Need I say more? Adolescence in dogs is very similar to adolescence in people in the sense that both sets of adolescents begin to look away from the comfort and security of their caregivers and begin to explore their surroundings.
When it comes to dogs, owners notice that the polite social graces their dog had as a puppy are quickly taken a dive for the worse! This, of course, causes much concern and frustration for them. But it does not have to be that way, if we understand that this is a natural and normal developmental stage for dogs.
Part of the intricacies of adolescences is the presence of powerful hormones such as testosterone as in the case of male dogs that will remain intact either for their rest of their lives – as it is the case in most countries, or in the case of the USA where he will be neutered once the dog reaches 22 months of age, and in most instances where the dog is a pure breed and has been bought through a breeder. As we are well aware, most dogs that go to shelters are altered upon arrival.
Now, one of the major issues that owners of unaltered male dogs encounter is the difficulty in socializing their pubescent dogs to other dogs, in particular male dogs. Below you will find a terrific and fun article from Dr. Ian Dunbar in which he explains at great length as only he can do the details that are part of this natural process in dog development. The article below is an abstract from Dr. Dunbar’s book: After you get your puppy.
In next week’s post, I will offer my suggestions as to how best continue to socialize to other dogs the unaltered male dog.
Adolescent Dog-Dog Communication by Dr. Ian Dunbar Adapted from AFTER You Get Your Puppy by Dr. Ian Dunbar
A dog’s adolescence is the time when everything starts to fall apart, unless you make a concerted effort to see it through to the stability of adulthood. Your dog’s adolescence is a critical time. If you ignore your dog’s education now, you will soon find yourself living with an ill mannered, under-socialized, hyperactive animal. Here are some things to watch for.
Household etiquette may deteriorate over time, especially if you start taking your dog’s housetraining and other good behavior for granted. But if you taught your pup well in his earlier months, the drift in household etiquette will be slow until your dog reaches his sunset years, when housetraining especially tends to suffer.
Basic manners may take a sharp dive when puppy collides with adolescence. Lure/reward training your puppy was easy: you taught your pup to eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down, stand still, roll over, and look up to you with unwavering attention and respect because you were your pup’s sun, moon, and stars. But now your dog is developing adult doggy interests, such as investigating other dogs’ rear ends, sniffing urine and feces on the grass, rolling in unidentifiable smelly stuff, and chasing squirrels. Your dog’s interests may quickly become distractions to training, so that your dog will continue sniffing another dog’s rear end rather than come running when called. (What a scary thought, that your dog would prefer another dog’s rear end to you!) All of a sudden he won’t come, won’t sit, won’t settle down and stay, but instead jumps up, pulls on-leash, and becomes hyperactive. Bite inhibition tends to drift as your dog gets older and develops more powerful jaws. Giving your dog ample opportunity to wrestle with other dogs, regularly handfeeding kibble and treats, and periodically examining and cleaning your dog’s teeth are the best exercises to ensure that your adolescent dog maintains his soft mouth.
Socialization often heads downhill during adolescence, sometimes surprisingly precipitously. As they get older, dogs have fewer opportunities to meet unfamiliar people and dogs. Puppy classes and parties are often a thing of the past and most owners have established a set routine by the time their dog is five or six months old. At home, the dog interacts with the same familiar friends and family, and is walked, if at all, on the same route to the same dog park, where they encounter the same old people and the same old dogs. Consequently, many adolescent dogs become progressively desocialized toward unfamiliar people and dogs until eventually they become intolerant of
all but a small inner circle of friends. If your adolescent dog does not get out and about regularly and few unfamiliar people come to the house, his desocialization may be alarmingly rapid.
At five months your dog was a social butterfly with nothing but wiggles and wags when greeting people, but by eight months of age he has become defensive and lacking in confidence: he barks and backs off, or he snaps and lunges with hackles raised. A previously friendly adolescent dog might suddenly and without much warning be spooked by a household guest.
Puppy socialization was a prelude to your safe and enjoyable continued socialization of your adolescent dog. However, your adolescent dog must continue meeting unfamiliar people regularly, otherwise he will progressively desocialize. Similarly, successful adolescent socialization makes it possible for you to safely and enjoyably continue to socialize your adult dog. Socialization is an on ongoing process.
Dog-Dog Socialization also deteriorates during adolescence, often at an alarming rate, especially for very small and very large dogs. First, teaching a dog to get along with every other dog is difficult. Groups of wild canids — wolves, coyotes, jackals, etc. — seldom welcome strangers into their midst, but that’s exactly what we expect of Canis familiaris. Second, it is unrealistic to expect a dog to be best friends with every dog. Much like people, dogs have special friends, casual acquaintances, and individuals they don’t particularly like. Third, it is quite natural for dogs (especially males) to squabble. In fact, it is a are male dog that has never been involved in some physical
Everything was fine with young pups playing in class and in parks, but with adolescent dogs, the scraps, the arguments, and even the play-fighting seem all too real. A dog’s first adolescent fight often marks the beginning of the end of his socialization with other dogs. Again, this is especially true for very small and very large dogs. Owners of small dogs are understandably concerned about their dog’s safety and may be disinclined to allow their dogs to run with the big dogs. Here is where socialization starts downhill and the small dog becomes increasingly snappy and scrappy.
Similarly, owners of large dogs (especially the working breeds) are understandably concerned that their dogs might hurt smaller dogs.
Here too socialization goes downhill and the big dog becomes increasingly snappy and scrappy. Now we’re in vicious circle: the less the dog is socialized, the more likely he is to fight and thus be less socialized.
Always make a point of praising your dog and offering a couple of treats whenever he eliminates in the right place. Keep a treat container by your dog’s toilet area. You need to be there anyway to inspect and pick up your dog’s feces (before the stool becomes home and dinner for several hundred baby flies). Remember, you want your
dog to want to eliminate in his toilet area and to be highly motivated to do so, even when he develops geriatric incontinence.
Similarly, a stuffed Kong a day will continue to keep the behavior doctor away. Your dog still needs some form of occupational therapy to idle away the time when left at home alone. There is no magic potion and there is no drug that will prevent household problems, such as destructive chewing, excessive barking, and hyperactivity, or alleviate boredom, stress, and anxiety as quickly, easily and effectively stuffing your dog’s daily diet of kibble into a few Kongs.
For your adolescent dog to continue to be reliably obedient and willingly compliant, you must integrate short training interludes, especially emergency sits and long settle-downs, into walks, play sessions, and your dog’s other enjoyable day-to-day activities.
Maintaining your dog’s manners through adolescence is easy if you know how to, but extremely difficult if you don’t. You must learn how to integrate training into the dog’s lifestyle.
Should socialization ever fail and your dog snap, lunge, or nip a person, you will be thankful that you had the good sense to take your puppy to classes where he learned reliable bite inhibition. Your dog’s defensive actions cause no harm but they warn you that you’d better quickly revamp your dog’s socialization program and maintain his bite inhibition exercises before it happens again. Which it will. Continue bite inhibition exercises indefinitely. Occasionally handfeed your dog and examine his muzzle and teeth (and maybe clean them) on a regular basis.
The secret to a well-socialized adult dog is at least one walk a day and a couple of trips a week to the dog park. Try to find different walks and different dog parks, so that your dog meets a variety of different dogs and people. Socialization means training your dog to meet and get along with unfamiliar dogs and people. The only way to accomplish this is for your dog to continue meeting unfamiliar people and dogs daily. Praise your dog and offer a piece of kibble every time he meets an unfamiliar dog or person.
And don’t forget to maintain your own improved social life by inviting your friends over at least once a week, just to keep them still involved in training your dog. Ask them to bring along somebody new to meet your dog. Host a puppy party and invite your dog’s buddies from puppy class and the dog park. To offset some of the scarier aspects of the dog world at large — adult dogs, big dogs, and occasionally unfriendly dogs — make sure your adolescent dog has regular opportunity to socialize and play with his core companions from puppy school.
“In man, social intercourse has centered mainly on the process of absorbing fluid into the organism, but in the domestic dog and to a lesser extent among all wild canine species, the act charged with most social significance is the excretion of fluid. For man the pub, the estaminet, the Biergarten, but for the dog the tree trunk, the lintel of door or gate, and above all the lamppost, form the focal points of community life. For a man, the flavors of alcoholic drinks, but for a dog the infinitely variegated smells of urine are the most potent stimuli for the gregarious impulse.” From The Lamppost, A Study of the Social Life of the Domestic Dog by Sirius (quoted in Sirius by Olaf Stapledon)
Humans communicate largely by the spoken and written word. (Hence this book.)
Dogs, however, employ several different “languages” Body language — comprising a broad repertoire of facial expressions and body postures such as, play bows, butt-swings, submissive grins, piloerection, ear dips and tail wags Vocal communication — via a wide variety of barks plus all sorts of whimpers, whines, howls and growls Olfactory communication — by investigating muzzles, ear glands, tail glands, vaginal and anal sac secretions and particularly, from sniffing urine and fecal deposits of other dogs. Dogs may discern an enormous amount of social information using their well developed sense of smell.
Body Language Even though few of us are fluent in the many dog languages, most of us can tell the difference between a friendly dog and an unfriendly one. The dog seems to get the message across with very little difficulty. It is as easy to sense the aura of a confident, relaxed and easygoing dog as it is to observe specific behaviors and body postures. Such dogs fairly exude warmth and friendliness: Head held high with a big doggy laugh, gamboling gait, with a relaxed, curved tail wagging the dog’s rump. Similarly one can literally feel the tension emanating from a dog which is not friendly: Head lowered, ears flattened, piercing stare, teeth bared, growling, piloerection along the back, stiff-legged, and tail held high, straight, stiff and usually vibrating.
Similarly, it is easy for most people to distinguish between highranking and low-ranking dogs. Characteristically a high-ranking dog walks with a confident and purposeful gait, with head and tail held high, large eyes and raised ears, whereas a low-ranking slinks along in a fawning, obsequious gait, with lowered head, drawn back lips and protruding or licking tongue, narrow blinking eyes, lowered or flattened ears, raised paw and tail tucked between the legs. In extreme submission the dog may roll over and urinate.
It is hard to live with a dog for even a few days without learning a wide vocabulary of his body language. Most owners have a fairly firm grounding on how a dog acts when he is happy, confident, friendly, deferential, fearful, or aggressive. In fact, most dog owners have successfully compiled a comprehensive and descriptive doggy dictionary of body language covering much of the dog’s behavior repertoire.
Vocalizations The most misunderstood canine cues are vocalizations. Barking and especially growling are nearly always interpreted as threats, and on occasions, they are. But often they aren’t. Barking, by its very nature is thought to be the ultimate vacillatory cue, expressed when the dog experiences conflict between two courses of action. For example, barking means: “I want to play…
but I daren’t,” “I like you… but I’m not sure,” or “Come here… but keep your distance.” Once the dog makes up his mind of what he wants to do, he generally does it, whereupon he has neither the time nor the inclination to bark.
Growling is more commonly used as a threat. Even so, feeling uneasy in a given situation is by far the most common reason for a dog to growl. Alternatively, growling and maybe soft biting/mouthing may be used as solicitations to play. Growling can be particularly worrying to owners, because often there are no discernible differences between threat-growls, insecure-growls and the dog’s vast repertoire of playgrowls.
What if you have a lot of difficulty stopping the dog from growling? Are we dealing with a dreaded dominant delinquent dog? — An aggressive cur? — An alpha leader of the pack? Most likely not. Characteristically, growly and blustery dogs are middle-ranking males, who have limited experience and are insecure of there social standing and so, usually resort to bluff and protracted threats. Often the dog may growl incessantly to add major emphasis to a minor point. Most overtly aggressive dogs are all bark and no bite. Indeed, a true top dog is a rather cool and relaxed customer, who very rarely resorts to threats of any kind, let alone lengthy blustery bluffs. Instead the threat is subtle and the follow up is immediate, short and sharp.
Often, “atmosphere cues” provide the only clue to correctly interpret the dog’s intentions. Atmosphere cues may range from quite subtle movements (e.g., paw-raising) to gross body gestures (e.g., playbows and prances), which signal a change in the meaning of everything that follows. For example, raising a paw signals that subsequent chasing, growling and biting are all meant in play. Dogs excel in reading contextual cues; most people do not.
Olfactory Communication Many dog owners have realized, dogs urinate far more frequently than is required by physiological need. Indeed, urinary scent marking serves many important functions, including territorial demarcation, sexual attraction, individual recognition and advertisement of puppy license.
Puppy License To Misbehave Testosterone is the hormone which makes male urine smell male. Thus, the “maleness” of a dog’s urine depends on level of testosterone in the body. In most mammals, adults have much higher testosterone levels than youngsters. This is not true for dogs though. Plasma testosterone levels start to rise by the time the male pup reaches four to five months old, whereafter testosterone levels reach a maximum at ten months of age and then fall to adult male levels by eighteen months of age. At the ten-month peak, testosterone levels in adolescent male dogs may be as much as five to seven times greater than adult levels.
Urine odor, therefore, betrays the age of young male dogs. The odor of puppy urine is quite distinct. The puppy’s size, shape, sound, color, behavior and especially, his smell, all advertise the youngster’s age. A rollover with a leaky urethra is a means for the pup to display his puppy license to older and/or higher ranking individuals: “Yo! Sniff this urine. See, I’m just a young puppy and don’t know any better. Please
don’t harm me. I didn’t mean to jump on your tail and bite your ears.
He! He! He!” And sure enough, most socialized adult dogs are quite tolerant and lenient towards young pupskis. However… once testosterone levels start to rise, the male puppy’s license to misbehave is rudely canceled. In fact, by ten months of age, adolescent male urine smells sooper-dooper, ultra-mega-hyper-male, informing all adult dogs: “Why looky here. This young urinater must be a developing
male adolescent — a potential thorn in the side of social harmony. Let’s educate the young fellow right now, while we still can.” And sure enough, most adult dogs (especially males) start to harass developing male pups to put them in their place before they become a significant challenge on the social scene.
Territorial Marking? The concept of territoriality incorporates the notions of marking as well as defence. In wolf packs, a greater concentration of male urine marks appear to be distributed along the peripheral buffer zone of the pack’s territory compared with the core of the territory.
Perimeter marking by males is similarly prominent with domestic dogs. But, since most domestic dogs are confined to artificial “territories” by walls and fences, and since male dogs tend to urinate against vertical objects, one would expect the majority of urine marking to occur along the perimeter. Surprisingly though, perimeter marking was not observed in an observational study of free-ranging suburban domestic dogs, i.e., dogs which silly owners allowed to roam the neighborhood at different times of the day and night. Instead, free-roaming dogs regularly and heavily marked a number of often-used radial routes, which lead away from and back to their individual homes. Thus, most marking occurred close to home.
Free-roaming dogs did not actively protect the central area of their home range from other free-roaming dogs, nor did urinary scent marking appear to be effective in repelling other dogs, which freely entered and marked inhabited areas, sometimes when the resident was present. Free roaming domestic dogs do not appear to be in the least bit territorial and in fact, some dogs welcome visitors.
Dogs can distinguished between urine marks from different individuals and male dogs sniff and urinate more frequently in response to urine marks from unfamiliar males, compared with urine from familiar males and compared with their own urine. Also, a dog’s response to unfamiliar urine decreases with repeated exposure, as if “strange male” urine progressively loses its strangeness. Rather than being an agonistic display of territorial defense, urinary scent marking by domestic dogs appears to be a means to make a strange environment smell like home, by masking the unfamiliar odors with individual urine. Urine marking appears to be the canine equivalent of personalizing a new home with furnishings and possessions. Urinary scent marking is not the prerogative of male dogs.
On the contrary, many bitches urine mark and also, many bitches will raise a leg when doing so. However, the female manner of raising a hind leg usually differs from the characteristic male leg lift posture. Male dogs stand with body weight forwards while a hind leg is abducted at the hip joint and the stifle swings out and upwards to lie above the backbone, so that urine may be jetted laterally towards some vertical object, which was in dire need of marking. Bitches, on the other hand, normally raise a hind paw which is brought forwards underneath the body, usually while the bitch is partially squatting. Often her rear end may be swiveled to one side to direct the urine.
Basically, dog urine is the canine equivalent of e-mail. P-mail if you like. Each urine mark contains its own message displayed on a communal message board. “Spot was here!” “So was Rex!” “Me too! Little Twerpie here.” “Hi! My name’s Butch and I’m ten months old.” “Well, my name’s Roger and I’ve been neutered.” “Shame! This is Trixie and I’m just hot to trot!” “Spot was here!” “Me too!” “Me too!” “Me too!” “And me. It’s Twerpie again.