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Dogs go through an angsty teenage phase too

Pups in puberty prefer not to listen to their owners.

Photo Credit: Matthew Foulds
  • In a recent study based in the U.K., dogs took longer to respond to a command to 'sit' by their owners during adolescence.
  • Female dogs who had insecure attachments to their caregivers where more likely to reach puberty prematurely, a similarity that has been found in human girls in some studies.
  • Many dogs are taken to shelters to be moved to a new home during puberty, making adolescence a vulnerable time in a pup's life.

In the first-ever study to find evidence of adolescent behavior in pups, a team of U.K. researchers have shown that dogs experience angst-ridden rebellious teenage years too.

As it turns out, dogs don't like doing as they're told in their teen years either. At the age of eight months, when pups go through puberty, the dogs in the study were more likely to ignore commands given by their caregivers and were in general more of a challenge to train. This rebellious behavior was magnified in the dogs that had insecure attachment styles in relation to their owners.

Research findings

Researchers from Newcastle University, University of Nottingham, and the University of Edinburgh looked at a group of 69 dogs to investigate their adolescent obedience. They monitored behavior in Golden Retrievers and Labradors, as well as cross breeds of the two, at the ages of five months (a bit before adolescence) and eight months (during adolescence).

Dogs took longer to respond to a command to 'sit' during adolescence. However, this was only true when the command was given by their caregiver, not a stranger. The odds that a teen pooch would repeatedly not respond to a 'sit' command from the caregiver were higher at eight months as compared to five months. However, the response to the 'sit' command improved for a stranger between the five and eight month tests, implying that the adolescent dog simply was choosing not to listen to their owner for the sake of not doing as they were told.

This finding was further backed when the team looked at a larger group of 285 dogs that included Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds, as well as their cross breeds. Dog owners and a trainer less familiar with each of the dogs filled out a survey on "trainability," in which they rated statements like: "Refuses to obey commands, which in the past it was proven it has learned" and "Responds immediately to the recall command when off lead."

While the caregivers rated the adolescent dogs lower on trainability as compared to when they were five-months or 12-months-old, trainers less familiar with the dogs reported that they were more trainable between five and eight months of age.

Other human similarities

Photo Credit: FLOUFFY/Unsplash

The team also found that female dogs who had insecure attachments to their caregivers, which is characterized by high levels of attention seeking and stress when separated from them, were more likely to reach puberty prematurely. Interestingly, the same phenomena has been observed in humans; studies have linked girls' early puberty to insecure attachment.

"This data provides the first evidence of cross-species impact of relationship quality on reproductive timing, highlighting another parallel with parent-child relationships," states the Newcastle University press release on this new canine study.

Remember, it’s just a phase

Consequently, many dogs are taken to shelters to be moved to a new home during puberty. According to the study's lead author, Lucy Asher, Ph.D., adolescence can therefore be a vulnerable time in a pup's life.

"This is when dogs are often re-homed because they are no longer a cute little puppy and suddenly, their owners find they are more challenging and they can no longer control them or train them," Asher, a Senior Lecturer in Precision Animal Science, in the University's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, said in the press release. "But as with human teenage children, owners need to be aware that their dog is going through a phase and it will pass."

Naomi Harvey, Ph.D., who co-authored the research, echoed this sentiment, noting that this research has important consequences for dogs and their owners.

"Many dog owners and professionals have long known or suspected that dog behavior can become more difficult when they go through puberty" said Harvey. "But until now there has been no empirical record of this. Our results show that the behavior changes seen in dogs closely parallel that of parent-child relationships, as dog-owner conflict is specific to the dog's primary caregiver and just as with human teenagers, this is a passing phase."

So, as much as you may want to, don't emotionally detach yourself or yell at your poor angsty pup at this time. Teenage years aren't easy for anyone, dogs included.

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