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The curse of the adolescent dog – why won’t they listen?!

Your young puppy comes racing back to you every time you call, with nothing but pure joy in their little face!

Fast forward a few months and you’re wondering where that puppy went as you stand there repeatedly calling them while they seem to be completely oblivious to your existence.

Where did it all go wrong?!

No doubt you have heard about the dreaded adolescent phase where your sweet little angel of a puppy will start “testing boundaries” and becoming “defiant”.

Adolescence is most certainly a difficult and frustrating time for both dog and human, and training during this period can feel like an uphill struggle.


I think a lot of training struggles get pinned on adolescent “boundary testing” when often that’s just not the case.

This is great news because it means we no longer need to keep ourselves in this frustrating spiral of helplessness watching all our hard work unravel!

Young puppies only have one priority in life – survival. And you are the key to that. So, yes, they might get up to mischief, but they are generally always going to stay close and focused on you because there is nothing in their world more important than you. It’s easy in those first few months to think that you’ve got a great puppy that’s super easy to train and be duped into thinking you’ve got this training malarkey nailed!

A few months later and your once angelic puppy is no longer responding to anything you say and is ranging too far on their walks. This must be adolescence!

Adolescence will of course have a huge impact on your dog, and you will absolutely see changes. But there is much more to their lack of response than them just being a teenager.

The adolescent period comes with a new set of priorities and motivations, and these can make training much trickier than in those first few months.

Changes in hormones can mean their interest in other dogs skyrockets. They can be desperate to see every dog that comes within a 100-metre radius, and sniff and pee on every detail of scent information they come across.

Our Spaniels, Labradors, and other Gundog breeds were originally bred for their ability to find game, and different events in the environment (e.g., a rabbit bolting or pheasant flushing) will start to trigger these genetic instincts. It only takes one thrilling rabbit chase to get them hooked and you can so easily end up with an adrenaline-junkie that is conditioned to search for his next “hit” the second he steps outside. Adrenaline and dopamine are never more powerful and addictive than during the adolescent development period.

The adolescent brain is completely rewiring itself making super strong long-lasting pathways, so whatever is being practiced now, will be sticking around for a while.

Once we’ve had our puppy for a few months and training is going well, this is often when we start to relax, reduce our rewards, and get a bit more “serious” because we assume that they know what they are doing now and are just being disobedient.

In fact, the opposite is true.

This is the time to get more creative and be much more generous with our rewards, and choose our environments and distractions VERY wisely. Otherwise, those once well-known cues that you taught will end up getting repeated over and over again whilst your dog does something else.

And then habituation happens.

“Habituation is a form of non-associative learning in which an innate response to a stimulus decreases after repeated or prolonged presentations of that stimulus.

Habituation is a learning process that allows our dogs to learn what’s relevant and important, and what’s not. It allows them to tune out the non-essential stuff from the environment and focus their attention on the important stuff. So, once you get started on this path of repetition and nagging, it’s a fast and slippery slope to a dog who filters out every single word you say.

If your adolescent dog is no longer responding to you, this is a training issue, not an adolescent dog issue, which means you absolutely can (and should!) make some changes to how you are raising and training them.

Entering adolescence can mean you need to get to know your dog all over again and how to effectively communicate and teach them so you can both come out the other side with your sanity intact and have a great dog to share your life with.

How are things going with your teenage tearaway??

Let me know!

Private 1-1 training:

1-1 training programmes - tailored and structured training for you and your dog

Group training:

Pet Gundog Life Skills - foundation and progressive training for all Gundog breeds

Spaniel School - focused training for our Super Spaniels

Pet Gundog Activities - follow-on, progressive training for all Gundog breeds

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