Adolescence in dogs occurs, roughly, from about 12 months to 24 months of age (give or take 6 months on each end). During this time of development, most dogs will have reached physical maturation; however, their behavior and motivations are still markedly different from that of an adult dog. Adolescent dogs, like adolescent humans, are often willful, obstinate, and brazen. They will defy authority and make fool-hardy decisions such as ignoring social cues from their conspecifics or commands from their owners/care-takers. While puppies are curious and want to explore their new environments, albeit sometimes destructively (by chewing, for example), adolescent dogs are defiant and will challenge their environment (and those in it) as well as assert their independence. At the onset of adolescence we may start to see socially unacceptable behaviors begin to manifest; dominance displays, snapping, and guarding can appear, even in well socialized pups. The good news? This too shall pass, provided it is handled appropriately. All dogs, but especially adolescent dogs, thrive with the security of knowing they have a consistent, dependable leader. Your job, and ours, is to ensure we fill that role.
While I hesitate to anthropomorphize, an increasing amount of scientific research is being published around the same theme: that far from unfeeling, unaware animals, dogs are sentient beings with more nuanced emotions and motivations than science has ever acknowledged (even if, anecdotally, many of us dog owners have known this all along). And though I do not have teenagers of my own (yet), I was a stereo-typical teenager back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s; I could be rude and dismissive, not only to my mother, but also toward other authority figures such as teachers. And while my teenage angst and antics were generally benign – skipping school here, cracking jokes in class there – the teachers with whom I was the most compliant were the ones with very clear and firm rules, boundaries and expectations. If you gave me an inch, I was going to take mile. From my experience, adolescent dogs are no different.
There is a pack hierarchy, despite what some critics of this theory, popularized by Cesar Milan, may say. I see it in my line of work daily. In high school, too, there is a social hierarchy. And just as teenagers are eager to climb to the top of their class, adolescent dogs, are as well. Again, this is where the role of a strong human dominant comes in.
So how does one maintain their alpha dominant stance? Well for one, dogs need to be admonished when their behavior is poor and praised when it is good. Alpha dominants claim their space as their own. They make eye contact. They use a resonant and firm voice. They stand tall with shoulders back. They walk (and even stand) with purpose. They show teeth when talking. This is a cursory list only. For a complete list of actions as well as some exercises developed by Rocco Costa, a behaviorist and owner of the Canine Castle in Marblehead, please email me (Nancy) directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are the owner of loveable but at times intolerable adolescent dog, have no fear, for most trying adolescents mature into thoughtful and well-behaved adults (I include myself in that description). But with the right approach you will not only be able to tolerate the adolescent years with your dog, you might enjoy them as well.