Canine Behavior/Older dog with puppy
I have a 7 year old Rottweiler female, she is also spayed.
We live in rural area as such she has never socialised with other dogs. She is very friendly with all people, both family and strangers. However when we take her to the vet she seems to be a bit aggressive to other dogs, she doesn't lunge however she does growl and seems to not be very happy with other dogs. Recently we have had to muzzle her when dealing with a vet as she doesn't like what we assume to be is the smell of other dogs on the vet because she doesn't let him near her.
So my question is, we are looking to get two Rottweiler puppies to join the family, but we are scared she won't take to them and as such do you think her treatment of other dogs will be the same as with the puppy?
Thank you for your question.
There is one of two likely issues here (and maybe both occurring simultaneously).
1. She is frightened of the vet. This is super common - many dogs are fearful of vet visits. Nothing good happens there. They get poked, prodded with weird equipment, needles, thermometers up the rectum, ears, eyes and mouth messed with, etc. It's just not exactly a trip to Disneyland. Plus, the smell of stress is in the air and other dogs present are nervous which can confirm for your dog that there is reason to be nervous. So it's possible that your dog is just very nervous of the vet's office, the vet and the whole experience surrounding the vet.
2. Your dog is not comfortable with other dogs and so when in a small, confined space such as a vet's office waiting room, with other dogs looking directly at her she is not comfortable. The growl is a beautiful communication and one we should respect rather than punish. I don't know how you're responding to her growls, but whenever I have the chance to publicly say DON'T PUNISH A GROWL
, I take it. The growl tells us our dog is uncomfortable and needs our help to make them comfortable - more space from whatever is making them nervous or distraction to another activity, etc. If we punish a dog for growling (tell her "no" or more physical than that), we do not help her feel better. We only teach her that it's dangerous to tell us she's uncomfortable. So the growling will stop. But the feeling of being uncomfortable not only does not go away, it usually escalates and then we get what people refer to as the "out of the blue bite".
So, if the dog is growling, respect it and help her feel safer.
As far as the vet visit goes, there are things you can do to help her feel more comfortable. First, make appointments for the very first visit or the very last visit of the day so she's less likely to have to see other dogs. If necessary, leave her in the car (in the shade or with the engine running to keep it climate controlled) and go in to tell them you're there but will be outside with your dog. Stay in the car until they come to get you and then bring her directly into the exam room without waiting in the lobby. When you're done, return her to the car and the come back inside to pay. This way we minimize her need to be faced with other dogs in the waiting area.
Definitely use the muzzle for everyone's safety. But make sure that she LIKES
her muzzle. If she doesn't like the muzzle, then we're adding to her already present sense of stress. Below is a link to a great video that will teach you how to acclimate her to a muzzle so she really comes to love having it on. I'm also including a link to my blog called Vinny Hates the Vet - How to Turn that House of Horrors into Disneyland for your Dog
Now... as to bringing in puppies. I can't tell you what to do, obviously. I can only share my opinion and what I would do in this situation.
If I were thinking about adding to the family, I would make sure to keep my existing dog's needs and comfort as my very top priority. If my dog has zero experience with puppies, and is pushing senior age, I would likely not do this unless I could comfortably and easily keep the puppies away from the existing dog, and without diminishing the amount of time I spend with the existing dog (which isn't really possible because puppies take so darned much work).
Adult dogs who are not socialized to puppies can find them quite off-putting. Puppies don't smell like dogs yet as they have not gone through puberty and so their hormones are not fully in place, making them smell weird. Further, they have high-pitched yaps that sometimes happen a lot, they move sporadically, they have zero sense of personal space and can be insufferable when trying to get an adult dog to play - failing to respect polite but clear dog signals saying, "not now. go away." Puppies require tons of supervision near adult dogs and the humans must have the back of the adult dog - redirecting a puppy if the adult gives a 'go away' signal such as growling, without punishing the adult dog for communicating.
Senior dogs (large breeds are considered seniors at 7 years old) have a lowered tolerance as they're starting to feel the effects of age - hearing and vision may not be perfect anymore, reflexes are a bit slower, there may be arthritis setting in in hips, shoulders, neck, back, etc.
Then there's the issue of bringing in two puppies simultaneously. The training community is pretty much agreed that this is never a great idea (you can google Litter Mate Syndrome for more details). Bringing in two puppies at the same time is not just twice the work. it's more like 3-4 times the work if you want dogs who will actually care about you and listen to you. Puppies who spend all day together will bond so hard to each other that you'll see separation anxiety issues when they are separated, even by crates in the same room. They often get each other ramped up, so that digging, chewing, chasing, stealing becomes a much bigger problem because those are fun games for pups to play with each other.
If two puppies are coming in at the same time (whether litter mates or not), the best way to manage them is to give them supervised play time several times per day that lasts between 10-45 minutes and then separate them to different areas (crates in different rooms or separate activities with different humans in different spaces) for a couple hours before bringing them together again. They should sleep in separate crates as well. They need to be trained separately from each other and go on walks separately and socialize to their environment separately from each other as well as together. Otherwise you set yourself up for 2 large breed adult dogs who can't be separated EVER and who couldn't care less about the humans in their world.
So... about 3 years ago, I had a 14 year old dog and a 4 year old dog. I did bring in a puppy because I knew my oldest was going to be leaving us soon and the younger wouldn't be able to tolerate not having a dog friend. The puppy was NEVER in the same space as the senior without me right there. My senior had been extremely social to dogs in her youth, but at 14 she was deaf in one ear and only partially sighted. She had bad hips and limited mobility. She was clearly not in a place for puppies anymore. For 8 months, I protected her from the puppy - until it was time to say goodbye to the senior. If I'd only had the senior dog and not the younger one, I never would have brought in another dog (adult or puppy) until after she'd gone. It just would not have been fair to her at all.
But I had a younger adult dog that I also needed to think about, and who acted as a buffer. The puppy played with the younger dog and left the senior alone outside of nap-time cuddles. And it was exhausting. Puppies are exhausting in themselves, but on top of that, I also had to go out of my way to make separate special time several times per day (in a different space) to have proper bonding time with my senior dog. The big difference between that and what you're talking about is that my younger dog was already an established family member, in the home for all of his 4 years and well trained, which allowed him to assist in the training of the puppy. I was not undertaking the introduction of two dogs, who needed constant supervision and tons of training at the same time.
In your situation, your dog is younger and in better health, but she's already known to be uncomfortable with other dogs. Are you prepared to keep her and a puppy/young dog separate for the rest of her life (as long as 5-7 years) if she doesn't get comfortable with another dog in the house?
Since I haven't observed her and she hasn't had a lot of prior experience with other dogs for you to describe (outside of vet visits), it's hard to know if she'll ever get comfortable with another dog. This is why given the information I have at this time, I'd recommend loving your current dog for the rest of her days, which could be another 5-7 years. Help her learn to love the vet's office, give her everything you've got - she can still be trained to do all sorts of things so long as you take her current health in mind if there are mobility issues at all, and after you've said goodbye to her then bring in another dog.
I know that may not be what you really wanted to hear, but I have to keep your existing dog's needs as the top priority.
Again, I don't know if this has gone through your mind, but any time I have the chance to make a public comment on it, I will take it: dogs are not replaceable for a new model. If we commit to a dog, it's for the entire life of that dog
(exceptions exist for extreme circumstances, of course, such as if the dog has killed another animal or person). Too many people decide to get a puppy and find that their senior dog can't tolerate it and then dump the senior dog to live out their golden years in a shelter. That's just not fair to the senior dog who has loved you and trusted you to take care of them for their whole life. That senior dog deserves to be treated like royalty until they are ready to say goodbye. There will always be time for a new puppy. But it may not be until after the senior goes.
As I said at the top, I can't make this decision for you, I can only tell you my thoughts and how I would handle it based on the limited information you've provided. I hope this helps you to think through the pros and cons of your particular situation.
Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behavior Specialist