent
When your puppy starts to question commands that you KNOW that they are familiar with, or they act as if you’ve never done any training with them at all, understand that it’s normal (as we just talked about). However, that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable. As with a human child who has decided to question your parenting, or their teacher’s authority at school, or…well…everything on the planet, it’s important to keep your expectations for their behavior fair and consistent.
In the case of the Goldendoodle who suddenly refused to go to her crate for her meals, the expectation for where she needed to eat did not change. She was not suddenly allowed to eat out in the kitchen. Her people did not just shrug and say, “Well, I guess she knows better than us.” Instead, they kept their expectations consistent…if she wanted to eat, she was going to go into the crate. Otherwise, she would be hungry. And if she still refused after a few minutes, they would go to her, take her collar, and lead her to the crate. Her food and a treat would still be waiting for her, reinforcing that the crate is a good and tasty place, but she was not allowed to make that decision for herself.
Similarly, when I am working with Horton, I am running into this enthusiastic, “I have NO IDEA what you’re talking about!” response to commands that we’ve worked on since he was just a tiny (ish) puppy. When I get that response, I stop and help him through the command or exercise as if I’m re-teaching it…and then when I ask him to do it again, my expectation is that he does it. I’ll lure him into a down the first time I ask, but after that I will use leash pressure (not a cookie) to remind him what that word means. My expectations that he perform the behaviors does not change.
But similarly, and VERY importantly, when you must be a little bit tough on your older puppy to help them realize that yes, you do mean what you say, it is important to always reward them when they DO complete their task. When they go to their crate, they DO get a cookie for it. When they go into a down, they DO get a treat, praise, and lots of loving for their brilliance.
3. Live through it!
This is the one that nobody wants to hear, but it’s the truth. These months will be trying at times. Believe me, I’m living it double right now with two older puppies, and it can be frustrating. However, almost all of the difficult willfulness, the ignoring commands, and the attempts to climb up the pecking order, will disappear as your puppy reaches maturity.
But that comes with a bit IF…
Most of that will disappear, IF, during this time, you keep those expectations consistent while you continue to build your relationship with your dog. If you allow your pup to run things, they will continue to think that they do once they reach maturity, and you’ll continue to face problems. However, if you treat your puppy consistently with firm, but fair, expectations, and with praise, love, and rewards when they make a good decision (even if you have to help them make the right decision…), a lot of these behaviors will disappear when your dog is about 2 years old.
We have a joke in my family that dogs get their brains in the mail when they turn about 2. It’s true. It’s amazing. It’s glorious and unexpected, but all of a sudden, the fights about who is allowed through the door first, who is allowed on the couch, whether commands need to be followed, they just vanish.
Humans do the same thing, and the advice is pretty similar for a human teenager. You’ll face the most difficulty as a parent of teens in those years between 12-16 or so, and then most kids will start to mature. Usually, by about 17 or 18, they have matured enough to be a joy to be with again, and that is exactly what happens with older puppies. So, while “Live through it!” is not often what a dog owner wants to hear, take comfort in the fact that with a puppy, your hardest time together only lasts 6-12 months usually, rather than 3-5 years!
This time raising an older puppy can definitely feel like a challenge. It may seem like all of the hard work that you put in with your baby dog just flew out the window, but I promise, they still remember it. Just remember…this is NORMAL. All puppies go through this stage, and they all come out the other side. Keep your expectations consistent, and be sure to continue to build your loving relationship with your adolescent dog. Remember, they’re not doing these things to be willful, mean, or to get back at you for something. It’s just a natural part of growing up for a puppy. If you can make it through these months, and I KNOW that you can, you will be well on the way to an incredible life with your dog, and you’ll barely remember these trying months. I PROMISE!