Parents often take note of the subtle changes in their children as they grow up. Maybe six years ago, your 13-year-old son loved meeting new kids at the park, laughing with children he just met as they slid down the slide or climbed over the jungle gym. Now, he’d rather stay by your side playing on his phone while you push your youngest on the swings. Or maybe your 15-year-old daughter used to crawl in bed with you during a storm when she was eight, snuggling up beside you until she fell asleep. Now, she’s so engrossed in her re-watching of “13 Ways” on Netflix that she doesn’t even give the thunder and lightning outside her window a second thought.
Like it or not, your kids are growing up. What you assumed would be lifetime patterns are no longer set in stone. But that’s not a bad thing and you know it. Your kids are finding their own way, gaining confidence and learning—in small and large ways—to become adults. Guess what? Despite their lifelong need for shelter and care, your dogs are changing as well. No longer the mischievous little rascals you played with as puppies, dogs in their teen years begin developing new personalities, establishing new priorities and finding ways to assert themselves at home.
‘Give me some space’
While your dogs aren’t going to threaten to run away every time you take away their iPhone, there’s a chance they may not want to be the social butterflies they were as puppies. In their adolescent (also called their teen) years, which are roughly 10 months to two years for most dogs but can vary by breed, your dogs begin to make choices about who they like and who they don’t. Similar to your own teenage children, they won’t feel compelled to make nice with everyone.
That’s why they may retreat to their crate when your sister brings her kids over on Saturday. Sure, they might be disappointed that Captain doesn’t want to run around with them in the yard like he used to but Captain’s probably happy that no one will be pulling on his tail for the next few hours so it’s a tradeoff. As your dog’s owner, you need to be aware of your dog’s expanding preferences and to make sure he isn’t forced into situations that might end badly for everyone.
Additionally, those social walks with other friends and their dogs may become more difficult, as your own dog may not want to share his time with you. Also, he may no longer feel compelled to stop and sniff every dog he meets and in some cases, may actually develop a dislike for certain dogs that were once his pals. Again, as the owner, it’s your responsibility to make sure he doesn’t find himself in unpleasant situations. People love to tell you that their dogs are friendly when they and their snarling canine approach you at the park. It’s OK to say that your dog likes to be left alone when she’s on her leash and move away. Again, if your son feels uncomfortable hanging out with the Bugs Meany on your block, you don’t tell them to be quiet and “just go play.” You respect his choice and allow him to spend time with the people he likes and less or no time with the people he doesn’t.
Still, in both of these scenarios, it’s important to remember that your dog has already established patterns by the time she’s two years old. If you didn’t expose her to dogs, children, adults and more when she was a puppy, the less likely she’ll enjoy spending time with them as she gets older.
In some cases, you’ll notice that dogs not only become more territorial about their own bodies but their own space and possessions. They may not want to share a bed with the cat anymore or let you keep their favorite blanket up on a shelf. We have to respect their choices.
Part of the plan
If you have a dog approaching his or her adolescent era, don’t worry. Many of the aforementioned things are pretty normal and in some case, barely noticeable, but they are part of the normal growth cycle of a dog, just like they’re part of the normal growth cycle of a human. Parents—even those who continually preach consistency—know that they make adjustments as their kids get older. They also know that what worked with one child may not work with the other so they adjust. Dogs require the same consideration. The angry teenager locked in his room is the cliche but we all know those are temporary actions and outbursts. The teenagers who help with dinner, watch the Cubs with us and engage in the occasional conversation about life, in general, will always have our hearts and we’ll always have their backs. Our dogs are no different. Sure, they may not want to run alongside Patches from down the street anymore but we love them anyway. After all, we took responsibility for them when they first entered our homes. The occasional challenge doesn’t negate our promise to help them live happy, healthy lives.
Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.