Disobeying the rules and being moody are not uncommon traits for adolescent humans during their teenage years.
But new research suggests that dogs go through the same difficult teenage phase as their owners.
Researchers at universities in Newcastle, Nottingham and Edinburgh looked at 69 dogs before adolescence (five months) and then again during it (eight months). They observed that dogs become less responsive to instructions from their owner or carer during adolescence.
Dr Lucy Asher, co-author of the research at Newcastle University told The Guardian, “Generally teenagers that have a less secure relationship with their parents are those that are more likely to show more conflict behaviour towards their parents.
“That’s the same finding that we have [between adolescent dogs and their carers].”
Writing in the journal Biology Letters, Asher and her colleagues report how they explored canine adolescence by looking at the behaviour of potential guide dogs. This includes breeds such as German shepherds, golden retrievers, labrador retrievers or crosses of these breeds - which start puberty at about six to nine months old.
Why teenage dogs misbehave
Similar to humans, Asher suggests that dogs who are not as secure about their bond with their owner may misbehave in order to test its strength. She explains that, in dogs, this could help the animal decide whether it is better to stay with its owner or follow its reproductive urges and find a mate.
The experiments the team conducted included looking at how obedient male and female dogs were to commands such as “sit” at various different ages.
The results from 82 dogs aged five months, and 80 dogs aged eight months revealed that adolescents were less obedient to commands from their carers than the younger pups.
Asher said, “They are nearly twice as likely to ignore the ‘sit’ command when they are eight months as compared to when they are five month”.
Owners must be understanding
The research findings were then backed up by questionnaire responses which included a wider group of 285 dogs. A drop in trainability was reported by carers, but not dog trainers (who were less familiar to the dogs) between five and eight months old.
Asher said she hoped that the research findings would help carers be more understanding of their dogs, as she notes there is a spike in owners that take their dogs to shelters when the pets hit adolescence.
Ashers said, “In general we'd ask owners to be kind to their dog during this time and understand it's just a passing phase."