WHAT’S GOING ON WITH MY TEENAGE PUP?!
One of the most interesting things that differentiates a pup (0-5 months) from a teenage pup (5-18 months) is that, just like human teenagers, a teenage puppy brain does a big update and reconfigure as it transitions into puberty.
If we look back to the ancestral wolves and dogs, at around 4-6 months of age, the wolf would transition from the rendezvous den to head out hunting. Most of their socialisation is complete by this time, they know who their pack is, and they are now learning hunting strategies, cooperation and the start of their reproductive drivers. Suddenly predatory, social and sexual drivers become the most important thing.
During early puberty, around 6 – 12 months, the brain ditches the old now unneeded networks that grew and wired up to support the pup during their early formative period learning and repurposes those networks to serve the new needs of the young hunter and the young sexual being.
What does this mean for your teenage pup?
These changes are fundamental for your pup to transition to a teenager then an adult, but because of these changes, who and what they direct their attention to can change drastically as teenage-hood kicks in. Laying good foundations in your young pup will be great support for them as they grow, however the teenage months can still be a challenge.
Your pup will not be so wholly focused on you anymore, they will look outward to the world, prey, sexual partners and group coordination and cooperation.
This will look like them:
- Not listening as well to us anymore
- Becoming downright stubborn
- Becoming more oriented to these new drivers such as prey (chasing cats, birds, rabbits or even their ball); sex (more interested in other dogs) and smells
- If your pup has not learned that other dogs, other people and other animals such as cats are part of the wider “pack” then they may develop reactivity or aggression towards them
- And later in puberty the territorial imperatives can kick in too and they become more protective and focused on the potential dangers of others
What can help you with your teenage pup?
If your cute little pup is suddenly a teenager, ignoring you or becoming more difficult to manage, don’t worry – we’ve got you! The brain is still being wired at this age and we can use this to our advantage.
When training a teenage pup, the focus is on:
Strengthening your bond with your pup
This is number one, because if your pup is bonded to you, they’re going to be much more likely to listen and respond to you. We use techniques such as Joining Up, the bond gaze and my calming Zen Down command to help your pup bond tightly to you and view you as the loving mentor. You can also firmly establish yourself as your pup’s mentor by ensuring you control the resources. Resources can include food, social contact, play, freedom & walks.
You are training all the time, so watch what your dog is doing before you give them what they want (food, attention, freedom) – that is what you are rewarding.
We recommend that you ALWAYS ask your dog for just a little bit of work before giving them access to a resource. It doesn’t have to be much, usually just a Sit or Wait is enough. But even just a small task will remind them that you’re in charge of resources (plus, they love the engagement of working with you to get something they really want). So ask them to Wait before they eat dinner, Sit before walking through doors and gates, Sit & Quiet before being let out of the crate or kennel, Down before you throw the ball, Sit before you take off their lead so they can run free etc. Focus this effort in the first 6 weeks of training in particular.
Going back to make sure early foundational social bonds are well established
In other words, strong socialisation with other people, dogs and animals. This may need to be done in a more controlled and carefully managed way if your teen pup is becoming reactive. With pups socialisation tends to be easy, with a teenage pup you’ll just need to go about it the right way and likely focus on doing more formal meet & greet routines to ensure you can reward your pup for the greeting behaviours you want to see.
Making sure your basic commands are established & PROOFING them
For a teenage pup, we incorporate additional techniques that help generalise and proof these behaviours into the big wide world so that you can keep good control of your older pup even as these other strong predatory and sexual drivers kick in.
Basically, we still need to set up strong foundations like you would with a younger puppy, while reinforcing them in the face of your teen pup’s new distractions and drivers to make sure that not only does your pup UNDERSTAND what you want, they actually LISTEN AND RESPOND even when you’re out and about.
This is called proofing, and it’s a critical aspect of training that so many people miss, which then leads to a really hard time with a teenage pup. You can often be lulled into a false sense of security and thinking you’ve got it all sorted with a responsive younger pup and ease off on your training, but once that pup becomes a teen, if you’re not doing effective proofing it all goes out the window!
Our teenage pups are outwardly focused and energetic. We need to work out how to keep them stimulated and motivated. Good enrichment ensures they have an outlet for their energy, which helps keep them out of trouble and stay more focused when we need them to be in training.
What happens if you don’t train your teenage pup?
By the time your pup becomes a fully-fledged adult, the adult imperatives and duties within the group make another shift in the brain, as playing more of a leadership role as a senior pack member has its own drivers. By the time your pup is an adult (18 months – 2 years), much of the brain is now fully wired and so any behaviours that your pup or teenage pup learned, have now become hard wired into the brain – whether good or not so good!
That means if you’ve done the right training, you now have a dog that should be pretty reliable for life.
If you haven’t, those inappropriate behaviours and responses are now hardwired into the brain and will be more challenging to change.
At this point, if you’re training your dog you are actually rewiring habits in the brain and so the techniques change a little again. We’re teaching old dogs new tricks now! Although this is harder as a rule, it is still achievable with commitment. But if you’ve got a younger pup or dog now, take my advice and put in the time now as it will be an easier and quicker journey!
Not sure where to start?
The teenage period requires a distinct way of training that recognises that your pup is no longer so simple, and that you’ll be competing against raging hormones and distraction – however it also recognises that you still have a young dog, it’s not an adult and so you are still setting up the way their brain is wired.
But don’t worry, you don’t need to completely understand the scientific happenings of your teenage dog’s brain! That’s why we created our Virtual School for Teenage Pups. It’s a complete training course designed specifically for teenage puppies and taking into account all the changes going on in their brain.
- All the basic puppy training – commands, house training, crate training, separation, prevention of fears & phobias, socialisation etc
- Proofing techniques to ensure your pup listens when you’re out and about
- Contrast Training, the best way for teen pups to learn is when they experience contrast between making the right decision (reward) and making an inappropriate decision (consequence). We replicate the way a dog would learn in the wild, it’s very effective!
- Case studies with other teen pups and their challenges
- Troubleshooting all the main issues you might be experiencing such as separation anxiety, dog aggression, human aggression, reactivity to certain noises, pulling on the lead, poor recall etc.
- Enrichment to keep your young active pup stimulated and entertained!
Though the inner workings of your teenage pup’s brain are quite complicated, the training doesn’t have to be! Our course makes it simple and easy to follow, with a week by week training guide so you know exactly what to do and when.
Check it out here.
Got a question? Email my team and we’ll help you out with some advice!