As dogs grow towards six to eight months, it's not unusual to begin to wonder what on earth happened to your lovely little puppy, who not so long ago was the star of puppy class, listened to your every word, cuddled up quietly when they were tired and rushed back excitedly when you called them.
The change can be gradual, or it can seem to have happened over night, whatever the time scale, the teenage behaviours are all too familiar.......'Not listening'; 'Not communicating in a way you understand'; 'Only wanting to do what they want to-not what you want them to do'.
Now a combination of puppyish behaviour and a big ungainly body-you have a Teenage Dog!
For some working through the following few weeks / months can be very challenging, so challenging in fact that behaviour problems are the most common reason for dogs under 2yrs old to be put to sleep (ref Dogs Trust. org.uk). If the dog is male and a big size, they are also more likely to find themselves in rescue as a teenager. It's not that big dogs teenage behaviour is worse than smaller dogs, it's often just easier to cope with a smaller dog and it's not unusual for smaller dogs to be forgiven behaviours which are not tolerated at all in a big dog.
It also isn't unusual for people to believe that there is something very wrong with their teenage dog, maybe they're "mad" or have a "brain problem". Certainly, any unusual behaviour should be reported to the vet and the dog have a full check up to rule out any physical or biological cause; but very often, a teenage dogs behaviour, however challenging, is also "normal dog" behaviour.
So what has happened to your dog?
Although often blamed for the changes, it's not always hormones, or at least not the ones we usually think of, which are to blame. Much of what we see the dog doing is the result of over-excitement, what trainers and behaviourists call arousal. Over-excitement is fuelled by surges of Adrenaline and, Dopamine, which though playing a part in learning, is also implicated in other 'pleasurable' activities which can become repetitive, addictive and impulsive. As your dog becomes more excitable, more Cortisol (commonly known as the stress hormone) is also released and although dogs (and humans) need all of these hormones to function normally, excess of any of them effects wellbeing. The over-excitement behaviours most commonly seen and which cause most concern are hyperactivity, destructiveness, lack of focus, panting, humping, jumping up, mouthing and over-enthusiastic greeting.
Amongst other things, it is a combination of the hormones which makes dogs repeat what is rewarding and although in 'reward-based training' we harness this concept to train the behaviours we want; dogs are also free-thinking beings and they soon discover for themselves, behaviours which stimulate, comfort and reward!
What your teenage dog is not doing is being naughty, wilful, stupid, pushing the boundaries, challenging you for superiority, trying to take over as 'pack' leader or being (honestly people do still peddle this rubbish) dominant!
Instead, they could be feeling bored, lonely, stressed, frustrated, confused and lack impulse control. They could also be perfectly happy and are just getting on with the task of growing up-trying things out to see what 'works' for them and unless they've been taught well and with understanding, they don't know how they are expected to behave in a given situation-they're just 'being a dog'. They are simply on a teenage voyage of discovery or are even being inadvertently taught behaviours which, whether we like them or not, they find rewarding, so they repeat them.
At the same time as our dog is on the path of self-discovery, we often reduce our interaction with them, more often leaving them to their own devices. We are also likely to change how we react to how they behave, we might not be so forgiving of behaviours which were endearing when they were a puppy. As a result, our changes in behaviour can be confusing for them and don't forget that even exasperated shouts can be rewarding to a dog IF they are being ignored at all other times. We might abruptly stop play sessions because the dog is too excited, rough, jumping or grabbing; or for the same reasons we might stop playing with our dogs altogether. Sometimes, it is simply a case that we don't train any more, thinking that they learned all they needed to know when they were a puppy-they can miss the fun and enjoyment of this interaction with us and the opportunity to use their brain and learn. Instead, we might increase exercise, trudging on for hours in the rain, to tire them out, when what we're really doing is creating an athlete with immense stamina who demands to go out whatever the weather!
If this is sounding all too familiar........don't despair!
At Four Paws Body & Mind, we offer Teenage Tearaway Courses, a four week course where you and your teenage dog can learn together. You learn how to help your dog develop the skills to focus, be calm, have self-control and how to have fun training together. We can help you find out what your dog loves doing most and give you the foundations for enjoying life together, whether you want a super sports dog or a pet and walking companion. You and your dog don't need any previous training experience as you'll both be given the tools and skills for force free training fun!
See the link from the Training Page on our website.