Canine Behavior/new puppy old dog
We have a 10 year old toy poodle. We just got a lab mix puppy. How do I know if the poodle is stressed out by her or just playing. The puppy runs up on him and he growls and chases the stops and the pup comes back and it start again. Both are growling and sometimes the poodle snaps. If he is stressed, how to help him get used to puppy.
Most 10-year-old dogs don't have the stamina to keep up with a young puppy - especially lab puppies (and border collie pups). Without observing it, I can't tell you if your poodle likes the puppy, but gets tired or frustrated or annoyed, or if he doesn't care for the pup at all.
I strongly encourage you to read the book, On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals
, by Turid Rugaas. It will walk you through a slew of subtle cues that dogs give when they're nervous, uncomfortable, anxious, getting annoyed/angry, etc. As well as signals when the dog is content and happy and when the dog is clearly giving what we call distance-increasing signals.
In general, if the dogs get along most of the time, but when the puppy is too rambunctious, the older dog tells him off a bit, that's OK - within reason. Most adult dogs will give puppies a lot of leeway, letting them get away with a lot more rude behavior than they would another adult dog. But they will provide corrections when necessary. This can include growling, showing teeth, air snapping and even actual mouth contact that does not cause any injury to the puppy. The key is what happens after the correction.
If the older dog growls and the pup backs off, then that's a good thing. The puppy is heeding the dog's warning. If the adult then relaxes, that's also great because the adult understands that the point has been made and he doesn't need to continue making it.
If the adult dog gives a warning (e.g. growl) and the pup does not back off, and the adult gives another warning (e.g. snarl/air snap) and the pup still doesn't heed the warning, then we need to intervene by redirecting the PUPPY to another activity. IT'S IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO NOT (REPEAT: DO NOT) SCOLD OR OTHERWISE PUNISH THE ADULT FOR COMMUNICATING. HE'S DOING THE RIGHT THING. IT'S OUR JOB TO TEACH PUPPY THAT HE NEEDS TO RESPECT THAT COMMUNICATION.
So we redirect the puppy to another activity - a toy, a long lasting chew, a game with us, or a walk around the block, etc. This helps the puppy learn that leaving the older dog alone is a good thing and it shows the older dog that you've got his back and won't leave him struggling on his own to maintain his sense of peace and safety.
On the flip side, if the older dog gives a warning (e.g. growl, snarl, air snap), and the puppy backs off, but the older dog charges, bites or otherwise continues to display these clear distance-increasing signals, then we intervene by redirecting the older dog. We're still not going to scold him, but we are going to tell him he's made his point and give him some space and quiet activity to do, and then reassure the puppy that he's OK. Notice, that I first tend to the older dog and make sure he's calming down BEFORE I reassure the puppy. I do this because a lot of times, we see older dogs showing some resource guarding (of owner, toys, spaces, etc) when a new puppy comes into the house. If we punish the older dog for communicating their displeasure, if we coddle the puppy right at that moment, we are only serving to show the adult dog that he's absolutely right that his place in this family is being usurped and that the new puppy is getting all the love and attention. So, if the adult dog is not letting up after making his "back off" point, then I call that dog (SWEETLY and INVITINGLY) to me and offer a treat or toy or long lasting chew, etc. Then, once I get that dog engaging with something else, then I'll check the pup to ensure he's uninjured and feeling safe and secure.
You will need to weigh how often they seem to get along, vs how often you're concerned about the relationship. If they get along most of the time and it just goes too far sometimes, that's pretty normal - especially in the early stages. But if they never have quiet time together, never have happy play time together, etc. then you may need to rethink this situation. Not every dog is right in every home and not every home is right for every dog. That's not a comment on the home, it's just a reality that not every environment can allow a particular dog to thrive. I've known and loved several dogs that I knew I could not provide the right home for (client dogs, shelter dogs, etc).
One way to know if your poodle is having a good time during these moments is his overall body language:
Is he staring hard at the pup, ears pricked very forward or glued to his head? Is his tail up and still, above his hips and still, below his hips and wagging fast, down or tucked? His his body posture forward, over his shoulders or back on his hind legs? Is his back rounded, is his head high like he's trying to be as tall as possible, or lower than his shoulders like he's trying to be low to the floor? Is he showing his front teeth only or all his teeth? Is he running away without ever looking back to see if he's following, is he hiding?
The above are signals of anger (tall, forward, hard stares) or fear (low, cowering, etc). These are indicators that he is NOT enjoying the interaction at all. Intervene and give the puppy something else to do immediately.
Is the poodle's body soft and wiggly? Are his ears forward or neutral (but not tense), is his head in a normal position (not too high), or low, but he's looking at the puppy with a glint in his eye? Is his mouth open, but you can't see his upper teeth at all? Is he pouncing toward and away from the puppy? Is he turning and running away, but looking over his shoulder to see if Puppy is following? Is he doing play bows (elbows to the floor with bum in the air and tail wagging)? These are all signs of happy, playful engagement. If this is going on, then you're in good shape.
Is he doing appeasement signals: averting his gaze, squinting his eyes (blinking more than usual), panting excessively for the situation (not overly hot or just exercised), is he sniffing the floor as if he just found something or is looking for something? Is he turning his back, sitting down, sniffing his genitals, yawning, licking his lips? These are all behaviors designed to reduce tension and avoid conflict. If he's doing these things he may be feeling nervous or anxious and may need you to create a little more distance or calm the puppy down so he feels better.
Whenever there's a new puppy with an existing dog, there should be several breaks per day from each other so that they can have some down time to nap and relax. This also helps the dogs learn to be comfortable when separated so that if you have to leave one home and take the other out, they're OK on their own. And of course, the poodle won't be around for the entire life of the pup (assuming the pup lives to a ripe old age), so we want to make sure they are OK when apart. I do this by putting the puppy in a playpen with interesting activities to occupy him for a couple hours several times per day. These activities include his meals being stuffed into Kong toys, marrow bones, Nylabones, antlers, Bully Sticks or Ever Lasting Treat Balls. I usually put 2 options in at a time, and then rotate from day to day so there's always something new, which helps to keep it interesting. If timed properly, you'll find the pup engaging for 10-45 minutes and then falling asleep for a couple hours. Then, he'll wake up, need to potty and then can spend another half hour or so in the play pen. Then he can be out with the older dog for a couple hours, then he should be back in his playpen for a couple hours. This gives puppy ample nap time - which he needs while growing - and gives the older dog much needed rest periods so he doesn't get overly annoyed by the puppy.
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist