The German shepherd teenager phase can sweep through your life like a tornado, finding you puzzled and unprepared.
Not surprisingly, this is the phase that most dog owners struggle with. Right when your German shepherd puppy got potty trained and was starting to become responsive to you, comes the teenager phases with all its turbulent heap of challenges.
The German shepherd teenage phase is a delicate phase where you may start facing some new, unexpected challenges.
Knowledge is power though. Being aware of what happens during this phase, and most importantly, knowing what to do, can help you sail through these turbulent waters with more confidence.
At What Age are German Shepherds Teenagers?
Just as with humans, there is no clear cut age when German shepherds become officially teenagers. Instead, there are some general ranges for this time of transition. This is because this is more of a phase rather than a fixed time period.
Generally, German shepherds are considered to be adolescents between the ages of 8 and 24 months.
Just like there are no general rules of thumb on what age German shepherds become adolescents, there are no general rules on when this phase is over.
Physical Changes in Adolescent German Shepherds
By the age of 8 months, German shepherds have grown much bigger, and their proportions are starting to resemble what is seen in an adult.
By this time, all the adult permanent teeth are in, but the molars may still be finishing up cutting through the gums, and therefore, there may still be some residual teething pain and a strong need to chew, sort of when humans get wisdom teeth.
Some call this the "second teething stage" which takes place between the fourth and ninth month, and your pup may be more destructive than ever now since he's blessed with stronger jaws. Be sure to provide plenty of sturdy chewing toys!
Since German shepherds are a sexually dimorphic breed (with much difference between males and females) by this age, you should notice how males are much larger, look heavier and have a broader head and wider chest compared to females which look more feminine and slender.
If your male dog is intact (not neutered), around this time, he will be producing high levels of testosterone. These higher levels of testosterone are known to trigger behavior changes in your German shepherd teen and in other dogs around them.
If your female dog is intact (not spayed) she may go into heat. In general, intact German shepherds may go into heat at around 6 months, on the early side, but even up to a year or older.
Did you know? The growth plates in your German shepherd's long legs haven’t closed yet at this time, and aren't expected to close until he’s 1 to 1½ years old.
To prevent harm, avoid jumping or running on hard surfaces. You can read more about this here: The impact of exercise on puppy growth plates.
Behavior Changes in Adolescent German Shepherds
When dogs hit the adolescent phase, a lot of behavior changes take place. Not coincidentally, a large percentage of dogs are turned over to shelters for behavioral problems during this phase.
However, this is just a transitory phase. It's a time where the brain starts undergoing some substantial changes, from being an impulsive puppy to that of an adult dog who can make good decisions-and you, the owner, should provide your German shepherd pup with plenty of guidance through this stage.
Being aware of these behavior changes gives you the benefit of knowing what to expect, rather than being caught totally unprepared.
An Increase in Independence
Gone are the days when your German shepherd puppy was following you from place to place always keeping an eye on you. This is a time of change, where your pup becomes more independent and may even start becoming reluctant to come when called.
Make sure you keep on working on polishing those recalls. Praise and generously reward your German shepherd pup for coming when called. Never call your German shepherd to punish him or to do something he doesn't like.
Moments of Regression
Right when you thought you had your German shepherd's training pat down, it may feel like, at some point you hit a road block. Actually, things may seem to be regressing, rather than getting better! What's going on?
Your German shepherd may look at you with a blank stare when you ask him to perform a well-trained behavior, or worse, he just blows you off, ignoring you as if your cues were just background noise like the birds chirping on the trees. What gives?
Moments of regression are rather normal during this stage. Just make sure to train your German shepherd in areas with little distractions and then gradually increase distractions.
Make sure he is paying attention to you when you ask him to perform a behavior. Praise and reward every little sign of cooperation.
Avoid scolding your pup or getting frustrated, this will only put a dent in your training causing him to dread being trained, when instead, he should look forward to it.
Moments of Rebellion
You know how teenagers often are closed in their rooms, listening to music and have moments of rebellion, challenging your request to follow rules? The same can happen with your growing German shepherd.
Juvenile dogs in a similar fashion go through mood swings and they may just ignore you or decide to break established rules, and sometimes you may even catch them "talking back" with a little growl.
Keep training your German shepherd and be very consistent. Make sure your dog knows the leave it and drop it command and that you reinforce those behavior when he's collaborative. Be patient.
Help your German shepherd make good choices and prevent him from making bad ones by setting him up for success (e.g. keep the trashcan out of the way, keep him on leash or a long line if he doesn't come when called).
First Squabbles at the Dog Park
If your German shepherd has regularly played with adult dogs, around this age, your youngsters' behaviors may not be any longer well tolerated.
Any pushy behavior or rowdy behavior will likely be corrected, hopefully mostly through ritualized aggression (mostly noise than anything else.) These adult dogs may no therefore longer be lenient with juvenile pups and may decide to revoke their "puppy license."
Intact male dogs may be perceived as more threatening. Neutered dogs react aggressively towards intact males and this is likely due to them having a different smell than other dogs. Indeed, "intact males retain the ability to mate and give of the scent of male, which can be considered a threat to neutered males," explains trainer and behavior consultant Karen Fazio.
Interestingly, by the time intact dogs reach 10 months, there's a peak in this smell as testosterone levels may be five to seven times greater than the levels of an adult.
In their interactions with same-age dogs or even younger pups, adolescent German shepherds can sometimes start acting a bit like bullies, pinning the dogs down or biting too hard. In this case, it's important to intervene and stop the play.
On other hand, your German shepherd may be the one that starts being picky over who to befriend. He may be still OK with a few selected doggy friends, but may start getting more selective, no longer liking dogs he doesn't know.
At the dog park, as your German shepherd matures, he may no longer back off from a challenge. If that's the case, it may be best to skip the dog park and limit play with a few selected friends he knows well and that you know he plays well with.
Alternatively, there are other ways to continue socialization that doesn't involve off-leash wild play. Organized walks with other dogs or hikes can be a good option. Group obedience classes as well offer the opportunity to polish your dog's training without limiting his exposure to other dogs.
If your German shepherd though has attacked and injured other dogs, it's important tackling this sooner than later by seeing a professional for an evaluation.
The Onset of Urine Marking
When the adolescent stage hits, German shepherds may start urine marking. This is most common in intact male dogs, although even neutered males and spayed female dogs may mark. Intact females may also start urine marking particularly when approaching their first heat cycle.
The purpose of urine marking is to leave scent for other dogs to "read.' To help keep the scent at nose level, you may find your German shepherd dog urine marking on vertical surfaces more than others. Intrigued? Here's more about this: why dogs pee on vertical surfaces?
To prevent excessive urine marking, walk your German shepherd at a brisk pace and avoid walking towards grassy areas or places where dogs commonly urine mark. Put the act of going on potty on cue by training your dog how to go potty on command.
Increased Vigilance in Surroundings
German shepherds have a history as guardians, which makes them predisposed to being vigilant and very attentive to their surroundings.
Gone are the days when your puppy was sound asleep for a good part of the day and could have cared less about noises. Now, your German shepherd is more and more alert and he may sleep more lightly, easily awakening and possibly reacting to any sound.
At times, you may noticed that he may "react first, and think later. 'In other words, he'll be fast to sound the alarm towards a perceived threat, even if there is really no actual danger present.
It is up to you what to make of your German shepherd. If you give him the green light, he may start reacting to every sight or sound, which can become overwhelming and turn into a major problem!
If instead you provide him with gentle guidance, you can train him to alert you of any unusual noises, and then, once you have acknowledged the source you can say something like, "thank you!, Now sit and stay!"
This will help reassure him that you have taken the matter in your own hands and will be checking things out on your own. Make sure to return to him and give him a treat for complying so nicely.
For repeated reactivity towards specific sounds that present, day after day, you may find it helpful using the "hear that method" for noise-reactive dogs.
Increased Reactive Behaviors
While just months ago, your German shepherd used to a be a social butterfly, eagerly meeting and greeting people and dogs on walks, now he may start acting more standoffish.
It may catch you off-guard when your German shepherd suddenly starts barking at some random strangers on walks on his evenings walks. And while before he used to pull to greet other dogs, now he is growling and lunging at them. How can people and dogs suddenly transform from friends to foe?
This behavior is not unusual and may pop up now and then. Do not make a great deal of it, and most of all, don' t stop taking your dog out.
To ensure he remains safe and social towards people, it's important to keep on taking him to places and seeing as many people and dogs on walks as possible.
You don't need him to interact with people, just tolerate them on walks. Keep training him to remain composed and do several steps of attention heeling as you walk past these distractions at a distance your dog is less over threshold and less likely to react.
If there is lunging, barking or growling, have a dog behavior professional help you out in creating positive associations though force-free methods such as the "Look at that dog" exercise.
Did you know? The American Kennel Club's standard for the German Shepherd breed describes German shepherds as ideally being not timid or nervous. Lack of confidence is not typical of good character and shyness is penalized as very serious fault.
Increased Protective Behaviors
Germans shepherds are by nature protective dogs. This indeed is one of the breed's most cherished traits by those who love this breed. However, things may start getting a little out of hand during the teenager phase if not tackled correctly.
German shepherds are not like your average Lab or golden retriever who will be friends with everybody. Rather, the American Kennel Club's standard described this breed as having “a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.”
While aloofness is mentioned in the standard, the standard also emphasizes that this breed should not be aggressive or dangerous.
In a household setting, when you have guests over your home, your German shepherd should be accepting of them entering your home, and shouldn't show aggression such as barking, growling, showing teeth and threatening to bite.
Sure, your German shepherd may keep a vigil eye on the your guests as they make themselves at home and move about, but he shouldn't show aggression without any reason for it.
As your German shepherd puppy reaches adolescence, you may therefore no longer see those excited, over-the-top greetings, but a more watchful, reserved attitude. Perhaps your pup may start barking when the doorbell rings or he may bark more at people walking by the fence.
It could also happen that your German shepherd may bark if somebody is dressed differently such as wearing sunglasses or a hat or is moving in an awkward way.
However, he is now at an age where he isn't mature enough to take the matter in his own hands. It is up to you, once again, to prevent your German shepherd puppy from becoming obsessed about barking at people walking by or deciding who should be let in the house.
If your pup is barking at somebody who is dressed or looks different, redirect his attention to you and ask him to sit or down and praise him for giving you attention.
If your German shepherd though is particularly, nervous, stressed or unable to settle down when around people or when guests are over, or if he has shown aggressive tendencies, it would be important working along with a behavior professional using force-free behavior modification methods.
As seen, the German shepherd teenager phase can feel quite challenging, but fortunately it won't last forever. Just don't get into the trap of thinking your youngster is plotting something against you or is trying the be the boss. Dogs don't think this way. Adolescent dogs simply act out of instincts and hormones.
So when you feel defeated, think about him as a human teenager. He just needs your gentle guidance and consistency in his life. Be patient.
Make sure you provide your German shepherd with refresher training sessions. Work on teaching him better impulse control. Here are some great exercises: 10 impulse control games for dogs.
And don't forget about keeping that brain busy! Provide loads of mental stimulation, brain games, food puzzles, safe chew toys, start clicker training, enroll him in a canine sport and take him on sniffing adventures. However, don't forget to teach him how to chill too. Training your dog to lie on a mat can turn helpful.
The more you keep that brain busy in positive ways, the greater the chances you'll help your German shepherd puppy grow into a wonderful adult companion. Happy training!