You got your puppy when she was 8 weeks old. You took her to a ton of places and paired new sights and sounds with tasty treats so she’d learn that the world is a safe and fun place to explore. She went to puppy class and learned her basic manners such as Sit, Down, Come, Stay and walking on leash. She was a perfect angel and you felt blessed that you were so lucky to add such a wonderful dog to your home.
And then she turned 6 months (or maybe 8 or 10 months) and you woke up one day to find you’re living with a virtual stranger of a dog. She has stopped responding to cues she’s known for months. You say her name and she looks at you defiantly. You ask her to “Come” and she scoffs and runs off in the other direction – with one of your slippers in her mouth. You walk into the kitchen and find her trotting along the counter licking up the crumbs of the last meal prepared. You think, “what happened to that perfect angel of a dog?!?!!”
How To Handle Adolescent Dogs
I’m here to tell you that your perfect angel is right there in front of you. But now she’s a teenager. And what do we know about teenagers? They stop listening well. They ‘spread their wings’ and explore the world at their own pace. They are more confident in making decisions without our help. In short, it’s as if they forget everything we’ve taught them in those first few, glorious months.
But all is not lost. Adolescence is a temporary period. And if you’re prepared for it, you and your sweet dog (she is still a sweet dog) will survive and come out the other side better for it. During adolescence a few things are happening. First, as I mentioned, the dog is exploring her independence and so for that we must double down on our positive reinforcement training. It might require that you go back to doing regular, daily training sessions – pull out the treat pouch and clicker. It might mean you have to increase the value of the treats you use – where kibble may have been enough when she was 4 months old, she might now require chicken or cheese or French fries. Don’t worry, this increase in value and doubling-down of training is temporary to get your pup through her adolescence and into her adulthood. Then things should settle down again.
Overcoming the Fear Period
The other main issue to watch for during adolescence is something called a “fear period”. This is a time in the dog’s life when it is normal to be wary of new things. She may even be nervous about things she’s interacted with before. This is normal. This kind of fear is a survival skill that is ingrained in dogs. The best thing we can do for our dogs during this period is be patient and quietly encouraging. Give her space to watch and investigate as she needs. Associate currently scary things with favorite treats or toys so that your dog learns that those things are still safe. Rest assured this period is limited to just a few months and most dogs – with proper support – will come out the other side a confident and well-mannered dog.
Happy training. Here’s to surviving your adolescent dog!
Author - Jody Epstein
Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant, certified professional dog trainer, and holds a master’s degree in animal behavior from Tufts University. She has been training professionally for more than 12 years and is pleased to be part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers. Look out for her blogs on all things dog training and animal behavior.