BEHAVIOR
May 26, 2020

Rebellious Teenage Dogs

A study of seeing eye dogs finds that around eight months of age many, if not most, dogs become difficult. Don't despair -- it's just a phase.

People aren't the only ones who experience growing pains as they leave childhood behind. It happens to pets, too. And if your cute and obedient puppy has suddenly become as troublesome as a teenager, take heart. It may just be a passing phase.

Just like us, dogs often go through a rebellious adolescence when they're less cooperative. And like a surly teen, they may be willing to listen to others but not to the people they live with. For dogs, this period tends to start at around eight months, a study of seeing eye dogs found.

Teenage dogs are the most likely age group to land in U.S. shelters. This might not happen so often if people realized that their problems were temporary, and they were just being typical adolescents.

The British study followed guide dogs in training at various points in their lives.

In one experiment, 69 dogs, all purebreds or cross breeds of golden or Labrador retrievers, were given a simple test of their behavior at five and eight months old — they were told to sit.

All of the five-month old dogs quickly sat for both their carer and a stranger. But the eight-month old dogs were much more likely to follow the command from a stranger.

Imagine the aggravation of watching your dog refuse to sit for you, but happily doing so for a stranger.

Many owners feel like they're failing when puppies reach this difficult stage, said the study's lead author, Lucy Asher, Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. And they can react in very different ways. Some punish the dogs, some ignore them and others go so far as to send them away.

In fact, teenage dogs are the most likely age group to land in U.S. shelters, according to Asher. This might not happen so often if people realized that it was only temporary, possibly the result of surging hormones, as is often the case in human teens.

Evidence that this is just a passing phase came from another experiment. The main carers of 285 dogs filled out questionnaires about how trainable the dogs were, rating them on behaviors such as whether they refused to obey commands which they had obeyed in the past. They found the dogs less trainable at eight months than at five months, mirroring the results of the "sit" test. But when the dogs were a year old, carers found the dogs were once again responding well to training, rating them as even easier to train than they were at five months. So it seems that this, too, shall pass.

Dogs go through many other changes during adolescence, as you cease to be the center of their universe. Blue Cross, a British organization that helps find homes for abandoned and unwanted pets, offers some tips on how to survive doggy adolescence.

For more details, see the article in Biology Letters.

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