Here at Jenna Lee Designer Doodles, we raise litters of doodles from birth until 8 weeks. But we also frequently train select puppies for various lengths of time so we are well acquainted with the various developmental stages of pups! In order to write this article, we asked our trainers to weigh in based on their professional experience.
We also took a poll of some of our past puppy parents to get a feel for what the average owner thinks is the most difficult stage, too. And here’s what we found:
While there is some variance among answers, we generally found that most answers could be lumped into one of two categories:
Approximately 50% of owners and trainers voted 3-4 months as the toughest age citing nipping as the top difficulty of this age.
Approximately 35% of owners and trainers voted 8-9 months as the toughest age citing new challenging behaviors associated with their puppy’s now larger size such as pulling on the leash or counter-surfing.
Puppy difficulty at ages 2-3 months
A smaller percentage of owners voted 8-12 weeks as the toughest age. The common difficulties at this age are mainly related to potty-training and not sleeping through the night. While this age certainly comes with its challenges, puppies at this age are still very much babies and are easy to manage from a behavioral perspective. They often still sleep huge portions of the day and are too small to pack too much of a punch when it comes to nipping, jumping, or other negative behaviors.
Puppy difficulty at ages 3-4 months
Things start to ramp up by the time your puppy is 12-16 weeks or 3-4 months of age. This is a particularly challenging age for many owners for several reasons. First, your pup may still not be fully potty trained and you may start to be feeling frustrated!
Doodles are intelligent dogs and as puppies they may very well latch on to the concept of potty training in the first couple of weeks, which is why a spontaneous accident a few weeks later can be particularly frustrating and bewildering to new owners. Keep in mind your puppy is developmentally very much like a toddler or young child. So he may grasp the concept of potty training but is still very distractible, excitable and does not have the bladder control of an adult dog yet.
Secondly, your puppy is getting bigger, stronger, and not as sleepy! He is growing up and acting more like a human toddler than a little newborn baby. Your sleepy, snuggly pup may suddenly seem like he has energy for days. And what does he do with all that energy?
Often it comes out in endless play behaviors that are actually quite obnoxious to humans—the biggest complaint being biting, followed closely by jumping and chewing! Remember that this is developmentally normal and does not mean your pup is aggressive. Your puppy’s biting is a lack of inhibition when it comes to playing-rough and not knowing proper boundaries yet.
Dogs are very wired to use their mouth—chewing and play-biting are ingrained in their DNA. Without hands, your dog’s mouth really is his main way to explore and learn about the world. Still, it’s not for the faint of heart and those puppy teeth can really hurt. It can be especially difficult for families with young children as children may not understand the dog is playing and/or get the pup riled up.
We have three words of encouragement here: patience, patience, patience! This phase will pass in a couple months! Even the most authoritarian dog trainers tend to say that you can’t break this chewing/biting habit overnight as it’s developmentally hardwired into their brains to bite and chew at this stage. Sound familiar, parents? This behavior is actually very similar to a crawling human baby putting everything in their mouth. The good news is that just like baby humans, they will grow out of it. In the meantime, do your best to discourage it by disengaging and redirecting.
While puppies begin nipping long before 12 weeks, the 3-4 month period can be particularly intense because of your puppy’s teething stage. Not only are they suddenly playing with more fervor and intensity, but most puppies begin losing their baby teeth at around 12 weeks of age. If you find a tiny tooth sticking out of a toy, no need to be alarmed. This is all part of your puppy growing into an adult dog.
By the time they are 6 months of age, puppies have typically lost all of their baby teeth and growing in all of their permanent ones. In addition to being hardwired to explore and play with their mouths, puppies are also even more inclined to nip and chew at this age because of the teething factor. Loose teeth and/or erupting permanent teeth can make for a tender, sore mouth so puppies often find chewing soothing.
Puppy difficulty at ages 5-6 months
If you are in the 3-4 months range and feel like you are exhausted and overwhelmed, take a deep breath as this is likely the most difficult stage you will face. By the time your puppy is 5-6 months old, he/she is most likely fully potty trained and a bit more trustworthy around the house. Puppies at this age are often finally catching on to some of the diligent work you have been putting into training. Their nipping and jumping behaviors typically lessen at least somewhat during this time.
Most owners have their pups on a fairly predictable routine or schedule by this age. It may feel like your pup has really settled into a groove and fits right into the family. Puppies at this age are still certainly high energy and definitely more impulsive than an adult dog. You will still find your pup misbehaving at times simply due to his immaturity, but he should be a little calmer and more focused than he was at 3-4 months.
Puppy difficulty at ages 7-10 months
Just when you may feel like you have hit your stride, the next big “difficult period” shows up! Many owners are totally blindsided by this next phase. It can vary a bit based on each dog, but your puppy likely will hit “adolescence” around 7-10 months, with 8-9 months being the peak described by most owners. Somewhere during this phase your eager-to-please, well-trained dog may suddenly start having selective hearing and/or the penchant for creating all kinds of new mischief. For parents of teenagers, this might feel familiar!
Your pup will go through a testing boundaries stage but if you’ve set up consistent boundaries and training methods it should be quite easy to redirect them again. Pups often start experimenting with “running away” at this point. This means that pups that have previously stayed nearby their owners may suddenly want to take off exploring and not obey the “come” command…so be vigilant about this in order to keep your pup safe!
In addition to testing the boundaries, your pup’s behavior may also suddenly seem more difficult to manage because his size. We find owners of standard sized doodles complain about this adolescence phase more so than owners of smaller pups. The reason is that most dogs are at or very close to their full grown size by the time they are 8-9 months old. So certain behaviors are now available to them that they may not have been when they were smaller.
For example, they may actually be strong enough to pull you down the street on the leash towards that squirrel now or finally be tall enough to reach the countertop for extra snacks! The excited jumping that was cute when your puppy was only 3 months old is suddenly knocking people over when they are 9 months old.
Fortunately, consistent training methods will still pay off even in the face of the adolescent crazies! Continue with your firm boundaries and by the time your pup is around a year old, the worst of the puppy phase will be well behind you. Most dog’s truly settle down at around a year of age. While they still have quite a bit of energy and exuberance, an 11-12 month old pup typically also has quite a bit more focus and restraint when it comes to abiding by the rules!
In conclusion, remember that doodles are a fairly active breed so the puppy phase is not for the faint of heart. We recommend consistent discipline and exercise (mental and physical stimulation will definitely keep your pup more settled in the house). But your puppy won’t be a puppy forever. Trust us…somewhere around the year mark, you will wake up and think to yourself that your pup has really assimilated nicely into your family and that he/she seems to understand his place in the pack, follow a routine well and understand what is expected behaviorally.
It may be a long first year, but you’ll soon find you have a well-behaved friend to enjoy for your next season of life!
Jenna and the JLDD Team