• Dogs ignored their carers' commands more during adolescence
  • Punishing the dogs for the behavior could just make things worse
  • According to the researchers, the problem behavior could be just a passing phase

Researchers found, just like humans, dogs' behavior can also become difficult during their adolescence. They become harder to train and tend to ignore commands at this stage; however, it is just a phase that will eventually pass.

Unfortunately, these behaviors can lead pet owners to give their dogs up.

Researchers studied a group of 69 dogs consisting of Labradors, Golden Retrievers and crossbreeds between the two. They were monitored for their obedience both before adolescence (five months) and during adolescence (eight months), wherein a carer and a consistent stranger gave an established command.

The prediction was the dogs would be less obedient and more difficult during the adolescent phase, something study co-author Dr. Naomi Harvey of the University of Nottingham's School of Veterinary Medicine and Science said professionals and pet owners have long suspected.

The results revealed dogs responded less to the "sit" command during the adolescent phase when it was given by the caregiver, with the odds of ignoring the command being higher at eight months than five months. For the stranger, however, the dogs' response to the command improved between the five-month and eight-month test.

Similar results were also gathered when the researchers looked at a larger group of 285 dogs. The dogs' caregivers gave lower "trainability" scores to the dogs during adolescence, but the trainers that the dogs are less familiar with reported improvements in trainability between five and eight months.

Further, the researchers found female dogs with "insecure" attachments to their caregivers were more likely to reach puberty early and exhibit such difficult behaviors.

"We found that dogs displaying behaviour indicating they are stressed by separation from their main carer were also increasingly disobedient towards that same person," the researchers wrote. "This finding emulates human research, where increases in conflict with parents during adolescence have been associated with insecure attachments."

Pet Dog
Image: Representative image of a pet dog. Pixabay

Because of such "difficult" behaviors during adolescence, some owners tend to give up their dogs during this stage, not knowing it is merely a phase that will eventually pass. Further, the researchers noted punishing dogs for such behaviors could only make things worse.

"Unfortunately, the welfare consequences of adolescence-phase behaviour could be lasting because this corresponds with the peak age at which dogs are relinquished to shelters. Welfare could be also be compromised if problem behaviour results in the use of punishment-based training methods or causes carers to disengage, as it does in humans," the researchers wrote. "It is hoped these issues could be avoided if dog owners were made aware that (as in humans) problem behaviour during adolescence could be just a passing phase."

The study was published in the journal Biology Letters.