Adolescent Dogs Act Similarly to Teenage Humans, New Study Suggests
For anyone who's parented a teenager through adolescence, you're well aware it can be a challenging (sometimes seemingly impossible) time. Well, if you're a dog owner, you might be experiencing similar issues. New research suggests dogs going through puberty act similarly to humans.
The study was published in the scientific journal Biology Letters, which is part of The Royal Society Publishing, on May 13. Naomi Harvey, Ph.D., a zoologist who specializes in companion animal behavior and welfare, says she and her fellow researchers believed that the dog-owner connection would parallel the parent-child relationship in several ways. So, they studied potential guide dogs in the United Kingdom that were all German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, or crosses of those breeds. These dogs all go through puberty when they're about six to nine months old.
The team of researchers first analyzed 70 dogs and their attachment behavior, which is how the dogs acted when their owner left them alone. They found that 5-month-old pups who shared more attachment and attention-seeking behavior, such as being very close to their owner when they're around and showing distress when they're not, were more likely to enter puberty earlier.
Then, they studied how 93 of the dogs responded to commands given by their caregiver compared to a stranger. Out of the total, 82 of them were studied when they were pre-adolescents at 5 months old, 80 were tested when during adolescence at 8 months old, and 69 of the pups were tested at both ages. Interestingly, the team discovered that the older group of dogs were less likely to respond to a sit command than the younger pups. And, this happened only when they were told to do so by their caretaker, not a stranger. In fact, the adolescents were almost twice as likely to ignore the sit commands. (Have you ever asked a teenager to wash the dishes or clean their room?)
In short, the researchers discovered that adolescent dogs can mimic similar behaviors as human teenagers. However, Harvey doesn't want these findings to discourage anyone. "For dog owners, the critical message from this study is that yes, your dog is likely to exhibit some problem behaviors during adolescence, including reduced obedience and perhaps increased separation anxiety, but that it's a completely normal part of the development, and it will pass," she explains. "The best thing for an owner experiencing this to do is to stay calm, cut the dog a bit of slack with their training, and don't give up on them." Even if you do get frustrated with your pet, avoid punishing them, Harvey says. "Punishing dogs for disobedience is never advised, but especially at this age [when] it could backfire and make things worse as it's a sensitive time in the dogs' behavioral development," she says.
Harvey notes that adolescence in dogs is still very understudied, but she'd like to see that change. "[It] would inform us on how best to raise an adolescent dog into a happy, healthy, and emotionally stable adult dog, which will improve life for both dogs and their owners."