Adolescence. It is a word that sends shivers up the spines of parents the world over. This includes not just parents to human children, but also parents of the canine variety of teenagers. While the time period and symptoms are pretty easily identified in developing humans, they are not as widely known for dogs.
For dogs, adolescence is generally considered to begin between six and eight months and end with social maturity at somewhere from one to two years (even up to three years in some of the larger breeds).
I often refer to this as the “puppy brain in a dog-sized body stage.” It’s no coincidence that this is the age at which dogs are most commonly surrendered to shelters. According to a study done by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, nearly half of all dogs relinquished to shelters are between 5 months and 3 years.
Some of the challenges of living with an adolescent dog include less reliability in previously trained behaviors, regression in house training and a resurgence in chewing and mouthing. In addition, many dogs in this age range still have a hard time controlling their impulses. Behaviors that might have been cute as a puppy (think wiggling uncontrollably and jumping on people to greet or excitedly nibbling on hands when playing) are no longer cute when your “puppy” is full size. In addition, just like for teenage humans, the outside world suddenly becomes much more alluring and hanging out with mom and dad isn’t necessarily high on their list of interests. You may find your dog no longer reliably comes when called or decides to explore the world by dashing out the door.
I am currently witnessing all of this first hand. My lab Tucker is now 22 months, but still a full-blown teenager. As a young puppy, he was a champion leash walker. He would prance next to my side with a beautiful, loose leash while gazing adoringly into my eyes. I felt quite proud of myself and my training prowess. Well, of course, you know where this is going. Now, he finds nearly everything in the environment more interesting than me and has begun to pull on his leash to get to the spots he wants to sniff.
First of all, recognize the signs and know that they are normal and a phase. Second, keep up with your training and stay consistent. Just because Tucker has begun to pull on his leash more often, I am not giving in to his demands to go sniff every thing he wants when he wants. When he pulls, I plant my feet and wait until he remembers I’m on the other end of the leash. I have also upped the value of the treats I carry to better compete with his new-found interests. Kibble doesn’t cut it anymore. Now I have string cheese with me at all times while on walks.