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Puppy Series: What You Need to Know About Puppy Adolescence

If your puppy is starting to look a little awkward (hello long legs and little body) and suddenly doesn’t understand what sit means, they’ve probably reached their adolescent stage. This “teenage” phase can be challenging for pet parents, so we’ve outlined what you can expect during puppy adolescence and tips on getting through it.

When Is Puppy Adolescence?

The adolescent stage for puppies depends on their breed and size, but it typically starts around 6 months and ends when your puppy reaches adulthood. For some large breeds, adulthood may not be until around 18 to 24 months.

Adolescence begins when your puppy is becoming sexually mature (i.e., they’re going through the puppy equivalent of human puberty). If you have a female puppy that isn’t spayed, they will typically have their first “heat” sometime after 5 to 6 months of age, depending on the breed and individual puppy. Male puppies start becoming capable of reproducing between 6 to 12 months, again depending on the breed and the puppy.

Time to Consider Spaying or Neutering

Around six months of age (the start of adolescence) is the typical time that smaller breed puppies are spayed or neutered. However, if your puppy is a larger breed you may want to wait a little longer. The best time for surgery depends on many factors including breed, behavior and environment, so if you are considering having your puppy spayed or neutered, talk with your veterinarian about the best plan for your puppy.

Canine Adventures Await

One of the first changes you’ll probably notice as your puppy reaches adolescence is a shift in their behavior. Your little puppy that never left your side is now ready to explore the world — and do it by themselves. You’ll notice that your puppy is more confident and independent now and is willing to push boundaries (and your patience).

Training? What Training?

You may find that your star obedience student drops to the bottom of the class as an adolescent. During your puppy’s rebellious “teenage” phase, training can be difficult, as they have increased energy and are frequently distracted. Telling your puppy to come may now earn a defiant look and result in your puppy running in the opposite direction. But don’t give up. It’s important to continue training your puppy, particularly in distracting environments, so they will become a star pupil again in adulthood.

Fuel Their Energy with Puppy Food

Even though your puppy’s appetite is going to get bigger and bigger, it’s still important to keep feeding them puppy food until they are done growing. A puppy’s dietary requirement is different from an adult dog’s, and large breed puppies have different requirements compared to smaller breed puppies. While your puppy is still growing, they need food with a high energy content (calories), and they need more amino acids and minerals than adult dogs do. Large-breed puppies can develop skeletal problems if their growth rate is too rapid, so a food specifically designed for large-breed puppies typically has less fat and energy than regular puppy food while providing appropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus.

Puppies can also benefit from increased omega fatty acids, particularly DHA, for brain and vision development. The age that a puppy stops growing depends on their breed, so check with your veterinarian on when to switch your puppy to adult food.

Bored Puppy = Bad Puppy

Two of the most important things to do to keep your puppy happy (and out of trouble) during adolescence is plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. They have energy to burn and they need your help to burn it. This might mean longer walks, increased Frisbee time and lots of mentally stimulating toys. Giving your puppy challenging toys is especially important when they are left alone, so you don’t come back to a mess from a bored and energetic puppy.


An adolescent puppy can be a real handful for pet parents, which is why they are one of the most common age groups surrendered to shelters. If you are having problems with your adolescent puppy, ask your veterinarian for help on how to manage their behavior.


RELATED POST: A Guide to Socializing Your Puppy, with a Downloadable Checklist

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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