Behavioural Changes in Adolescent Dogs

Dealing with the challenges of canine puberty...

Created: 5/21/2024 Updated: 5/21/2024 - Vicky Payne

behaviour, Behaviour & Training, dogs, Health & Wellbeing, puppy

What is adolescence?

Adolescence is a developmental stage when a juvenile dog becomes an adult. During this stage changing hormone levels drive physical, neurological, and behavioural changes linked to sexual and social maturity. This is a natural and normal stage of development for your dog!

Adolescence in dogs is often described as ‘the teenage phase’, because the behaviour changes we see in dogs can be very similar to those we see in adolescent humans. Just as human teenagers start pushing boundaries, challenging authority, become sexually inquisitive, and may take more risks, we see dogs becoming less responsive to previously taught cues, more interested in other dogs than their people, slower to learn new task, and their likes and dislikes may change. You may hear people describe their dog as being rebellious, but they really aren’t planning a takeover just dealing with the challenges of canine puberty.

What age will a dog reach adolescence?

Adolescence on dogs starts between 6 and 12months in most cases but depends on the size and type of dog. Small dogs tend to reach adolescence earlier than larger dogs, and there may also be differences in certain breeds or families. Adolescence can last for up to 18months, with most dogs being fully mentally and physically mature between 2 and 3 years of age.

In female dogs adolescence starts in the run up to their first season and you may notice external changes such as development of the vulva and nipples as well as behavioural changes. There are less obvious physical changes in males, though they may show more muscle development and begin to ‘cock’ their leg when urinating.

Rough collie adolescent dog

Behavioural Changes During Adolescence in Dogs

The most common complaint from guardians of adolescent dogs is that they have become disobedient or have forgotten all their training! This is not true, but changing hormone levels make other dogs and the environment more distracting than during puppyhood. Don’t give up on training your adolescent dog, continue with reward-based training, but make the exercises easier and train in less distracting places so your dog can succeed.

Social interactions with other dogs change during adolescence. Both male and female dogs may become less playful as they start to assess other dogs as potential mates or rivals. Male dogs have fluctuating levels of testosterone which means that some days they may act bold and bolshy, yet on other days they can be shy and clingy.

Dog-to-dog aggression can start to appear in adolescent male dogs, but any dog showing aggressive behaviour should be carefully assessed as he may actually be fearful, frustrated, conflicted, or just full of a mix of big emotions!

Female dogs become more defensive as they approach their first season and may be less tolerant of other dogs sniffing at them. Males, on the other hand, will become much more interested in sniffing other dogs and their urine marks.

Male dogs may start cocking their leg to urinate before puberty, but this usually becomes the most common way to pee during adolescence. Your male dog will start to do more small pees on vertical surfaces to communicate with other dogs. Your dog must have opportunities to sniff and mark on walks, but you can train cues to concentrate on you and walk past an inappropriate peeing place and to stop sniffing and continue the walk using reward-based training.

Adolescent Beagle on walk

Everything in the environment becomes much more interesting to the adolescent dog! If we consider free living dogs, this is the stage when they must start fending for themselves, finding food independently, maintaining a territory, fending off rivals, and looking for mates. It shouldn’t be surprising that we are no longer the most important thing out there! Pet dogs may also show more territorial behaviour, guarding of resources including food, toys, and their people, or may become more anxious in social situations.

Recall often becomes poor during adolescence because you are less important, but also because people are really bad at continuing to make recall rewarding once their puppy appears to know it.

You may wish to use a harness and long-line during adolescence as a back-up but continue to practise recalls frequently on walks. Mix up rewards for recalls using not just dog treats, but human foods, toys, running away so your dog can chase you… anything you dog loves.

Adolescent dog running outside

Humping is often considered to be a behaviour driven by sex hormones, but in fact, it can be seen in a range of circumstances. Males may hump if they smell females in season, and females can become humpy at the start of their season. Many dogs hump due to excitement, frustration, in tussles over resources, even when afraid. Like aggressive behaviour, it may simply be an indication that your dog is feeling big emotions.

Try not to reinforce humping behaviour by laughing at your dog or encouraging humping for a funny video. Do not punish humping by shouting or physically trying to stop them, instead get your dog’s attention with food or a toy and ask them to do something else, like a sit, down, or walking at heel until they calm down.

Female dogs often show behavioural changes as they approach their first season. They may start to urine mark on walks, become more or less social with other dogs, and they may even start to prepare a nest and hoard toys and bedding. If you have more than one dog at home the family dynamics can change and fights between females can be quite nasty.

Other behaviours which indicate that your adolescent dog is having emotions they can’t handle include jumping up, biting, destructive behaviour, separation problems, reactivity to people or dogs, and even loss of house training. In all of these situations go back to the training that you did with them as puppies, avoid situations where they lose control of their emotions, and never never never punish them.

Adolescent husky with tongue out

Managing adolescent behaviour

The good news is that adolescence is a relatively short period in your dog’s life. Unfortunately, it comes after months of puppy training, when you finally feel that you have a well-trained and happy young dog! The key to surviving adolescence is understanding why your dog is behaving differently and taking steps to help them through it.

Enrichment Games and Exercise

Your adolescent dog needs physical exercise, but loss of recall often means that dogs are getting less exercise than they are used to. Adolescent dogs can seem very ‘hyper’ and there is a temptation to try extra exercise to wear them out. However large and giant breeds are still growing and may need their exercise restricted to avoid joint damage.

Playing hunting, tracking, and retrieve games on a harness and longline can increase safe exercise opportunities, look for local secure fields for hire where your dog can let off steam, and consider other types of exercise like hydrotherapy. When you have time take your dog for a longer ramble in a place where you are less likely to encounter other dogs and people.

Although your adolescent dog might be struggling with their interactions with other dogs, it is still important to that they get the opportunity to learn how to behave around other dogs and to play with other dogs. Training classes allow them to learn controlled greetings with people and dogs as well as how to concentrate on tasks with other dogs around. Finding a few ‘dog friends’ that your dog plays nicely with is really beneficial for them.

Adolescent dog playing

Mental stimulation is as important for the adolescent dog as physical exercise. If your adolescent dog is finding walks too stressful and stimulating it is possible to give them lots of mental stimulation at home. It is easy to set up some sensory activities at home for your dog to explore to build up their confidence. Try different surfaces to walk over, ‘lucky dip’ boxes to find toys or treats in, tunnels and obstacles to walk over and under, and novel objects to investigate and explore. Scent work games are satisfying and tiring for most dogs and easy to adapt for different breeds and types.

Your house and garden can also be a great low distraction space to revisit puppy training exercises like loose lead walking, recall, and stay which your dog may be struggling with on walks. Reducing distractions means your dog will find these exercises easier giving you lots of chances to reward them instead of risking becoming frustrated.

Don’t forget that you can use your dog’s food for enrichment too. Although they should get some ‘easy’ food from a bowl to avoid frustration, think about scatter feeding, feeding toys, and using their food in training exercises. Stopping in a quiet spot on a walk to give your dog some food from their bowl can help lower their arousal levels, and it’s good for us humans to take a moment too!

When your female dog is in season, she will be attractive to male dogs for around 4 weeks. In the first 7-10 days her vulva will swell, and she will have some degree of bloody discharge. From 10 days the vulva becomes less swollen, and the discharge reduces, but this is when she is most fertile.

You should not walk your bitch where other dogs will be off the lead for the duration of her season, even on the lead. She will initially be intolerant of dogs approaching and sniffing and then there is the obvious risk of an accidental mating. Keep your bitch entertained with brain games and training at home, or short pavement walks if she really must go out.

Get some more ideas from the following blogs!

Adolescent husky

Avoid punishment

Adolescent behaviour can be incredibly frustrating, and at some times embarrassing. Nobody wants to be the person in the park hopelessly calling a dog that is annoying all the other dogs and refusing to come back. But however difficult we find the puppy teenage stage punishment must be avoided at all costs. It is important to remember that your puppy is not being deliberately disobedient but is struggling with surges of hormones and big emotions they don’t know how to deal with.

Adolescence may cause your dog to be more nervous in some situations which may cause negative behaviours like destructiveness, loss of house training, and barking at dogs and people. Punishing these behaviours by shouting or physically will make your dog more anxious, which can increase the unwanted behaviours. In addition, you need to be a safe and stable person in your adolescent dog’s life, not an unpredictable and sometimes scary one.

Adolescent dog looking up


Neutering is often suggested as a cure for problem behaviours in adolescent canines, some owners even ask to neuter before puberty in order to avoid adolescence altogether. In recent years researchers have found that pre-pubertal neutering can alter the growth of bones and joints which may predispose dogs to mobility problems in the future. The effect on behaviour is less well researched, but anecdotally puppies neutered pre-puberty may stay in an immature, puppy-like state.

Neutering can reduce testosterone-driven behaviours in males such as urine marking, excessive interest in other dogs (especially females), and inter-dog aggression.

Males showing anxiety, fear-related aggression, or low confidence in new situations benefit from delayed neutering. Reward based training and working with a qualified behaviourist can help a nervous dog through adolescence, with neutering considered only once the behaviour is more stable.

Neutering bitches prevents the behaviour changes that they can show in the lead-up to a season, as well as the more obvious benefits of not having them in season and no risk of accidental pregnancy. Around 6-8 weeks after her season ends your bitch will have some degree of ‘false pregnancy’ as she experiences similar hormonal changes as a bitch that is pregnant. She may have mammary development, produce milk, and even collect toys to be her puppies.

Some female dogs can show protective aggression during their phantom pregnancy. Neutering female dogs should be done 3-4 months after her season ends and when there are no false pregnancy symptoms. If the physical and emotional problems are persistent or severe, your vet can prescribe medication.

There are both positive and negative effects of neutering, and these vary between different breeds and types of dog. Neutering rarely calms a dog down or fixes behaviour problems without reward based training or behavioural modification. Talk to your vet about whether neutering is appropriate and the best age to neuter your dog.

Adolescent dog panting on the grass

Worried about your dog’s behaviour?

Any sudden and unexplained change in your dog’s behaviour should lead you to seek professional help. Although all does will go through puberty and adolescence, other health conditions can cause behavioural changes too.

If your dog is not responding to suggested changes a thorough vet check to look for sources of pain and other illnesses ifs recommended. If your vet doesn’t find a physical cause for problem behaviours, or thinks adolescence is the cause and you are struggling on your own, seek help from a reward-based trainer, or qualified behaviourist.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email