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Many devoted pet parents have seen affectionate, obedient puppies suddenly morph into sullen, standoffish young dogs. A recent study conducted by researchers at several universities in the United Kingdom suggests that mood swings and behavioral changes are a normal part of a dog’s aging process. They’re not signs of a permanent shift, just part of a brief and inevitable phase. Like human children, dogs go through a period of puberty and adolescence. The study offers reassurance to pet parents who may be struggling with unruly new pets.
A New Study of the Canine Brain
In May, a team of researchers at the UK’s Nottingham University, Newcastle University, and University of Edinburgh assessed the behavior of 69 pets and surveyed nearly 300 pet owners. The subjects included female German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and others being trained to become guide dogs. Their observations focused on dogs both before (at 5 months of age) and during (at eight months of age) puberty. 5-month-old canines were shown to quickly obey commands from both their owners and strangers. Once they reached puberty, however, the animals were less likely to obey their owners and just as likely to obey a stranger, as if in defiance of their owners.
The study’s questionnaire returned similar results. Owners generally agreed that dogs were harder to train and less likely to obey commands during their adolescence. Even especially well-behaved pets, owners reported, became a handful somewhere between five and eight months of age. Findings suggest that pooches who are prone to nervousness and separation anxiety are more likely to experience puberty early. These anxious and fearful pets are also more likely than others to become especially disobedient during this period.
Dogs and Adolescence
“Teenaged” dogs are more likely than any others to find themselves relinquished by owners. Many owners believe that adolescent antics are signs of a permanent change. The study’s leader, Dr. Lucy Asher of Newcastle University, hopes that her team’s findings will change the way pet parents think about misbehavior. They’re hopeful that distressed parents will begin to recognize bad behavior as a temporary nuisance and develop solutions that don’t involve punishing pups or relinquishing them to shelters. “We would suggest,” Dr. Asher says, “people remain consistent and use rewards… during this time and understand it’s just a passing phase.”
How Old Is Your Dog?
Received wisdom suggests that dogs age seven years for every human year. Science, on the other hand, has confirmed that canine aging isn’t that simple. As early as the 1950s, veterinarians knew that dogs age at variable rates, based on their size, breed, and other factors. During their first year, most pups age about twenty times faster than humans. They age at a more gradual rate as they get older. By midlife, they will age five times faster than humans. While small breeds tend to mature more quickly, they also generally live longer than larger breeds.
Not sure how old your dog is? Taking a close look at their teeth, eyes, and coat could be your best bet for making an informed estimate. Read this article to learn more about the complicated formula for determining your dog’s true age.