Training a Teenage Puppy

Posted by Jackie Ly on

Dog pressing his paw against a person's hand

Table of Contents

Living with a puppy makes life more fun – you get to play with them, teach them tricks, and enjoy the great outdoors with their company. But of course, there are responsibilities too. You teach them good behaviour so they can adjust to domestic living. And when you see them learning and applying it, your heart just swells with happiness and fulfilment.

But weeks or months later, you notice some kind of a relapse, and even some new behaviours that are not… good. You start to compare your dog to humans–specifically to teenagers in puberty! 

And you got that right: dogs have their teenage phase too, just like humans. This phase is just a phase. However, at the moment, what you need to do is learn about their behaviours, and train them again–not as puppies anymore, but as maturing canines!

When do dogs become teenagers?

Dogs enter puberty between the ages of seven and eleven months and reach adulthood between the ages of 18 and 24 months. Smaller dogs reach puberty and maturity before larger dogs. 

Some breeds mature later, such as huge gun dogs, whereas working dogs like Kelpies or Border Collies mature quicker, but there are always individual differences.

Do dogs really go through puberty?

You might wonder, "Is there really such a thing as a teenage dog?" Well, science says so. A research article indicated that owners are not only imagining that their dog has become an erratic teenager, but that dog puberty is real, and so are the challenges. 

Understanding teenage dogs

Teenage dogs, or dogs going through puberty are often misunderstood due to their sudden change in personality or behaviour. As a fur parent, you need to understand that all beings, humans and animals, need to go through the teenage phase to reach the stability of adulthood. 

You should know that these erratic behaviours are not done on purpose. Your dog is not deliberately being difficult, stubborn, aggressive, or ignorant. The different regions of their brain are developing at different rates and aren't communicating properly with each other. The more basic functions at the back of the brain mature first, followed by the areas of the brain responsible for impulse control and planning. 

Emotional responses, particularly the urgency and intensity of the emotional reaction, are influenced throughout this period. We can observe this when a young dog is startled by a man in a fluorescent vest or a bag on the ground; they just keep lunging and barking and seem unable to figure out the situation correctly or quietly. 

When an older dog realises it's a human or an inanimate object on the floor, it'll simply move away and calm down.

Hormonal-related behaviours

As their hormones kick in, intact male dogs begin releasing high levels of testosterone. This drives them to engage in male-oriented behaviours such as urine-marking, roaming, and, on occasion, hostility towards other male canines.

On the other hand, intact female dogs prepare for and go through their first heat cycle. During her heat, your female puppy may become highly playful with male dogs, escape from her home and roam, urinate regularly, and be aggressive towards other dogs.

Deciding on spaying/neutering 

Talk to your vet to schedule getting your dog desexed. Some vets want them to reach a certain age, especially big male dogs, to make sure they’ve grown into strong adults. Females are more complicated because most vets spay only after the dog’s heat, if she’s already suspected to be in heat. 

That said, getting your dog spayed/neutered doesn’t magically solve problematic behaviours, but it does remove the ones related to hormonal changes, such as the urge to roam. 

Problematic behaviours that might arise

If you notice changes in your dog’s behaviour and you think they start acting up like a teenager, you are not mistaken. Many problematic behaviours may arise as they’re going through a sensitive period of life, and knowing what to expect will be really helpful in managing these behaviours when the time comes.

Some of the most common issues observed in teenage dogs are:

  • Chewing
  • Jumping up
  • High energy levels and lack of self control
  • A relapse in basic obedience
  • Social skills deteriorate
  • Stubbornness
  • No longer following you around or craving your attention
  • Poor recall and running off
  • Bossy towards other dogs
  • Barking for no reason
  • Wanting to be independent

Fortunately, this is just a phase, and unlike human adolescence, it lasts months rather than years! With proper training, determination, and patience, you'll have your adorable pooch back in no time. Here are tips and essential training for your teenage puppy.

How to train a teenage puppy

Keep socialising

While early socialisation is crucial, it does not end with puppy preschool or at 16 weeks. Or perhaps you adopted your dog at its teenage stage. Socialise your teenage dogs on a regular basis. They need to meet new people and dogs, see new places, and have new and enjoyable experiences. Socialisation is more than just exposure; it is about forming positive associations!

Also, due to hormonal changes, your dog may become fussy with their puppy playmates and may not interact as well as they once did when meeting other dogs. They might also snap and snarl due to under confidence. 

To help them overcome these, you can organise walks, playdates and park meet-ups with friends and their dogs, as this will help build confidence and reduce the behaviour. Then, reward them each time they greet another dog in public appropriately. 

If your dog snaps or fights with another dog, be calm and remove them from the situation. If possible, arrange to meet with the same dog owner again in a controlled setting where you can praise and reward your dog for a better greeting.

Reestablish a positive relationship with them

Good relationships are no coincidence, and they involve a significant amount of effort. A good relationship requires you and your dog to spend a significant amount of time together.

It is recommended that you spend two to three hours of quality time with your teenage dog every day. That does not include the time they spend with you on the couch in front of the TV (though that's also important for bonding).

Examples of quality time are leisurely outings, play, going to the coffee shop, a run at the park, games, or teaching tricks or a bush walk – things that both of you enjoy! 

Reinforcing basic obedience training

As your dog enters puberty, it might seem that they have entirely forgotten everything they once knew. That's why even if they already mastered sit or stay before, you need to remind them! Reinforce the appropriate behaviours and keep them alert to your every command. 

Some helpful tips are:

  • Keep sessions short. Short and fun obedience sessions will help them recall basic commands. Don't let them become bored or else training will become a hassle for both of you.
  • Practise basic commands. You can practise basic sit, stay, lie down, and roll over commands, as well as more advanced skills like recall, name recognition, and potty training.
  • Be firm, fun and patient. If your dog isn't responding well to obedience training, leave it and try the next day. As frustrating or naughty as they may be, do not smack or shout at your dog, since this type of approach won’t do your dog any favours. Try to end each day on a positive note with sofa snuggles or a leisurely walk together.
  • Strike a balance between mental and physical stimulus

    Ensure that your teenage dog receives enough exercise during their teenage period. This will help wear them out; after all, as the expression goes, a tired dog is a happy dog. In addition to regular exercise, you might want to expose your teenage dog to new experiences. 

    Adolescent dogs are highly conscious of their surroundings and have plenty of hormone-induced energy to burn. Introduce your dog to new places and people, and allow them to socialise with other dogs. Try out new parks, games, walks, and activities.

    You can also assign your dog a job or chore to do, such as hide and seek, scent training, or allowing them to help pull your garbage bags to the bins or pull your washing basket. These keep their mind and body engaged, making it less likely that they would come up with their own 'job' or mischief.

    Train them to work for things

    Making your dog work for everything they get gives them a mental challenge that they enjoy almost as much as physical ones. Before throwing your dog's ball or toy, have them sit or give you their paw. If they want to go outside, ask to sit first!

    This is especially important for food. You can have your dog do a trick, or a series of tricks, while you hold their meal in the air. Once finished, place it down.

    Attend a teen dog training class

    Many reputable training centres provide advanced or refresher training courses for your adolescent dog during its teenage phase. Don't be scared to get back to basics and give plenty of incentives and praise for excellent behaviour! 

    Training sessions also allow you to bring any major difficulties to the attention of a certified trainer, increase socialisation, and assist your dog to remember how to focus. 

    Attending training with your teenage dog will also assist to strengthen your bond and remind you why you fell in love with them in the first place.

    Maintain an open line of communication

    Dogs do not speak English, but they communicate with those who listen (or, more precisely, observe). They communicate using body language. While you can recognise when your dog gets extremely upset, you might often disregard the early signals of stress and discomfort. 

    These signs are commonly normal behaviour displayed out of context. The most common ones include lip licking, yawning, head twists, shake-offs, and intense sniffing. Your dog will lick their lips when you hold a treat in front of their nose, yawn when they are sleepy, swivel their heads when someone enters the room, shake off when wet, and sniff if there is a new scent. 

    However, if they exhibit any of these behaviours when another dog or stranger approaches, they may become stressed. You should try to help them by increasing distance and rewarding them for staring at us or going away quietly.

    Allow them to make choices, if safe and possible

    Giving your dog more choices, such as different places to sleep, letting them select which way to walk (as long as it is safe), or allowing them to choose between chicken or beef for dinner, is good for their mental health and their relationship with you.

    This approach gives your dog a sense of autonomy and trust in their environment. Giving choices within safe boundaries promotes independence and  boosts confidence and reduces anxiety, supporting their overall mental health.

    Be patient

    Training an adolescent puppy takes time and effort, but watching them learn outstanding behaviour as they mature will be a reward in and of itself.

    Remember that your puppy's puberty will pass, and it is up to you to teach them the proper way to do things. If you're having trouble with their behaviour, don't hesitate to ask for help from friends, family, a local vet, or a qualified dog trainer.

    Wrap-Up Thoughts

    Training your teenage puppy is not an easy task, but it is something you should expect and be ready to learn to do when you’re planning to adopt a puppy. Remember, patience and persistence are key. Celebrate small wins and forgive mistakes. Your relationship with your pet, like their training, is an ongoing process. Embrace the chaos, enjoy the cuddles, and continue to grow together. 

    With consistency and love, you'll get through this difficult phase and arise with a well-behaved, loyal companion. Here's to many more adventures ahead with your not-so-little pup!

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