Just as your dog starts to get all his adult teeth and is nearly full grown, he will go through adolescence. Just like in humans this life phase can be confusing as your cute, well behaved puppy becomes a dinosaur who mouths and shouts more.
He will appear to have forgotten his training, will not respond to his name as readily and will become more interested in exploring and playing when out on his walks.
At this age he may also go through bouts of fearful or anxious behaviour. He might suddenly become fearful of a bush that he has walked past every day quite happily before. His moods might swing from frustration to apathy to full on enthusiasm.
He is basically a teenager, and just like with teenagers there are ways to make the transition to adulthood easier for you all.
1. Remain consistent – even when he isn’t.
Hopefully you have set up some clear ground rules when your dog was a puppy regarding how he is expected to interact with; others in the household, with visitors and with those he meets outdoors.
You have taught him what play was acceptable and fun and what you weren’t going to tolerate. It is really important to consistently manage these behaviours and reinforce their importance now.
Your dog will be full of growth and sex hormones and will be almost full grown. But his brain has not yet fully developed and so, as with all teenagers, he will be testing boundaries and presenting challenging behaviours.
By sticking to those behaviours you are not prepared to flex on and allowing more scope for your dog in areas that are not so important you allow him to work through this tricky phase in his life.
2. Continue with training – even when he appears unable or unwilling to understand you.
Hopefully you have been able to take your dog to ‘puppy socialisation’ and basic training or obedience classes. With COVID it has been difficult this year, but bumping into other puppies and older dogs when out and about has been possible throughout and has given you the opportunity to give him some social interaction.
By the time a dog gets to adolescence many owners will have stopped any formal training. This is a mistake in my view. Dogs love to learn throughout their lives and the regular training sessions offer a structure for you both. They also allow you to see that he is capable of learning. Such groups also offer support for you during this tough time.
I am not suggesting that you continue going to the same class. You wouldn’t expect children to stay in the same class and repeat the same year over and over. Bored children stop learning and can be disruptive in class – so why would you expect a dog to behave any differently?
But simply doing the same types of classes with different training suppliers, with different groups of dogs, or moving up into more advanced groups can be the change he needs to stay motivated.
3. Adolescence is a great time to add new training activities.
Your dog may not be able to concentrate for as long and may be easier to distract than he used to be. You will need to take your time. Repetition, remaining positive and reinforcing all that is good will eventually pay off and he will gain new skills he can take into adulthood.
Some ideas for you to add into your dogs life include:
body conditioning (I mention this first as it is little known, hugely beneficial and I offer classes!)
fun, low impact, agility or hoopers – but check with the class lead about age and suitability
ring-craft – not just for those dogs you hope to show at Crufts one day!
dancing to music and trick training.
In fact, your dog can do so many amazing things and there are so many innovative trainers out there offering unique training experiences.
These new experiences help broaden your dogs life experiences and deepen your relationships.
4. Socialising is essential – but stay in control.
Now is the time that your dog will feel invincible – right up to the point that they get hurt!
Well socialised dogs do not run up to every dog they see and want to play. They are patient, polite and aware of the dogs around them. They are happy to greet other polite dogs and even to play, once they have established each other’s credentials.
Do not expect your dog to be polite to an impolite dog, but equally you need to be ready to intervene and to take him out of a situation that looks to be developing.
Unfortunately, there are lots of impolite dogs out there and too many owners that think an overly friendly, overly playful dog is a sociable dog. Such dogs are displaying puppy behaviours and whilst these are tolerated in puppies they are less welcome in adolescent dogs – and rightly so.
If your dog is the one that thinks all dogs are playmates you may find other dog's keep telling him off. This is normal behaviour and essential learning if he is to understand how he should behave amongst his own kind. Whilst it might sound as though he is being attacked, and it can be very frightening for him to have a dog tell them off, in most cases they are simply being taught polite adult behaviours.
You can obviously reduce the need for another dog to teach him these behaviours by teaching and enforcing them yourself. This is a much better option as it reduces the chance of injury or of him becoming fearful of other dogs. You need to show him correct greetings, let him greet and then move on from other dogs. He should have friends, but not all dogs should be his friends!
Some things should be discouraged at all ages and this includes body slamming, excessive greetings, and constant demands to play. If he is getting ‘too bossy’ and is pushing his luck with other dogs I would suggest keeping him on a lead and working on calming and normalising his behaviour.
Engage a trainer or dog behaviourist if you feel you need additional professional help. Always use positive reinforcement and insist on it with any professional you employ to help you. The earlier you get the right help the better.
5. Adolescent dogs tend to be more physical and therefore prone to picking up little niggles.
Hands on body checks, all over handling, passive touch (see below)* and massage can all help you to:
calm and relax your dog
check for any areas of sensitivity or discomfort
get your dog comfortable with touch, making future veterinary and therapeutic touch easier for him to accept.
As with teenagers, he will be getting more aware of his body and touch shyness can start at this age. In addition, he will normally go through a natural fear stage as he enters adolescence. So, lots of positive touch experiences all over his body by you, family and friends, your vet, therapists, trainers etc can make it easier for him to accept and feel relaxed about being handled throughout his life.
The importance of this cannot be over-stated. The more comfortable your dog is with touch;
the easier it will be to identify and treat any future injuries
the quicker you will be able to spot if something isn’t right
the less stressful any intervention will be for him.
I see a lot of dogs in clinic that are very reluctant to have their feet touched. This is particularly true of their back feet, which are often only ever touched when they are dried after a walk or when their nails are cut. But imagine that your dog has a thorn stuck in his pad. If he were comfortable with having his feet touched he will be less stressed when you or your vet are removing that thorn!
Now imagine that your dog has just turned 11 years old and has some arthritis in his feet. I can reduce the pain of that arthritis with massage, but if he is fearful of having his feet touched the benefit of the massage is reduced and I may not even be able to treat his feet at all.
* Passive touch
This is simply the placing of a hand on your dogs body or holding one of their paws and not moving. You can rest the weight of your arm on him and just relax. This can be incredibly reassuring for him. You will often see dogs in multidog households seeking out passive touch by lying touching each other.
We, as humans, are not good at keeping our hands still and it is almost guaranteed that, if you try this, you will find your hand moving to stroke, rub or otherwise ‘faff’ with his fur. Notice that you have started moving your hand and stop the movement and return to passive touch.
The good news is that you will also benefit greatly from passive touch, but it does take practice initially to over-ride your tendency to always be moving.
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If you would like to get your dog used to massage when they are young and use this incredible therapy to keep them injury free, reduce niggles before they turn into lameness and keep them healthier for life please do get in touch with me or a fellow Canine Massage Guild Member.