Yesterday, while I was out walking the dogs, i saw two Roebucks rutting. In broad daylight at 8am, having a big chasey scrap – in the middle of a very open field on the heath where I live. There were plenty of dogs and people around, and yet their hormones had overridden their usual caution which stops them from running across an open field at this time of day.
Luckily (well more like as a result of a lot of training), my two grown up dogs don’t chase deer, and Hobson (18 months old) was busy playing with his boxer friend Cooper, so neither of them saw the deer!
My point in telling you about this, is to highlight how hormones make animals do things they would not normally do. These deer put themselves in great danger by a) rutting and b) doing so in daylight in the presence of predators – people and dogs. A total disregard for their own safety. I find it fascinating that animals would do this purely because of their hormones.
If we translate this to dogs, what do you think your dog might do when their hormones are raging? (at this point I should probably say that we feel that neutering is always an ‘it depends’ – on the individual dog and their situation – it’s never a simple yes or no). As dog owners, we pretty much expect our ‘teenage’ dogs to have hormone surges. But are we prepared for our adolescent males to want to fight with other male dogs? or get picked on by other male dogs because they smell so strong? How about our teenage boys running across a road to find a bitch in season – I met someone in Norfolk a few months ago, whose dog had been hit by a car, crossing the road to find the bitch in season on the other side. Remember the deer ^ – they take risks with their safety because their hormones are going crazy – they aren’t doing these things to be naughty – they can’t help it!
(Hobson and his best friend Cooper – both adolescent males)
Are we ready for our female dogs to be grumpy and difficult when they are feeling hormonal? if you have more than one female dog, they might not get on well at all, and how about them howling all night long mid-season because they want to get out to find a ‘husband’? Lots of female dogs have phantom pregnancies too, which is hugely emotional for them, thinking that they have puppies, they will take their toys everywhere, they may protect things, they may be very sad and depressed. Some may get through this naturally, others may need medication from the vet. You must be absolutely sure your female dog is not having a phantom if you are going to spay her, please do seek veterinary advice if you aren’t sure on this – as it can have a big effect on their behaviour for a long time.
(A very young Gracie after having puppies who’d all died – she was very hormonal for a while)
We run a class specifically for adolescent dogs – called Lifeskills. We play games, we continue the training that we did when they were puppies, we generally hang around together and socialise. We can all see when the dogs’ hormones are changing, their behaviour changes, we see flirting, and sometimes slight grumpy behaviour between adolescent boys. It’s not hard for us to manage, because mostly this class is on a loose lead, so we can continue working with the dogs at a distance where they are all calm.
(Hobson and one of his best friends Bonny collie have lots of playdates – boisterous play like this is all part of their interaction and it never gets out of hand because they are both so good at taking breaks – and if they weren’t, we would encourage more breaks.)
This isn’t a time to withdraw your dog from social contact, but it is wise to be cautious and careful who they are mixing with. They’re still at a vulnerable age, still developing their personality. As much as is possible, we want their experiences to be positive, so they need guidance – remember the behaviours they practise are the ones they will repeat. Don’t go for the ‘let them sort it out’ if your adolescent male dog starts getting into difficulties at the local park. Walk somewhere else, meet up with friends who have calm older dogs, increase enrichment at home so that dog interaction isn’t the be all and end all. They don’t need tons of doggy friends, a few really nice friends is perfect. We have to help guide them through this difficult time – they do get through it one way or another. Protect them from situations they can’t cope with, and be prepared for some tricky moments.
© Penel Malby, Dog Communication 2019
Specialising in dogs with anxiety and aggression, Dog Comm offer behavioural consults, 1-2-1s, puppy classes, adolescent dog training classes, workshops, based at Priory Farm, South Nutfield, Surrey and welcoming clients from across London and the South East.
Laura McAuliffe is a Full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors & an ABTC registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist. Penel Malby is a member of the Professional Association of Canine Trainers & an ABTC Registered Animal Training Instructor.