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Dogs struggle with adolescence just like teenagers

Dogs are a bit rebellious in their teenage years and struggle with adolescence just as humans do, according to research led by Dr. Lucy Asher of Newcastle University.

The study is the first of its kind to find evidence of adolescent behavior in dogs. 

At the age of eight months, when they were going through puberty, dogs were found to be more likely to ignore commands given by their owner. 

The researchers determined that disobedient behavior was even more noticeable in dogs who had an insecure attachment to their owner, which is characterized by higher levels of attention seeking and separation anxiety.

Dr. Asher said that adolescence can be a vulnerable time for dogs as many are taken to shelters for rehoming at this age.

“This is a very important time in a dog’s life,” said Dr. Asher. “This is when dogs are often rehomed 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.” 

“But as with human teenage children, owners need to be aware that their dog is going through a phase and it will pass.”

The study was focused on 69 dogs, including labradors and golden retrievers. The researchers monitored obedience in the dogs at the ages of five and eight months, which was before and during adolescence. 

When it came to listening to their caregivers, the dogs took much longer to respond to the sit command at the age of eight months compared to five months.

However, when it came to obeying a stranger, the dogs improved their response to the sit command at eight months.

In a separate trial, the team examined “trainability” in a group of 285 dogs. The researchers surveyed both owners and trainers, who rated statements such as: “Refuses to obey commands, which in the past it was proven it has learned” and “Responds immediately to the recall command when off lead.”

The study revealed that dogs were more difficult and less trainable for their caregivers during adolescence. Meanwhile, the dogs were less difficult and more trainable for their trainers at the same age. 

Another significant finding was that female dogs with insecure attachments were more likely to reach puberty early. This is the very first evidence that the relationship quality of two separate species can have an impact on reproductive timing. 

Study co-author Dr. Naomi Harvey said that while the results of the study may not come as a surprise to many dog owners, the research has important implications. 

“Many dog owners and professionals have long known or suspected that dog behaviour can become more difficult when they go through puberty,” said Dr. 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.”

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

The study is published in the journal Biology Letters.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff


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