Surviving your puppy’s terrible twos

Terrible twos aren’t just for toddlers.

Even in the terrible twos, you can have a good dog.

There’s no contest. No disagreement. It’s pretty much a universal opinion. Puppies are great. It’s hard not to love a warm, soft, wiggly baby dog that wants to give you all of its affection. But as wonderful as they are, puppies can also be a lot of work — and that work doesn’t necessarily get easier as they get older.

As puppies age, they grow more independent, and by 6-12 months you may notice your once obedient pup is developing some unwanted behaviors. Don’t worry, some simple training tips will help you both get through these growing pains.

Reward calm behavior

1. Reward calm behaviors to manage over-excitement

Just like humans, willpower comes with time. Young dogs can get easily over-excited or aroused by other dogs, people, or situations because their impulse control isn’t fully developed yet. When that over-excitement is directed at another dog or person, it could turn into frustration or aggression.

Tip #1: Help manage that over-excitement by teaching your furry best friend to calm down. While playing, ask them to sit between rounds of fetch. Reward calm behavior, like relaxing or laying down, with petting and praise.

Tip #2: Have your young dog drag a leash from their collar so you can easily pull them away from overly-aroused play. If you need to use your hands to separate your dog from the source of their overstimulation, never walk in front of them — instead lift their hip and use a dragging or wheel barrow motion.

2. Use their favorite treats to associate fear with something good

Even the friendliest of pups may display some fear toward strangers as they get older. This fear can look like shyness — hiding or leaving the room — or growling or barking.

Belly rub

Tip #1: Don’t punish these behaviors. Dogs tend to overact when they can’t escape a situation. Punishment won’t teach them to be unafraid. Barking and growling are warning signs that your dog is uncomfortable. If you punish these natural behaviors they may stop communicating — and jump straight to biting.

Tip #2: When your dog is at a comfortable distance from the source of their fear, give them a tasty treat and then remove the scary thing or person from their view. This counter conditioning teaches your dog to associate scary things with something they enjoy.

3. Teach proper leash manners with patience and CONSISTENCY

Taking your dog for a walk is meant to be a fun time for you both. You each get exercise while enjoying fresh air.

As your dog gets older, they get stronger and — at around 5 months — their eyesight gets better. This beautiful combo means your walks can get off track as they pull you to smell and see more interesting things and stuff to eat (like that tasty rabbit poop).

Monitor their body language for safe play.

4. Monitor safe play

As dogs get older, their social circles shrink. They enter sexual maturity around 7-9 months and social maturity at 1-3 years. With that maturity and wisdom, they may be less interested in playing or they might play more roughly when excited. That rough play may lead to aggressive habits.

Tip: Watch your dog for positive body language — an open, smiley mouth, wiggly body, play bowing, and back-and-forth motions. Remove your dog from play when their body language becomes stiff (even if their tail is still wagging) or aggressive and redirect them or separate them from play so they can calm down.

5. Don’t reward mouthing (unless you want them to play-bite for the rest of their life)

Mouthing or play biting is natural for puppies and young dogs who are exploring their world mouth-first. After 6 months of age, they’ll start to use their nose and eyes more. If mouthing persists, it’s being reinforced in some way.

Redirect chewing or mouthing to an appropriate toy

Tip #1: Don’t reward mouthing! Otherwise your dog will think this is ok behavior because they get your love. Refrain from petting or treating your dog when it play bites you. It’s best to remove your attention all together — stop eye contact and touch, and don’t say anything (even hearing your voice can be rewarding). Just end the game and walk away.

Tip #2: If your dog mouths you or someone else, redirect them to an appropriate chew toy or try to calm them down by asking them to sit or lie down. Or, maybe even give them a time out, placing them behind a closed door or baby gate. Walk away for 30 seconds or enough time to calm down. Reward them by letting them return to their previous activity.

6. Provide appropriate toys to manage chewing

Dogs often go through two chewing stages. The first is around 4 months when their adult teeth start to come in. The second phase starts around 7 months and can last until your dog is 13-14 months old.

Tip: In both phases, calm the chaos by supervising your pup, putting away your belongings, and providing plenty of chew toys.

Training can help manage over-excitement.

7. You can teach an old dog new tricks

It’s easier to learn new skills than break old habits. But that doesn’t mean you can’t train a dog of any age to learn new tricks!

Puppies learn obedience skills quickly, but they can break down temporarily as they become adolescents. “Teenage” dogs are more independent and are more easily distracted as they explore new sights and smells — all of which are way more fun than listening to mom or dad. Just like humans, they haven’t developed impulse control yet and have a lot of big feelings. We’ve all been there.

Tip: Go to training classes and practice at home! This is a great time to keep up with training classes — or start — to keep working on skills to make a good dog.

Remember, the terrible twos are temporary, but it’s especially important to stop bad behaviors before they become habits. Patience, persistence, and consistency will help you correct any unwanted behaviors. Learn more about dog behavior in our Pet Behavior Library.

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