Adolescence. Many of you will have been advised to worry about this stage in your dog’s life. Regularly I hear stories of dogs suddenly ignoring their owners, acting far more independently (i.e., ignoring recall), showing signs of nervousness and sometimes aggression. What on Earth is going on?! *cue people running around like their hair is on fire waving their hands in the air like they just don’t care*
These behaviours can kick in as early as four months in some cases, more commonly from six months in my experience. By this time in your dog’s life, the socialisation window has passed (approx. at 16 weeks) and they are likely entering both a flighty time (exploratory/ignoring you) and their second fear phase. This can come on anywhere during their growth to adulthood, ranging from 18 months up to 24 on average. I am sure there are several that break the mould.
It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. I promise! I recommend the following:
Keep that bond strong! As well as your normal training of preferred behaviours (I suspect calm settles, solid recalls, loose lead walking), be more exciting to your dog. Give them a reason to want to hang with you. It is instinctive for them to want to go and explore. They will find ignoring you self-reinforcing, much like we do as teenagers when we hear our parents shouting up the stairs that we really should tidy our rooms/do chores/stop doing whatever we are currently enjoying!
Manage their environment so they can’t practise what you don’t want them to repeat. Not in a safe place to go exploring? Keep them on a lead and practise some recall or play some tuggy games. Being a bit too full on with other dogs due to over excitement? Keep your distance, engage in calmer activities (sit with your dog and let them sniff through your rucksack or pockets for hidden treats perhaps) while allowing them the time to visually take it all in. Seeing signs of aggression around other dogs? Keep your distance and call us for some help – this can be a complex subject that I’ll not cover in depth in a quick blog. Do not feel tempted to let other dogs greet your nervous dog so that they get used to it, scaring them won’t help.
Change your own expectations. They are no longer the puppy that would come when called and sleep for 18 hours per day. They are young, full of beans and exude a zest for life that we could all learn a little from!
Does this stage in your dog’s life need a little extra care? For sure. Is it the end of the world to spend some additional time in making sure they are happy, safe and fulfilled? Of course not. Enjoy the high energy times, the unexpected headbutts to your chin and wilful play in the park!