Terrible Teens

10 tips for surviving dog adolescence.

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Adolescence can be a challenging time for puppies and their owners. It tends to begin anywhere between 9 and 14 months of age for most puppies, but it can start earlier. There is no set time period for how long adolescence lasts, however, the majority of puppies are through the worst of it by 11⁄2 to 2 years of age.

This phase can be so trying that many adolescent puppies are given up because the owners, not understanding that it’s a phase, assume their formerly wonderful puppies have gone bad. An adolescent puppy’s behavior may be far from perfect, but this is a very natural stage of life, one that all growing mammals go through.

1. Understand the adolescent brain.
Before you can help your puppy through adolescence, understand what’s going on in its head. “The puppy’s brain is going through incredible changes [during adolescence],” says Melissa Alexander, author of Click for Joy (Sunshine Books, 2003). “The cerebral cortex becomes a leaner, meaner thinking machine.”

The puppy is changing from a baby to an adult that can think, reason, make decisions and learn. The adolescent puppy might seem to listen to its owner and obey commands one minute and not the next. The puppy really hasn’t lost its brain; it’s simply in transition.

2. Don’t accept the challenge.
At some point after 9 months of age, some puppies become quite challenging. They may refuse to follow a known command or growl when you reach to take away a chew toy. These challenges are normal and short lived (usually occurring just in the beginning of the adolescence). Prepare yourself so you don’t answer the challenge. In dogs and especially in adolescents, aggression begets aggression. If the puppy issues a challenge and you react angrily, the puppy may escalate its behavior, too. Instead of becoming angry, take a deep breath and think before responding.

3. Train, train and train some more.
If you began training the puppy before adolescence began, continue the training. If you didn’t begin training then, start now. By establishing guidelines for acceptable behavior, you can prevent bad behaviors – such as dashing out the front door, growling over a toy and raiding trash cans – from becoming habits. Keep the training as simple as possible by using clear commands, a lot of positive reinforcement and setting the puppy up to succeed by asking it to do known exercises.

Use positive training with rewards your puppy really likes. Make food treats special or use a toy your puppy loves Use your voice or a clicker to mark the behaviors you want to happen again. Daily training will help keep your puppy’s behavior from spiraling out of control during this stage, and will help keep your relationship with your growing puppy positive.

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