Teen Angst Part III: 7 Things to Know About Your Adolescent Dog

Extinction can be a highly effective technique for modifying demand or externally reinforced behaviors but is not without risk. Extinction bursts, where the dog offers...

  • Extinction can be a highly effective technique for modifying demand or externally reinforced behaviors but is not without risk. Extinction bursts, where the dog offers the behavior more intensely and frequently before abandoning the behavior are frustrating for both dog and owner during any stage of development. In my experience, extinction bursts during adolescence may be more frequent and more intense than at any other stage of development. Additionally, resurgence or spontaneous recovery for behaviors which are dealt with through extinction is common during this stage.
  • Know your dog’s breed! If they haven’t already become apparent in puppyhood, breed specific characteristics may manifest in adolescence. When Mokie was a puppy, she loved to meet and play with new dogs and people. As she matured and grew into herself, her “Chowiness” became more apparent – she was less socially gregarious and began to exhibit strong guardian characteristics. People may think I’m the devil for saying that any bully breed may not be dog friendly, but the fact is that during adolescence, tendencies toward roughness and aggression toward other dogs may pop up in some specimens and needs to be dealt with quickly and effectively. Guardian breeds tend to be extremely suspicious at this stage, compartmentalizing the world into “part of my world, needing to be protected” and “threat to my world, needing to be defended against” categories. Sight hounds will take off after play. Beagles, Bloodhounds, and other scent hounds may decide that a day old scent is more important than paying attention to you. Your Border Collie may take to herding your cats and/or guests and/or children. Breed-specific behaviors may be modified or brought under greater control through training, with prognosis varying according to the individual dog and the client’s ability to train and manage the situation effectively and consistently. For the record, forcing square pegs into round holes or trying to get a Dalmatian to change his spots is not easy and not always successful, which is why it’s so important to research your breed carefully! My Chow will never be a service dog or dog park diva, and that’s ok. In many other ways, she’s absolutely perfect.
  • Neutering and spaying – during adolescence, your dog will be achieving emotional, physical, and sexual maturity. Both intact and neutered dogs and bitches may exhibit mounting behavior. Unspayed female dogs will experience their first heat. Intact male dogs may exhibit increased wandering behavior and marking. Marking is, at its essence, simply a potty training deficiency; a good trainer will help you work through it. Seek help sooner rather than later, as this behavior may initially be motivated by hormones but quickly becomes a learned behavior with a well-established reinforcement history! While the court of public opinion has declared that all dogs should be neutered or spayed by six months old lest their owners be labeled “irresponsible,” there are benefits and risks to altering decisions at any stage in life. This article provides a balanced review of the current research and literature on the long-term effects of spay/neuter in dogs. Same-sex aggression, particularly in intact dogs, is common during this stage.
  • Your dog may literally experience “growing pains” as he matures. Panosteitis is not uncommon, particularly in large breed dogs, and may make your puppy sore and more susceptible to touch sensitivity and grouchiness. Also, certain training activities should be avoided until your dog’s growth plates have closed, or, at the very least, be modified in consideration of your dog’s developing musculoskeletal system. Talk to your veterinarian, breeder, and competition sports trainer for information on age-appropriate training for your dog’s stage of development.
  • Your adolescent dog will lose “puppy license” in his interactions with other dogs. Whereas before, your resident adult dog may have tolerated his obnoxious, rude behavior as puppy antics, he and other adult dogs may now begin telling him to “back off” and new rules for social interactions will be established. Think about it like this – you have two nephews, one two years old, one fifteen years old. If the two year old has an accident overnight, no big deal. If your 15 year old is peeing the bed, the behavior is no longer socially acceptable.
  • Did I mention your teen dog would drive you crazy? Be prepared for whining, late night scratching at the door to go out (hello, 3 a.m. in the middle of a snow storm!), begging at the table, counter surfing, pulling on the leash, barking, jumping, mouthing, and pawing for attention, complaining about being crated (even though he normally loves his crate), and all sorts of obnoxiousness.
  • Frustration is normal! Cuba is currently going through adolescence and while he is a great puppy, he often does things that drive me insane. Count to ten and breathe! This too shall pass – adolescence is a phase. If you can make it through with your dog, your efforts will be well-rewarded. During this stage, dogs which are untrained are relegated to shelters, craigslist ads, or chained to a dog house in the back yard. Do not hesitate to get professional assistance from a qualified trainer. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has wonderful resources on how to find and evaluate a potential behavior professional, including Finding Help for a Pet with a Behavioral Problem.
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