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Adolescence of Dogs

About the time owners graduate from puppy class and start showing off their wonderful young dog to their friends, something awful starts to happen—the dog reaches adolescence. This happens at different ages for different breeds and for different dogs within breeds. Dogs in the Toy Group are usually first to go through this period. Between five months and one year of age, puppies suddenly become the equivalent of a rebellious human teenager.

Some dogs may suddenly refuse commands that they’ve previously obeyed. Some might break housetraining. Some suddenly become destructive dynamos, some may return to mouthing and biting, and others will exhibit none of these misbehaviors. But owners have to be prepared to face them.

Be prepared for what can be a trying time in life with their dog. This is often the period when dogs are surrendered to shelters because owners haven’t been reassured that adolescence is a temporary situation that can be easily overcome.

Around this same time, as a puppy begins to mature into a dog, it may begin to test boundaries. Is the owner going to enforce every command every time? No? Then the puppy may begin to see how far it can push things. Has the family become complacent about leaving food on low coffee tables or socks on the floor? Yahoo! Free treats and play toys!

In males, this behavior often begins about the same time the puppy begins lifting a leg to urinate. In females, it generally seems to arrive before her first season, or heat, so there’s not an equivalent warning signal.

The easy way to counteract or avoid troubles is to make training part of a puppy’s everyday life. Have the puppy sit, go down, or go to its place before being served breakfast. When playing with your puppy, ask it to give up the toy you’re using. At random times during the day, call the puppy to come from another room. It only takes a few seconds, and yet it keeps order in the household with a minimum of effort. Be sure to praise your puppy whenever it obeys your commands.

However, this suggestion comes with a crucial caution: Owners should never give a command they don’t intend to enforce. Doing so only confuses the dog.

Some dogs decide they want to try for the top spot in the family. Such dogs require a little extra work with training. In difficult cases, institute a “no free meals” program. This just means that the dog has to comply with a command before receiving anything it values, such as petting, a walk, food, or toys. Dogs are pack animals and are inherently willing to accept leadership from someone who demonstrates the ability to lead.

Remember these points:

• Adolescence is a normal part of a dog’s growing up.

• Almost everyone will face a sudden bout of dog delinquency.

• You can generally handle problems easily if you understand what’s happening.

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