As puppies turn into adult dogs, they often hit a couple of milestones at about 1 year and 2 years of age. Larger dogs tend to age slower, while smaller dogs age faster through adolescence.
When puppies turn 1, they are in the middle of adolescence, just like human teenagers, they become more selective of their friends and there is often a marked decrease in play. They will usually seek out playmates that match their play style preference.
When adolescents turn 2, there is another marked decrease in play. There are 3 main behavior changes that are normal at this milestone:
More selective of their playmates: Instead of taking all comers like they once did as a puppy, adult dogs prefer their familiar playmates. They can still make new friends, but the familiar friends are almost always preferred. They often seek out other dogs that share their preferred style of play. Often the friends they grew up with will share a form of shorthand – like an inside joke you might share with your friends.
Less tolerant of rude/pushy behavior: As dogs mature, they are less tolerant of other dogs getting in their face, jumping on their back, or otherwise rude behaviors. They might snark or growl in response to rude behavior, when they hadn’t done that before. It is appropriate for a dog to express their displeasure in another dog’s rude behavior.
Reduction in play overall: Dogs that once were in the middle of the fray might transition to wall flowers. Instead of being in the middle of the stage, they are now in the audience. They might join in once in a while, but take more breaks during the day, and play might not last as long each time.
This is NORMAL dog behavior. You do not play the same way as you did when you were young, and we should not expect our dogs to either.
This aging milestone is often called “Aging Out of Daycare” to explain how once social dogs no longer enjoy the high energy adolescents that are common in daycare environments. Some dogs still enjoy the daycare environment, while others would prefer to participate in other activities.
If your dog is the latter type, there are lots of alternatives to dog parks and dog daycares for these dogs. Try a dog sport like agility, nosework, or flyball. Host mini get-togethers for dogs that still enjoy each other’s company, but maybe not the company of strangers. Spend more time together with just humans – take walks, join training classes, or snuggle on the couch. If your dog daycare offers a private play option, this might be a great alternative for your dog as he ages. If not, a dog walker might be a better choice while you are away at work.