What Happened to My Sweet Puppy?
Updated: Mar 20
Spring is an active time for the dog training industry. Why? It is not simply because the weather is beautiful and people like to train outdoors. The other reason is that puppies acquired at the new year tend to hit adolescence in the spring. Seemingly overnight, your lovely puppy changes into...something else.
The age of 6 months-12 months is the mid-adolescent phase of development for puppies. This means that puppies who might have been previously compliant and well-behaved, often times aren't anymore. They are teenagers!
The driver of these behavior challenges is not necessarily lack of training, nor an increase of hormones. Rather, it is found in very natural brain development changes. Adolescent dogs, just like young people, have brains that are rapidly changing. Old ways of thinking are pruned away as new connections rapidly grow.
Adolescence is completely normal and it occurs in all social mammals on the planet Earth. With it comes an entirely new set of behaviors which might seem strange and irrational. These behaviors include:
1. Novelty Seeking
An emotional drive to explore new and interesting things. This brings about the "zoomies", otherwise known as FRAPs. Frenetic Random Activity Periods.
2. Independence Seeking
Young creatures (children included) begin to resist authority in a drive towards independence. Independence seeking often pushes dogs to not come when called. Or attempt to manipulate you into games of chase.
This behavior is a survival imperative which pushes offspring to be willful and to no longer follow instruction. It has an evolutionary and adaptive purpose. Young dogs must become capable individuals and to ween themselves off of dependency on parents. If they don't, they are sure to die when the parent passes away. So the next time your teenager pushes against your authority, remember that this is driven by this sense of survival.
3. Authority Seeking
Adolescent dogs become interested in testing their abilities to lead the family. We receive many calls from aggression cases in the spring as dogs begin to actively discipline family members for what they perceive as misbehavior. This drive to control families must be managed or the young dog will steal possession of your authority and attempt to take over your household. Moreover, they do not have a fully developed brain and have no idea what they are doing. Your authority must be maintained at all cost.
What do I do?
The key here is not to become a draconian overlord and to crush this natural spirit. Rather, it is a time to harness that spirit into exploration of the world within safe confines. Here, our favorite topic of setting healthy boundaries -- physically, intellectually, and emotionally -- comes in to play.
What is needed during these times is strong parenting leadership and a full understanding of what adolescence is and why these behavior challenges occur. You need a cool head and a confidence to lead with consistency, persistence, and decisiveness.
For many dog parents, this time can be a "make or break" period. Some dog parents may even consider giving up on the relationship and rehoming the dog. Many teenage dogs end up in shelters for their outlandish behavior. Perhaps they tackled the children, or growled over a food bowl. Maybe they never come to you when called and you find yourself screaming out the back door. The list goes on and on...
One of the empowering things to remember during this time is this: it is temporary. Adolescence does not stick around forever -- or at least it shouldn't. We have worked cases of adult dogs acting like teenagers their entire lives. But even here, the reason is that parents did not engage in proper boundary-setting, nor proper discipline. These dogs often have too much freedom to make too many high-level decisions in the home. Therefore, they never properly develop and evolve through adolescence. A classic case of arrested development.
The good news? No matter what, whether you catch these behaviors early or late, they can be successfully changed. The psychology of dogs always changes. It is a fluid system that is change itself. For more on this you might research neuroplasticity.
If you do find yourself doubting whether or not you can make it through adolescence, call a certified Three Dimensional Dog behaviorist right away. There is no need to suffer the confusion and emotional stress of managing adolescence. There are numerous and effective science-based strategies which are proven to work immediately. And you might be surprised to learn that a skilled hand working with your overly active, teenage dog will likely be able to gain control in 3 minutes or less. Call us and watch it happen!
Training Tips and Wisdom
It is proper and wise to question everything your dog does, including acts of affection. Not every behavior your dog exhibits is truthful and honest. In fact, many behaviors you witness are ruses and manipulations designed to intentionally affect how you feel and shape your behavior into being more favorable to them. Such examples include:
showing affection to get treats
whining to go potty outside...just to play
"confusing" praise with permission
conflating needs with wants
soliciting attention with toys to redirect you from your activity
pretending they are sniffing the floor when they are, in fact, probing their boundaries.
disciplining you for misbehavior, and praising your good behavior.
walking extremely slowly out of sight to go on unauthorized missions
ignoring your commands on purpose to make you angry
There are many, many more. Think critically (not emotionally) when parenting your dog. Each of these manipulations is designed to audit your skills and determine your core values as a dog parent. Counter these manipulations and you will pass their test!
Aaron McDonald is a canine behaviorist and author of Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior. He has international experience and has served as the lead trainer for heads of state. Mr. McDonald currently works as a behavior consultant for families with challenging dogs under and Three Dimensional Dog and McDonald Canine Academy in Birmingham, AL.
Three Dimensional Dog offers private, in-home canine behavior and consultancy services for the Greater Birmingham area. We can be reached at 205-563-8383 or visit www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com.