My Dog is an A**hole

Let me caveat that title by saying, I love my boy dearly - but he is in the throes of adolescence, 11 months and 22 days to be exact, not that I am counting… so I wanted to share my experience as the dog-mum to 60lb teenager pup

A large number of CCA students are adopted into their new families around adolescence and many are surprised to learn about the trials and tribulations of this turbulent developmental stage. I adopted my own boy, Hayes, at 6 months old. He, like many rescue pups, had little prior training, poor urban socialization and arrived in our house as the wave of adolescence was cresting. Having scheduled emergency sessions for many of our CCA clients to tackle teenage troubles, being on the other side was a surprising challenge. A few months into our adolescent adventure, I thought I would share my experiences as an ‘educated layman’ and shed some light on this challenging developmental period


Some Statistics:


Let's start with the very relevant and meaty statistics on the correlation between adolescence and owner surrender. A study from the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science titled Behavioral Reasons for Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats to 12 Shelters, found that:


  • The majority of the surrendered dogs (47.7%) were between 5 months and 3 years of age 
  • The mode age category for relinquishment was from 1 to less than 2 years dogs
  • Most dogs (96%!) had not received any obedience training 

What is Adolescence and What Should We Expect 


I’d wager that the majority of people know that puppies are hard work, but a shockingly high proportion of people seem scarily unprepared for how difficult adolescence can be for their fur baby


Firstly, a brief breakdown of the developmental stages of a dog, these can overlap or vary a little depending on the size of the breed, but very roughly they are as follows:


Puppy: 0 - 6 Months

Adolescence: 6 months ~ 3 years

AdultSmall breed: 3 ~ 11 years

           Medium breed: 3 ~9 years

           Large breed: 3 ~ 7 years

Senior: Between 7- 11 years onwards


There are so many unusual behaviors that can appear seemingly out of nowhere during adolescence. The main things to be aware of are increases in fear of various things, such as noises, children, new people, even being outside! These “fear periods” can last anywhere from a few days to weeks! 


When you see any emerging fear, you could choose to avoid triggers entirely until your dog seems to be doing better, or go back to gentle puppy-style socialization picnics, where you basically reward your dog just for existing at a safe distance from the scary thing. The main thing is to not pressure them to do too much. We mainly want to decrease the opportunity for negative interactions during adolescence as much as possible, until they come out the other side and feel more confident again


Other behaviors that you may see are a decrease in impulse control, which can lead to demanding or pushy behaviors, like begging for food, or barking for attention where they may not have done this before


Another key thing to know about adolescence is that all the great training you did with your puppy, may look to have completely left their memory over night - this is normal, frustrating, but normal. Just aim to be as consistent as possible with your cues and don’t be adverse to lowering your criteria during this time period, it will help your dog to understand what is expected of them, which will lower their frustration, and in turn, lower your frustration! Win, win!

How To Prepare:

Well you are reading this blog, so that’s a good start! Click, treat. Really, knowing that it is coming, what to expect and knowing that it will pass will hopefully be of some comfort to you


My main tips are:

  • Incorporate relaxation training early and often - this has really helped us with overall arousal and impulse control
  • Don’t neglect your basic training - review your sit, down, stay, leave it, drop it, deference and recall regularly, throw in some easy repetitions too - this keeps frustration low and keeps your learner engaged 
  • Give your dog appropriate outlets for their energy, like lickable/chewable enrichment and games like tug or fetch. Walks on a long-line leash (where possible) are also great to give your dog the opportunity to sniff things and feel free from the usual leash walking rules
  • Don’t underestimate the use of tether training or a drag leash attached to your dog’s harness for management and to help your dog settle if they are struggling to do this on their own
    *Note - never leave your dog unattended if tethered to something. This should always be 100% supervised


Riding The Dragon:


I promise you, with early management and consistency with your training, it will get better! Once you know to somewhat expect the unexpected, and you have contingency plans in place to address any weird and wonderful new behaviors, you can hunker down and ride out adolescence with (hopefully) minimal stress


Think of your interactions during adolescence like the Bob Thaves quote on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers: “Sure he was great, but don't forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did, backwards…and in high heels." In this analogy, your adolescent dog is Fred Astaire and you are Ginger Rogers, dancing around your dog’s ever changing behaviors, backwards...and in high heels


If you are struggling with your teenager pup, do reach out to a certified trainer earlier, rather than later - it can save you a lot of money, and your dog a lot of stress in the long-run

Write a comment

Comments: 1
  • #1

    Jenny (Friday, 03 July 2020 09:46)

    Love it! I am a dog trainer and have been focussing on this so I will be sharing this article with my group.