As a dog trainer, I see many different clients from all paths of life. They have dogs of different breeds and experience a variety of behavioral and training issues.
One common denominator however often is the dog’s age: The majority of the dogs that come to me to train are between 6 and 15 months old. The classical canine teenage stage!
Today we will look at why dogs can seem hard to train during their adolescence and how you can work through it.
Why did my dog’s behavior change?
You might have been training your puppy since the day you brought him home. If you have been this consistent, your pup made great progress and can probably already come when called, sit, down and stay and walk on a leash.
As he matures physically though, you notice that his overall behavior is changing. He might blow you off when you call him and instead choose to keep on digging in the yard, sniff bushes or play with his doggy friends. Maybe he suddenly forgot what “Sit” means, too!
The reason behind this sudden switch is that as dogs grow up, they become more independent and interested in different stimuli. A little puppy needs to bond closely to his person and follow them around. The high trainability of 2-4 months old dogs is to some extend a survival tactic: A very young puppy needs protection and secure attachment. He is very likely to try and follow all of his owner’s cues and not venture too far in order to stay safe.
Once our dogs grow up however, they become faster, taller and stronger and are not as reliant on our constant protection and care. They want to explore and get to know the world – and in the process they might think that listening to us is underrated.
When puppies reach 6-9 months of age, their sexual maturity sets in and they might become a lot more interested in the opposite gender. This will be less intense for dogs that have been spayed or neutered beforehand. Especially intact young males however can blow off any cues you give them and only have eyes for the ladies!
What to do
The biggest mistake pet parents make at this point is to think their dog “needs to know” what they have previously taught him. In a perfect world your teenage dog would remember everything he learned as a puppy. We don’t live in a perfect world however and in order to get our pup back on track in his training, we need to work with where he is at.
This usually means taking several steps back in training. If your dog’s recall was already good at the dog park, but once he is a teenager he does not come when called at the dog park anymore – you should go back to practicing in easier environments.
In general, every time your dog rehearses “being bad” – not listening, running away – this behavior becomes more and more ingrained.
However, if you can create a training situation in which he can practice listening, then his listening skills will become better again!
In our example of the dog park it would mean that instead of futilely calling your dog, you should practice the recall again in your backyard or an empty field with no dogs around. This way your dog will be able to rehearse being good and doing the right thing.
Quality Time, Every Day
A dog’s adolescence often coincides with the time at which puppy owners might grow a little tired of their dog. A new puppy is very exciting and all owners spend a lot of time with their pup – several hours a day. After a couple months though work, daily chores and family life fills the days again and the dog might not get a lot of daily one-on-one interaction.
It is extremely important that you spend quality time with your dog, every day. If you are busy that doesn’t mean carving out extra hours – even 20 minutes of focused training and playtime will benefit your relationship greatly. Make it a habit to always interact with your dog in some way – it could be a walk, a game with his favorite toy and of course, a little bit of attention and recall practice.
The first year is when a pup forms his opinion about what the world holds for him. You do not want your dog to learn that he is on his own and responsible for his fun and entertainment himself. He should always be able to look to you for interaction and engagement.
Get A Helper!
Boredom and not enough stimulation can make teenage dogs’ behavior worse. If you find it impossible to provide the amount of exercise he needs, there are many different ways for getting help. A human teenager in your neighborhood might want to come by and play a round of fetch with your pup. A dog walker can walk your dog safely and reliably. A doggy daycare can let him play with other dogs in a supervised environment.
Reach out and you will be sure to find a helper so you are not left with all the work!
The Bottom Line
Puppies often show significant independence and reduced focus skills once they are about half a year old. This is a normal part of growing up and never a sign that your dog is bad or you did anything wrong.
In order to show your pup that good manners and attention still pays off, invest time into strengthening his basic skills, spend some quality time with him every day and consider hiring a helper if you feel overwhelmed.
Soon the adolescence will be over and your dog will grow up to be a loyal and well-behaved companion.
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