I opened up my email today and saw a question from a person looking for advice. “My dog is six months old and he’s starting to get aggressive. Do you think he’ll grow out of it?” My very frank response was “No, he’ll probably grow into it.” My experience suggests that he’ll start to do it more frequently.
Dogs do grow out of problems, but very rarely. It’s more likely for them to grow into problems. The reason is very simple, and you don’t need to be a behaviorist to figure it out. Dogs behave in certain ways because they enjoy them and get some satisfaction out of them. In reality, all dog—and even human—behavior is based on one of two motivations: getting pleasure or avoiding pain. Frequently the two overlap: we do things because they make us feel good and help us avoid a painful alternative. But those are the only reasons why living creatures do things.
Sometimes people attribute counterproductive behaviors to other reasons, but in the end it’s all about these two. Take a human behavior like cutting yourself. In the end, even that is about pleasure and pain at its root. Perhaps the pain that you avoid through cutting is greater than the pain you get from it. Perhaps the pleasure that’s gained through cutting is greater than the pain they feel. I use this as an extreme example, because oftentimes people attribute their dog’s bad behaviors (like lunging or biting) to false causes because “he doesn’t look like he likes it.” Well, he is either enjoying himself or avoiding something worse. All behavior boils down to that.
When we understand this truth about behavior, we understand that “growing out of” a behavior is unlikely. Today, the dog is engaging in a behavior to get pleasure or avoid pain. Tomorrow, and the next day, that strategy will still work. Why would a dog ever grow out of a behavior? The only reason a dog ever could is when it ceases to be pleasurable or no longer helps avoid pain. Occasionally this comes from age, as in cases when a dog grows less hyper as they get older. In reality, they just get less pleasure from acting goofy because they aren’t puppies any more.
When we’re talking about deviant behavior like aggression, however, dogs engage in these behaviors for a very specific reason. Growing older won’t encourage a dog to stop biting, jumping, or being aggressive. The only way to get rid of these behaviors is to train your dog. Don’t assume that he’ll grow out of it! It’s up to you to help your dog overcome this problem.