The team at CK9 regularly hear from worried dog owners who thought they had successfully “cracked” their puppy’s training, only to find that at roughly 5-7 months of age, the dog starts to behave in unexpected ways. He may pay less attention to you, “forget” his recall command, jump up at visitors or bark more than he needs to. Your dog has become a teenager.
Rest assured that you are not the first to be challenged by adolescent doggy behaviour. Don’t lose faith. With careful training and socialisation for your dog, you’ll get through this phase.
In this blog we look at dog training techniques to help you through the adolescent stage.
What adolescent dogs have in common with human teenagers
Starting at around 5-6 months of age, puppies – or rather young dogs – go through an adolescent phase. Some of them sail through it with ease. Some show signs of fearful behaviour and anxiety and nearly all of them test the boundaries by “forgetting” what they have learned so far.
Anybody who has parented human teenagers and survived will be able to relate to the phenomenon. It’s not the dog’s fault, but that doesn’t make your life any easier and you certainly don’t want to allow bad habits to establish at this age. Patience, consistency and calmness are what’s called for.
Hormones have turned your puppy’s brains to mush and his behaviour is once again as unconstrained as it was when he first entered your life. This is the life-stage when some dogs find themselves in rehoming centres because their first owners are not equipped to cope with their behaviour.
Don’t take your dog’s behaviour personally
Any good dog trainer will confirm that your dog is just doing what comes naturally. He’s trying to work out how best to live with his human family whilst retaining his doggy identity. In no way is he behaving badly in order to wreak revenge on you for something that happened when he was younger. His behaviour is not about a personal vendetta. It’s just dog.
If your adolescent dog starts ignoring his recall commands, pulling on the lead or jumping up. It’s not because he doesn’t like you. Don’t take it personally. Just teach him to control his impulses by showing him a better way to behave.
How to survive doggy adolescent behaviour
The way to survive life with an adolescent dog is to keep them too busy to get into mischief, and to consistently reinforce good behaviour.
Exercising body and mind
Think of your dog as a bundle of energy. Most of them are. He can use that energy in several ways.
- Physical exercise – walks and/or fast play in the garden
- Mental energy – puzzle solving, hunting for toys, learning new things, training
- Natural Doggy behaviour – aka chewing for leisure
Dogs under 2 years of age are still growing and could be damaged by too much exercise. So a 3 hour walk every day is not a good idea, even if your Labrador has got energy to spare. The answer is to help him to divide his energy use between the 3 categories. So for a 6 month old dog, you might choose to give him a 30 minute walk in the morning, a 30 minute training session in the afternoon and a lovely juicy bone to gnaw on between times.
Learning right from wrong
If you haven’t done much obedience training with your dog, now is the time to start. Keeping your adolescent dog’s mind busy is a great way to wear him out so that he doesn’t try to make his own entertainment. If his brain is no longer racing, he’ll be less excitable. That means better able to control his behaviour around people and dogs, less likely to pull on the lead and generally be more settled.
In order for you to teach your dog right from wrong, you need to understand how dogs learn. Animal behaviourists have spent a lot of time and energy trying to work out what makes different species “tick”. It’s a fascinating subject and too big to get into in this little blog post. But by working with a dog behaviourist, you’ll begin to understand how your dog learns and how best to help him retain information.
Doggy decision making seems to revolve around the phrase “what’s in it for dog”. Armed with that knowledge you will be able to tailor your dog’s training around what he most enjoys.
When presented with a choice of behaviours, the dog will think to himself “what’s in it for dog”. If the answer is “nothing” or “not sure” he probably won’t waste his energy. Especially if the alternative choice will almost certainly lead to his favourite treat.
As humans, we’re very good at using treats to puppies in order to build the relationship and teach commands. However, once the puppy becomes good at responding to commands, we assume that he has learned that behaviour and the treats become less frequent. They may even stop. The incentives end – usually just about the time that adolescent hormones start to kick in. Confusion reigns and the dog makes mistakes.
Consistency, repetition and reinforcement are the three buzzwords. He may need to re-learn some of the commands he was once familiar with.
Neutering is no substitute for training
Neutering is often considered at this stage in a dog’s life. Neutering is important but it can never be a substitute for good training. Yes, as a responsible pet owner you really should have that discussion with your vet. But don’t be fooled into thinking an operation will transform your dog from a tearaway into a perfect pet. He’ll still need guidance.
Specialist Adolescent dog training classes
AT CK9 Training we’ve met a lot of adolescent dogs and we’ve helped their owners through this difficult stage in their dog’s development. So many in fact that we’ve devised a dog training class especially for adolescents. After all, they’re usually too big and boisterous for a puppy class but not quite mature enough for an adult training class.
The class will help you to teach your dog important life skills such as
- Focusing on you and ignoring distractions
- Being relaxed and be calm whilst out and about
- Walking on a loose lead
- Behaving appropriately around food, other dogs and people
- Mentally stimulating ways to occupy himself at home (without destroying your property!)
Learn more about locations and dates for adolescent dog training here https://www.ck9training.co.uk/adult-dog-services/
You may also find these articles useful
Building a strong relationship with your dog https://www.ck9training.co.uk/blog/close-working-relationship-between-dog-and-owner/
Making dog walking a pleasure for you and your dog https://www.ck9training.co.uk/blog/making-dog-walks-fun-for-all/