Adolescence is special. It’s not just the follow-on from puppyhood, or the phase to be ‘got through’ before the dog settles down into adulthood. It has needs, wants and demands all of its own – and is also a time of huge emotional impact, where your relationship with your dog can be honed, developed and consolidated – into a partnership that will then last a lifetime.
The teenage years potentially carry more behavioural risk for things to go awry, and that it’s often a time of tricky communication and a battle of wills in any species – let alone between two that don’t share the same language. The problem I think, however, is that our expectations about adolescence in dogs are often wrong. People think that:
* They’ve already ‘done’ the training
* That their dog should be ‘old enough to know better’ by now, or that she should have ‘grown out of it’
* That he or she is lacking ‘socialisation’ (when in fact, it might be the opposite)
* And that shouting, “He’s only a puppy,” as the dog gallops towards an unsuspecting unknown dog in the park is an acceptable way of dealing with an out-of-control teenager!
Adolescent dogs are wonderful mixture of complexity! Charged by their hormones and inherent drives towards seeking, exploration and independence, they still desperately need paw-holding and gentle guidance to feel happy and secure.
Adolescence is a time of change one day you have a cute, socialised well trained puppy and overnight he has turned into a crazy monster, running off in the park, suddenly deaf to your calls, pulling on lead, chewing up the house, jumping on visitors, stealing things when you are not looking and does things you don’t talk about in polite conversation (unless your a dog breeder) to every dog he meets. Dogs and humans are very different, but they do have this in common: teenage angst! Welcome to adolescence.
Adolescence is often a rocky period. Like human teens, adolescent dogs explore their world, testing their own abilities and pushing the boundaries in ways that owners often don’t like: What’s on the other side of the fence? Can I boss these other dogs? Can I catch that cat? Who’s that cute Goldie? You will have to be especially vigilant to make sure that your dog’s manners and behaviour do not go backwards. Adolescence dogs seem to be brimming with confidence – however, they still need parental guidance, help and support.
Adolescence is a challenging time; most dogs abandoned at shelters are between eight and 18 months old, at the height of adolescence. This is also a prime time for dogs to be banished to the backyard – a boring and sad place for such social animals, but with a few sensible steps and a lot of patience you will get through this stage (it is only temporary) and your attentive, mannerly and friendly puppy will return in adulthood.
Owners of adolescence dogs often feel what was the point in training my puppy because he has forgotten everything and has no desire to do anything for me. Don’t panic! The answer is to keep on training, go back to basics and reinforce simple tasks such as “Sit” which you can reward and get back on the right track; it is much easier to approach doggy adolescence with an already socialised and well-trained dog. However, maintaining your dog’s socialisation and training through his adolescence can be tricky if you don’t know what to expect and how to deal with it.
Characteristic Adolescent Behaviour
A perfectly natural, but embarrassing behaviour for owners which most adolescent dogs love to do both males and females, they mount other dogs, other objects like cushions, toys and humans. Dogs mount as a sexual activity, but also for fun and because it gets attention. Interrupt the behaviour calmly (ask the dog to sit – it’s impossible to sit and mount the same time), then redirect the dog onto a more appropriate pastime.
Push your buttons
Adolescent dogs love to wind you up over trivial matters, such as refusing to have their feet wiped, ignoring you and running round like crazy when you ask them to come inside, playing “keep away” with your shoes or refusing to get off the sofa. This type of behaviour is usually fueled by you participating in it, so avoiding the fight is far more important than trying to win it. Stay calm; instead of getting into a battle of physical strength or a shouting match with your dog use your brain power to find a way around it instead.
It seems that adolescent dogs have boundless energy, so they need to release this in a variety of ways – and being destructive shouldn’t be one of them. One off the best ways for them to let off steam is to spend time daily running off lead in a safe place, however, you can’t do this unless your dog comes to you when called, which is why it is so important to teach your puppy to do this. Another good way to use up energy is to let your dog fulfil their needs, Golden Retrievers are gundogs; picking things up and carrying things in their mouths are hard wired behaviours that cannot be removed but they can be channelled. Provide them with an outlet for their natural drives – Teach them to retrieve! Reward them for picking their toys up.
No impulse control
Teenagers like to be doing something that feels good and not what they are being told to do. In order to cope with life dogs, need to learn self-control, rather than simply reacting or overreacting. Teach them the following simple exercises to help them learn self-control:
• Settle Down
• Leave it & take it
All dogs need to chew not just puppies, make sure you provide your dog with appropriate chew toys otherwise they will develop a taste for your things. Dogs love novelty: it’s a good idea to rotate their toys so they aren’t all available at all times.
Having had the best possible upbringing, once your golden reaches around 3 years of age they should have all the skills necessary to be a model canine citizen and, of course, a much-loved part of the family. Don’t forget though – use it or lose it! Keep your dog’s social skills well-tuned by:
- ensuring they get to mix with other dogs.
- going to training classes.
- giving them the chance to socialise in a wide variety of situations.
- visiting exciting places.
Socialisation is Still Important
It is very important to keep socialising your adolescent dog; he needs to meet unfamiliar people on a regular basis. In other words, your dog needs to be walked at least once a day. Otherwise, he will soon grow to be wary and fearful of strangers, especially children and men. Don’t take dog – dog interactions for granted your dog needs to meet unfamiliar dogs on a regular basis. Like human teenagers, teenage dogs especially males can be a real pain in the butt around other dogs, and they are often reprimanded by mature, confident dogs (which is why it is so important to have taught your dog bite inhibition as a puppy). This is not a bad thing, it teaches adolescents respect and a little self-restraint, as well as appropriate social skills. However, from your teenager’s point of view, he may start to feel that the world is out to get him so he needs to meet lots of dogs some will be grumpy, some will be playful and some quite dull. If he doesn’t meet many dogs, then those that he does encounter will have a bigger impact on his behaviour and if he has too few interactions then he will also become frustrated and anxious when he sees other dogs.
Unfortunately, owners keep their adolescent dogs away from other dogs because their behaviour is over-the-top, embarrassing or confrontational – which leads to a downward spiral of worsening social behaviour. One of the easiest and best ways to maintain social skills around other dogs is to keep taking them to a good training class; at the very least you will have other owners of adolescent dogs to empathise with.
Finally, even though adolescence is challenging, adolescent dogs are also great fun, bright and entertaining. Make sure you enjoy this stage in your dog’s life and set the scene for years to come. Even though behaviour is always changing, hopefully for the better, but sometimes for the worse, with a large breed like the Golden Retriever behaviour and personality will tend to stabilise, and become more resistant to change, as they reach adulthood around their third birthday. So, remember Good Habits are just as hard to break as Bad Habits, Happy Training!
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When you first get your Puppy, lots of things are new to you and your new arrival, a good, clear guidebook will get you off on the right track.
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