So 1 dog year equals 7 peo­ple years? Not so fast ...

Dogs have life stages a lot like hu­mans, but it’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - LINDA LOM­BARDI

Ev­ery­one says it: one year for a dog equals seven years for a hu­man.

But like a lot of things ev­ery­one says, it’s wrong.

Dogs do have life stages a lot like hu­mans’, but the math isn’t that straight­for­ward. To start, a 1-yearold dog isn’t equiv­a­lent to a 7-yearold hu­man.

“If you look at a 1-year-old dog, he’s sex­u­ally ma­ture,” says vet­eri­nar­ian Dr. Marty Becker. “They still have a lit­tle fill­ing out to do and they’re not com­pletely men­tally ma­ture, but they’re full adult size and ca­pa­ble of re­pro­duc­ing.”

Vet­eri­nary be­haviourist Dr. Lisa Ra­dosta sug­gests think­ing of a year-old dog as roughly men­tally equiv­a­lent to a 13-year-old hu­man. This means that a lot of de­vel­op­ment is packed into your puppy’s first year.

“If I keep my hu­man baby home for the first year of her life, it doesn’t mat­ter. I have a lot of time be­fore she gets to kinder­garten age at 5,” Ra­dosta says. “But if you wait with a dog, you now have a teenager on your hands — a teenager who’s never seen a UPS truck, never seen a man in a hat, never seen a dog who barks at him.”

That’s why it’s crit­i­cal for pup­pies to get out and learn about the world dur­ing that first year. Within the first four or five months, they go through dis­tinct pe­ri­ods when they are most open to dif­fer­ent kinds of ex­pe­ri­ences and new peo­ple. Pos­i­tive ex­po­sure in that pe­riod lays a sound foun­da­tion, but you also need to look out for a sec­ond stage, usu­ally some­where be­tween four and eight months, when dogs may de­velop new fears.

“Your dog might be per­fectly fab­u­lous with men with hats, and then at six months old he says no, they’re fright­en­ing,” Ra­dosta says. “You have to work through it.”

Train­ers also want you to know that dogs go through a stage much like hu­man ado­les­cence.

“It’s a stage when a lot of re­la­tion­ships with dogs break down,” says Pa­tri­cia McCon­nell, a trainer and cer­ti­fied ap­plied an­i­mal be­haviourist. “And it’s un­der­stand­able — your puppy sat when­ever you asked for four months, and now he looks at you like he’s never heard that word be­fore.”

When a dog will go through this stage dif­fers by breed and in­di­vid­ual, but it’s less up­set­ting if you un­der­stand that it’s a nor­mal part of mat­u­ra­tion.

“Dogs seem to go through a pe­riod be­tween usu­ally six to 10 or 11 months in which a lot of their im­pulse con­trol falls apart, a lot of their train­ing falls apart, a lot of their in­ter­est in pay­ing at­ten­tion to you and do­ing what you ask falls apart,” says McCon­nell. Sound fa­mil­iar? Take a deep breath, take a cou­ple steps backs in your train­ing and help them do it right. And re­mem­ber, this stage will pass.

Dogs be­come so­cially ma­ture be­tween 1 and 3 years of age.

“Think of that as age 13 to maybe 21, 22, 23 — the age when par­ents say that their kids are nor­mal again,” says Ra­dosta. “Then from 3 to about 10, you’re cruis­ing.”

At the other end of the life­span, we see why the seven-year rule seemed to make sense.

“Peo­ple think, ‘My dad lived to 70. Seventy is a de­cent life­span for a hu­man, 10 is de­cent for a lot of dogs,’” says Becker.

But dogs of dif­fer­ent sizes tend to have dif­fer­ent life­spans and age at dif­fer­ent rates; it’s im­por­tant to know when to start look­ing out for the prob­lems of old age.

“With gi­ant-breed dogs, we have to con­sider them se­nior cit­i­zens af­ter the age of 5,” says Becker. “With a Lab it might be 7, with a small-breed dog it might be age 9.”

Older dogs’ is­sues will sound fa­mil­iar: joint prob­lems are com­mon, as is putting on weight as the me­tab­o­lism slows down.

Becker says many other prob­lems are as­so­ci­ated with obesity — heart, res­pi­ra­tory, even skin prob­lems, and an in­creased risk of cancer — so keep­ing weight down is im­por­tant in your dog’s golden years.

“If you keep your pets leaner — close to what they weighed at a year of age — they’re go­ing to live longer and be health­ier,” says Becker.

Dogs can also suf­fer from de­men­tia, which vet­eri­nar­i­ans call Cog­ni­tive Dys­func­tion Syn­drome.

Ra­dosta says that once dogs reach 11 or 12, about one-quar­ter have at least one sign of de­men­tia. She pro­vides a screen­ing check­list on her web­site. (www.fl­vetbe­haviour.com/cds-check­list.html )

When you see changes in your older dog, don’t as­sume that “it’s just old age” and noth­ing can be done. Even for de­men­tia, vets can pre­scribe treat­ments. Or there might be a med­i­cal prob­lem that isn’t age-re­lated.

Fi­nally, McCon­nell says that even when older dogs are rel­a­tively healthy, they might see life a lit­tle dif­fer­ently.

“They can get tired more eas­ily, be a lit­tle grumpier and a lit­tle less pa­tient,” she says. “Don’t hold on to the past — look at your dog now.”

This com­pos­ite of 10 pho­to­graphs shows Os­car, a wire-haired dachs­hund from 8 weeks old, top left, to 10 years old, bot­tom right.

A pug named Lilly stands by her cake on her 14th birth­day.

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