Zen and the Art of Dog

Surviving the Dog Days of Teenage Dogs

Your sweet, cute puppy has turned into an unsure, rebellious teenager. At around 6 to 9 months old, your precious pup transitions into their next stage of maturation. According to a study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, the majority of dogs are surrendered between the ages of 5 months to 3 years old–their teenage phase.

This phase is difficult for pawrents because your dog has physically reached (or nearly reached) their adult size but their mental and emotional maturity has not caught up to their bodies. Sure, it was really cute when a 3 month old, 10 pound Spot would pounce on your shins and nibble on your shoelaces. Now a 9 month old, 50 pound Spot is knocking over your guests and chewing up the furniture.

It’s hard not to feel like you failed your dog when you encounter bad behavior such as pulling on the leash, barking, chewing, and outright disobeying commands. We adopted 2 of our dogs during their teenage phase: Denver the husky mix was 1.5 years old (7 years old in 2020) and Benji the super mutt was 1 year old (5 years old in 2020). We missed the cute, cuddly phase and went straight to the angsty, troubled phase. Here are some things that helped us survive the teenage dog days.

Crate Training

Both Denver and Benji had terrible separation anxiety. I would too if my family had abandoned me. Denver would cry and howl by the door from the moment we left to when we returned home. Benji would get so distressed, he would pee in the house even though he was otherwise potty trained. Crates should not be viewed as a prison but as a safe haven for your dog. They should never be used as a tool of punishment. We fed them in their crates to get them comfortable being inside the crate for short periods. Then we got them nice memory foam dog beds to sleep on (see this post for our favorite memory foam bed).

Prong Collar

It was pretty obvious that neither Denver or Benji had any sort of training prior to being surrendered. Denver had endless husky energy and pulled the leash out of our hands on a number of occasions. One day, he got away from us near a busy street and that’s when we started researching alternative collars. We tried a harness which only gave him more leverage to pull against. There’s a reason that Iditarod sled dogs use harnesses to pull their sleds. We tried a Martingale collar which is also known as a “humane” choke collar. Denver would pull with such force, it would make him gag. We even tried a slip style rope leash which only gave us rope burns from trying to hang on.The only collar that Denver responded to was the prong collar. It was a miraculous transformation from the first walk. Read our article here about how to use a prong collar.

Shock Collar

The shock collar is probably the most divisive tool in the dog training world. If you have tried everything else and are at the brink of surrendering your dog then desperate times call for desperate measures. If the choice was between using a shock collar and having a dog that you can live with or surrendering that dog and it potentially getting put down, I would choose the shock collar over a potential death sentence.Shock collars can be used to train a variety of commands from walking in heel to off leash recall. Highly skilled hunting dogs are often trained using a shock collar. Read our article here about the shock collar we used to train our dogs.

Professional Training

If all else fails, hire a professional dog trainer. The dog trainer we hired was a dog whisperer in his own right but he sadly passed away a few years ago. He evaluated dogs for animal control and would also track and capture loose dogs in notoriously bad neighborhoods around Chicago. He had 6 pitbulls of his own. He was open to all methods of training from reward based to the use of prong and shock collars. Contact and interview a few trainers until you find someone you feel comfortable with.

Consistency and Patience

Above all, you need to stay consistent with your dog. Even after they are trained, you need to re-enforce their behavior with consistent consequences. Some dogs take to training tools more quickly than others. It may take your dog weeks or even months to acclimate. Have patience and give yourself grace. It takes time. Please don’t give up on your teenage dog!  

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