The teenage period is when most dogs end up in rescue and when many cats go missing, having decided to widen their feline horizons. This is the time the ‘perfect puppy’ goes AWOL and is replaced by a furry lunatic that has no manners, boundless energy and drives its owners insane. 

For owners that have raised children, dog adolescence may seem like Groundhog Day. For those who have not, teenage hounds are a rude awakening. Teenage cats are less of an issue but they too go through a period of exploration and boundary pushing- mostly involving other local cats. Young cats can go missing for weeks as they get to grips with location, territory and the competition.  

For dog owners, the best advice is to prepare, stay calm and manage expectations. Adolescents are still developing. They may look like adults but are still learning about life and refining social skills. A process of neural pruning is underway where practised behaviours are consolidated and others are discarded. Consider what your dog is doing. If he is still mouthing, humping, overly familiar with strange dogs, not coming back when you call him, then take steps now to reduce those behaviours- he won’t just grow out of them. On the contrary, they will become more entrenched. 

Issues to expect include: 

Young, unneutered males reeking of testosterone, may find themselves in trouble with older intact males who feel compelled to see off the competition. 

Those same hormones can prompt the younger male to front up and try to throw his weight around- owners should supervise and intervene when necessary. Degrees of posturing and snarling are normal. The key is not to make a fuss or rush to judgement, simply move your dog on and ramp up socialisation and training. Many teens have to go onto a training line for a while. 

The girls can also get into trouble. The first season may involve changes in behaviour- some girls get clingy and needy, others grumpy or picky over food. Watch out for behaviours that might point to a phantom pregnancy- nest building and guarding, treating inorganic objects like puppies- washing them and taking them to the ‘nest’. Resource guarding may occur. 

Puberty and early adulthood are not the time to end training. Quite the opposite; core skills learned at puppy class must now be practised and refined, day in, day out. Try to continue training classes until your dog is a year old and preferably two- especially if you have a working breed. Keep boundaries and feedback consistent.  

Your youngster needs a decent amount of physical exercise every day, but please do not forget brain work. Equally important is continuing to teach your dog the art of settling, relaxation and switching off. Those back teeth will be bedding in until he is 12 months, so chews are essential and will aid relaxation. 

Discuss neutering carefully with your vet. Dogs need hormones for optimal physical, mental and social development, but once puberty is underway there is no ideal age to neuter. It all depends on medical risk factors and overall behaviours exhibited. Fearful behaviours may increase in young males after castration, but testosterone may also compel the youngster to seek potentially risky situations he’d be better off learning to avoid- with the result that he gets into trouble and more fearful still. Bitches exhibiting certain types of aggressive behaviour may or may not be improved by neutering. Neutering should be considered on an individual basis, taking the dog’s behaviours into account. 

Leonie St Clair|