Oh, the allure of a sweet, carefree puppy.
They have the fluffiest fur and those big, endearing eyes that just make you want to melt. Toss in some of the best smelling puppy breath and most people are in pure bliss. How can you not say, “OH!” and want to scoop one up and rush him home? Adding a puppy to your family can be one of the best joys in life. Watching a puppy frolic in the yard chasing something as simple as a leaf is priceless.
With excitement, visions of puppy kisses and long walks on the beach, you bring your new addition home. Puppy shopping is a blast while you search the best online stores for healthy treats, safe toys, eco-friendly beds and everything a new puppy could want. Next stop, your first wellness visit with your holistic veterinarian. Eager to continue on the right foot, you register for a highly recommended, positive puppy training class.
The next four months have been just as you had hoped and planned for. Your new puppy is learning quickly, potty training is going well, and you’re enjoying your socialization exercises. But, just about the time when your puppy starts losing his puppy teeth, things take a turn. It’s like someone turned on a switch in your puppy’s brain, and now you have Dogzilla on your hands! Your sweet little ball of fur is now a demon child. What happened? What did you do wrong?
Can we say, “teenager?” Yup, that’s right. Your cute, little pup is now in his teenage years. Oh, boy. Your puppy becomes an adolescent dog around the time his canine teeth start to come in, and this developmental stage lasts until he’s about eighteen months of age. During this time your puppy’s immature brain is changing and developing, and it can be a difficult and challenging period in both his life and yours. Needless to say, this can be one of the toughest times in your relationship.
An adolescent dog can be rowdier, mouthier, jumpier, and more obnoxious than at any other time in his life. They tend to have short fuses, test you, and even downright ignore you when given the opportunity. Our shelters contain a lot of adolescent dogs; dog parents just feel like they don’t know what to do and can’t control their behavior. The average age of dogs entering our animal shelters is eighteen months.
So why even bother bringing a puppy or adolescent dog home in the first place? Because adolescence is a temporary time in a dog’s life. If you put in the effort, the bond that you can build with your dog is unmatched. A good dog parent will be able to mold their dog into a confident, safe, happy family member … a companion you’ll be able to spend the next 10 to 15 years walking the beach with.
So how do you smooth the transition from puppy to mature adult?
Easing The Transition
Patience: Have patience … and have a little more patience. This is not a time to expect any quick fixes. Remember to breathe; realize that your dog is also going through changes in his life and needs you to coach and parent him.
Training Lessons: Continue with all your training lessons. Those basic behavior cues you were learning in puppy school, watch, sit, down, stay… keep them up! Keep practicing in various environments to proof your dog’s skill level. Try to teach a brand new behavior or trick every week to keep things fun, novel, and fresh.
Play: Play with your dog. Play is an underused tool in dog training and relationship building. A study by Rooney and Bradshaw showed that dogs performed better at obedience tasks after a play session with their handlers.
Exercise: Adolescent dogs tend to have a lot of excess energy; providing appropriate and ample exercise can pay off big time when living with a young dog.
Appropriate Diet: Energetically, every food is either on the Yang (hot) side or the Yin (cold) side. If you have an adolescent dog who seems to be bursting out of his seams, you may need to cool down his diet. Good “cooling” proteins are rabbit, clams, duck, pork or beef. With boisterous dogs, avoid “hot” foods such as lamb, venison and goat whenever possible.
Stay Positive and Upbeat: Focus on all the positive aspects your puppy has already learned and keep up his progress. Have fun when interacting with your young dog. Keep in mind the best way to keep your short attention span dog engaged with you is to be fun and enjoyable, especially during adolescence.
He’s Depending On You
Your dog’s future depends solely on you. When you decided to bring home your new puppy, you took on the great responsibility of his livelihood and his future. Your puppy is a bright being, full of life, and he’s counting on you to train him and help him develop into a great family dog. If you’ve been putting in the work, adolescence will not be as troublesome. If, during your puppy’s first eighteen months of life, you continue to play a very proactive role in his development and learning, you will be able to have an enjoyable “rest of his life,” for hopefully 10 or more years. If you choose to work with him only half-heartedly and don’t teach him the life skills he needs to live in your human world, he’s more likely to become one of the 4 million pets surrendered to animal shelters each year.
If you keep up the good work, provide daily training, play, exercise, and regular socialization, you’re on your way to a well behaved and valued family member. Get the help of a positive and experienced dog training coach and enroll in a group or private classes during your dog’s adolescence to help you stay motivated and guide you through the bumps on the road. Be prepared for some ups and downs and remember that patience and a good sense of humor are important. If you have that attitude, raising a puppy is truly a blessing.