Friday, May 20, 2011

Adult dog doesn't like puppies, what do I do?

Puppy Reese: Photo by Allison Jagow
No, this isn't a reader question. Really, what do I do?

Just kidding. I've got a plan.

Let me explain: Good friends of ours recently brought home an adorable little beagle/Labrador mix. Her name is Reese and she's 10 weeks old. And Sensi hates her.

I'm calling step 1 in my plan to change this "Picnic in the park." Reese is still too young to go on our long walks, and for a couple weeks yet, she can only be around dogs who we know are up to date on vaccinations.

Here's the gist of my plan — I'm going to tire Sensi out by taking him on the 2.5-mile walk in advance; go pick up Allison and Reese (Reese will be crated in the back of the Jeep) and head back to the park (not the dog park, just a dog-friendly park). Sensi and I will set up camp on a blanket while Allison walks Reese around a quiet, mostly unused picnic spot. She can practice a variety training stuff while tiring out Reese, while I work on getting Sensi to be calm and enjoy the outing via treat therapy. I'm pulling out the big guns for this one — I'll have a variety of doggie-favorites in my picnic basket, from cooked chicken to frozen green beans (a favorite of his), cheese, perhaps a banana and some brand-spankin' new toys from the dollar store for him to rip up. The idea is not to have the two dogs interact, but to get them used to enjoying themselves while being in the general vicinity of one another.

Now, for some background. Here it is, copied from an email I sent to fabulous dog trainer Nicole Herr for some moral support yesterday:

Sensi was a good nanny to puppy Ruger, about 4-months here
If there was one thing Brent and I thought we knew about our dog beyond the shadow of a doubt, it was that he loves puppies. He used to be a total and complete nanny dog. As a younger dog, he was so good with puppies it was magical to watch. He'd splay out on his back, let the puppies chew on his lips and ears (even carried an 8-week-old Brittany around who had latched on to his droopy jowls). He'd alternate between playing with the puppies and trying to teach the puppies things. He's tried to teach every puppy how to swim ... not with a whole lot of success, but he tried his little water-lovin' heart out anyhow.

He's been a "nanny" to four puppies in his lifetime and has met and played with many others too. One of the puppies lived with us for about six months. Puppy interaction probably dropped off about the time he was about four, though — by then, most all of our friends had gotten puppies.

A few months after we moved into our house in 2008 — the first time that just me, Brent and the dog finally all lived together — I brought home two foster puppies, 8-weeks-old. I've always wanted to foster, but I wanted to do it even more for Sensi. He was five. I thought he'd love having "his own" puppies to raise. 

I brought the puppies into the house myself. He acted interested and excited, sniffed their butts and then walked away — out of the room completely, in fact. A few moments later, one of the puppies went to investigate him. When the puppy got close, Sensi bared his teeth and growled. We muzzled Sensi and I had Brent get him up on the couch. When the puppies walked by the couch, he'd try to get up and get away from them — moving away from them on the couch. If they followed him, he growled. We later put him back in the bedroom. The following morning, we tried again. Sensi wanted nothing to do with those puppies. He snarled at them again through his muzzle when they got close, once seemed like if he was not muzzled it would have been a bite for sure. He employed all avoidance techniques. I decided it was not in the best interest of either the foster puppies or Sensi to continue onward and we brought the puppies back to another foster home that day. We've figured that there was a big difference between those puppies and all previous puppies — he thought they were ours. Every other puppy he knew belonged to a friend of ours and clearly not us.

Since then, he has had no interactions with puppies.

On Saturday, Brent and I stopped by our friends' house briefly to meet the puppy — 10 wk old female beagle/lab mix. When we came home, we let Sensi smell us and repeated the words: "Alan & Allison's puppy Reese" and "Friend." He knows the words Alan & Allison, he knows puppy, and he knows friend. He was excited, body language looked great.

On Tuesday, I brought Sensi over to Alan & Allison's to meet the puppy after a good 2.5-mile walk. He has only been there once, to pick up Allison for a walk, and never went inside their house. She brought the puppy out, let it's butt drop down within reach of Sensi. Wearing muzzle and halti. He was very excited. I probably should have waited until he calmed down ... He sniffed the puppy's butt, then immediately walked away from the puppy. He went straight into avoidance. The puppy walked in front of him at one point and peed, he leaned forward to sniff and she turned around, putting her face next to his. He snapped at her and, since he was muzzled, opted to use his big ol' paw to give her a good whap. She yelped and jumped away. We then walked them up and down the street a couple times. Total avoidance — kept his body turned away from her, practically walking on an angle because of it, his head, never even got close to looking at her. If we stopped, he immediately sniffed the ground. The longer we stayed there, the more his tail tucked and body began crouching — like fear — even though she wasn't even within reach of him, and just before leaving, he went so far as to try to hide from her by crawling under the Jeep (and came out just covered in thick gobs of mud, which was lovely).

My next course of action is to do a sit-in with both dogs at the park. I'll have Sensi walked again, then have Allison and the puppy meet us. I'm going to bring a blanket and set up shop on the grass with Sensi on leash. I'm going to wait for Sensi to totally calm down — like, take a nap — while Allison works out some energy with the puppy in the general vicinity. Once Sensi is calm and puppy is de-energized, we'll walk the dogs past each other, around each other, etc.

As the puppy gets older, we'll start doing our longer walks together.

Right now, I have no hope that they'll ever get along, but darnit, Sensi will learn this puppy is to be tolerated.

I'm so heart broken, and my confidence has taken a bit of a beating. I so wanted to see my nanny dog return.

Can I do this?

Nicole approved my plan and advised me to take it very slowly. That I can do. I'm not really clear on why Sensi decided he doesn't like Reese, but as I've said in previous posts, the "why" doesn't matter nearly as much as the "what are you going to do about it."

Nanny dog Sensi won't be returning. Sensi may well be in that senior citizen stage of his life and simply isn't interested in having youthful puppies around. But there's no reason that these two dogs can't learn to at least be around each other, and maybe, with time and lots of solid work, they'll even learn to like each other a little bit. I won't hold out hope for that, but I am determined that we will be able to walk these dogs together.

I'll keep you posted on our progress throughout the summer!


  1. I'm guessing you've thought of this, but thought I would throw it out there just in case. You mentioned Sensi may be in that senior citizen stage of his life now... maybe something on him is hurting, maybe he has arthritis or something? Could he be expecting the puppy to jump on him or wrestle around with him like in the past, and he's showing avoidance and fear because he doesn't want the puppy to play like a puppy with him, wrestle with him and jump on him and accidentally hurt him?

    Either way, I wish you the best of luck in getting them to get alone well enough to be around one another, but I just thought I'd throw that out there to see if it's something to consider, if you haven't already.

  2. Thanks Megs!

    Physically, Sensi is still quite the athlete. His age has not seemed to affect his physique as of yet. He wears out a little bit more quickly, but that's all. No arthritis — in fact, as I write this, he's splayed out in the frog-dog position soaking up some sun.

    That's part of what gets me, too. He stills plays like a puppy. He even manages to get on the nerves of some of his friends, who are closer to his age but a bit younger, because he eggs them on to play and they've reached that not-so-playful senior stage. You'd think he'd jump at the opportunity to socialize with a puppy that likes to play.

    But, I also think that maybe he's not interested in having to deal with a puppy who is still learning dog-dog manners. Her energy is definitely higher than his — maybe it's like why you have kids in your thirties and not your sixties. Maybe he just doesn't have the energy and desire to babysit a "toddler."

    Either way, we've planned our first outing for later today. I'll post about how it goes!

  3. I am having the same problem right now. My 5 year old dog will not get along with our very close friends puppy! We will try these ideas and I hope it works! Thank you!

  4. Hi ntadancer, I hope these tips work for you! We never got to find out what would've happened between Sensi and Reese as our friends ended up giving her back to the rescue agency. We did, however, make some really good strides and had the two dogs walking on a sidewalk together in a matter of a couple weeks. Here are some links to more posts about our outings:

    A post on our first outing together with great details about how we structured it:

    A post about our friends' decision to give Reese back:

    And a recap of how far we came in our efforts: