Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Understanding Adolescence

Adolescences can seem crazy for humans & dogs!
Dogs enter the craziest time of their life around 6-9 months of age called the Crazy Teen Phase.  This typically lasts until the dog is about 18-24 months or slightly older.  During this time your puppy’s immature brain is changing and developing.  This can be one of the toughest times in your relationship and even more difficult if this period hits in the spring!

An adolescent dog can be rowdier, mouthier, jumpier, and more obnoxious than at any other time in his life. They can seem 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 often feel like they don’t know what to do and can’t control their dogs behavior.  In the Service Dog world, this is the most common time when programs and owner trainers "career change" or "wash" a dog from further Service Dog training due to behavioral issues.  Often this leaves the trainers feeling like they somehow failed the dog or messed up the training.  When the truth is, often they simply expected too much, too soon and needed to let their dog finish growing up and mature fully.

So how do you smooth the transition from puppy to mature adult?  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 their life and they need you to coach and be a parent to them.  During this stage in development, teen dogs go through several brain development changes.  These brain changes often accompany times of personality changes.  Don't worry, these changes are often short lived too.  

Your dog might experience fear periods as their brain develops.  The happy social puppy might all of sudden seem to be afraid of people, barking at strangers when they happily greeted strangers previously. Fears are commonly to things in the environment that are not under owner control, such as the helicopter that just appears in the sky or that random car horn that your dog has never noticed before.  As you can imagine teen dogs can easily slide into sensory overload due to the simplest things.  Spring presents many "new" sights, sounds, smells, and objects to touch that your dog didn't notice as a puppy and have been hiding during the winter freeze. 

Sounds like a crazy time, right?  Try not to stress out!  This stage will pass!  But how you handle some of these issues can affect the type of adult your dog develops into.  For example, your dog suddenly does not like meeting strangers.  Our impulse might be to go back to the socialization period training where we try to set up happy meetings with people that we know.  The problem is, if we try to set this up during a "fear period" we could keep scaring our dog so intensely and repeatedly that they learn that strangers can't be trusted.  Instead give your teen dog some time off, away from people (or the scary object) until you're sure they are passed the fear periods then start with slowly increasing exposure.  

Most fear periods last 10-14 days, so it is much easier to wait it out and then begin desensitization practices after your sure the fear period has ended.  If your dog develops extreme fear reactions, you probably need help from an experienced trainer or behavior consultant to help you figure out what is really taking place and develop a plan to help your dog in that situation.  This is one of my specialties, so check out my website for more resources!

The adolescent phase is often broken down into 3 distinct periods.  Often the 3 stages are from 6-9 month olds, 10-14 month olds, and 14-24 months old is when you start to see changes within adolescent behaviors.  There will be more information on each of these stages in the Crazy Canine Adolescents Classroom.

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