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Adolescent Dogs: Surviving Their Teen Years

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A woman lying on the floor with a dog.

Raising teenagers can be a challenging experience for any parent. During their adolescent phase, they often exhibit a know-it-all attitude, conveniently ignore requests, and develop a strong desire to be anywhere but with their family.

Interestingly enough, these traits are not exclusive to human teenagers. If your young dog is suddenly ignoring the “sit” or “come” cue they mastered in puppyhood, you’re not alone. Turns out, dogs go through a rebellious adolescent phase, and they can be just as obstinate as human teens as they navigate fluctuating hormones and push for a bit of independence.

What Age Do Dogs Go Through Adolescence?

Adolescence in pets, much like in humans, is not a sudden event but rather a gradual transition from puppyhood to adulthood. It's basically a dog’s version of our teenage years—an awkward phase during which they're no longer young pups but haven't fully matured into adults.

This period is individual to each dog, but it may begin when they’re about six to eight months old and continues up to two years old or when they reach physical and social maturity. The first few months may be especially tough, but it’s important to remember that it’s only a phase, and that during this stage of your dog’s life, there are dramatic hormonal changes and developmental changes of the brain that your pup cannot control.

Signs of Adolescence in Dogs

Adolescence is a period of significant physical and mental development for dogs, similar to human teenagers, and this can make living with them frustrating and challenging. During this stage, dogs may exhibit exuberant, troublesome, and stubborn behavior, including:

  • Ignoring cues they’d previously responded to, such as not coming back when called or being more interested in another human than they are in listening to you.
  • Fearful or excessive arousal behavior like barking or growling.
  • Excessive chewing, gnawing, rough mouthing, or play biting.
  • Undesirable behavior around other dogs—your once well-behaved pup may start running off to see other dogs, being more pushy or rude with other dogs, or even totally avoiding other dogs.
  • Increased sensitivity—they may seem needier or more cuddly than usual.
  • Struggling during training sessions, in part because of their reduced ability to concentrate/focus.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. If you are experiencing sudden behavior changes in your dog, it’s best to first talk with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues.

Male Dog Adolescence

During adolescence, male dogs experience hormonal changes that are responsible for the development of secondary sexual characteristics. These changes often include an increase in size and muscle mass, as well as the growth of reproductive organs. Pet parents should be aware of these changes and provide appropriate care and training during this time.

Behaviorally, male dogs may exhibit increased independence and assertiveness during adolescence. They may become more curious about their surroundings and show signs of increased exploration. It is not uncommon for male dogs to display territorial behavior or to begin interacting with other dogs in less friendly ways, such as staring at them, moving toward them, or standing over them stiffly, showing their teeth, or generally showing less interest in play. Proper socialization and training during this stage are essential for male dogs to become well-behaved adult companions.

Understanding the unique challenges and characteristics associated with male dog adolescence allows you to navigate this transitional period more effectively. By providing appropriate care, training, and guidance, you can help your pups successfully navigate through this important stage of development.

Female Dog Adolescence

Physically, adolescent female dogs may undergo growth spurts, with their bodies rapidly maturing. They may start to show physical signs of sexual maturity, including the onset of their first heat cycle. Talk to your veterinarian about the best time/age to spay your pet.

Behaviorally, adolescent female dogs may become more independent and assertive. They might test boundaries or display a higher level of energy and excitability. This period can be challenging, as training and obedience may temporarily regress.

Patience, consistency, and continued training are key during this stage, as is providing appropriate outlets for exercise and mental stimulation. Remember, these changes are normal and temporary.

How to Survive Your Dog’s Adolescence

Living with an adolescent dog can be a frustrating, challenging time, but understanding how to navigate your dog's adolescence can help you survive this sometimes-tumultuous phase with your sanity intact.

It's important to remember that these behaviors are often temporary and part of the natural development process, but keeping these tips in mind can help make your dog’s ”teenage years” a little more bearable.

  • Consistency is key. Stick to established training routines and reinforce positive behaviors while discouraging negative ones. As persistent as your dog’s ‘bad habits’ appear to be, be persistent and consistent with your training and eventually it will pay off!
  • Maintain regular exercise schedules. Keeping them active can help burn off excess energy and provide mental stimulation. In addition to things like hiking or other games your dog enjoys, consider activities like obedience training or agility classes, which can help channel your dog's energy in a positive way.
  • Socialization is crucial. Exposing your adolescent dog in a positive way to various environments, people, animals, sights, sounds, and smells can help them with their confidence and adaptability while preventing fear-based aggression or anxiety later on.
  • Patience is paramount. Remember that they are still learning and growing into their adult selves. Avoid frustration and punishment-based methods. Instead focus on positive reinforcement techniques and reward good behavior with treats or lots of praise (because, despite being hard to handle in that moment, deep down, you know that they are still the goodest boy or girl!)
  • Reach out. Never hesitate to talk to a professional if you feel you need help. Seeking guidance from your veterinarian or behaviorist who specializes in working with adolescent dogs can also be immensely helpful during this phase.

While sometimes it can be easy to think that your adolescent puppy is intentionally trying your patience, this is a complex developmental time for them. Keep that in mind, and with a bit of teamwork, patience, and a sense of humor, you will get through it together!

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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