Life stages

For the first time in nearly a year, I missed a Friday. Can you forgive me? *grins*

Anyway, let’s talk about something ALL dog owners go through, often without realizing it: Life stages.

When I talk about “life stages,” I might be talking about one of two things. I use the term incorrectly about half the time: I should talk about “developmental stages” and “life stages.” Bad dog trainer! *grins*

This week, I’m going to discuss life stages (using the correct term!). Next week, we’ll tackle developmental stages!


I often hear people say, “I got a puppy because I read it would be good to help my older dog get younger, again.” This is sort of true. A dog under 6 will get younger again. They’re likely to have bouts of playing and enjoy (or tolerate) parenting a puppy. A dog over 6 will have to defend themselves from a puppy, with extremely occasional bouts of playing. It will force them to get up and deal with things, but not in a positive way. If your dog is over 6, be aware that you’re going to have to act as referee unless you get an older dog, one that is out of the puppy life stage.

In general, if you have a dog and you’re thinking of getting another one, look for a dog that’s only one life stage different from the dog you have now. They’ll get along much better, and make your life much easier! Keep in mind too the variation in stages. If you have a dog just leaving the parent stage, don’t get a dog just entering the babysitter stage: that’s more like two stages apart than one. Think about how you’d feel at the ages described below!

And speaking of the ages below, I’ve done my best to approximate what your dog is thinking and feeling with a similar human age. Ignore the idea that 1 human year = 7 dog years. It’s really quite inaccurate, except as a VERY rough guide to what physical issues your dog might be having.

The List of Life Stages:

  • Puppyhood & adolescence
  • Young adulthood (the babysitters!)
  • Parenthood
  • Grandparenthood

If you look at dogs, whether domestic or wild, you’ll see four main stages. These compare to human stages: childhood, teenage/young adult, parenthood, and grandparenthood or elder. You can think of them similarly!

Despite the fact that different breeds have different lifespans, they all hit the stages at roughly the same time (give or take a year). Something to keep in mind as you read is that a dog might be in the grandparent life stage, but still revert to puppyhood momentarily if they’re feeling frisky. This is the fun of having a dog! Even elderly dogs have the ability to revert for short periods of time, and make us laugh. So if you’re thinking, “But my dog isn’t always like that…” Well, no. I’m talking about how they behave most of the time in each stage.

On to the life stages!

1. Puppyhood & adolescence: Birth – 1 year (human equivalent: birth-18 years)

Welcome to the first year of your dog’s life! Lots of changes happen during this year (see next week’s developmental stages), but during it all, the fact is this: your dog couldn’t easily take care of themselves in the wild. When I say “couldn’t easily,” I mean “about as easily as a ten year old human.” Not easily, though it might be feasible in horrific circumstances, and wouldn’t likely result in an emotionally or mentally healthy adult.

We’re going to look at this age range in greater detail next week, but for now what you need to know is this: your dog’s brain isn’t fully developed. They’re dealing with limited mental capacities and hormonal influxes. Have patience! This is their childhood and teenage-hood. We don’t expect human children or teenagers to remember details, make good choices, learn rapidly, or understand what to do in every situation. Don’t expect that of your dog, either. During this stage, they’re appropriately focused on learning, having positive body language, and driving you crazy. Are they driving you too crazy? have patience, or talk to a dog trainer! (Email me and ask some questions if you need to. Advice is free.)

2. Young adulthood (the babysitters!) Year 1-2 (Human equivalent: 18-24 years.)

In a pack of dogs, your dog wouldn’t be going on hunts. It’s unlikely they’d be having puppies. They WOULD be staying home, taking care of the younger puppies while the adults were out hunting. They would be playing and getting into trouble, and going on the occasional short hunt. They would be the babysitters. Your dog is now the equivalent (depending on breed: smaller breeds age quicker) of 18-24 year old humans; legally adult, but not with much life experience. This is my favorite time of a dog’s life! They’re taking on some adult responsibilities, but they’re still young and malleable, and their brains are fully formed (if filled with hormones). They learn new things quickly, and because their role in the pack would be changing anyway, they take to new rules easily. I love this age!

In short, dogs under two years keep puppies occupied and play with them: they are babysitters. The babysitter isn’t invested in how well your children deal as adults. They only care about keeping your kids occupied for the night — but they’re excellent at that job!

3. Parenthood: 2-5 years (Human equivalent: 24-45 years)

By 2 years of age, your dog is old enough to be participating in hunts (ie, trustworthy according to other dogs, if he’d been raised in a pack), and old enough to breed. They’re also still young enough to keep up with puppies. The best “breeding years” are right now.

“Parenthood” continues until they’re around 5 years old. Until then they could breed if they wanted to, and they still act like parents. These dogs deal with puppies (under 1 year of age) very tolerantly, with great put-upon patience and occasional play. Their biggest job is to teach manners.  After 2 years of age, dogs start caring about things like manners and politeness: things the babysitter doesn’t care about! The older the dog, the more they care. Unlike the babysitters, they don’t have the stamina (or interest) to play with the puppies except occasionally. They teach manners and polite social interaction: that is their biggest job. (The younger the parent, the more play you’ll see.)

4. Grandparents: 6 and up (Human equivalent: 45 and up)

By the time your dog is 6 years old, they are a grandparent. “What?!” I hear you cry. “But my dog’s going to live to be 16!” Yes, but they wouldn’t in the wild. In the wild, your dog would be very lucky to have survived to 6. They’d be old, in wild dog standards.

In the wild, your dog would be past their prime, if only just. They are starting to deal with arthritis. Things will get worse as they get older. In the wild, they would now be a liability. If they weren’t killed, they’d likely be driven off. It’s horrible, but it’s true. Because of this, at this age your dog will start to get what I call “old dog syndrome.” It’s this: “I don’t want to play. I don’t want to be jumped on. I want to nap. GO AWAY, PUPPY. Do not even THINK about driving me off: I’m a force to be reckoned with!”

If your dog is 6 or over, they’re not likely interested in a new puppy. They’ve done that! They’re past that age! A 60-year-old human doesn’t typically want a baby: a 6-year-old dog doesn’t typically want a puppy. These are the dogs that need to be protected from the crazy younger dogs. Normally, a babysitter dog or a parent dog would do that. In their absence, that’s you.

Those are our life stages! If you have an older dog who enjoys going to the dog park, keep a wary eye out for younger dogs who might jump on them. Your job is to protect a grandparent stage dog!

If you have a younger dog who enjoys going to the dog park, steer them toward other younger dogs. They’ll play and have a fantastic time, and no one cares yet about manners!


Possibly-Tango is 7.5 weeks old now, and lookin’ cute! (This is the real bird, not just a random image I pulled. :D)

tango 3 edited at 7 weeks 5.25.13


One thought on “Life stages

  1. Pingback: Developmental stages | Jenna McDonald's Feathers and Fur

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