Teenager with a Tail - An Overview of Canine Adolescence
> Similar to human adolescence
> Behaviour can become challenging. Responsiveness may be reduced.
> Be mindful of the impacts of canine adolescence – be cautious about overestimating the reliability of your teenager’s response, especially in a place where lack of compliance could be unsafe (an off-lead area with roads nearby, for example)
> It is a phase - don’t despair
> Stay consistent in your routines
> Persevere with training – especially the fun training that includes some mental challenge, for example, tricks. It’s tempting to let training slide when your teenager is stroppy, but training is a vital element in keeping your relationship and bond developing.
> Unwanted behaviour naturally gets our attention but, during this developmental phase especially, notice and acknowledge with praise and the occasional treat when your dog chooses to behave in the way you want (to sit quietly when they want attention rather than jumping, for example).
> Socialisation is still essential - Continue to give your teenager gentle exposure to the broadest range of experiences that you can – new and different dogs, people, places and situations.
There are no hard rules about when your dog becomes an adolescent, but as a general rule of thumb:
- Early adolescence – roughly six to twelve months,
- Late adolescence/early maturity – roughly 12 months plus,
- Full maturity – three years plus.
Remember, there can be significant breed and individual influences on these stages. However, all dogs will go through adolescence, and we can benefit from knowing what to expect, even without certainty of when adolescence will start and stop!
It’s useful to know that the teenage dog is not ‘naughty’. Instead, they are undergoing mental and sexual development (hormonal changes associated with puberty), and this is influencing their experience of their world. Adolescent dogs typically develop increased independence and confidence (they are likely to ‘test the boundaries’), and are usually less reliant on you for reassurance and support. This autonomy can lead to challenges with recall and stay in particular.
- You will be able to see when your dog has tuned you out in favour of that dog on the horizon.
- When your teenager with a tail doesn’t recognise that the dog who is the object of his brash attention is ‘over-it’, you will be able to see the annoyance building and end the interaction (before the other dog feels the need to take your youngster down a peg or two!)
- Playtime with your teenager is excellent for your relationship, but you will be watchful for when your dog is getting close to going OTT and end the game before it goes pear-shaped.
- Adult teeth replace puppy teeth (a significant time for chewing!)
- Male dogs (may) begin to lift their leg when urinating
- There may be regression in housetraining for a short period. Accidents in the house can be associated with sexual maturity. Entire male dogs experience a surge of testosterone between five and 18 months and may become interested in urine ‘marking’. Female dogs in heat may also do some urine ‘marking’.
- Most female dogs come into season for the first time between 6 and 12 months, although some larger breeds delay until as late as two years.
- Growth plates, particularly in larger breeds, are still closing (the process may not be complete until two years of age). Discuss with your Vet when your dog will be ready for more intense physical exercise. (More info: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/when-does-my-puppy-finish-growing/)
- In adolescence, dogs will experience a second fear period at approximately nine months* (the first fear period being around eight weeks of age). During this fear period, dogs may become abnormally sensitive to things different-from-normal. Take note of any unusually fearful behaviour and exercise special care that your dog stays within his/her comfort zone during this time of heightened sensitivity which usually lasts a couple of weeks. The negative effect of any new challenging experience during this fear period will be magnified.
the Gentle Modern School of Dog Training can help: Bellarine, Melbourne
Research Article: Teenage dogs? Evidence for adolescent-phase conflict behaviour and an association between attachment to humans and pubertal timing in the domestic dog Lucy Asher, Gary C. W. England, Rebecca Sommerville and Naomi D. Harvey Published:13 May 2020, The Royal Society https://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2020.0097
Excerpt from Abstract: ". . . Providing the first empirical evidence to our knowledge in support of adolescent-phase behaviour in dogs, we found a passing phase of carer-specific conflict-like behaviour during adolescence (reduced trainability and responsiveness to commands) . . . These results . . . highlight adolescence as a vulnerable time for dog-owner relationships."
For a less academic take on this research, you may prefer 'The emotional rollercoaster of adolescent dogs' – The Guardian Science podcast, a 12-minute interview with Dr Lucy Asher https://www.theguardian.com/science/audio/2020/may/21/the-emotional-rollercoaster-of-adolescent-dogs-podcast
Book and Article: Barbara Hodel is the author of the book 'How to Love and Survive your Teenage Dog' ( https://goodog.com.au/product/how-to-love-and-survive-your-teenage-dog-barbara-hodel-book/ ), and she is the author of the article 'How to help your teenage dog and save your sanity!' in Australian Dog Lover. Check out Barbara Hodel’s recommendations for exercises of benefit to the teenage dog, including Doggy-Zen. https://www.australiandoglover.com/2020/07/how-to-help-your-teenage-dog-and-keep.html