By – Nidhi Srivastava, Doggiversity
Is your dog humping everyone and everything? Forgotten all the commands you taught them? The speed with which our canine companions grow up surprises all of us, but even the best of us are caught completely unawares when adolescence strikes in dogs. Similar to what it is like in humans, canine adolescence is all about neurological reorganization, hormonal changes, and maturation – sexual, behavioural & social.
Dogs can hit puberty anywhere between 6 months to 16 months of age, while the period called “adolescence” can last up to 24 months of age (in humans this lasts until 20 years of age). It is easy to assume that your dog is disobedient or naughty or blame “hormones”, but it is important to understand that nature is driving these behaviours. Many theorise that adolescent behaviours in mammals are driven by natural instincts to leave the nest and form one’s own familial bonds.
So how does a pet parent handle a teenage dog?
First things first, recall what your teen years were like. No, seriously. Bring out a pen and paper and note down the top 3-5 highlights of your teenage years. Reflect on what your needs were and how did your parents meet (or not) them. Here are mine:
1. Increased Communication – right about the time my teens started, instant messengers had just burst on the scene. Orkut, Hi5, Yahoo – a large part of my teens was spent sending surreptitious messages on IMs to friends and strangers. At this age, the mammalian brain actively seeks out and forms connections outside the family unit.
Dogs: Your dog craves communication and information at this stage. You may want to brush up on your dog body language knowledge… That leg lift to urinate will start making more sense!
Do they have enough “friends” to “talk” to? I’m talking about human friends. Engage a dog walker and a pet sitter to begin with. Include your friends and family in their daily or weekly routines. Think – small 5-minute games daily with your mom, or a weekly hike in a park with your friends.
2. Novelty or Thrill-seeking – part of the charm of the internet in the 00s was that teenagers felt like trailblazers using these tools – email, blogging, social media. Seeking novelty and thrill is also programmed by nature into the teenage brain.
Dogs: Organise new games and activities, or if you’re one of those parents, buy new toys. Be careful to get the toys made for adults, not puppies. Adolescent dogs can be heavy chewers, whether due to growing jaws or stress or frustration, and puppy toys no longer fit the bill. Here are some options:
Kong Extreme: https://amzn.to/3rxGZt8 (check for size)
Tug toy: https://www.sploot.store/collections/toys/products/long-tug
Sniffer toy: https://www.sploot.store/collections/toys/products/snuffle-kebab
Include novel experiences, and after all that excitement – do schedule in downtime for both of yourselves.
3. Rebellion – Which adult cannot relate to this teenage rite of passage? We formed our own opinions, friend circles, identities at this stage…
Dogs: Your dog too can be expected to test boundaries and their status within the social hierarchy of your home. Tackle this by reinforcing boundaries (get everyone in the house onboard), engaging them in higher intensity exercise, and daily obedience training practice. Include daily enrichment as well as weekly activities such as group hikes and dog agility.
4. Physical growth – a no-brainer, but the adolescent body is undergoing a number of changes and settling into an adult body.
Dogs: continue with a highly nutritious meal program. Update their collars and leash to adult sizes. At this age, your dog is also ready for spay/neuter surgery. Do consult with a good vet on the right age for your dog’s breed. Here’s a research piece on the right age: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2020.00388/full
5. Excellence – despite all the emotional ups & downs, this was also the time we excelled – whether it was learning skills, retaining knowledge or performing on competitive exams – this was our brain’s golden period.
Dogs: Amp up training during this phase – this is when they are eager to learn. At this age, your dog naturally has more energy and needs higher intensity exercise than they did previously. Plus, activities that were not allowed for pups, like jumping or agility or long walks, can now be taught to your dog.
Some other common issues that crop up in canines in their adolescent age:
– reduced trainability and responsiveness to commands
– Conflict behaviours (growling, snapping, biting)
– mood swings
– Destructive behaviours
– increased fearfulness or anxiety
Do attend our upcoming workshop to learn how to tackle these problem behaviours in your dog’s adolescence.
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