The stage between puppy and mature adult dog can be long and difficult, full of dramatic changes and challenges. In this article, we’ll look at the most common problems and difficulties faced with adolescent (“teenage”) dogs, tips for stabilizing your dog’s behavior, and specific Bach flower remedies to help balance the emotional swings and shifts of canine adolescence.
Life With a Teenage Dog
Much like with human teenagers, canine adolescence can be a time of turmoil and rapid, dramatic change. Surging hormones act to mature the body and brain, but also seem to turn it to mush.
In your puppy’s brain and nervous system, the process of myelination is continuing. This means that the nerve sheaths covering your dog’s neurons are only partially completed. The result is that sometimes your pup’s impulses will trigger a juvenile response, and other times a mature response, depending on where the impulses “hit”.
So — if it seems like you have a puppy one minute and a grown-up dog the next (and then back again), you actually kind of do.
Canine adolescence can be an exciting time. Mature instincts are beginning to develop. It’s when you start to see clear hints of your pup’s adult potential.
Will he be an awesome therapy dog? Will she be my next agility champion? Will this be the best traveling companion, lap dog, kids’ playmate ever?
There is so much hope; so many possibilities!
But, of course, the reality is, adolescence in dogs can also be a real challenge for many dog owners.
In addition to the physiological reasons just mentioned, most young dogs don’t have the experience, training, self-confidence, or self-control required to make good choices consistently.
They go through needy phases, fear periods, bossy stretches, and hyper, impatient days, weeks or months.
It’s common for teenage dogs to fluctuate between over-confidence and under. One minute your pup is pushy, brazen, and obnoxious. The next, he’s scared of his own shadow and needing comfort. Or on high alert over an out-of-place item in the home or yard (a shopping bag placed on the living room floor being a perennial favorite threat).
The changes and fluctuations of adolescence can have serious consequences for the inexperienced or impatient dog owner. The person who doesn’t realize that canine adolescence is a stage, or who doesn’t know how to help their dog get through the stage successfully. (There’s a good reason that the vast majority of dogs surrendered to shelters are adolescents.)
And while yes, this is primarily an article about choosing Bach flowers for typical behavior problems in teenage dogs, there are some things to keep in mind:
- This is not the time to lose patience or your temper with your dog.
- It is the time to be consistent, patiently persistent, and calmly, gently insistent.
Stability in the home, consistent expectations and clear, reliable leadership will not necessarily make difficult adolescent behaviors disappear. But they will make the eventual transition to adulthood a lot smoother for all involved.
And flower remedies can help along the way.
When is canine adolescence?
Adolescence begins around 6 months of age in all dogs. It doesn’t have a set length for all dogs. An Irish Setter may still be a full-blown teenager at 2 ½ or even 3 years old, while an Irish Terrier may have matured into his adult personality by 10 or 12 months of age.
Very generally speaking, the larger the dog, the longer adolescence lasts.
As maturity approaches, we can expect dogs to be more able to make “grown up” decisions more consistently (within reason; after all it’s still a dog).
When do dogs mature into adulthood?
Maturity arrives usually anywhere from a year to 3 years old, depending on the breed of dog. Larger dogs tend to mature more slowly than smaller dogs.
What does maturity mean for the dog owner? It’s reasonable to expect your dog will settle in energy and enthusiasm. (This, again, is breed dependent; some dogs are fireballs their whole lives.)
You also can expect that your dog’s behavior will stabilize and become more predictable. This is your dog’s adult personality. That doesn’t mean – at all – that your dog is done learning and growing. Just that their attitudes are less in flux.
Maturity is a great time of life, and a transition that tends to resolve a lot of behavior issues. My advice? Throw a party!
Common behavior changes in adolescent dogs
Rude, impatient, bull-in-a-china-shop behavior seem to go hand in hand with adolescence. Teenage dogs plow through everyone and everything – because they’re big enough, strong enough – and brash enough – to do so!
And, of course, frustration can happen when things don’t happen as quickly as they’d like, and when they can’t get their own way.
In adolescence, your dog may become bossy (or have bossy moments), aloof, or indifferent to commands. He may start to take offense when stared at by other dogs. If protective, territorial instincts are normal for your dog’s breed(s), this is when they usually start to develop.
Adolescent dogs are actively trying to find out which rules apply to them and which don’t. Every dog will be a little different in how they test boundaries. But most will push the envelope in one way or another.
Challenging and boundary-testing go with the territory and should be expected from teenage dogs.
Adolescent dogs sometimes develop new fears
It’s not unusual for adolescent dogs to go through a period of heightened vigilance, edginess, and even fearful reactions. It almost seems even more likely to happen in very smart, higher-strung dogs that are extremely aware of every change in their environment. But increased anxiety can occur in any adolescent dog.
Garbage cans, fire hydrants, men in hats… all can be fine and dandy one day, and get a “monster alert!” the next.
At this stage, it’s as if your pup’s grownup awareness of potential threats is kicking in. (For a nice short article on adolescent fear stages, see Diamonds in the Ruff’s Fear & Reactivity in Adolescence.)
Adolescent dogs need a stable bond
While a strong bond between owner and dog is a beautiful thing, a bond that is overly close can actually have detrimental effects on behavior (and your relationship). Over-attached dogs can become dependent on constant attention and feedback.
When this happens, dogs may become controlling, possessive, and even manipulative, sometimes in very clever ways. They may start to act out to make sure your attention stays on them.
Some dog breeds, like the herding breeds, working breeds, and other naturally protective and responsible breeds, are simply prone to develop very tight bonds with their owner (and it often is with one particular person).
This is obviously a positive quality, provided the dog has a clear job (rules, expectations) in the relationship. But without those things? It can be a problem, and one that often shows up in adolescence.
But any dog can develop unhealthy levels of bonding and attachment if they are over-indulged or over-protected – especially during the sensitive stages prior to adulthood.
Bach flower Remedies for Adolescent Dog Issues
Flower remedies are truly an amazing tool for helping your dog adjust to the changes and upheavals of adolescence. They’re unique in what they can do to balance emotions that swing too far one way or another.
Let’s discuss some Bach flower essences that can help improve your dog’s transition through her teenage months in a real-world, practical way.
Flower remedies for impatient, rude dog behavior
Impatiens flower remedy improves patience and cooperation, and reduces tension and frustration. Impatiens will help your dog take a breath and let things happen in their own time.
This is THE flower remedy for teenage dogs that want everything done NOW; dogs that have trouble with self-control, waiting their turn, waiting till they’re told they can do something, accepting that it’s not time to play now, etc.
Vervain is for dogs that are, by nature, intense, high-drive, or high strung. These are generally very capable, responsible dogs that are convinced they knows the right way to do things. (Ever been “told off” by your dog when you make a training mistake? That’s the Vervain personality.)
Vervain moderates over-striving and over-intensity in dogs.
From our Formula Line: Flower remedy blends for balancing high-energy, intense, restless dogs
Aldaron Essences’ Calm reduces excess nervous energy in high-strung, under-exercised dogs. And what teenage dog gets enough exercise?
Our Hyper Drive blend of Bach flowers restores clear-headed self-control to intense, fixated, over-aroused dogs.
Flower remedies for bossy, challenging teenage dogs
A natural byproduct of frustration is anger. Holly Bach flower remedy remedies anger, suspicion, jealousy, vexation, and ill-feelings in general. It restores compassion, gratitude and – not to sound too sappy – love.
Rock Water tones down stubbornness, emotional rigidity (like the inability to deal with changes in routine, etc.), and territorial impulses. Keep in mind that “territory” is not just your yard. It can include spaces in your home, your car, and even temporary spaces like campgrounds, dog show setups, etc.
The Bach flower essence Vine tones down domineering behavior and blatant, forceful attempts to get others to give in and concede. It can include behaviors like hard glaring, stiff, threatening posture, muzzle punching, body slamming, and of course, actual aggression.
Vine actually seems to improve the ability to communicate peacefully. (I think it’s safe to say that most “dominant” behaviors happen because the dog doesn’t know how to communicate its needs in a less stressful, emotionally expensive manner.)
Common sense caution! While flower essences can be extremely helpful in cases of dog aggression, they should not be used as the sole method of resolving it. Unless you are very experienced in dealing with dog aggression, always consult with a knowledgeable trainer or behavior specialist who can help you resolve your dog’s issues in a behaviorally-sound, non-confrontational manner.
Bach flower essences for fear, edginess, and hyper-vigilance in dogs
Mimulus is the Bach flower essence for the most common types of fears in adolescent dogs. These are usually specific fears (and may be accompanied by suspicion – see Holly, above).
Fear of tall, gangly teenagers, fear of the garbage truck, fear of moving shopping carts, wheelchairs, skateboards, fear of people walking with canes; there are endless examples of specific fears that appear suddenly in adolescence. Mimulus improves confidence and courage and the ability to face fears calmly.
Aspen is appropriate when your dog’s fear is generalized. Maybe he seems more nervous overall, or skittish in certain everyday situations. Aspen restores courage and self-security in cases of vague apprehension.
Usually I find it best to combine Aspen and Mimulus, since it can be hard to be 100% certain that your dog has only specific fears and no general anxiety, or vice versa.
Rescue Remedy. If your dog’s fear or anxiety is a result of some kind of trauma, or if your dog is anxious, fearful and also highly stressed, then definitely include Rescue Remedy as part of his treatment. Rescue Remedy is a blend of 5 Bach flower remedies that relieve stress, heal after-effects of trauma, and restore calmness and courage.
From our formula line: flower essences for fear and anxiety in dogs
Sudden appearance or increase of fears and anxiety isn’t uncommon in adolescent dogs.
Our flower essence formulas for Canine Anxiety, Fears & Phobias can make a real difference in the behavior of nervous, timid, and panicky behavior dogs of all ages.
Flower remedies for bonding issues in adolescent dogs
Chicory Bach flower remedy helps restore a healthy bond and normal level of attachment between owner and dog.
Teenage dogs that become controlling and jealous of your attention – of who you talk so, kiss, or cuddle with, of other pets you talk to, stroke, play or work with – will benefit from Chicory.
In cases of bonding issues, it can be helpful for the object of the dog’s attention to take Chicory, as well. Over-bonding is rarely completely one-sided on the dog’s part.
Heather is an important related remedy which is often used alongside Chicory. Heather remedies excessive (and often noisy) attention-seeking, a behavior that often appears (or gets bossier) in adolescence. For dogs that bark, moan and groan, whine, or act up in ways to keep your attention on them (and often off what you’re asking them to do), think Heather.
From our Formula Line: Bach Flower remedy blends for bonding issues
Aldaron Essences’ Over-Attachment increases independence and confidence in needy, clingy dogs.
Our Moderation formula improves cooperation and patience while toning down bossy, bratty tendencies. (Perfect for teenage and other bossy dogs!)
Bach flower remedies for uncertainty, indecision, changing moods and attitudes
Adolescence is almost by definition a time of changeable, unpredictable, conflicting feelings and attitudes. This morning you may have been so proud of your young dog and how he handled those kids at the park. “My baby’s growing up!”
This afternoon, after that display of “affection” with Aunt Judy, you’re ready to ship him to Siberia. “My sweet puppy has turned into a brathead monster!”
If it’s one thing you can count on in canine adolescence, it’s that you can’t count on your dog to be 100% predictable.
Scleranthus flower remedy helps level out back-and-forth, up-and-down emotions, and behaviors that come and go suddenly, almost like a switch was flipped. Scleranthus improves steadiness and helps keep your dog on an even keel.
Walnut is an important Bach flower remedy to help stabilize the core emotional self during times of transition. It acts as an energetic buffer against destabilizing outside influences. If your adolescent dog is being hammered by strong emotions and energies of those around him, Walnut will help keep his emotional core intact and strong.
From our Formula Line: Bach Flower remedy blends for adapting to change
Happy Trails is our Bach flower blend for easing life stage transitions. In addition to stabilizing and leveling out mood swings, it improves confidence and relieves anxiety. This is a nice, general formula for helping your pup through any major change in life.
Teenage Weirds contains flower remedies to balance the anxious, under-confident teenage dog that’s pushing his limits – a very common mindset in many adolescent dogs!
Canine adolescence is a time of massive change in young dogs. Some of it is positive, some not so much.
Flower essences like the Bach flower remedies are truly an amazing tool for helping your dog adjust to this time of transition from puppy to adult.
Whatever your dog’s challenges in adolescence, Bach flowers can help even out the rough edges, increasing your dog’s confidence and cooperation – and making your job of training and socialization that much easier.