Teenage troubles? New insights into your pup’s adolescent phase.

“The little rebel has blossomed! Every day is Independence Day!…” I wrote in my book while talking about raising a 6-month old cocker spaniel who was just about to hit the adolescent phase.

Do dogs really go through a teenage stage? They do, indeed. Right after they just got over the teething, the pups give their parents hardly any break before returning in a manner of a hormone-powered comet… or a little beastie, as I refer to mine.

The little fireball once, and now vaguely, remembered as the fluffy angel suddenly develops selective hearing and tantrums, and worst of all, seems to forget every command he learnt in the past few months.

“He is not listening to me!”

“She just run away and refused to come back and I ended up running around calling her like an idiot!”

“They seem to be doing their own thing on walks now… like I don’t exist…”

“All our training seemed to have gone down the drain!”

“How long this teenage stage last in dogs?”

Sounds familiar? I can almost see you node because it’s that “wonderful time of puppy parenthood” we all get to experience. Just like human teenagers, the young pups arrive at the adolescent phase of their life and simply can’t help but act up in a very unruly manner… Of course, it can be frustrating for both parties. The pup parents may feel that they failed as caring guardians and the pups experience such a surge of physiological and emotional changes they can barely deal with them all…

Fortunately, the rebelling phase passes relatively quickly making every parent experience the euphoria that Nietzsche perfectly summed up as “what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” once it’s over…

But despite it’s predictability and everything we already know about dogs, it is always interesting to hear new insights into canine behaviour because, in my opinion, it can help some people remain more tolerable and understanding when dealing with a growing pup and strengthen the canine-human bond when most needed.

The new study recently published by the Royal Society in the May 2020 issue of Biology Letters looked into the relationship between adolescent dogs and their human parents and came up with some very curious results.

According to the research, the dogs with stronger attachment to their owners experienced an earlier onset of the adolescent stage when compared to ones showing more independent and detached behaviour.

When it came to training, the pre-adolescent pups were happy to listen and perform commands given by their owners and trainers, however, their reaction and attention changed dramatically once they moved into the adolescent phase.

Unlike their younger self, the teenagers showed much higher odds of disobedience when given voice cues by their human parents. This was particularly obvious in dogs who experienced anxiety when separated from their owners. Yet, interestingly, the same dogs behaved a little better when working with a stranger or a trainer (which made me think of all the parents home-schooling their teenagers during the lockdown and praising teachers who seemed to be a lot more in control…). The latter didn’t depend on the skills level of the person in charge but rather the attachment between the dog and his owner.

Once the peak of adolescent stage was over (the dogs used in the study were 5, 8 and 12 months old), the level of trainability in pups improved naturally, without aids or force.

Even though the subject can and should be studied further, I see this study as a valuable reminder for all pup parents and trainers about paying particular attention and care to raising an adolescent puppy, especially a cocker spaniel puppy who is not only extra sensitive but prone to separation-related issues.

The teenage rebellion always passes, so it is up to us to guide the little cocker spaniel through this phase with positive training and a wagon-full of patience – and never base our parenting and training decisions on moments of frustration and despair.

 

Image credit: Cooper photographed by me

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