We tend to give our beloved dogs human-like qualities, which may be a good thing – because it turns out we’re generally nicer when we see similar personality traits in others! We know this from the insights of several psychological studies, but until now there’s been little by way of scientific study into the natures of our furry friends.
Today we have valuable information available about some key aspects of canine development, including how dogs age. So when they’re getting a bit long in the tooth, do dogs change personalities at the same rate as their owners?
To begin with, the myth about a seven-to-one year ageing ratio between humans and dogs is exactly that, a tall tale without a definite origin. What we do know is we’ve been comparing ageing in man and his best friend since at least the 1200s. An inscription in Westminster Abbey shows the artisans who built the Cosmati Pavement gave man a round tally of eighty years life expectancy and equated one human year to nine in the lifespan of a dog.
Observant dog parents will agree that our four-legged pals age faster during their first two years than we do. Experts set the first year of a medium-sized pup’s life on par with 15 human ones and after the age of two, each year counts for about five dog years.
The lifespan for a dog typically ranges between 8 and 16 years, depending on breed and, unlike whales and elephants, larger dogs have shorter life spans although we still don’t quite know why.
As you’d expect, researchers have found young dogs to be more excitable and energetic than older ones. Just like human teenagers, adolescent dogs can act out and rebel against discipline, ignoring their owners’ commands.
Newcastle’s Lucy Asher, a student of animal behaviour, monitored 70 female German Shepherds, Labrador and Golden Retrievers being reared for potential training as guide dogs. Her team concluded that relationships with caregivers have a huge role to play in outward behaviour.
One characteristic that rarely changes over the course of a dog’s lifetime is its level of fear and anxiety. Reassuringly though, we know that loads of love, positive reinforcement and regular obedience classes really help to build confidence and reduce stress in fearful dogs.
Calmer humans equal calmer dogs and the more we reduce our own anxiety levels, the happier our dogs will become too!
Like humans, a dog's personality changes over time with energy and curiosity naturally lessening with age. But a 2019 study by Hungarian scientists revealed a fascinating discovery. A dog’s capacity for learning new skills steadily increases until about six or eight years of age (the equivalent of our middle age) before plateauing then steadily decreasing in older years at the same rate. In human terms, this equates to roughly 25 - 75 years of age.
So it seems there’s finally proof that old dogs can indeed learn new tricks!