How to think about your dog’s age

Someone asked about the age of adolescence on a dog related social media group, and after typing up my answer, I thought I’d post about it too.

The short answer: It depends on the individual dog and their gender – like in humans.

The long answer: Personally, I use a rough benchmark that around 9 months they’re about the same as a 11-12 year old, 12 months is 15 year old and 18 months is 18 ish (if 2 year old dog is roughly 24 year old human).

As with humans, some have a worse puberty early, while others rebel later… First heat in bitches is usually around 7-8 months which is roughly the same average age as when girls have their first period, and at least our experience was that the second heat was way more significant hormonally which also showed in her behaviour.

This isn’t particularly scientific – I use the Pedigree dog age calculator as a guideline. I’ve tested it with a couple of breeds, and it seems to follow a rule of thumb with average lifespans for small, medium, large and giant breeds – the bigger the dog, the shorter the expectated lifespan etc. Roughly speaking, dogs “age” faster in the first 2 years because they reach sexual maturity then, and as they get older each year is the equivalent of fewer human years, so not a steady rate of 7/1. For example:
0-1 +15 years
1-2 + 7 years
3-4 +4 years
4-5 +4 years

Later on the differences are more significant – a 10 year old Lab is “75” whereas a cocker spaniel (and smaller breeds like dachshund) is closer to “56” because lab lifespan is 10-12 on average and cockers are 12-15. Large dogs in general tend to have shorter life expectancies and they’re therefore also “senior” dogs earlier. If you saw a study last year about “scientists cracking the dog age with genes” you should take it with a pinch of salt , unless you have a lab because they ONLY looked at labrador retrievers.

And although the study was probably right when it comes to the changes on a genetic level, it seems to miss the mark by suggesting that a 1-year-old dog is the human equivalent of a 30 year old. As a canine puberty expert commented in this Guardian article:

“If we think about ageing in terms of how old our cells are, this new paper is really useful in matching up human and dog years,” she said, adding that such biological ageing is important for medical and veterinary health.

But, she said, the match breaks down if ageing is considered in terms of behaviours, hormones or growth – meaning we shouldn’t be surprised at the escapades of young dogs.

“Whilst a 30-year-old human might have cells of an analogous ‘age’ to a one-year-old dog, many dogs won’t be fully grown at this time and they will still have unsettled hormones and behaviour associated with puberty,” she said, noting that one-year-old dogs act more like human teenagers.

“The development of dogs is not just a shortened version of the human development, which is why it’s difficult to find a clear match-up between a dog’s age and a human’s age.”

Every dog year not equivalent to seven human years, scientists find (The Guardian)

Note: for a more precise comparison of puppy development periods and how they might compare to humans, resources like Puppy Culture are useful – something I’ll be looking into soon!

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