I would like for us to think about social maturity in dogs. The questions are: What does the term social maturity connote about dogs? What images come to mind? How does a socially mature dog behave that is different from a puppy, or an adolescent dog?
These questions really emerged from a more fundamental question about adolescence in dogs I had asked Dr. Ian Dunbar at a recent seminar on aggression in dogs. The question was: In evolutionary terms, what is the function of a developmental period of adolescence in dogs? What survival value, or what advantage does it have for the species? . How does adolescence make a dog, and the species more fit for it’s environment?
Dr. Dunbar’s immediate response was to say that he loved the question because it had never been asked in his 35 years of giving seminars.
Wow! What does that say about how we think about dogs?
He went on to relate adolescence to dramatically increased levels of testosterone. According to Dr. Dunbar, a dog’s testosterone level begins to surge at around 4-5 months of age, peaks at about 10 months of age, and then slowly decreases until it reaches about 1/7 of the peak level at about 18 months of age. But, this is not a functional description of adolescence - unless, the function of adolescence is to make dogs aggressive.
It’s hard to miss the fact that the decrease in testosterone levels ends at 18 months, which is the time (18-24 months) that dogs are understood to enter the social maturity stage of development and are considered to be adult dogs. But, if you do a Google search on social maturity in dogs, what you will find are countless references to the age at which dogs become socially mature, but no description of any kind, of physiological or behavioral characteristics of a socially mature dog.
It seems to be one of those ‘you know it when you see it’ things. Or, it’s just that the dog is not a puppy, and it’s not an adolescent, so it must be a socially mature dog. Really now? I would argue that we cannot call a dog socially mature, until we can describe what a socially mature dog acts like.
So, dear readers, the question I have for you is: ‘How does a socially mature dog behave that distinguishes it from a puppy or and adolescent dog?
HINT: If you can define how a socially mature dog behaves, and why it behaves that way, you will also have a big clue about the function of adolescence.
More to come on this subject...