Young dogs go through moody “adolescent” phase

A UK study has demonstrated that, like human teenagers, dogs go through a moody adolescent stage during puberty.

A recent study has demonstrated that, like human teenagers, dogs go through a moody adolescent stage when they’re in puberty. Published in Biology Letters, the study — “Teenage dogs? Evidence for adolescent-phase conflict behavior and an association between attachment to humans and pubertal timing in the domestic dog” — found that dogs in puberty (at eight months of age) are more likely to ignore commands given by their caregivers, and are also harder to train. This behavior is more pronounced in dogs with an insecure attachment to their owners.

“This is a very important time in a dog’s life,” says study leader Dr. Lucy Asher, the Senior Lecturer in Precision Animal Science at Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. “It’s when dogs are often re-homed because they are no longer cute little puppies, and suddenly, their owners find they are more challenging and can no longer control or train them. But as with human teenage children, owners need to be aware that their dogs are going through a phase and that it will pass.”

Dr. Asher and other researchers from Nottingham and Edinburgh Universities monitored a group of 69 Labradors, golden retrievers, and crossbreeds of the two for obedience at the ages of five months – before adolescence – and eight months — during adolescence. The team found that the dogs took longer to respond to the “sit” command during adolescence, as opposed to before adolescence. Additionally, the dogs were less likely to respond when the command was given by their caretakers as opposed to strangers.

Further supporting evidence was found when the team next looked a larger group of 285 Labradors, golden retrievers, German shepherds and their crossbreeds. Their owners, along with trainers less familiar with each dog, filled in questionnaires looking at the dogs’ “trainability”. It asked them to rate statements such as: “Refuses to obey commands, which in the past he has learned” and “Responds immediately to the recall command when off lead”. Caregivers gave lower scores of “trainability” to dogs around adolescence, compared to when they were five or 12 months old. The trainers reported that they found the dogs more trainable during adolescence than the owners did.

The experts also found that, in common with humans, female dogs with insecure attachments to their caregivers (characterised by higher levels of attention-seeking and separation anxiety) were more likely to reach puberty early. This data provides the first cross-species evidence of the impact relationship quality has on reproductive timing, highlighting another parallel with parent-child relationships.

“Our results show that the behavior changes seen in dogs closely parallel that of parent-child relationships…and that just as with human teenagers, it’s a passing phase,” says Dr Naomi Harvey, co-author of the research from the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

“It’s very important that owners don’t punish their dogs for disobedience, or start to pull away from them emotionally at this time,” adds Dr Asher. “This would likely make any problem behavior worse, as it does in human teens.”

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