A guide to navigating the challenge and adventure of life with your dogs.

Oh, Just Kill Me Now! Surviving Your Dog’s Teen Months

Adolescent shelter dogs have it rough.

Since most shelter adopters fall into one of two categories, those wanting a sweet little puppy and those looking for a mellow adult dog, the teens are often overlooked. Most of them are there because they are teenagers. Their previous owners bought them as puppies but were not prepared to handle them once they grew out of the fluff-ball stage and into the obnoxious, gangly stage.

If you’ve adopted an adolescent dog, congratulations! The world needs more people like you.

Or, if you started out with a puppy and are ready to brave the teen months, congratulations! The world needs more people like you.

The adolescent period starts at around six months for small dogs and nine to twelve months for big dogs. It lasts til age 18 months to two years. It’s when pups start realizing there is a world beyond you, their much-adored Favorite Person. They want to explore their environment more, seem to lose their understanding of basic obedience commands and start asking the question, “why should I?”

For people who have never before experienced the transformation of a baby puppy to a teen puppy, it can be a serious blow to the ego the first time they do. They suddenly find themselves no longer at the center of their puppy’s universe but as an afterthought somewhere along the outer edges.

So yeah. It’s a rough stage, but it can be made easier by reminding your dog who is boss – in a nice way.

Nothing in life is free, pal.

Nothing in Life is Free, or “NILIF,” is a simple but effective training method. You make your dog work for everything he gets. Before you throw the ball for him, make him sit or shake hands. Before you pet him, make him sit. If he wants to go outside, have him wait instead of barging out when you open the door. Easy, right?

If you are free-feeding your dog -that is, leaving a bowl of food out for him to pick at whenever he wants- it’s time to stop that. Instead, set up regular meal times. Two or three times per day, give him his food and pick up anything uneaten after twenty minutes. And before you give him his dish, make him work for it. Have him do a few tricks. (If he doesn’t know any tricks, now would be the time to teach some!)

You’re in charge of the most interesting things in the world.

Some dog trainers will tell their students that in order to control their dogs, they have to be the most interesting thing in the world to their dogs.

These trainers are either super human or slightly nuts.

It takes an enormous amount of energy to be the coolest thing in the world to a dog, especially when you’re are at the park and there are other dogs running around and kids on skateboards and smelly bushes and squirrels daring Fido to just try and catch them. And with an adolescent dog? You can forget about it.

So what’s a mere mortal to do?

You’re going to remind Fido that even though everything else is so much more fascinating than you, you are still relevant and he still has to listen to you. Why? Because you control his access to all that fascinating stuff. If he listens, he gets that access. If he starts ignoring you, it is taken away.

So instead of fighting with the distractions in your dog’s environment, you’re going to put them to work for you and turn the distractions into rewards.

Let’s say you’re on a walk. You want Fido to stop pulling on the leash. You have some delicious, “high value” treats with you. You plan to give him one every time he stops pulling to focus on you. One problem: he doesn’t care about the treats. What he cares about is investigating all the trees on your path. So ditch the treats. Now, insist that he acknowledges you and when he does, even for a second, let him go and sniff a few trees. Keep repeating this process, gradually increasing the time Fido has to focus on you before he can get to the trees.

Later, you get to the park and you’re trying to get Fido to sit/stay. Again, the treats aren’t working, but there are some dogs that he really wants to go meet. Make him sit/stay and then go say hello to the dogs.

Always keep your adolescent canine on leash whenever you take him out somewhere. You could probably let him roam at the park off leash when he was little. But for right now, when he is more likely to ignore you if he feels like it, keep him leashed so that he doesn’t learn that “blowing you off” is ever an option.

What does “sit” mean again?

A common phenomenon with adolescent dogs is that they seem to forget how to do stuff they used to do really well. Your four month old puppy may have been the star of his training class, but at ten months, he can’t tell “down” from “heel.” There are various theories about why this happens: some people say it’s because Fido is testing you, others say it’s due to the mind-altering affect of hormones. But whatever theory you buy into, the “treatment” is the same: keep up with basic obedience training. Now is not the time to be slacking off! If you are able to join an obedience class, that would be a good idea.

Check out these other posts:
Why You Can’t Get Your Dog to Listen to You
How to Live With a High-Energy Dog Without Losing Your Mind
Using Rewards in Dog Training
Puppy Training Games


A Guide to Surviving Life With Your New Dog or Puppy

“I knew getting a puppy would be a challenge, but holy crap, I was not prepared for THIS.” Sound about right?

This guide is about what to do when raising your new dog turns out to be a lot harder than you expected.

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