In dogs, adolescence begins at sexual maturity, around 5 to 6 months of age. At this age your dog begins to have a sense of self and independence. Your adolescent will become less interested in you and more interested in the environment. He develops an opinion and may begin to question your rules and talk back. By the time your dog reaches 7 to 9 months he is very much like a 16 year old, wanting a later curfew and the keys to the car! The adolescent dog, like the adolescent human, has an immature brain in a body that’s nearly the size of an adult. While adolescence in dogs may last up to two years, the most trying period is from 8 to 18 months of age. This is the age most dogs are surrendered to shelters.
It may help you to understand what is going on in your dog’s body and brain during adolescence. First, the permanent teeth are coming in and setting firmly into the jaw bone. The urge to chew becomes very strong. Second, the body of an adolescent male dog produces up to 4 times the amount of testosterone as an adult. Male oriented behaviors such as urine marking, roaming, and aggression toward other male dogs may increase dramatically. The body of the adolescent female dog is preparing for the first heat cycle. Which means female oriented behaviors such as roaming, urine marking, and aggression toward other females may increase. In addition, rapid growth may actually cause adolescent dogs some pain, making them cranky. Finally, adolescent dogs exhibit loss of memory and learning abilities. While it may appear that your puppy’s brain has shut down, fear not, everything you have taught them so far is in there somewhere!
So what can you do to help make this period less stressful for every one? Spaying or neutering your puppy by 6 months of age can greatly reduce hormonal behaviors. When it comes to training, keep taking classes with your adolescent until he is at least a year old. Attend training classes every week and do the assigned homework every day. Apply what you learn in class to real life situations. When his selective memory kicks in, have patience, don’t be afraid to take a step or two backwards in your training. Adolescent dogs resemble perpetual motion machines and require huge amounts of exercise. You can meet his daily exercise needs with fetch, Frisbee, or romps at the dog park. Also, canine adolescents have little impulse control, boredom and curiosity can lead to major household destruction. Confine your dog when you can’t supervise to keep him from practicing undesirable behaviors. Most of all, hold on to your sense of humor, adolescence only seems to last an eternity.