As your dog has got older have you noticed that they are more independent and braver, and exploring things that they wouldn’t have done before? Depending on the breed, with larger dogs taking longer to be fully grown if they are between 4 -6 months they may be hitting pre – puberty and after this adolescence. Just like teenagers that can be described as unruly and rude, dogs experience adolescence and this may appear as them coming across as ‘busy’, ‘disobedient’ and having selective deafness! During the adolescent stage hormones are rife and if you have a male dog there testosterone will be at really high levels and female dogs release oestrogen. Some of the physiological changes that you may see in your dog include:
- Greater independence – if they see a dog in the distance they are going to say hello to it
- Sniffing – everything smells incredible! Their nose will be down and they won’t pay any attention to you
- Jumping up – even if they didn’t do this as puppies
It smells too good!
Sometimes intense sniffing on the ground can be a displacement activity so a dog will sniff if they’re unsure of a situation and disengage from it, a bit like us if we look at our phone if we don’t want to make eye contact with someone. During adolescence when a dog sniffs where another dog has been they can find out a wealth of information including how old they are and what they’ve had for dinner, and even their health! So if the dog seems to be disobedient and not listening it’s not because they are being naughty it’s because of a surge or hormones – they can’t really help it. Some dogs may experience getting told off in the park by other dogs as they will smell strongly of testosterone during the peak. There’s a lot to consider about castration before you do it so always do your research. Even if you castrate a dog early they will still have their hormones so there will be an effect on how the rest of the brain works. It’s important that if our dog is in a situation that they’re uncomfortable with that we get them out of it as there’s also a sensitive phase during adolescence where fear can be imprinted on our dogs, so just like puppies we need to make sure they’re having positive interactions – not wrapping them up in cotton wool – but making sure they aren’t really scared.
So what can we do?
- We can first of all set our dog’s up for success by making sure we are using a longline so they have freedom to sniff and explore
- You can also buy a tractive device – this is a gps tracker so you can track your dog
- We can make sure we are engaging them in activities that boost confidence and focus such as carefully laid out agility activities. Research proprioception for the importance of this – as growth plates are closing due to a growth spurt in the dog they can feel off balance and there can be a risk of injury.
- We can make sure we are rewarding them for eye contact and focusing on us in the environment when they do so.
- Playtime and engaging with the dog including a game of tug or playtime with a flirt pole will be fun and engaging for some dogs
- Remember that our dog is experiencing a wealth of hormones and these are having an effect on their behaviour – they’re not disobeying us and being naughty, they can’t help it!
References: Animal Training Academy Podcast, Sam Turner, Adolescent dogs – Development & proprioception training