It’s important that your older dog lives a full and happy life – especially if she’s living with younger, more rambunctious dogs.
In our household, we’ve got a 165 pound, three year old Great Dane living with our 55 pound, 14 year old Labrador. Size difference alone is enough to give any owner pause, but when the 55 pound dog is ancient in dog years, the concern escalates. This month’s newsletter focuses on what you should be looking for if you’ve got an significant age discrepancy in your household, as well as some easy changes you can make to ensure that both the older and younger dogs’ needs are being met.
Regardless of size differences, there are some big differences between young dogs and old dogs.
Older dogs, just like older people, frequently suffer from generalized aches and pains that their younger counterparts know nothing about. Sore backs, necks (I can identify with that), and hips mean that the older dogs might not be so fond of physically rough play such as body slamming, hip checking, and paws to the face and back. When the older dog snarls at the younger one, she’s not just being grumpy – she’s in pain and grumpy because of that pain.
Endurance + persistence
Young dogs wake up ready to go, go, go! And they can GO! all day. When we were raising service puppies, I could barely get up from my office chair before the young dog was up, tail wagging, ready for the next adventure – even if it meant we just went to the bathroom. Older dogs generally have less endurance than the younger ones – they often don’t like to play as hard or for as long. The fabulous game of “chase me, I have your favorite toy!” is fun for five minutes to the older dog, not the 45 minutes that it is to the younger dog.
Idea of “what’s fun”
Older dogs can often be happy with strolls around the neighborhood, whereas young dogs often find even 3+ walks a day just absolutely boring! The younger dogs may need 3-hour adventures through the woods, or a 3 mile cross country run. Some older dogs still like to engage in play, but it’s often a different version of play than that of a younger dog. Older dogs sometimes enjoy a low-key version of the “chase and be chased” games, while some younger dogs like a more physical game like “run and jump on heads.”
What to look for
If you’ve got older and younger dogs living together, it’s important to keep your eyes open for the signs that indicate your older dog isn’t happy. Here are some of the more common signs of discomfort or stress:
- Avoidance – the older dog gets up and moves when the younger dog comes into the room. Another sign that your senior dog is avoiding the younger is the subtle head turn. This looks very similar to what people do when they are ignoring another person. The head turns away, the eyes are averted, and there isn’t any acknowledgement that the other is there.
- Withdrawal – the older dog lets go of a toy as soon as the younger dog shows even a slight interest.
- Pain – the older dog yips or whines if the younger dog plays too roughly.
- Snarling, growling – sometimes if the younger dog isn’t getting the message that the older dog wants some space, the older dog must resort to stronger language. That’s usually when we hear the snarling, barking, or growling.
What to do
- Provide relief — If your younger dog just won’t leave the older dog alone, set up a baby gate to separate the two dogs. Your older dog needs rest and deserves an undisturbed place to sleep comfortably. A crate works well, too, to contain the younger dog (or the older dog if she’s comfortable in a crate). Another alternative is to keep the younger dog on a leash so you can control his access to the senior. If he can’t reach the senior, he can’t cause her any worry or distress. Do give the younger dogs something to do – a food stuffed toy, playing fetch or tug with you, or even some good manners training will do!
- Protect the older dog — If your senior has any vision or hearing loss, it will be important for you to keep her safe from the younger dog that is growling or showing his teeth. Old dogs can often miss those signals due to hearing or vision loss. I have to gate Schooner in another room when we’re feeding the dogs because Lily likes to check everyone’s bowls after she’s done her dinner. She can’t hear Schooner’s polite, but serious warning growl because she’s losing her hearing.
- No bullying — It’s unfair to the older dog to expect them to “put the younger dog in his place.” Many dogs will suffer in silence instead of correcting the younger, out-of-line dog. Would you expect your great-grandmother to put your grandkids “in their place” or would you instead speak to the kids and modify their behavior so they didn’t bug poor great-grandma? Hopefully, you’d get a handle on the kids fairly quickly so great-grandma could enjoy her time with them instead of counting the minutes until they were gone. If your older dog won’t stand up for herself, the responsibility is on your shoulders to curtail the younger dog’s actions and access to the older dog.
I think having multiple dogs is the greatest thing about living with dogs. I cherish every minute I have with my oldsters and I love the levity and laughter that the young dog brings to the household. I am always aware, though, of the happiness quotient over the old guys and girls. They’ve lived long, good lives – the old dogs deserve to spend their senior lives comfortable and happy.