In this latest blog, I talk about the main life stages of your dog and what you can expect from their behaviour at each stage. And crucially, I’ll be talking about why your dog probably won’t grow out of their unwanted behaviours – sorry!
In September, Dr Samantha Gaines told MPs that the problem with pandemic dogs wasn’t over as dog behaviour problems were frequently reported at around 2.5 years old. Dogs are often brought to me at either 9 months or 2.5 years old, and it got me wondering why that was!
Shortly after this, I had an email from a family requesting help for their dog. In the end they decided to wait and see if the dog would grow out of the behaviour before taking any action. Their dog was around a year old. But it occurred to me that that’s why there is a spike of help requests at 2.5 years old. This is the age that people give up hope that their dog will grow out of their unwanted behaviour and they finally seek help.
Puppy stage (3-24 weeks)
This is that all important socialisation period. In this stage they will want to taste, chew, sniff, touch and play with everything they come across. They want to explore everything as they normalise the world around them. To allow they do to this effectively they are naturally less vulnerable to fear and anxiety.
At this stage they are also particularly keen to please us. They are unable to look after themselves at this young age, so they must impress their caregiver. If they failed to please us, we might not keep them safe and fed, so their survival depends on it.
Maslows pyramid shows us an adult dog’s needs in order of most vital at the bottom, to least vital at the top. For a puppy, their caregiver is in charge of worrying about fulfilling the needs at the bottom of the pyramid, all they care about is the top half – and in particular achievement, confidence and learning. Of course, this will all change when they become a teenager…
Teenager stage (6-18 months)
Suddenly your dog is no longer a pup, he’s a teenager. He learned a lot during the first few months, now he is preparing for adulthood. The bottom layers of Maslows pyramid of needs have become important as your dog is learning how to keep himself safe, find food, and survive.
During this phase adolescent hormones have starting affecting his behaviour. He is testing his boundaries, and experimenting with new behaviours. This causes his behaviour to be very changeable at times, which is the main reason 9 month old dogs are frequently surrendered, or brought to me!
He is also particularly vulnerable to overwhelm and doesn’t have much tolerance for new things. Unwanted experiences at this age can easily lead to anxiety and reactive behaviour. So we can see that at this stage of your pups development, he is finding and developing new behaviours, not less.
Young adult (18-36 months)
Your dog is now settling down now into a steady pattern of behaviour. Testosterone has provided confidence and growth but he doesn’t need so much of that now so it will settle a bit. As a teenager he tried all kinds of new behaviours and whilst he might have stopped experimenting, the stuff that worked will stick around and this will form the basis for his adult behaviour.
Basically, if a behaviour fulfils a need, avoids pain, or makes the dog feel good, they will keep doing it. Dogs don’t suddenly find things less scary or want your attention less just because they are aging. In fact, those things might actually get worse as the teenager hormones that boosted confidence are now waning too. So, while he might experiment less, and he might be more predictable, he won’t be growing out of anything in this phase either. He’s picked the behaviour that worked for him, and now he’s forming habits!
So why 2.5 years
It’s true that dogs will settle as they age, but we can see that whatever behaviours have worked are now becoming part of their routine. His hormones are settled and it’ll take an action such as a new experience, pain, or you, to change behaviour from now on.
It’s also true that he will be less distracted or impulsive, and this makes behaviour training much more predictable and steady. They also need less exercise, socialisation and play. BUT learning and experience forms behaviour. If the behaviour serves a purpose it won’t change by itself.
So, I guess 2.5 years is the point that people give up hope of natural change. When in fact, the last chance the dog might have naturally grown out of anything unwanted is actually as your pup become an adolescent at around six months of age. From that point onwards, they are growing in-to, not out-of bad habits!
Are you struggling with your dogs behaviour?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!