Canine Behavior/old dog hates new puppy
I have a 8 year old min pin chihuahua mix and just got a 9 week old doberman pinscher puppy. The old dog seems to hate the new one. Even if he walks past her she growls and tries to bite him. When she growls at him he thinks it's a game and tries to play with her, making her get even more stressed and keep growling and lunging at him. Even when he's around I can feel her tense up. I don't know which dog to correct and how to correct them. Right now I just seperate them and when they calm down try to get them to sit near each other and feed them both treats. She also seems to be really down lately, not eating her food and not wanting to cuddle, she goes on the other couch when we try and lie down with her on one of them. What can we do to make then get along?
Thank you for your question.
Did you do any meet-and-greet between your odler dog and the puppy before bringing the puppy home - to see how they felt about each other? The reality is that not every dog will like or get along with every other dog they meet (very much like humans - we do not like every single person we meet, and some truly rub us the wrong way).
Now, that said, without seeing the interactions, I can't say with certainty if your older dog truly doesn't like the puppy or if the older dog is giving appropriate adult-to-puppy corrections.
If your older dog has little or no experience around young puppies, she may be feeling very stressed by the puppy. Young puppies who have not yet gone through puberty lack all the hormone levels of adult dogs. They literally smell wrong. They also act in ways that can be quite jarring to adult dogs who are not accustomed to rude puppy behavior. Puppies invade personal space, they bite (often quite hard) and hold on. They are persistent and push the adult to play, failing to heed the cease-and-desisst signals that the adult dogs give. They move erratically bouncing around, their voices are higher and squeakier, etc., etc. So, if your min-pin/chi mix is not used to puppies, this can be overwhelming to her.
That doesn't mean that all is lost. It's possible that we can help them learn to be comfortable sharing space - even if they are never best friends.
To that end, my rule for supervising interactions is as follows:
1. The two dogs should NEVER be left alone together until they have a demonstrated history of getting along and respecting each other's personal space and heeding each other's behavior cues. This means that they are in separate rooms or crated when you must leave. You will also want to crate or playpen the puppy for 1-3 hours at a time periodically even when you are home so that the adutl dog can have some peace and freedom to move around the house as she pleases.
2. When Puppy is out in the space with the adult dog, and if Puppy is constantly irritating the adult, then the puppy should be wearing a thin leash on a body harness so that you can stop the puppy from charging the adult, and so you can lead the puppy away without having to physically interact/grab at the puppy.
3. Encourage parallel play where each dog is playing with their own separate toy. If either dog wants to see what the other is doing, and they are polite (keeping a polite distance from the toy and not trying to steal it from the other dog) this can be allowed to happen. However, if the dog who owns the toy (has it in their possession) becomes stressed (body stiffens, freeze - stop playing, whale eye - whites of eyes show as the dog stares at the intruder, growls, shows teeth, etc) then you need to intervene by redirecting the intruding dog. The point here is to reassure the dog who currently owns the toy that you've got their back and the other dog will not be allowed to intrude on their space.
4. If Puppy is desparately trying to engage in play with the older dog and the older dog is growling (leave me alone. get away), our job is to redirect Puppy to another activity - play with us or a toy. The purpose is to assure your older dog that you've got her back and she will never need to defend herself against the puppy. And that it's totally OK for her to communicate her displeasure in a polite, but clear fashion.
5. If Puppy is trying to engage and the older dog growls and the puppy backs off, but the older dog continues to growl, charge, lunge, snap, etc. then our plan is to redirect the older dog. The purpose here is to protect the puppy. The older dog is allowed to say "leave me alone" but once the point is made, it's not OK for her to bully the puppy.
Note on communication: Dogs speak to each other through vocalizations as well as body language and it's crucial that we do not punish communication. If we scold a dog for growling or telling us in other ways (showing teeth, air snap, etc) that they are uncomfortable, what happens is that we teach the dog that communicating doesn't make them safer, and in fact, increases their bad experience. So the dog will stop communicating with us how uncomfortable they are - but that doesn't mean they feel less uncomfortable. This is how we get those "out of the blue" bites - when we've told a dog repeatedly that they're not allowed to tell us how they feel.
Instead, when a dog growls. we want to take note of what's happening and see how we can help that dog feel better about the circumstance. In this case, heavy supervision and redirecting Puppy when the adult growls a "leave me alone" will go a long way toward helping prevent the dog from escalating beyond the growl because the dog learns that you respect her communication and help her feel safer. And with practice, the puppy will learn to heed the growl before you have to physically redirect her.
Also note, that most dogs provide tons of communication before they escalate to vocalizations. To that end, if you can learn to recognize the very subtle signs that occur well before the growl, you can intervene even earlier and then help your older dog to not feel a need to growl.
There's an excellent book called On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals
, by Turid Rugaas which will walk you through a host of subtle behavior cues that dogs give and what they mean as well as the circumstances when dogs typically do such behaviors and how other dogs typically respond. The better you can read her early, subtle signals of stress or discomfort, the earlier you can intervene to help her feel better and teach Puppy how to behave when around the older dog.
Now, all of this said - I encourage having a local professional who is familiar with canine behavior come and observe the interactions to check for any red-flag behaviors that suggest this just isn't a good fit for these two dogs. Not every home is right for every dog, and not every dog is right for every home. It's possible with patience, heavy supervision and practice, you can help these two find their way to a comfortable co-existence, or even a friendship. But it's also possible that this puppy just isn't a good match for your older dog. And your priority should be to your older dog and her comfort. If she's just constantly stresed out and unable to ever relax with the puppy present, then either a different puppy - ths she meets ahead of time so you can make a better match by seeing she likes this new puppy - or perhaps she would be better off spedning the duration of her life as a single-dog.
In my own home, I had a puppy with a 10 year old dog. It was recommended to me by 2 different vets that the puppy be rehomed. In my case, the dogs got on well about 80% of the time and so I felt it was workable and I sought help from a veterinary behaviorist becuase I felt certain there was a coincidental medical condition underlying my older dog's bullying behavior toward my puppy. I was lucky and this turned out to be the case. However, if the change of interaction and the supervision and redirecting puppy while also reassuring the older dog failed to improve the situation, I would have had to re-home the puppy because my senior dog's needs had to come first.
I share my experience because I think, depending on the specifics of the situation - do your two dogs ever get along at all, only 10% of the time, 80% of the time, this can help direct the prognosis as to whether or not it will be workable. And if there are no major red flags (no damage caused to either dog yet), then it might be worth trying some of the above techniques and learning to better read the dogs so you can intervene at the earliest moments, it might be a fixable situation. However, if there are red flags, if they get along less than 50% of the time, then it might be most appropriate to think about returning this puppy and either maintaining a single-dog household for the duration of the older dog's life, or making sure to do meet-and-greets with your dog in a neutral area at least twice for an hour or longer each time with any given puppy you're considering to let your dog help you decide what puppy/dog will make the best fit in your home. It's also possible that your dog would be more comfortable with a dog who is 10-18 months old, rather than just 9 or 10 weeks old...
I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behavior Specialist