A new study published in the journal Biology Letters reveals that a dog’s status as “man’s best friend” becomes frayed during the lovable canine’s adolescence. Much like humans, dogs experience a non-cooperative stage as they reach puberty, often refusing to listen to their caregivers.
The researchers studied a group of 69 dogs, including Labradors, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador-Retriever cross-breeds, to see how canine obedience varied with age. Dogs reach puberty at eight months, bringing with it a rush of hormones and anatomical changes as is experienced by humans. It wasn’t clear if these anatomical and biomedical changes brought about similar emotions for dogs as it does for humans, so the researchers looked at how the puberty-stricken dogs reacted to their owners.
They found dogs were more disobedient at the eight-month mark, taking longer to sit when the instruction was given by a caregiver but still complying with the same demands made by strangers. Non-compliant behavior was seen most often during puberty at eight months of age compared to five months.
The behavior of ignoring a caregiver compared to a stranger was also more pronounced in dogs with an insecure attachment to their owner. Dr Lucy Asher, a senior lecturer in Precision Animal Science at Newcastle University's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, warns that adolescence should be considered as a problematic factor in canine adoptions. She expresses that a shift in living conditions for vulnerable dogs at this time could lead to difficulties for animals taken to shelters for rehoming at this age.
"This is a very important time in a dog's life," Dr Asher explained in a statement. "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."
"Many dog owners and professionals have long known or suspected that dog behavior can become more difficult when they go through puberty," said Dr Naomi Harvey, co-author of the research from the University of Nottingham's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and the charity Dog's Trust. "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," said Dr Asher. "This would be likely to make any problem behavior worse, as it does in human teens".