Teaching Adolescent Dogs, Part 1: Encountering Changes


 How do dogs develop and mature after puppyhood?


After puppyhood, a young dog will begin to grow and develop at an accelerated pace.


Mental, emotional and physical changes will rapidly take place approximately between the ages of five months and three years. When the third year rolls in, a dog can be finally considered an adult animal with all the mental faculties expected from a fully-grown dog.


Understanding your dog’s needs and the changes that it is experiencing during adolescence will help you become a better owner and trainer. Each stage of a dog’s life is different and training expectations should also be adjusted as your dog is developing and maturing.


A dog’s developmental timeline is very easy to remember. A puppy is considered trainable at the age of five months because its mental faculties have matured enough to be able to focus on commands and other behavioral triggers.


At one year of age, the physical development of a young dog reaches its highest point and begins to slow down afterward. A dog’s mental, emotional and social development never stops evolving and maturing until the third year. After the third year, aspects of a dog’s psychological profile can still change depending on the animal’s formal training and experiences.


Like humans, a dog’s mental outlook and behavior patterns can evolve depending on the animal’s environment and constant/daily experiences. A dog’s stress level can also change how it behaves towards its pack which is composed of all the people that it is closely associated with.

What can you expect from an adolescent dog?


To understand the changing characteristics of your dog, I’ve compiled a list of important changes that you should prepare for if your dog has already reached adolescence:


  1. New Behavior Patterns – Your dog will begin exhibiting behaviors that it has never shown before. The majority of these new behaviors will not cause any problems but some of them will.


How can you resolve negative behavior?


When negative behavior patterns begin to emerge, you must accomplish two things as soon as possible: identify the trigger/s of the negative behavior and redirect the behavior through pack leadership.


Take note that no amount of training will “fix” all perceived negative behaviors. The goal of obedience training is not to fix your dog as if it was a broken clock, but rather, to teach your pet the best behavior patterns consistently.


  1. Fluctuating Focus and Patience – Like an adolescent human, your dog will have varying levels of focus and patience on a daily basis. There will be training sessions where your pet will be a pure joy to work with because it is able to focus clearly on your commands and the training process.


But then you will encounter some days where your dog seems to be preoccupied with mundane things, like romping around the yard or scratching a curious spot on the grass.


What can be done to address a dog’s lack of focus?


If your dog isn’t paying attention, don’t reprimand it. What you are currently experiencing as an owner is completely normal. A dog with a short attention span or a wandering focus requires “held position” training.


Train your dog with commands such as “sit and stay” and “come when called.” These “held position” exercises will help increase your dog’s patience with training. Again, you have to be consistent with your training regimen so you will get the best results.


  1. Genetic Dominance – Adolescence is the time where secondary sexual traits begin to develop in dogs. This means your dog may begin showing aggressiveness (especially if your pet is a male) and territory marking behaviors.


Providing alternative activities for your dog can help redirect it from undesirable behavior. If you’re serious about polishing your adolescent dog’s dominant behavior set, you have to be ready to distract and redirect it the moment you see a negative behavior manifesting.


Constant redirection will eventually suppress instinctual behavior like territory marking or at least reduce it until it no longer causes problems in your home. We can never completely suppress an instinct; we can only train a dog to resort to more positive behaviors.


  1. Evolving Mindset – Adolescent dogs will also begin showing changes in how they view the world at large.


Of course, these mental changes will manifest in the form of new and sometimes strange behaviors. Don’t worry that some of your dog’s behavior patterns are changing. Again, these changes are normal and are expected. Be ready to redirect and accept that your dog is finally growing up!



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