©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
Do you ever get questions soliciting your expert advice but the questioner really has already decided what they’re going to do?
One of those questions I frequently get is, “Scott, we’re thinking about getting a new puppy to help our 12 year old Lab feel young again. Is that a good idea?”
When people ask me a question like this, they’ve usually already selected the specific puppy they want and are picking it up later that morning! Puppy acquisition - an experience usually charged with emotion and limited sound decision-making.
If they were really listening when they asked me about adding a puppy to a home with an older dog, this is what they would hear me say.
"Puppy acquisition - an experience usually charged with emotion and limited sound decision-making."
- Bringing an eight-week-old puppy into a home with an aging dog is not at all unlike shoving a two-year-old screaming baby in great grandpa’s lap. But it’s really more challenging for the older dog since the puppy is not just visiting.
Bottom line: Your older dog is, well, old. He wants some quiet and calm these days. Believe me, he is not thrilled about the idea of a rambunctious puppy demanding his attention 24/7. If you’re honest, you get tired of puppies’ non-stop activity.
- Since young puppies frequently don’t know when to stop their hyperactive behavior, your senior dog may respond by getting a little grumpy with the new puppy (e.g., growling, barking, biting). This can get downright ugly sometimes, trust me.
Bottom line: Adding a puppy to a household with an older dog frequently causes in-home aggression between the two dogs – primarily because of the age difference.
- New puppies get all of the attention. Your elder dog might be old, but he is not stupid. He quickly learns that the presence of that little whippersnapper means he doesn’t get any attention. Owners who realize this frequently (and naively) give their older dog lots of attention when the puppy is put to bed; they feel guilty about giving the new puppy so much attention. Unfortunately, this compounds the problem because the aging dog learns that when the puppy is gone attention resumes.
Bottom line: Your older dog may get jealous of the new puppy and can you blame him?
- Great grandpa usually needs more love and attention from his younger family members than he did when he was younger. Old age causes many mental and physical challenges – this is a normal part of living a long life. Your senior dog is no different.
Bottom line: Your older dog needs your attention more in old age than he did when he was younger.
- There is a specific type of anxiety related to older dogs that is known as age-related-anxiety. In short, aging dogs are more inclined to be anxious about things that didn’t bother them in earlier years. Separation anxiety, resource guarding, inappropriate urination and fear are just some of the ways this anxiety can manifest.
Bottom line: Adding a puppy to an older dog’s life can act as an additional trigger to anxiety related behaviors.
If you have an elder dog that is slowing down, is a little gray around the muzzle and sometimes gets a little confused, please do him a favor and consider waiting before bringing a loud and frisky puppy into his life.
In the animal world we don’t want to get too concerned about the concept of “fair” as it oftentimes can get in the way of effective dog behavior treatment. However, in this instance, I believe it isn’t fair to your old guy to force him to adapt to a new puppy at a time when he feels most vulnerable.
Please consider waiting for your beloved friend to cross over the Rainbow Bridge before bringing another dog into your family. You won’t have to wait long; sadly, dogs have short lives as compared to ours.
Be 100% there for your sweet dear buddy in his old age. He’s been there for you all of his life.