Just like in humans, adolescence can be a challenging time because it is a period of intense behavioural change.
Adolescence is the period of development that starts with puberty and continues until the dog is behaviourally mature.
In humans this development tends to mostly occur during the teenage years.
The brain is literally been rewired during this stage.
Hormones massively impact behaviour and motivation during puberty.
'Teenage' dogs are less able to regulate their emotions and are more sensitive to stressors
During adolescence, maintaining reward-based training and preventing the repeating of unwanted behaviours is key
Adolescence is the period of development between adorable puppyhood and sensible adulthood. It is when the dog is maturing behaviourally, physically and reproductively. This is the dog equivalent of being a teenage tearaway!
Puberty is the start of the adolescent period. Most female dogs will have their first ‘season’ (which is the dog name for menstruation or periods) between 6-16 months of age, and male dogs will start leg cocking when urinating and showing an interest in female dogs between 6-9 months of age.
Physical and behavioural maturity takes a lot longer. Depending on the breed and size of the dog, they will still be maturing at 18-24 months of age.
The brain is physically remodelled during this period of intense neurological and hormonal change, which leads to significant behavioural changes. Sadly, the testing teenage period of adolescence is the most common age for dogs to be given up for adoption due to challenging behaviour.
It’s important not to give up, it does get better!
Behaviours to watch out for when your dog reaches adolescence
Hormones have a big impact on behaviour – adolescent dogs will likely show an increased interest in other dogs. Male dogs may start to roam and go further afield on walks, especially if they catch the scent of a bitch in heat. They may start to show increased aggression towards other male dogs, particularly other unneutered males. Humping can increase during this period, however this may not be related to hormones!
During adolescence, dogs are less able to regulate their emotions and humping is frequently a symptom of frustration or anxiety rather than a sexual activity.
There is also likely to be more risk-taking behaviour and less responsiveness towards you. Walks may become particularly challenging.
Adolescent dogs are more sensitive to stressors and may show unusual fear responses. This can have long-term implications if their behaviour is responded to negatively.
Be prepared: Surviving adolescence with your dog
Investing in solid foundations during puppyhood in terms of your relationship, basic training and responsiveness is invaluable – ensuring reward-based training is maintained throughout the adolescent period will help cement appropriate behaviours.
Try to prevent your dog from having the opportunity to express undesirable behaviours such as running off on walks – use a long-line whilst you continue to reinforce appropriate behaviour on walks and reliably responding to you calling.
Enabling your dog to repeat unwanted behaviour will simply mean your dog gets better at it which makes your job much harder in the long-run.
Remember that behaviour change is normal during this stage of development and you should expect to have to increase management and control to get through adolescence.
Wherever possible, avoid getting angry with your teenage dog – they are incredibly sensitive at this age.
Aim to make life a little easier for them and set them up for success which can be reinforced. Support is always available from trainers and behaviourists – visit www.apbc.org.uk to find a qualified professional.