What Happened to My Perfect Puppy?

Pop Quiz: What is the most common age for Great Pyrenees to be surrendered or rehomed?

  1. 3-6 months
  2. 6-9 months
  3. 9 months-2 years
  4. 2-5 years
  5. 5+ years

If you guessed C. 9 months to 2 years old, you’re correct. As a behavior consultant, this is the age group that adopters often reach out for assistance with their formerly “perfect” puppy.

The look we get when asking a teenager to do something they don’t want to do.

It’s been generally assumed that once we’ve made it through puppyhood with our dogs the hardest part is over, especially at that sweet spot of around 6 months old. At this point, many puppies are potty-trained, have a routine, respond promptly to cues, stick close by, and barely bark. This sweet spot is often halted abruptly and unexpectedly by adolescence. This is the time in both dogs, and humans that hormones are beginning to play a role in physical development and social behavior. Lots of new neural connections are being made and the brain and body are growing into adulthood.

Because of this teenagers (human and canine) tend to be impulsive, take risks, can be irritable, and engage in conflict—especially with those they are closest with. [1] In general they have big feelings and big reactions to them. To the average dog owner, these seemingly come from out of nowhere.

Walks can become a tug of war.

As our dogs mature socially, dynamics with other resident dogs might change. The puppy who never wandered is now confident enough to explore much further, and smells from the opposite sex might hold new meaning. The young dog who was always lightening fast to respond to cues suddenly seems to have selective hearing. And being leashed and seeing other dogs may suddenly be frustrating and result in big displays of barking and lunging. For guardian breeds and their mixes, new and novel things in the environment are noticed and often barked at. They may also become less tolerant to strangers of the human and animal variety.

All of this is normal; perhaps challenging but very, very normal. These manifestations of adolescence are very often misinterpreted and potential lifelong labels are given: stubborn, reactive, aggressive or fearful. People often can’t help but take all of this personally. They think their dog’s behavior is a poor reflection on them, their training and on the dog’s temperament. It’s clear that many people become frustrated by a 100-lb barking behemoth and forget that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

The question then becomes: How do we get to that proverbial light? The easy answer is to remain connected. According to the author of the most recent study on teen dogs, Dr. Harvey states, “It’s very important that owners don’t punish their dogs for disobedience or start to pull away from them emotionally at this time. This would be likely to make any problem behavior worse, as it does in human teens”[2]. Take the time to view your teenage dogs through the lens of patience and compassion. This is just a phase, so keep things simple and don’t give up. Your unruly teen is going to mature into a beautiful, kind adult and they need you to guide them. Remember, your dog isn’t giving you a hard time, they’re having a hard time.

Need help navigating your way through your dog’s adolescence? Feel free to reach out to info@elizabethingalls.com. You can learn more about Elizabeth on our nationalpyr.org/training-tips page.