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Terrible Teenagers!

Being a teenager is challenging! And it is no different for our dogs. Loss of puppyhood brings more independence and hormonally driven behaviours, and it can be a frustrating time when all your hard work appears to be lost.

Adolescence occurs once your dog has lost all his deciduous teeth. This starts around 18 weeks and lasts 12 – 18 months. As your dog matures hormonal surges gradually lessen, but he continues to change physically and emotionally for some time. As testosterone levels rise, males cock their legs, become interested in females, scent mark their territory, and may compete with other males. Castration may prevent some of these problems if they are hormonally driven, however such behaviours can become learned and continue after neutering. In female dogs, their first oestrus occurs between 7 and 9 months and they may become moody, difficult to motivate, quiet and/or bad tempered. They may also show competitive or aggressive behaviour towards other females. Behaviour changes may include mounting people, objects or other dogs. If your dog is displaying this unwanted behaviour, distract quietly and calmly with a stuffed Kong or handful of food thrown in the garden. Do not make a big fuss or you risk the behaviour becoming learned for attention!

During adolescence, your dog becomes less compliant and more environmentally focused. Recall becomes challenging and playing with other dogs becomes more appealing. Your dog also becomes more aware of being left alone and underlying behaviour problems, such as separation anxiety, may become more apparent. As he develops independence, instinctive behaviours may become more exaggerated and play skills learned as a puppy transferred to real life: chasing a squirrel, hunting a rabbit, pointing a bird or herding. It is important to avoid these behaviours developing with careful management, so don’t let your dog practice them – put him on a lead or walk him in a less stimulating environment for a few months. Don’t allow your dog to sit and look out of the window – he may learn to bark at passers-by and develop guarding behaviours. Also, don’t let your collie hone his ‘eye-stalk-chase’ motor pattern by watching movement, as this can be transferred to moving vehicles and bikes.

As confidence grows, instead of retreating from a threat or showing appeasement, your dog may now choose aggression. Familiar objects or people may suddenly cause barking, apprehension or retreat. Dog to dog interactions may change as your dog’s ‘puppy license’ is no longer valid. ‘Re-wiring’ of the brain’s cerebral cortex is at a high rate during adolescence and simple behaviours may be forgotten. During adolescence, many dogs find themselves re-homed as owners struggle to cope with their behaviour.

Don’t lose heart! All early work during puppyhood sowing the seeds of good manners will be rewarded as your dog reaches maturity. Just like teenage children, our teenage dogs need empathy and understanding to help them grow up into well-balanced adults.

Suggested reading:

Sarah Whitehead The Adolescent Dog Survival Guide available from Canine Concepts or Amazon (Kindle version £1.95).


Bailey, G (2008). The Perfect Puppy. Hamlyn, Octypus Publishing Group, London, UK.

Beaver, Bonnie V, (1999). Canine Behaviour: a guide for veterinarians. W B Saunders Company, USA.

Dehasse, J Dr (1999). Sensory, Emotional and Social Development of Young Dog Part 1. Available from http://siriusdog.com/cognitive-conditioning-development-dog.htm.

Dunbar, I Dr (1996). Neutering Fact Sheet. Modern Dog Magazine, extract from How To Teach A New Dog Old Tricks, James & Kenneth Publishers. Available from http://www.moderndogmagazine.com/articles/neutering-fact-sheet/255

Giedd, J Dr (2002-2011). The Adolescent Brain. Teachers’ Domain, National Science Digital Library. Available from http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/tdc02.sci.life.reg.gieddweb/ Accessed 27 June 2011.

Nicholls J et al (8 June 2001). From Neuron To Brain:      Cellular Approach to the Function of the Nervous System. Fourth Edition. Sinauer Associates, USA.

Whitehead, Sarah (2009). The Adolescent Survival Guide. Clever Dog Company, Berkshire, UK.

Zinc, C DMV (2005). Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete. One Veterinarian’s Opinion
Available from http://www.caninesports.com/SpayNeuter.html Accessed 27 June 2011.

This article, along with a selection of others about behaviour and training, is available in our Dog Blog booklet.  This can be purchased for £2 and is available as a paper copy or downloadable e-book.  All proceeds to Irish Retriever Rescue.

If you would like to sell any copies of the Dog Blog for your rescue organisation, please contact kate@contemplatingcanines.com.