Relay: Smells Like Teen Spirit

No offense to the learned institution, but I’m not buying it

Apparently, dogs go through a teenage phase. This according to the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Science in England, which, after much research, found that our canine friends display traits that are similar to those of human teens.

No offense to the learned institution, but I’m not buying it. With an actual 17-year-old human in my house, as well as a dog who went through his supposed teen phase a few years ago, I feel I have empirical evidence to invalidate the university’s conclusion.

Teenage behavior in dogs, say the scientists, which occurs when the puppy is just under a year, is characterized by refusing to respond to commands they sweetly obeyed when they were younger, outright rebelliousness, and a tendency to be impulsive, distracted, and erratic. “Training a dog during this phase is crucial or an owner could soon be living with an ill-mannered, undersocialized, hyperactive animal,” concluded the researchers.

While I will concede to a few tenuous parallels here, my own painstaking research in the field has led me to question whether the scientists delved any deeper than the mere periphery of the full-blown, kaleidoscopic teenage experience.

For a start, there is no mention of a teenage dog’s incessant need for Wi-Fi and phone chargers, or the arguments and eye rolling engendered by this need, especially when traveling. Or the long and ultimately irretrievable hours spent playing Xbox, an important and defining phase for at least male teens on the human side.

And if we really are to think of dogs as teenagers, how does one begin to explain their complete indifference toward Snapchat and Instagram?

Then there’s this: If a used, balled-up sock is lying on the floor, there’s a good chance you could get your dog to pick it up in its mouth. True, the probability of the sock then landing in the laundry basket is slim, but with hours of training, involving treats and kind words, it could happen. Not a chance with a human teen.

But it’s not their fault. Apparently, the human teenage phase includes a long spell of selective blindness that renders balled-up socks invisible, along with wet towels and discarded clothing, and also used cups and plates and half-empty bottles of soda.

What about the insatiable appetite of the human male teen, in particular, that often leads to eating mounds of pasta and meat snacks at 1 in the morning? It’s true that a dog too would happily scarf down the pasta and anything else in the middle of the night if presented with the opportunity, but that’s not a teenage phase for a dog — that’s just being a dog at any age.

Ever needed to have a conversation about pot smoking with your four-legged teenager? Or sex? I should hope not, since, at the very least, the latter was probably taken care of a while ago with an operation at the vet’s.

Plus, there’s the heartwarming human energy that teenagers devote to friendships and sociability, which I am often reminded of during 1 a.m. culinary exploits, involving clanging pots as a group of them attempts to make mounds of pasta and meat snacks. My dog, on the other hand, would have had such a hard time sharing his pasta with his friends that it could never have been so endearing an experience.

In fact, it is this ease of human teenagers to spend hours around one another that will always set them apart from dogs. What with their total self-sufficiency as a pack, their freedom to please no one but themselves, their never-ending openness to experimenting with the new, the strides they have made toward connecting with scores of people around the world, many of whom they’ve never met, and the mind-set they frequently exude that the future is all theirs and that it will be entirely compliant with all their expectations, why shouldn’t they spend the entire weekend in bed? I never got any of that from my teenage dog.

Frankly, I think dogs have a long way to go before they can do “teenage” properly.


Judy D’Mello is a reporter at The Star.