Generation gap: Introducing puppies to older dogs

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Older dogs need extra attention when a puppy joins the family. Taking time alone and being sensitive to physical activities can buffer the introduction of a high-energy companion. Older dogs need extra attention when a puppy joins the family. Taking time alone and being sensitive to physical activities can buffer the introduction of a high-energy companion.

My patient, a 12-year-old Labrador, is showing his age. Arthritis has settled into those old bones, and he’s not as active as he used to be. But he’s still a happy dog, living out his golden years in peace with a family that loves him. We’re just finishing up, but his owners have one more thing they want to discuss. For just a moment, I can swear I see the dog’s eyes widen in alarm. “We’re thinking of getting a puppy.”

Let’s face it. Puppies may be adorable, but they can also be incredibly annoying. Their default setting is a kind of joyful insanity. If you’re an old dog trying to steal a few minutes of quiet in a convenient sunbeam, the last thing you want is some deranged little furball gnawing on your ears and sitting on your head.

To be fair, some older dogs really thrive with the addition of a puppy. I’ve seen plenty that discover a renewed zeal for life, seeming to borrow surplus youth from a puppy blessed with more than it needs. And others seem to relish the chance to be a big sibling, providing the puppy with an older (and hopefully better-trained) role model.

But even the most patient dog will eventually crave a break from his protégé, and it’s important to respect that. Old dogs need the ability to walk away and be alone for a bit. Make sure there are dedicated puppy-free areas where they can go recharge in their own bed without worrying about interruption.

It’s not just about having some room of his own. Your old dog is going to need some of your time as well. It’s normal to want to spend every waking minute with a brand new puppy, but that’s hardly fair. If your dog is used to getting all the attention, this new ankle-biter can be a frustrating intrusion on a familiar schedule. Be sure to reserve some time to let your old dog know that some things haven’t changed, and he hasn’t been replaced.

When it is time to bring the two generations together, keep in mind that older dogs don’t have the same physical capabilities as puppies do. Younger pups may think nothing of a three-mile hike, but that might leave senior dogs dragging their feet before the halfway mark. Be creative with walking routes to ensure that each dog is getting the right amount of exercise for their age, setting up shorter loops at the start, and then dropping off the old man before the second leg of the journey.

Age also comes with a variety of aches and pains, which can add a challenging dynamic to an elderly dog’s relationship with a puppy. Even the most amiable dogs will get a bit grumpy if something hurts, and if the pup is pushing him beyond his physical limits, it could invite trouble. Keep a close eye on play sessions, and don’t hesitate to intervene if you see any snipping or growling. And make sure to talk to your veterinarian about steps you can take to reduce that kind of physical discomfort to begin with.

It is rewarding to see older dogs accept a new puppy into the family, but it’s important to take a moment to see things from their perspective, and to give them the time and space they need to continue enjoying the happy life you’ve given them so far.

Dr. Mike Fietz is a small-animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.


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