Tackling the Teenager Phase

Sharing your life with a teenager can be overwhelming. Just as soon as you finally make it out of puppyhood, suddenly your teenager is starting to behave in ways you have never seen before, or certain skills you have been working on have started to unravel. What does all of it mean? Is this just a phase, or will my dog be this way forever?

Puppies are typically considered teenagers when they are around the ages of six to eighteen months of age. At this point in their development, you may see more of their personalities emerge, while they are also going through many development and hormonal changes. Sound familiar to any human teenagers you may know? In many ways, the teenage phase in puppies is very relatable to the teenage phase in people, too.

Puppies enter this phase relatively around the same age range, but you can also look for certain hallmarks that signal the change from puppyhood into a teenager. These include:

Your puppy is starting to become more environment-focused instead of human-focused. Puppies generally have a natural inclination to be very human-oriented, whereas teenagers may start to pay more attention to their environment as they grow and continue to discover the world. You may notice that it is taking more work to get your puppy’s attention when something in the environment is drawing them away.

Your puppy is starting to get more increasingly excitable and over-aroused, even when there’s not a lot of excitement happening around them. Teenagers will get very excited over small things- sometimes something as small as encountering an interesting leaf out on a walk will get them super worked up!

Your puppy is starting to demonstrate a low frustration threshold. This means that they are becoming less and less tolerant of frustrating situations, and may start behaving in ways that appear like “temper tantrums” if they aren’t able to access what they want (although we don’t like to use these kind of labels as they don’t describe the reasons behind the behavior).

It’s very important to remember that, although teenagers are starting to grow up and appear to be adult dogs physically, they are still very much “puppies” when it comes to their mentality. So, although it may be tempting to start treating your teenager like an adult dog as they start to look the part, you must remember that they still have a lot of developing to do.

So, what types of training should teenagers be working on?

At this phase of development, it’s most important to prioritize working on life skills with your puppy instead of any kind of specific, fancy tricks. That can come later on! Working on skills that create a well-rounded and emotionally-stable dog are going to be the most important to focus on while your puppy is in this phase. You’re also going to want to make sure that you’re training “on the go” as much as you can in the contexts that you want your dog to perform the behavior in. If you ever see your teenager behaving in a way that you like throughout the day, make sure to capture it and pay them for it. You will see more behaviors that you capture and reinforce. To make sure that you are always able to pay your dog for good behavior “on the go,” it’s helpful to set up treat jars around the house for easy access, as well as make sure you bring treats and reinforcement along with you on all outings.

Alongside capturing good behavior as you see it, you can also practice teaching good “life skills” to your teenager that will make them easier to live with and train as adults. Some examples of good life skills can include:

Reinforcing “Four on the Floor” when meeting new people to discourage jumping, or as a means of reducing counter-surfing behaviors. Your teenager only gets access to reinforcement when they are not jumping on people or surfaces, and all four feet are on the floor.