It is no secret, we have a soft spot for senior dogs. And, puppies. Well, and any dog in between. Anyone who has ever been blessed to share their life with a senior dog knows there is a language, a secret code, that you develop with each other over the years. A vernacular that no one else in the world could possibly understand but you and the amazing four-legged soul who has rested their beautiful head on your lap during so many of life’s ups and downs. The furry creature who somehow still loves you despite having seen your worst bad hair days and can be given credit for teaching you important life lessons like compassion, patience and responsibility.
Sometimes, your distinguished dog would think it was honky-dory for you to bring home a zippy puppy. But, it can also be the worst thing you could do to an aging animal. Read on for some do’s and don’ts to assure you give your salt ‘n’ pepper pooch exactly what he or she deserves during those precious twilight years.
- Sometimes folks consider a puppy because their silver fox of a dog is dispirited after his or her canine best friend crossed the rainbow bridge. Please accept our sincerest empathy tears. The infinite gorge left in our hearts when our revered dog leaves this world is a wound many of us know too well. And, we would not wish that anguish on an enemy; let alone our dear, sweet dogs who can become despondent and disengaged while they mourn their own loss. Only consider introducing a new furry friend if your dog has had other doggie friends besides the darling pooch he or she is grieving over. Some dogs have one or two canine pals in their entire life. So, be kind to yourself and your sad sweetie; and really make sure a completely different personality and energy level would be a welcome addition to your home.
- Consider adopting an older dog. Not only are many rescue dogs VERY dog friendly; but, an over-three-year-old dog has a VERY different idea of how rough and how long a play session should last than a five-month-old-pup does. And, while we absolutely respect responsible breeders; many are too far away to allow your resident canine a chance to meet his or her new roommate. All the rescue organizations we work with require a meet ‘n’ greet to assure it is a canine match made in heaven for BOTH dogs. And, who knows, you might even meet a mutt who makes you fall in love with a different breed or mix of breeds, even if you have always been drawn to one type of dog.
- Give the puppy lots of crate time so your older dog can rest. Even if both dogs are grinning, play bowing and continually pressing the start button on spirited play sessions; your older dog will be very happy with some down time. And, to prevent the puppy from fussing because he or she would prefer to play 24 hours a day; give him or her a Kong with a super scrumptious filling. Just be sure your senior dog gets a brimming Kong too; in another space, to prevent scuffles over resources.
- Set up training sessions to teach the puppy to respect the older dog’s space and to give both dogs the opportunity to learn that it is FUN to share attention. Relying on everyday situations and habits to create the relationship you want between your two best friends can easily backfire. Teaching ‘wait’ and ‘gentle’ with LOW VALUE TREATS, practicing attention and rewarding for not bombarding each others’ space is vital; and will pay off for years to come.
- Plan to spend one on one time with your senior dog. Puppies are so stinkin’ cute. But, do not let the shiny new whirling dervish steal every second of your attention. We do not mean to sound drippy; but, every day with your senior dog should be considered a blessing. Make time for an activity that he or she LOVES; and, enjoy it sans puppy. Your grey-faced love bug will smile from ear to ear to have you all to his or herself; and not be pummeled while you are massaging tender muscles.
- Keep up with your senior dog’s feeding and pottying routines. Yes, it is hard to adhere to an insane and exhausting, puppy potty training schedule. But, your dear senior’s behavior and good habits can go completely awry if you also try to change his or her schedule to meet the puppy’s needs. Older dogs can develop new anxieties due to loss of senses and other bodily changes. And, change can exacerbate stress. Adding a puppy is a HUGE transition for your distinguished dog and tossing other alterations at him or her can wreak havoc on their comfort and sense of security.
- Hire a trainer. There are complex hierarchies that develop between two dogs and can rapidly change as the puppy develops. A qualified training and behavior consultant can observe the relationship and coach you through the nuances of the dogs’ interactions to best help prevent nasty fights that can have serious detrimental effects on both dogs’ behavior and well being.
- Expect an older dog to correct your new puppy for naughty behaviors. Your adorable puppy will learn loads of information, good and bad, from your cherished senior dog. But, many elderly animals do not have the personality nor the desire to show a puppy the ropes; let alone be interested in defending themselves against raging puppy teeth for hours on end. We have met many lovely and sweet senior dogs who gently avoid the puppy’s NEVER ENDING need to PLAY PLAY PLAY. But, the instant the human intervenes and gives the puppy some down time; the senior dog flops onto the floor into doggie dreamland. Just because your dog is not growling at your puppy does not mean he or she is having fun. You are your senior’s best ally.
- If the sole reason is to soften the blow for you, knowing that your senior dog might potentially leave this world sooner rather than later. The thought of making a tough choice, and hoping to do so for all the right reasons can suck the life out of us mere humans. And, the dread and anguish are often almost unbearable. But, if you are preparing yourself for this day, it is likely your senior dog is coping with major medical issues or struggling to get around. Please, do not let a puppy toss themselves at those aching joints just so the awful day is less painful for you. Your elderly dog deserves to sleep without puppy teeth gnawing on their ear and to mosey along as slow as he or she needs to on walks; without enduring a four-legged throttle machine every two steps.
- Let your puppy torture your senior dog. We have kind of mentioned this before but, puppies have an endless desire to play and when your ankles are not beet red due to relentless, razor-sharp-puppy teeth, it is way too easy to miss that your resident canine is miserable. Remember, your treasured, grey-faced buttercup has had many moments, if not years, without a puppy stealing their food or grabbing their neck 23 hours a day.
- If your senior dog is dog-aggressive. Sometimes, very well meaning folks decide that a young puppy would be best for a dog who has never really liked other dogs. Really young puppies can be VERY appealing to introduce to a less-than-social-older dog. Super young puppies ooze and melt where ever they go. So sweet and hard to resist. But, one quick growl, or worse, can behaviorally wound a puppy for the remainder of his or her life. And, as the puppy grows older and becomes more independent and curious; he or she might decide that stealing a toy is more important than heeding to a snarl. Things can get very scary, very quickly. It is well worth the investment to hire a trainer BEFORE even considering bringing home a puppy if you have even the tiniest concern that it might not be a good fit.
- Get hung up on “sit” with your senior. Most folks like to start obedience or tricks with new puppies and we highly encourage it! But, sitting over and over again can really make a senior dog’s nagging knees and creaky joints super painful later on in the day. Encourage both dogs to join in training. But, have your elderly dog do something that is kinder to his or her joints like “touch” or simple attention. Then, be very clear when saying “sit” that you are asking the puppy, not both dogs. This will help your sweet senior know he or she is still doing right by you and not adding pressure to comply with something they were probably very good at doing; but, their aging body just can not handle much more.
We hope these tips were helpful to keep your senior dog sane and help your puppy learn some boundaries so everyone in the house enjoys each other as much as possible. We have met many amazing senior and puppy pairs over the years who absolutely adore each other. Do please take the above hints into consideration to assure a new puppy or dog is the right fit for you, your home and your marvelous senior dog.