Do Dogs Go Through Puberty?


puppy chewing shoe puppy chewing shoe
Puppies are the canine equivalent of the teenager. They're in the midst of adolescence and they exhibit terrible behaviors, like chewing shoes. gradyreese/Getty Images

It's an ages-old question: Do dogs go through puberty? Actually, it's not an ages-old-question; it's a rather odd question, but an important one for dog owners. You might assume the answer is no because you probably don't ever remember your golden doodle barking, "I hate you! You've ruined my life. You never let me go to the dog park!" and then stomping off and slamming his doggy door behind him.

OK, so that particular scenario isn't one that really happens, but the answer to whether dogs (and other animals) go through puberty is yes. So whether your child is two-legged or four-legged, there is only one way to reach adulthood, and that is straight through puberty.

Puppies and Puberty

Dogs, for instance, go through hormonal changes that are similar to humans. However, because they have significantly shorter life spans, the moody and difficult period of adolescence happens when they are puppies. A typical puppy goes through puberty somewhere between four and 20 months (the equivalent of a human's first 18 years!). Small breeds develop faster than large breeds, and like humans, female dogs typically mature faster than males.

There won't be acne or facial hair (facial hair is not the best measure of pet puberty), but like human adolescence, dogs in puberty exhibit less than desirable behavior. Males tend to mark and mount, as well as "roam," which is the dog equivalent of sneaking out of the house to cruise for girls with a carful of teenage friends.

Female dogs reach sexual maturity once they go into "heat." They will show physical signs as it approaches, such as excessive shedding and licking of genitals. Male dogs are drawn to the female's scent when they are in heat, so girl pups should be kept indoors, and have a secure physical barrier around them when outdoors.

A female dog can become pregnant during her first heat (just like they tell you in high school). And due to an increased chance of health and behavioral problems, veterinarians advise against spaying or breeding a dog before that.

Personality Changes

In addition to gender specific behavior, pubescent boy and girl dogs share a variety of new personality traits and behavior, which can include anxiety, insecurity, irritability, jumpiness, an increased independence, as well as a reluctance to come when called. They may also begin to act territorial and protective or even become picky about playmates and fight with other dogs. (There aren't any anti-bullying PR campaigns for dog tweens and teens, yet, but never say never.)

Dog adolescence is also accompanied by an abundance of energy (unlike humans — have you ever tried to get a teenager out of bed in the morning?). This can often lead to chewing (the wrong things), pulling on leashes and digging, if their humans don't give provide positive outlets such as playing, running and going on frequent walks and outings.

In addition to needing healthy avenues for extra energy during this period, experts say it's important that pets are mentally stimulated by playing, exploring new places and learning new tricks. Dogs should be routinely socialized, because along with puberty can come a sudden fear of people or things that haven't been issues in the past. This is a critical time, when early adolescent puppies develop emotionally, gain confidence and decide who they trust.

Sadly, the majority of shelter dogs arrive during a dog's adolescence because people don't realize their pet's sudden bad behavior is a developmental phase that will end.

If you decide to include a four-legged addition to your family, you know the road ahead is not one that is paved entirely with rainbows, treats and squeaky toys. But when Muffin begins to act ornery around six-months, be thankful that she isn't too embarrassed to be seen walking with you.