Written by Ella White
Canine adolescence is a stage of development in dogs where they go through physical and behavioral changes. During this time, adolescent dogs may display challenging behaviors such as increased independence, rebellion, and mood swings – much like human teenagers. But it doesn’t happen when they’re literally in their teen years.
It's important to understand canine adolescence as it can affect the dog's behavior and training needs. So, with proper understanding and management, owners can help their dogs navigate through this stage and develop into well-behaved and balanced adults.
Canine adolescence is a stage of development in dogs that occurs between puppyhood and adulthood. During this period, dogs go through physical and behavioral changes as they mature and transition from a dependent puppy to an independent adult.
Canine adolescence typically begins around six months of age and can last until 18 months or even longer in some breeds. The exact age range can vary depending on the dog's breed, size, and individual development. But in short, it’s the time when they’re no longer a tiny puppy, but not quite a full-grown adult dog.
Physically, adolescent dogs will experience growth spurts, which can lead to changes in body shape and size. They may also experience changes in their coat, such as shedding or changes in color.
Behaviorally, adolescent dogs may become more independent, display increased energy and playfulness, and begin testing boundaries with their owners. Some dogs may also exhibit fear, anxiety, and aggression.
Adolescence can be a challenging time for both dogs and their owners. Owners may find it difficult to manage their dog's increased energy, challenging behaviors, and sudden mood swings. Adolescent dogs may also experience fear or anxiety, and may exhibit destructive behaviors, such as chewing or digging.
Dog owners must have a clear understanding of canine adolescence because it's a critical period of development that can have long-lasting effects on a dog's behavior and personality.
Understanding what to expect during this stage can help owners prepare for the challenges and provide their dog with the proper training, socialization, and care to ensure they become a well-adjusted adult.
One common misconception about adolescent dogs is that they are just "being bad" when they exhibit challenging behaviors, such as chewing or digging. However, these behaviors are often a result of a lack of proper training, socialization, and exercise, as well as changes in hormones and brain development as they’re maturing.
Another misconception is that adolescent dogs will "grow out" of their behaviors, but without proper management, these behaviors can become ingrained and persist into adulthood.
The main factors that affect canine adolescence include genetics, environment, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. Genetics play a role in a dog's personality and behavior, while the environment, nutrition, and exercise can affect their physical and mental development. Socialization during adolescence is also critical to ensure dogs are comfortable and confident around people, animals, and new situations.
Strategies for managing adolescence include providing adequate exercise and mental stimulation, positive reinforcement training, socialization, and establishing clear boundaries and rules.
Owners should also be patient, consistent, and understanding with their adolescent dog, as they navigate this challenging stage of development. And if your dog's behaviors become unmanageable or concerning, seek professional help from your vet or a behavioral trainer.
Common behavioral problems in adolescent dogs include chewing, digging, excessive barking, jumping, mouthing or nipping, fear, anxiety, and aggression towards other dogs or people.
These behavioral issues can be caused by a variety of factors, including changes in hormones, lack of exercise or mental stimulation, improper training, poor socialization, fear, anxiety, and past experiences. In some cases, there may be underlying medical issues that contribute to the behavior.
The solutions for managing these behavioral issues will depend on the specific behavior and its underlying cause. In general, providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, positive reinforcement training, socialization, and consistent rules and boundaries can help prevent and manage most behavioral issues.
Their food and treats (especially if you’re using treats for training) will also have an impact on their behavior. It’s important they’re being fed the best quality dog food you can afford and you’re only using healthy, natural treats. Low quality food won’t provide all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals a growing body and developing mind needs. Cheap biscuits or generic dog treats will be akin to giving a child sweets - you’ll be left with a dog with even higher energy levels and an expectation of this junk food. If you’re trying to train your dog, you don’t want them over stimulated or on a sugar high.
It's also important to address any underlying medical issues and to seek professional help if the behavior is severe or concerning. In some cases, medication or behavior modification techniques may be necessary to manage the behavior.
Training and socialization are critical for adolescent dogs as they help them develop into well-behaved and confident adults. Training teaches dogs appropriate behaviors and reinforces positive interactions with their owners and the environment.
Socialization exposes dogs to a variety of people, animals, and situations, helping them develop confidence and social skills. Proper training and socialization can prevent behavioral problems and ensure a strong bond between the owner and dog.
‘Puppy parties’ can be a great way to introduce puppies to other puppies but it’s important to include other forms of socialization. Puppies are still learning boundaries and how to interact from a canine perspective, they can’t learn this from other puppies alone. It’s important they’re also introduced to older dogs of different sizes and breeds. It’s even more important for adolescent pups as they’re seeing what they can get away with and how far they can push the rules. An older dog can tell an adolescent that it’s not ok to jump all over them and when it’s time to stop. Of course, you should only ever let your dog interact with dogs you know or you’ve checked with the owner first.
Positive reinforcement training is an effective technique for training adolescent dogs. This involves rewarding desirable behaviors with treats, praise, or play, and ignoring or redirecting undesirable behaviors. Consistency, patience, and repetition are also important in training any dogs. It's also important to use age-appropriate exercises and to avoid punishment or harsh training methods.
Load up on a healthy treat that will help them learn positive behaviors. Once you’ve found a treat they really love, try and keep it just for training. If your dog learns they can get a snack for simply looking at you (or batting you with a paw which would be an undesirable behavior), they’re going to be less inclined to work for it in training sessions. You’re training them, not the other way around!
Socialization should start as early as possible and continue throughout adolescence. Strategies for socializing dogs include exposing them to a variety of people, animals, and environments, starting with calm and positive experiences and gradually introducing more challenging ones.
If your dog encounters something scary, don’t over comfort them - you’ll be reinforcing their new opinion that the new scary thing is indeed something to be scared of. Whether they’ve been snapped at by another dog or freaked out by the vacuum or other loud noise, reassure them that you’re there for them and use a happy, lighthearted tone of voice. Your adolescent dog will look to you for guidance and learn that if you’re not worried, they don’t need to be either (or at the very least, you’ll keep them safe).
It's important to monitor the dog's reactions and to avoid overwhelming or stressful situations. Puppy classes or socialization groups can also be helpful in providing controlled and supervised socialization opportunities. Owners that expose their adolescent dogs to different sights, sounds, and textures through toys, puzzles, and games to encourage exploration and confidence-building are more likely to own well-balanced and well-behaved adult dogs.
Adolescent dogs have increased nutritional requirements compared to adult dogs, as they are still growing and developing. They require a diet that is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals to support bone and muscle growth. It's important to feed them high-quality, age-appropriate dog food and to avoid feeding them human foods that may be harmful or nutritionally imbalanced.
Common health issues that may occur during adolescence include growth-related orthopedic diseases, such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, which can be exacerbated by rapid growth or improper nutrition.
Hormonal changes during adolescence can also lead to skin problems, such as acne or folliculitis, and behavioral issues such as fear and anxiety.
To maintain good health during adolescence, it's important to provide adolescent dogs with regular exercise and mental stimulation, a healthy and balanced diet, and proper veterinary care. This includes regular check-ups, vaccinations, and preventative care, such as flea and tick prevention.
It's also important to monitor their growth and weight, and to avoid overexertion or overfeeding, which can contribute to health problems. Owners should also be aware of their dog's behavior and seek professional help if they notice any changes or concerning symptoms. Providing age-appropriate toys and activities can also help keep adolescent dogs mentally and physically stimulated, and promote good health and well-being.