Why can't they be friends?
January 2, 2011 2:06 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my puppy and my older dog get along?

I have a 5 month old mix breed puppy (5 months) who is about 10 lbs. A few days ago we took in an 11 year old Pomeranian from a family member who could no longer care for her. The dog is very sweet and calm and basically just wants to sleep on a pillow or on your lap all day. However, my puppy who loves dogs and always wants to play will not leave her alone. He follows her around, licking her face, sniffing her butt, and occasionally doing his playful bark while wagging his butt in the air. The older dog is fine whenever he is in the room, even close by, but as soon as he starts paying attention to her she growls and then barks and snaps at him. We usually grab him up at this point but when we haven't gotten to them in time the puppy seems like he barks and bites back.

No skin has been broken yet (except on my hand when I was pulling them apart once.) A few people have advised me to let them "work it out" but this seems dangerous and I'd like to avoid a vet visit for stitches. We have been saying "NO!" and grabbing the older dog's scruff when she starts to growl and shows her teeth. It makes her stop for a few seconds but if the puppy doesn't go away she starts again. We have also been telling the puppy "NO" when he is jumping up to see her or trying to wrestle her, but it hasn't really been working.

How do we make this a tolerable situation? Should we focus on training the older dog not to growl/bark/bite or the puppy to just not approach her? A spray bottle worked well on him when we were training him not to bark and I'm open to using that again if necessary, but I feel bad punishing him when he is just being a friendly, sociable puppy and I don't want to discourage him from acting the same way when it is appropriate, like at the dog park.

It's also probably important to mention that the older dog was attacked by a big strange dog several years ago and she was hurt pretty badly. I do not recall if she was friendlier to dogs before then, but she was also young at that point, probably no older than 3 or 4. I am not sure if her crankiness is due to fear of dogs or just her age. She behaves similarly to all other dogs - fine as long as they are not bothering her, but quickly escalating if they run up to her/sniff her/etc.

Thanks for any of your tips or tricks.
posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Let them work it out. The puppy is acting like a stupid male puppy and the older dog is acting like a mature female. It's her role to teach him manners and it sounds like she's doing it appropriately through noise and threats of violence rather than outright face-eating. She may eventually put a couple holes in him if he keeps it up (he thinks they're playing! she's saying no, I don't play you moron) but I doubt it'll be anything major.

If you're going to correct one of the dogs correct the puppy. He's the one in the wrong here. Your other dog is just protecting her personal space.

It's going to really help if you take the puppy somewhere he can play and wrestle and get the crazies out of his system with other young dogs.
posted by fshgrl at 2:53 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

First, just a reminder: it's only been a few days. It's normal for animals to take a while to get used to each other. My dogs (I have three) spent about a week being wary of each other before it really started to work.

Your puppy is trying to get the older dog to play. The Pom is old enough that she's not interested, and she's trying to make that clear. You said that the puppy then barks and bites back--my guess is that he's still in play mode. I suspect that if you left them alone for another minute or two, one dog or the other would get bitten, and then things would settle down. (At least for a little bit. It's the kind of lesson that takes a few repeats for some dogs.) I don't think that there's a lot you *can* do other than to more or less let them work it out. The puppy needs to learn that old dog doesn't want to play; old dog needs to learn that puppy's relatively harmless and will back off if she doesn't engage.

If you're really worried, you could try putting the dogs on leashes for a while. You take one, and a partner or friend takes the other. Then you get the dogs used to being in the same room. Keep them on separate sides of the room where they can see each other, but can't get near each other. When both dogs are calm about this, move closer, keeping the dogs on a short leash. The can get close to each other, but not actually touch. When they've got that figured out, let them interact, still on leashes, being ready to pull them back if necessary.

I've done that when I was dogsitting a (very large, very boisterous) puppy--my dogs are small and fully grown, and I wasn't invested in letting them work out a pecking order, I just wanted them to all settle down for the next twelve hours or so. It worked reasonably well.

Also, if you're needing to pull the dogs apart, I've got two suggestions. First, keep their leashes on all the time--it's much easier (and safer!) to grab their leashes than it is to wade into the middle of it to grab collars. If that's not possible, try tossing a cupful of water (or using a squirt bottle) on their eyes/muzzle area before you go to break them up. That'll sometimes shock them enough that they'll let up for a minute or two, long enough for you to separate them.

Good luck--it'll get easier soon.
posted by MeghanC at 2:57 PM on January 2, 2011

btw, bugging old dogs who don't want to play with you is never appropriate for a puppy, even at the dog park. It only took my now 2 year old dog three or four of the growly/ barky reactions when she was a puppy to figure this out but she is very agreeable/ shy by nature. Your puppy sounds more aggressive and forceful, so it might take him longer.
posted by fshgrl at 3:03 PM on January 2, 2011

Yes, your puppy doesn't know what's OK play and what's not, and your older dog is teaching him manners. Just keep an eye on them, and they should be fine. This is natural!
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:13 PM on January 2, 2011

I wonder if it would help to bring them both to the dog park, and let them interact with groups of other dogs together, so that they can learn and socialize together... I know that our puppy had a hard time with other dogs, and that a few days at the dog park was worth months of 1-on-1 doggie time for him...
posted by Glendale at 3:41 PM on January 2, 2011

The puppy does go to the dog park every day, and loves it. I think he is usually very well behaved there. We did take the older dog to the dog park the other day, but she just sat at our feet and growled when another dog came near. We can keep trying if it would help.

I also forgot to mention that the older dog is very possessive/aggressive when it comes to food, treats, and bones. The puppy backs off quickly when the older dog growls at him while she is eating and he approaches, but if we give either of them a bone (or both of them a bone at the same time) they will legitimately fight over it. Now that I think about it, the time my hand got bitten was when they were fighting over a bone.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2011

I agree with letting them work it out.

However, you can help things a LOT by setting them up to succeed - feed the puppy in a crate, and do not allow food or any other high value items to be just lying around. If you want to give chewies, puppy should be in a crate. Dogs with resource guarding issues can sometimes forget how to act appropriately toward other dogs in the heat of the "must. keep. what's. MINE". In addition, feeding the puppy in the crate helps a LOT with crate trainings. Just keep the crate where you hang out so he doesn't feel banished. Allowing dangerous situations to develop like you getting bitten or no-shit actual dog fighting is a pretty straightforward management issue when it's related to resource guarding, just establish a "no high value items lying around" rule, and one or both need to be crated for meals and chewies. The dogs will be far more likely to get along in other areas if you just don't allow this known issue to become a source of dangerous arguments.
posted by biscotti at 4:05 PM on January 2, 2011

By the way, "mealtime" for a dog should be like 10 minutes, 20-30 at the outside. Food left in the dish gets taken up (WITH the dish) until next mealtime. Dogs should not have food left lying around in dishes as a general rule, especially not dogs with resource guarding issues. I would feed the dogs in separate rooms, frankly, since some dogs with resource guarding issues will go after another dog even if crated.

And be sure that you leave the older dog in peace while she eats (both you AND the puppy), people often inadvertently cause resource guarding by messing with dogs while they eat (ironically, this is what uninformed people tell you TO do to prevent resource guarding, and it often causes the exact problem it's intended to prevent).
posted by biscotti at 4:08 PM on January 2, 2011

Also suggest that you look at photos or videos of dogs that show their body language. This has helped me determine when my dogs might be going all out and when they are just trying to get across a simple "Leave me alone!".

Has puppy taken classes yet? That might burn some mental energy.

We adopted our sixth dog in December and are still working through where he belongs in the pack. Both my husband and I have received very minor bites breaking up scuffles we think have gone too far, but none of the dogs have lost any blood. It takes some time for all to adjust, but we will get there! You will too.
posted by Agatha at 6:14 PM on January 2, 2011

Also you need to work with both dogs one on one so they listen to you. My dog will break away from playing or a scuffle with my parents dog if I raise my voice and say "hey!" She's a lot more worried about what I think of the situation than about some other dog. This is as it should be.
posted by fshgrl at 10:03 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

So far, it sounds like pretty normal socialization behavior from an adult female toward a rambunctious younger dog, though of course you'll want to monitor the situation.

One important note, though: It might actually be counterproductive/dangerous to correct your older dog when she snaps or growls; this is a warning that if you keep it up, I'ma have to do something more serious, so cut it out! and part of the purpose of such vocalizing is usually to keep things from escalating. If you punish her when she growls, she may go straight to biting (having learned she mustn't growl or snap), since part of the correction process has been denied her. Imagine it this way: you wouldn't come down on a young child with some sort of heavy punishment without warning them unambiguously and repeatedly that their behavior is unacceptable, and this is (probably) exactly what she is doing: issuing a warning about bad behavior.

I'd concentrate on discouraging the puppy if he is too persistent.

My female dog growls and snaps at playful/insistent puppies and younger dogs (usually male) that bother her, but she's never bitten one. I am usually uneasy wondering what the other dog owners are thinking, but the experienced ones always say, "she's doing the right thing — he needs to learn boundaries." (Just in my experience with her, younger females don't seem to be so aggressive or persistent to earn such an annoyed response.)

I'm pretty sure she would bite over a possession argument, though. With other dogs she's very possessive of her things/food, and I've read that this is not uncommon with female dogs especially. I can give another dog a treat, and she doesn't mind, but they better not touch her stuff. If another dog comes to visit, I pick up all the toys/treats/food to avoid any such issue.
posted by taz at 2:03 AM on January 3, 2011

I'll just add one more thought: About keeping them on leashes, this might not be a great idea for the older dog, at least. If she feels like she can't run/escape if she needs to, she may become more aggressive. Again, it's sort of cutting out part of the natural equation that would exist in certain situations when a dog is feeling threatened — the choice to fight or run. If the option to run is removed, she may feel compelled to come on stronger.
posted by taz at 3:05 AM on January 3, 2011

Thank you everyone for the advice. Removing the toys and only feeding them treats/bones in separate bones would definitely work, I think. I just felt like they "should" be able to get along regardless, but it is actually a relief to know that it would be normal and acceptable to just remove the cause of the problem rather than try to make them behave differently in that situation.

I think I will pick up a spray bottle and use it on the puppy when he is doing his barky play dance around her, and let her take care of the situation the rest of the time.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 5:11 AM on January 3, 2011

I wouldn't use a spray bottle, I would instead interrupt the puppy's harassment of the older dog and play with him myself! He's not being bad or doing anything unreasonable, puppies want to play! But I would definitely let the older dog tell him off first, if he ignores her, then go and reinforce her by removing him from the situation, then let him let off steam with you somewhere else, playing tug or fetch or the "shove you around" game that most dogs love, something physical anyway. Asking to play is not "bad", it's normal, simply thwarting the behavior isn't helping him learn appropriate behavior (it's better and easier to teach a dog what TO do, instead of what NOT to do). Let him get the beans out with you, or on a walk, or at a training class (or all three), but do not stop him from bothering the older dog until after she has given him a serious warning and he has ignored it, and when you DO stop him, don't just squirt him, take him away and play with him or train with him - he has a need for interaction when he is inviting the other dog to play, you need to teach him that you're the one who'll most often supply that interaction.

Dogs are normally masters of getting along, problems tend to arise when we interfere too much, and people don't generally understand dog body language well at all, we mistake loud shouty noises for serious aggression, when in fact that's just dogs telling each other off. You are best to monitor them, remember that what you think they "should" do may be incompatible with what they're going to be able to do, do not leave them unattended together (puppy should be crated or in another room if you are out), do not set them up to fail by leaving high value items lying around, support the older dog but let her lead the way when it comes to her relationship with the puppy, and step up the puppy's exercise and training and playtime with you.
posted by biscotti at 7:33 AM on January 3, 2011

I have a 4 1/2 month old vizsla and a 17 year old grumpy male terrier, it takes patience. You definitely have to be the older dogs advocate but since my pup tries to roughhouse with the older dog, I wouldn't agree with letting the puppy learn the behaviors from a poorly socialized adult, thats when you have to be the better teacher than the older dog. I like to let them interact when the pup is tired and laying down, when she tries to snuggle with the older one he protests, but she is insistant and eventually wins him over. I am ok with that, its when he is barking at her and she learns to bark back that i feel the need to step in. I also like to take advantage of things that distract them and they bond, like car rides and training sessions where they have to sit next to each other and do commands. it teaches the younger dog what the older dog can do and allows them to learn to be near each other while getting rewards. Keep it up, the 17 year old in my case was a complete grouch and he's learning to interact with another dog, something i never thought would happen, and the pup is learning to respect elders, but to also play gentle and sweet.
Its a win win.
posted by brinkzilla at 8:29 AM on January 4, 2011

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