How do we define the teenage years in canine terms? It varies from dog to dog and breed to breed and, along with that, the size of the dog. Usually, a good way to tell the onset of adolescence is that all the baby teeth are out and adult teeth are coming in. In general, the larger the breed, the slower to mature — but remember, that is a generalization.
When a puppy first comes home, he looks to you for comfort and safety. Then, the teenage time begins to emerge at approximately 5 months old. Brain development and hormone release begin to change that sweet little dependent creature into a hormone-infested, obnoxious beast. OK, I know this is a serious use of labeling, but the emotions that these young dogs may bring out in us can be described using these labels. So, what’s an owner to do? Here are a few suggestions.
Read about and understand your dog’s breed before bringing home that pup. A quiet, sedentary family whose primary recreation comes from electronics should not consider any of the sporting, working, herding, terrier or a combination of these breeds — not unless you plan to have them join you in a full lifestyle makeover.
The good news is that most dogs don’t need a daily 10-mile hike if you provide enrichment and training by teaching tricks or setting up a backyard agility field. If you consider your dog’s particular breed characteristics, you can provide challenging backyard activities such as a digging pit for a terrier; teaching nose work to a hound; teaching a chase recall to your herding dog; and, of course, teaching retrieving to your sporting dog. Again, these are generalizations, and any type of dog can be taught most any behavior. I have a rat terrier who loves nose work, loves to retrieve and doesn’t dig. So, breed type is just a starting point.
Another very important thing to consider is diet. “You are what you eat” holds true for dogs as well as for people. Educate yourself about what ingredients go into your dog’s food. Then you can tell if he’s getting too much in the way of processed sugars, fillers or poor-quality proteins. This type of food can wreck havoc on blood-sugar levels and contribute to hyper behavior. Better-quality food and better digestibility actually will provide all the calories and nutrients in a lesser quantity.
Free-choice feeding can be problematic. Your pup should know that you provide the resources. Meal time is a great opportunity to teach your pup to learn to earn part of each meal. Some dog owners often say: “My dog won’t come when called”; “My dog won’t listen to me”; “My dog won’t eat in meals so I have to leave it out all the time”; and“My dog is more than 6 months old and still isn’t potty trained.” There is a strong correlation between dogs that are free-choice fed and many of these types of issues. Teenage dogs in particular become much more problematic when all their needs are met without prerequisite behavior or training.
My best advice as a trainer/behavior consultant is to start your puppy training early. As soon as you bring that pup home, you can start using reward-based training. Keep up with training every day throughout your dog’s life. The energy you spend building communication and trust will pay off over time. The most important time to maintain a consistent schedule with consistent expectations is throughout those months of teenage angst. Meet (teenage) resistance with persistence!
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.