Let's play a game. I'm thinking of a movie in which grown men act like little boys. Can you guess the movie?
What? You're overwhelmed by the possibilities? "Old School," "Failure To Launch," "Stepbrothers," "Anchorman," "The Hangover," "Grown Ups," "Grown Ups 2" or just about any other Adam Sandler vehicle. If you've seen any one of these movies, then you know that the state of being fully grown has absolutely nothing to do with maturity.
And the same is true of dogs.
Say you get a puppy — a real live 8-week-old as-young-as they-come pup. Say he's a retriever — round and gold and puffy like a dandelion seed head perched on four awkward paws. Say a handful of months later your little fluffball can pull himself upright and tall and plant his snout directly onto your dinner plate.
Don't be fooled when those oversized paws suddenly take on a sense of proportion. He may no longer be puppy-sized, but a puppy he remains.
All dogs go through the same basic stages of maturation: puppyhood, adolescence, adulthood and the senior years. Puppyhood is full of energy and antics. Adolescence is less hyperkinetic but possibly more unpredictable depending on the dog and his training. Adulthood is when things smooth out, and the senior years are when things slow down. Generally speaking.
While all healthy dogs go through these stages of development, size and breed have a say in the speed of maturation. Smaller dogs tend to mature faster and live longer. Large breeds mature later in life and typically experience shorter periods of adulthood and fewer senior years.
So if you're crossing off the days to the time when you and your mischievous Maltese will wave goodbye to puppyhood and adolescence, plan on about 730 X's: two full calendar years. For your beagle, two and half years. Your lab will need three-plus years. And give that Great Dane a good four years before you start sniffing for signs of adulthood.
This is one of the reasons why the common thinking that "one human year is the equivalent of seven dog years" fails. It's not about years, and it's not about looks. It's about maturation. In two short years, that Maltese will cover the 18 human years of infancy, childhood and adolescence — or in the case of the typical Sandler character, the 40 and counting human years. At the age of 5, that Great Dane will be the canine equivalent of a 40-year-old. Whether he's a 40-year-old Charlie Sheen or a 40-year-old Matt Damon is up to you and fate.
Maturation is an important factor in your dog's learning. I reject the cliched notion that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But it is easier to teach a young dog who hasn't yet developed bad habits.
People often resign themselves to living in compromised circumstances because they hear: "You have to train them when they're still a puppy, or it's just impossible." It's never impossible to improve on a bad scene. But it's also helpful to know what "when they're still a puppy" means. Just because your dog doesn't look the part of a pup anymore doesn't mean he's not a pup. For a human example of this phenomenon, I direct you to the latest Vince Vaughn vehicle, "Delivery Man," in theaters now.
Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Read all of Uncle Matty's columns at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.