Adolescent dogs

Just like us, dogs will reach an adolescent (or teenage) stage in their lives. They are often reported to go through a "rebellious" phase, like some human teens. Our vets have some advice for owners whose pups are reaching adolescence.

When dogs reach adolescence, you may notice changes in their behaviour. This could be things like struggling with their training or not listening to you anymore.

These adolescent behaviours are caused as your dog reaches sexual and social maturity, and what they like and dislike can change dramatically. Although this is a natural part of your dog growing up, it can be upsetting and confusing for owners who find their perfect pup has turned into a problematic pooch almost overnight.

So if you’re seeing your pup’s behaviour change as they grow, it could be that they’ve reached adolescence and that’s why they’re acting like a troublesome teen.


When will my dog reach adolescence?

Dogs reach adolescence at around 8-12 months. This can vary depending on your dog’s breed and size, with larger breeds tending to mature slower than smaller breeds. Most dogs don’t reach full social maturity until they are around three years old, so it’s important to be patient with them through this process. Continue their training with regular practice to ensure they become a happy, well-adjusted adult.


How could my adolescent dog's behaviour change?

  • Obedience. When dogs reach adolescence or puberty, studies show they are less likely to follow commands given by their owners. It can seem as if they just can’t hear you. Interestingly (and sometimes frustratingly) loss of obedience seems to only apply to dogs’ owners, not to other people. Again, much like human teenagers ignoring their parents! But it is important that we don’t punish our dogs for this. Hard as it may be, as long as you are patient and persevere with reward-based training, they will come out of this phase as a well-behaved dog.
  • Humping. During puberty, hormones such as testosterone start to increase and can change your dog’s behaviour. Male dogs will often start humping more, urine marking and roaming. Female dogs that are in season can also start humping due to hormones.
  • Anxiety or nervousness. Female dogs can be especially impacted during their seasons. These can cause behaviour changes, such as anxiety or nervousness, being overly friendly with other dogs, nesting and peeing more than usual.
  • Territorial behaviour. Another change seen in both males and female dogs is becoming more protective and territorial. For example, guarding things or places around the home or reacting and barking at things that didn’t use to bother them.
  • Social behaviour. Social maturity also plays a part in your dog’s behaviour at this age. Some forms of aggression between dogs only appear as they mature. Your dog may become less social and enjoy the company of other dogs less as they grow up.


What can I do to help my adolescent dog?

Neutering may help with some of these problems (and will stop a female’s problems if they are due to her seasons). But lots of different factors can also be involved in creating these behaviours, so it’s important not to see neutering as the answer to all problems. Whether your dog is neutered or not, you will need to continue with their positive training and get help if their behaviours are becoming a serious problem. Again, punishing them will have a negative effect on their mental wellbeing and risks making problems worse. Instead, reward good behaviours and avoid conflict to help them through any problems.

If your dog has become more nervous or doesn’t enjoy spending time with others during their adolescence, it’s important not to force them to play or interact. Not all dogs love to spend time with other dogs, so it may be your dog is more of a people pooch than a doggy fan. They might prefer spending their time completely on their own, or only want to spend time with a few people they know well. Giving them time and space will help them make up their own minds about what company they enjoy and figure out how to interact with other dogs (and people) now they’re becoming an adult.

Remember if any of these issues are ongoing or are causing serious problems, speak to your vet and an accredited behaviourist. Many behaviour problems get worse over time so getting help early is key. If you’re not sure whether they have a problem or if it’s because they’ve reached adolescence, it’s safest to get your dog checked so you can be sure you’re doing everything you can to help them.