This is the period between sexual and social maturity where there are a lot of hormonal and neural changes going on. In the brain, there is a massive increase in the connections between brain cells and the amygdala is enlarged (the area of the brain associated with emotions and impulses). The dog gains independence and is happier to roam further and investigate things alone. They find the external world more reinforcing, discovering the joys of scenting, flushing and chasing of wildlife or other animals. Hormonal changes means they may be more interested in other dogs, but other dogs start to respond differently to the adolescent as they lose their ‘puppy licence’ so tolerance for inappropriate behaviour typically reduces.
There is no surprise that the most common stage that dogs are referred to me for a behaviour consult is during adolescence, nor that this is the most likely age for dogs to be relinquished to rescue.
It’s a tricky balance between managing the adolescent dog to prevent them rehearsing inappropriate behaviour (because it is likely to be very reinforcing), whilst not totally restricting freedom and/or social interactions (because this will increase the value of freedom and other dogs, as well as frustration). It takes use of longlines, consideration about appropriate walking environments, training protocols and planning for likely encounters, and a WHOLE LOT OF PATIENCE.
If your puppy basics were solid, chances are you’ll come out the other side just fine – but difficulties often arise because the puppy was rehearsing inappropriate behaviour when they were small & cute, and were never taught appropriate alternative behaviours. They have therefore been rehearsing unwanted behaviour pretty much their whole lives, and this can take longer to resolve. Prevention is always better than cure so make sure you seek professional help with your new puppy, even if you think you can wing it! Chances are when they reach adolescence, you’ll have some regrets!
10 years ago we went through one hell of an adolescent period with our male Lab who matured into the most laidback, loveliest boy. So if you are going through this stage right now, don’t despair! It is NORMAL – but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone, and professional help is likely to always benefit to ensure you get that balance right. Work through it (remember that large breed dogs don’t socially mature for 2+ years, so be prepared for quite a lot of work) and the adult dog will thank you for it.