Surviving a “Teenage” Dog


- Me, at 14 years old


I got Orion when he was 6 months, which, if you read my blog posts, you already know is the worst age for a dog.  For dogs, it’s the equivalent of a 14 year old girl.  Lots of eye-rolling.  Even more stomping of feet.  You know the drill.  Dogs go through adolescence as well.  And just like with humans, it’s the time where they start to figure out where they belong in society/pack, and to do that, they test boundaries.

The drama

The drama

So I inherited Orion, this little ball of energy, at the worst possible age.  I skipped right over the adorable, fluffy stage, and went straight into-the-mouth-of-hell stage.  And oh, wow did he show it. Orion was never a bad dog.  The thought of a dog as bad is ridiculous.  Orion was a perfectly normal, adolescent dog.  His problem was that he sucked at being a human. Even for a teenager.

On top of Orion hitting puberty was the fact that he was a nervous bundle of energy.  No, his previous owner hadn’t abused him (quite the opposite, actually).  It is just Orion’s nature to be skittish and hyper.  He is a dog who would be ripe for anxiety-driven destructiveness and maybe even biting if not properly Piloted. His teenage “years” were still very trying, but we had our coping mechanisms in place.

1)  Exorcise Exercise Those Demons.  

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Most dogs will have problems behaving without adequate exercise, but adolescent dogs in particular need extra activity.  And no, going for a walk around the block doesn’t cut it.  If you’re not tired, your dog isn’t tired.  Even when you are tired, your dog is most likely still ready to go for more exercise.  A walk is mandatory, just so our dog don’t remain insulated, but there are easy ways to get them the exercise they need beyond running yourself into the ground.  Read here for some tips.

2) Take Your G.I. Joes and Go Home.  In other words, know when, and how, to end a stand-off.  Don’t get sucked into a never-ending vortex of behavior.  With Orion, it had to do with the cat.  He was obsessed with “torturing” my cat Echo.  Yes, every time he would do it, I would answer his question (“Can I chase the cat?”  No.)  but wow…at that age they will “ask” over and over and over (and over).  So, how many times to I have to answer him?  One more time.

And then “take your G.I. Joe’s and go home.”

What this means is that I answer his question about the cat once more.  He accepts it (even though I know it will only be for a moment), and then during that moment, I engage him in something else.  That way I don’t have to answer the question anymore because he isn’t asking it.  If he “asks” a question, I must answer it (no bribing him away from the question with treats or whatnot).  However, once he accepts the answer, it is perfectly okay to remove his ability to ask the question anymore.  You can put him in his crate for a bit (usually so you don’t go insane). Give him a little “snack” of exercise, such as a quick round of agility.  Or give him something to occupy himself, such as a kong or even an ice cube.  Anything to keep him from asking the question again.

3)  Work Like A Dog.  Remember, adolescence is a time of learning and exploring.  Is your dog getting enough mental exercise?  Most of the tricks and commands Orion learned was during his adolescent period, and he learned fast.  And always wanted more.  So he uses enrichment feeders exclusively for food.  He learned stupid tricks that still make me laugh (such as using Sparta for an agility course), he learned the  basics (heeling off leash, long distance stay, etc.).  All of these things were taught when his mind was most willing to learn: adolescence.

4) Enforce Calm.  You’ve set them up for success with the exercise and the mental work.  Now you can get what you want – calm.  To get the calm you desire, make sure you are giving them positive reinforcement (petting, affection, treats., etc.) at the appropriate times.  So for instance, if your dog is acting hyper, jumping on you, or “slapping” you with their paw, that is not a good time to give them affection.  Don’t encourage behaviors you don’t actually want.  ”Answer” their question using negative body language.  If when they are calm, you can then reward them.

5) Potty Problems.  For a lot of dogs, puberty can start up problems you thought you had already handled: housebreaking.  No, your dog isn’t suddenly “unhousebroken”.  What happens is your dog is making a bid to become Pilot. How do they do that?  By marking.

Aim high.

Aim high.

Piloting your dog, and using the techniques outlined above, will help with the marking.  Spaying and neutering your dog will help, ahem,…eliminate the odds that they will take up this unsavory behavior.  Basically, if you are Pilot, you have the right to mark things as yours.  The more you Pilot your dog, and answer their questions, the less likely they are to try to claim things. For more information about how to handle this problem, read this article.

6) Keep A Sense of Humor.   Perhaps this should have been first, because it’s the most important.  Your dog isn’t out to get you.  Your dog isn’t “getting back at you”. Your dog is too busy being, well, a dog to concern themselves about how to get even.  Laugh when you can.  Answer your dog’s questions about what is acceptable and what isn’t, but don’t hold a grudge.  As Shakespeare said, “This, too, shall pass”.

Remember, this is just a phase with your dog, but just like human teenagers, how you react to your dog’s adolescence can have a bearing on who they are as an adult.  Enforce your rules with a kind, benevolent (but firm) leadership, and you will have a wonderful adult dog.  But most of all, enjoy the ride, because in the scheme of things, our dogs, though so precious to us, are with us for all too short a time.  Don’t waste any of that precious time wishing to skip to the next age, because every adolescent dog will eventually become a wizened, old dog with a muzzle full of gray sooner than you wish.

Keep calm and pilot on


Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio