Most people fall in love with a sweet, fluffy puppy at 8-10 weeks old. And while puppies of this age can be naughty, they’re also adorable! However, a few months later your puppy will have reached his “teens”, and things tend to change… Resulting in annoying and, frankly, embarrassing behaviour!

At what age would you expect a him to reach adolescence?

Puberty in dogs usually starts at about 6 months, but it does vary a little between individuals – and a lot between breeds. Puberty is initiated by his pituitary (or “master”) gland when it decides his body is large enough, and releases surges of gonadotrophin hormones. Although a puppy’s testicles make small amounts of testosterone even from before birth, it isn’t until this gonadotrophin surge at puberty that they really kick into top gear, resulting in a testosterone surge.

The effects are pretty predictable, and are similar to those seen in all male animals at puberty – the testicles grow rapidly (therefore being able to make even more testosterone), as do the penis and prostate gland. He will have growth spurts as his bones lengthen, and put on lots of extra muscle, and to some extent, the shape of his face will change, usually becoming broader and the bony ridges more prominent (but this does vary between breeds). Testosterone also acts on the brain, altering the way he thinks about the world and himself. Then, finally, it activates the production of sperm cells (and the desire to use them!).

What problems can we expect?

Well first things first – he’s still the same dog he was before! However, the effects of testosterone will change the way he thinks in some ways.

  • He will probably tend to be more independent, so you can expect him:
  • To go exploring on his own
  • To be (slightly) less dependent on you
  • There will be a marked increase in his sex drive. It’s important to remember that although puppies only a few weeks old will engage in “sexual” behaviours, the drive isn’t really sexual. At puberty, however, this changes. You will probably see this in a massive increase in:
  • Humping things (other dogs, people, inanimate objects… Whatever comes within reach!).
  • Chasing after bitches (especially but, in this phase of life, not exclusively if they are in season).
  • Masturbation (usually by licking, but fortunately for your carpets it’s unusual for a dog to masturbate to ejaculation).

What can we do to manage them?

Well, the increase in his sex drive isn’t usually dangerous to you or him, as long as you can control him well enough that he doesn’t run after a bitch and into the path of an oncoming vehicle. However, it can be embarrassing (“More tea vicar?”) and sometimes messy. There’s not a lot you can do about it in terms of management – his hormones will override any attempt to teach him not to hump things, for example! That said, in social situations most dogs can be distracted with toys, food or attention. Fortunately, however, it is something he will probably (eventually) grow out of.

The changes in his relationship with you are more important to manage. Essentially, all the tricks you learnt when he was a puppy will still work – but you need to be much more on the ball and alert, as he’ll cut you a lot less slack as a “teenager”. If you’re struggling, obedience classes are really useful at this age; in more severe cases, a canine behaviourist may be necessary (we can refer you to one if needed!). The bottom line remains the same though – reward good behaviour, and try to avoid punishing bad behaviour.

Is there another option?

Yes there is – and it’s the most common surgical procedure in veterinary medicine: castration. Many of these behavioural changes are triggered by testosterone, and no more testicles = no more testosterone. Essentially, you are returning his hormonal environment to that of a puppy.

Bear in mind, however, that this isn’t 100% effective – if, for example, he’s learnt that doing something is fun, he won’t necessarily stop doing it just because his testosterone levels have dropped (or at least, not immediately). In addition, behavioural issues are rarely due just to blood hormone levels.

That said, if you want to avoid problems, having your puppy neutered before they emerge is a wise precaution. It’s a very simple procedure, as (unlike the bitch) his testicles are hanging outside in an easily accessible place! Usually, he comes in for a day, and then we give him an anaesthetic so he’s completely asleep. While asleep, the vet will make a small incision in front of his scrotum (sack) and remove both testicles through it, tying off the blood vessels. He’ll go home that afternoon, with an empty pouch hanging between his back legs and a collar on to stop him licking at the stitches.

Ouch, I don’t like the sound of that!

Well, castration has some other benefits as well – it eliminates the risk of testicular cancer (obviously!), massively reduces the risk of prostatitis and Prostatic Hypertrophy, and minimises the risk of perianal adenocarcinoma (a highly malignant tumour of the bottom). It also means that he cannot get a bitch pregnant (although he may still be fertile for 6 weeks or so afterwards if he has any sperm stored in the vas deferens), and overall, he can expect a better life expectancy (14% longer).

On the downside, there is a (very small) risk from any surgery; there are also small increases in the risk of osteosarcoma (a malignant bone tumour), cruciate ligament disease, and growth plate fractures. Neutered dogs also need fewer calories (so they’re cheaper to feed, but more prone to obesity unless you reduce the amount you’re feeding).

If you just want to “try out” the effects of castration, without making it irreversible, there is now an implant (deslorelin) which shut down all testicular functions for 1 or 2 years.

There is no right or wrong answer as to whether to neuter a male dog – it depends on the circumstances and the particular dog’s personality, so talk to one of our vets before making a decision!

If you’re struggling with teenage behaviour, make an appointment to see one of our vets to discuss behavioural management and the pros and cons of neutering. (Note – only for teenage PETS…!)