When puppies start to grow up, sometime between four and six months, they become insatiable. They need more of everything—more training, more play, more attention, and even more sleep. This is what I call the age of “Oh my god, I can’t possibly give my dog enough exercise and attention!” Fortunately this is a stage, and your pup will start to settle again in six months or a year. Yes, I know, when you are in the middle of it, a year seems like forever. Believe me, I’ve been there with each and every one of my dogs. But be assured that the time will pass quickly and with a few key strategies, one day you will wake up and realize that your crazy adolescent has grown into an amazing dog!
Training that allows for movement and expression. Yes you can practice heeling and stays, but do running, jumping, spinning types of training too. Or train heeling for 3 minutes, play run and fetch games for 3 minutes, then train come for 3 minutes, then run for 3 minutes—you get the idea. Brain activity will tire your dog out more than walking or running right now, but it needs to be interspersed with lots of movement.
Lots of off leash running and play. With you (toy play, running around, etc.) or with other dogs. This is critical right now. Having two or three doggy play pals can be an amazing thing for your adolescent dog. But if you don’t have that, you too can play like a dog—running, chasing, with and without toys!
Decompression walks. Think of this as de-stressing times, or times when your dog just gets to be a dog. These are on or off leash walks where your pup gets to sniff, explore, and generally do what they love. If you don’t have safe off leash places to allow your dog to explore (or your pup is too wild off leash), consider exploring with your dog on a slightly longer 6-10 foot leash.
Other decompression activities. Games such as shredding boxes, hiding and searching for treats, exploring the garden, and eviscerating toys are great mental stimulation that does not take much energy on the part of the human, but can really give your adolescent dog an outlet for those yahoos.
On leash walks. These are a mixed bag for the adolescent dog. Yes they are exercise, but they are also confinement and can be mentally exhausting. It is fine to keep doing them, as long as you choose places that don’t lead to reactive experiences, but don’t expect that leash walks will be enough by themselves. They need to be balanced with running and playtime.
Chewing options galore. Edible chews such as bully sticks (check out “Bully Buddies” bully stick holders), yak chews, and other similar types of chews can really help a dog transition from activity to rest, and can be a great tool when your dog needs just a little more something to do. Stuffed Kongs or Toppls are also good choices. You can stuff with their regular meals and give your dog a good outlet. I stuff with kibble and wet food, and then once they get good at getting the food out of the toy, we graduate to freezing them. If you happen to live in a multi-dog household, but sure to separate your dogs during chewing and meal times.
Does this seem like a lot? Will you need to do all of these things? Probably not. Every dog is different and every day may be different too. One day your pup will seem calm and settled and the next she will be a whirling dervish (and yes, this is absolutely normal behavior for a teenage pup). Some adolescent dogs need 60-90 minutes of attention and activity a day, some need a few hours. All of them need stimulation a few times a day. Experiment with these ideas and come up with a plan that works best for you and for your pup. And be sure to enjoy your young dog. Before you know it, they will be all grown up and you’ll be wondering where your crazy pup went!