Many puppy owners start out training their puppy as soon as he gets home. Very young dogs like this learn quickly and often surprise their owners by how fast they catch on and acquire new skills.
Puppy training seems like a breeze - until your dog hits his teenage years. Suddenly he doesn’t listen to his recall anymore, doesn’t sit when you ask him and maybe even chew your furniture!
Today we will explore why dogs’ training becomes difficult as a teenager, and how to set yourself up for success during this time.
When is my dog a teenager?
Dogs reach their “teenage years” somewhere around 5-10 months of age. Small breeds mature faster physically, so a Dachshund may be a teenager already at 20 weeks old. Large and giant breeds mature more slowly. A Bernedoodle or German Shepherd enters his adolescence at about 35 weeks.
Just like human teenagers, this phase is characterized by the dogs changing into adults physically - and it goes along with similar mood swings as well!
If your dog has not yet been spayed or neutered you also need to be aware that he or she is now fertile and can produce puppies.
Why is my dog’s behavior changing?
One of the reasons why puppies are so easily trainable and catch onto new skills quickly is that they need strong bonds in order to stay safe. As long as they are small and vulnerable they have to stick close to their parents or owners to survive. A puppy who would wander too far from his group or who would pick fights would not have made it in doggy evolution!
As a dog enters his teenage years, he can now keep himself safe. Little puppies tend to follow their owners around at the heels and climb into their laps all the time. An adolescent dog might not be interested in this - instead he wants to go off and explore.
Owners are often disappointed that no training seems to have “stuck”. This is not the case - your dog’s interest for distractions has simply increased dramatically.
Working through the changed behavior
It is really important that you do not give up on training now. Don’t think that what you are doing has no impact. This could not be further from the truth!
You need to especially double down on training now and make sure that you work with your dog daily.
As a professional dog trainer, I can tell you that the teenage stage is when dogs go either one of two ways: They become really well-behaved companions - or they become out of control.
In another similarity to human teenagers, keeping your dog occupied with beneficial activities is key. If your teenage dog is not busy, he will put his energy towards his own ideas - and you won’t like that!
A bored adolescent dog can pick up excessive barking, destructive behaviors or even develop reactive tendencies towards other dogs or people. Daily mental and physical stimulation is important.
Most dogs do not do well if they only receive physical exercise. Working their minds is just as important and can actually make a dog more tired than running around. Schedule several activities throughout the dog’s day. It could look like this:
Midday training session
Afternoon playtime in the yard
Dinner eaten from food puzzles
You may be frustrated and annoyed by your teenage dog and only want to spend as little time as necessary around him. This is not a good idea - the less you interact, the more he will go off and look for his own fun!
Make sure that the two of you have bonding experiences every day. These can be fun for you as well. Nearly all dogs love to go to a drive-through and get an ice cream cone. You can also hide treats under a blanket and let your dog figure out how to get them. Find your own little routines and do them often with your dog. It will help him focus more on you and keep the attachment built in puppyhood.
Red flags in teenage dogs
Nearly all difficult behavioral and training issues start during a dog’s adolescence. If you notice any of the following, consult a professional trainer or veterinary behaviorist:
Your dog is exhibiting aggressive tendencies towards you, your family or other people
Your dog is obsessively eating unsuitable objects such as rocks
Your dog is highly destructive. This can include scratching and biting at walls and doorways or tearing apart his kennel
Your dog repeatedly gets into confrontations and escalations with other dogs
Your dog suddenly soils the house again after being housebroken before
If these behaviors go unaddressed, dogs can ingrain them to a point at which it is impossible to fix them completely.
The Bottom Line
It is normal for adolescent dogs to stop being closely attached to their owners and begin to venture into the world by themselves. In order to not let this become a problem though, you need to make sure that you train and exercise your dog daily. Make time to have bonding experiences with him and build on all the good training you have done so far.
Prevent your teenage dog from being bored so that he does not begin to exhibit destructive or reactive behavior.
If you do notice that your dog is showing unusually difficult behaviors, consult with a professional trainer or veterinarian as fast as possible. The sooner you address behavior issues, the better they can be solved.
Steffi Trott is the owner and founder of SpiritDog Training. Originally training dogs in-person, she added online training in 2018 to her business. Steffi strives to provide game-based, positive training solutions for owners and their dogs.
When she is not training other owners' dogs she competes in dog agility or hikes in the New Mexico and Colorado wilderness with her own 4 dogs.