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The Joys of Shih Tzu Adolescence...
Shih Tzu puppies are cute, cuddly and playful. They follow you everywhere, never want to be out of your sight and will sit with you whether cuddled on your lap, snuggled on your foot, or nuzzled in their bed close to you.
Yes, they have their moments—the puppy pad gets shredded all over the floor, you notice a patch of the woodwork that has those doggie teeth marks, a small cry at 2 AM signals a burning desire to go out.
They eat, sleep, play, and then begin again. Your puppy, a match made in heaven. But those puppy days are numbered and soon your dog will be an adult. But before that stage, you must endure his adolescence.
Shih Tzu Adolescence – what an awkward phase of development. Maybe you remember your own teen years or have fond memories of your children’s rite of passage. Surely dogs aren’t that bad during their teen years, right?
Well, the good news is that dogs don’t have teen years –their passage from puppyhood to adulthood is measured more in months. But, they have their moments.
Just as in humans, Shih Tzu dogs test their limits, want more independence, and question the boundaries placed on them. Does this sound like the human adolescent phase?
Sometime between the ages of four and seven months of age, your Shih Tzu, a perfectly obedient puppy becomes impossible, almost overnight. This phase of development will pass, but it requires patience and understanding on our part. This stage is likely to try even the most patient among us.
The Shih Tzu adolescent stage can last from about six to 18 months and with it brings on many changes.
The Boys start lifting their legs to urinate and if intact females are within shouting distance may also begin marking their territory. If there are intact females, they may show signs of mating behaviors. More fights between dogs break out during this phase as well.
The unneutered adolescent male Shih Tzu produces twice as much testosterone than the adult level of this hormone.
As a result, some of those less desirable male behaviors become extreme at this time.
Not only will they mark with their urine, but may choose to roam ignoring your calls to come back
Girls become sexually mature and may also mark. They will experience their first estrus or heat cycle. Sometimes this goes entirely unnoticed, but more likely you will notice small droplets of light colored blood especially if you have light colored carpets or floors. The female's genitals
and nipples will enlarge slightly. The normal dog heat cycle lasts about 3 weeks, but the girl will only bleed for about 10 days. Spaying your dog at this time will relieve many of these sexual behaviors and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Both genders experiment with new activities, most of which are not welcomed by their human parents.
Begging…and the list goes on.
Basic manners fall by the wayside and housebreaking may become a thing of the past as the puppy enters the phase of adolescence.
Even bite inhibition, which you were sure was under control returns. Now the biting is harder and more painful. This new type of biting is not the mouthing that you were dealing with several months ago.
Just like the human version of adolescence, hormones rule the brain. Everything seems chaotic and unpredictable. One day everything goes well, the next day your sweet puppy doesn’t even look recognizable.
Your bright little puppy who once knew what “sit, and stay and come” means now acts like he has forgotten everything he once knew.
Terms such as “stubborn” and arrogant” which are often used to describe the breed, take on a new meaning during adolescence. It seems that the adolescent Shih Tzu, must weigh every decision and decide for himself what he chooses to do.
“Should I come or should I go? I think I’ll go, after all, I’ve never checked out the neighbor’s yard.”
These young dogs seem bent on breaking your rules and thinking for themselves. Sound like any human adolescent you know?
Friendly Shih Tzu may also go through a second fear phase where things seem to frighten them.
Around the age of six to nine months of age, a friendly pup may back away from a friendly stranger or begin barking at strangers. This is a typical part of Shih Tzu dog adolescence.
Knowing what to expect during this stage is the first step in surviving these months. All Shih Tzu dogs will not display all of these behaviors, but most will show some signs that they have entered adolescence.
New behaviors may surface overnight, or there may be a gradual breakdown of the rules. Youth comes earlier for some dogs and later for others, but it does come eventually. Shih Tzu dogs, like other small dog breeds, enter their teen stage sooner than the large or giant breed dogs do and mature faster into adulthood than their larger cousins.
Unfortunately, it is during this period that many people relinquish their out of control dogs to shelters and rescue organizations. What can you do to survive your Shih Tzu dog’s adolescence?
Them versus Us. What can be done to make this period a win-win situation for both you and your dog?
Exercise is one of your best prescriptions during your dog’s adolescent stage. They need less sleep than they did when they were little puppies and required more physical challenges. Luckily, Shih Tzu dogs tend to get most of their exercise needs met by running around the house. They are one breed that may be more active indoors rather than outside.
If your dog likes to play fetch, you are one of the lucky ones. Toss a toy or two and watch them chase it down. Unfortunately, the prey drive is minuscule in the Shih Tzu breed. The game of fetch requires dogs to have a modicum of prey drive so they will chase after a moving object.
A long daily walk will tire your dog and you know what they say… A tired dog is a good dog.
Puzzle type toys are also a good choice for stimulation. Your dog may enjoy a raw meaty bone, but supervision is advised. Many large pet stores now sell frozen raw bones. Even if you do not have your dog on an all raw diet, an occasional raw bone is a big treat for them. Look for their freezer section of your favorite pet store.
If you have started a training program when your puppy was very young, dog adolescence is not the time to stop. You may think your dog knows all the commands that he must have, but practice makes perfect. This might also be an ideal time to sign your Tzu up for the next level of training.
You can still practice commands such as sit and down with your dog each day. Many owners just give up on their stubborn, distracted teenage Shih Tzu, but persistence will pay off. A few minutes per day of serious training will keep those still immature neurons firing and building connections within your Tzu’s brain. Activities such as these which are brain training can also be very exhausting to the dog.
Shall I risk repeating myself… A tired dog is a good dog.
Housebreaking May Take a Nosedive
Every Shih Tzu is a little different when it comes to housebreaking. Some get it and some don’t. Most people will agree that
The Shih Tzu breed is infamously hard to housebreak. But let's assume that your little Tzu has achieved a relatively consistent pottying routine.
During their adolescence, housebreaking may take a nosedive. Some dogs forget where they are supposed to eliminate so they may need a little retraining.
It is harder to confine a young dog to a crate or small area unless your Tzu has been trained from an early age.
Some people have found that keeping the dog close to them by tethering them on a leash.
Attach a six-foot leash to the dog’s harness and the other end to your belt. Your dog will be forced to go wherever you go and you will be obliged to pay close attention to your dog.
By now you are aware of the behaviors your dog displays right before they need to potty. When they start their “potty dance” take them outside and the provide plenty of praise and a food treat if necessary. This is called the umbilical or tethering method.
New Behaviors Should be Nipped Quickly
Are you noticing some new, rather annoying behaviors? Mouthing that feels more like biting? Refusing to come when called? These actions need to be addressed individually, but because they can be dangerous to your dog, they cannot be ignored.
Socializing your Shih Tzu dog needs to continue. You will still want to include your dog in your life by introducing new people, places or animals. If your dog is fully immunized, you may also wish to venture into a dog park, especially if there is one that caters to small breed dogs. At the same time, you shouldn’t overwhelm a dog that might be going through a fear phase or is naturally reserved. Pick safe places that you know your dog will feel comfortable.
If school athletic events are too loud and outside flea markets are too crowded, choose an activity or location with fewer people and less noise.
Some stores will allow you to bring your small dog with you while shopping. I’ll bet you’ll get some attention from shopkeepers and other patrons, as an added bonus.
If you can’t find any, visit your local pet store. I’ve never encountered a pet store that was not dog-friendly!
A puppy play date with a friend might be fun. Or, you might want to visit an open park or hiking trail. A shy dog won’t be overwhelmed by too many people in these spaces, but still be able to experience new sights, smells, and sounds.
The most preferred time to spay or neuter a dog is around six months of age. Some vets will do the surgery when the dog is younger, but the majority of vets I questioned, feel that six months is a good age. Shih Tzu dogs are considered to be brachycephalic breeds because of their flat faces. Anesthesia can be tough on them but by the time they reach their teen years (I mean months) they are mature enough to do fairly well under anesthesia.
This is the best time to have them altered unless you are planning to breed him or her. Spaying or neutering your dog will prevent many of the behaviors associated with sexual maturity.
If your dog has any baby teeth that have not fallen out, ask to have them pulled by they are still under anesthesia. Retained deciduous teeth are common in the Shih Tzu breed. Some Shih Tzu dogs have umbilical hernias and all of these problems can be fixed during their spay/neuter surgery.
By six months of age, most dogs have received all of their puppy vaccines. Ask your veterinarian to be sure your puppy is protected. If you have waited, you should get your vet’s recommendations for their final puppy shots.
If you have been visiting the vet on a regular basis for his immunizations, you are probably already giving your dog their heartworm medications and wormed them if needed. If not, ask your vet about these drugs. You may also want to ask about flea prevention if you live in an area where fleas are a problem.
Grooming your dog may be easier now that they have had ample experience with the routine.
On the other hand, grooming can also be stressful for both of you.
If they haven’t had enough positive grooming experiences. Some dogs hate to be brushed or have their nails clipped. If your puppy was one of these dogs, the chances are good that you might find yourself now wrestling with a stronger pup.
One of the very first things that a Shih Tzu dog needs to learn is how to tolerate grooming.
They have a thick double coat that requires regular attention, and there is nothing more annoying than an uncooperative Shih Tzu.
The Shih Tzu reaches their full adult size and weight by about 10 months of age. While 15 pounds of wiggles, growls, and protests are not as bad as those of a giant-100 pound puppy, they can still try our patience nevertheless.
Take it very slowly and gently if you have a Shih Tzu who hates grooming. A task such as nail clipping that might have taken five minutes when your Tzu was a young puppy might now need to be stretch over several days. I have also been known to sneak in short grooming sessions when the dog is exhausted. They are cooperative when they don’t have the energy to protest.
Around the same time that the Shih Tzu encounters adolescence and gains their full adult size, they also grow their second or undercoat of hair. If you are not prepared for this new hair, it can overwhelm you fast. Serious brushing needs to take place as the coat comes in, or otherwise you are going to be left with a big tangly mess.
Most Shih Tzu also visit a groomer for the first time around the same time they are spayed or neutered. If you are not planning to assume all grooming tasks yourself, begin looking around for a groomer who is gentle and understands the Shih Tzu personality.
You will also want to assure that you have someone you can talk to and feel confident that they will have your dog’s best interests. Prepare ahead of time by teaching your dog to stand, sit, or lie down on a table or kitchen counter.
I can honestly say that I’ve survived all three of my human children’s teen years and all of my canine children’s adolescence and you can too. Just remember,
The Dog’s teen years are measured in weeks and months.
The stage does pass
Patience along with consistent training pay off in the long run.
If you address any dangerous behaviors in appropriate ways, you will be rewarded in the end with a happy, well-adjusted loyal companion that you can enjoy for years to come.
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