Bullmastiff Puppy

Q. I’ve heard that once my Mastiff gets past the puppy stage he will start to gain independence and it will be more difficult to get him to stay at my side and come back when called. Is this true?

A. I hear the same woes in my dog training classes. “She used to be so good! She would come when called, she would follow me everywhere, and she did everything I asked. Now she’s turned into a monster and doesn’t listen to a word I say.” Puppies are obedient and loyal, but when they reach adolescence — between 4 and 10 months of age — they often suddenly seem to become disobedient and unruly.

The majority of shelter dogs are surrendered during their adolescent period, likely because pet parents are unaware that the sudden “devil dog” behavior is part of a developmental period that many dogs go through as they mature. But with the right socialization, training and mental stimulation, your pooch’s new found energy can be channeled in the right direction to soothe household tension and increase your bond with your pet.

Welcome to the Doggie Tweens

Depending on breed, the first year of a dog’s life is roughly equivalent to 18 human years, so your dog goes through the terrible twos, the tweens and the teen years in a very short period. The issues you’re describing here happen during the dog’s adolescent period. Adolescence hits at different times depending on the dog, but as a general rule, larger breeds usually mature more slowly and will go through adolescence later than smaller dogs.

The changes in personality that accompany this stage can take place seemingly overnight. Suddenly your puppy — who stuck by your side like he was glued to you — will take more of an interest in the outside world. When you call him, he may barely take time to glance back before continuing his search for squirrels.

Increased independence and a reluctance to come when called are only some of the challenges you will face with your adolescent dog. Your dog will most likely also have an abundance of energy that will manifest itself in undesirable behaviors like chewing on inappropriate items, pulling on the leash, digging or hyper-excitable greetings. Your dog may also have more rifts with other dogs in this phase and may become more selective in his playmates. Adolescent pups show increased gender-based behavior, such as leg lifting and roaming. If your dog has shown some warning signs of possible behavior problems during puppyhood, those problems can become even more pronounced during adolescence. 

Help Your Canine Cope

Socialization is the key to helping your dog cope with his adolescence. While many people focus on this in early puppyhood, without continued socialization, dogs can become wary of things they were once comfortable with. So be sure your dog continues to be exposed to a variety of new canines and humans.

Equally important to your adolescent pup is training. Dogs will do what works to get them what they want; your job is to teach your pooch that only calm behavior, such as sitting politely or lying down, earns him the reward he desires. For example, your dog should be taught to wait calmly in a sit while the door is opened if he wants to go on a walk. Training needs to be more than just a five-minute session once a day — instead, make training part of your dog’s daily life and interaction with all of the members of your household.

For more difficult behaviors — such as  responding to the directive to come when called — your dog will need more motivation than the simple pat on the back and “good dog” that worked during puppyhood. Employ value rewards like a game of fetch or tasty dog treats. Once he returns to you, reward him for coming and then let him go again to keep enjoying his play session. 

Exercise and mental stimulation are also necessary to channel adolescent energy. Your dog should be taken out on twice-daily walks; be sure to get out during the cooler parts of the day, rather than in the heat, so that he can get as much exercise as possible. He should also be given a variety of toys to play with, including rope toys, balls, plush toys and squeaker toys. Rotate the toys to keep your dog interested. Finally, put a small percentage of your pup’s daily food ration into a food puzzle to help keep his mind active. Give him a stuffed Kong or other cavity food toy once or twice per day.