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Preparing your senior dog for a new puppy in the house

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Thinking about introducing a new puppy to your senior dog? Consider this scenario: Ellen and Jeff’s Schipperke, Juno, had just celebrated its 13th birthday when Jeff decided they should get a new puppy. Recognizing that Juno’s getting up there, Jeff thinks a younger dog might help prolong the senior’s life – or at least increase its spirits and activity. But Ellen is concerned about the opposite. After all, puppies can be hyper and that could put too much stress on an older dog like on Juno.

“We see both sides of the issue all the time,” said Chicago-based veterinarian Tony Kremer, adding that it’s typical for people with older dogs to want a second one that’s younger. “On the one hand, young dogs can learn a lot from older dogs in terms of housetraining and boundaries. But old dogs can suffer if the new one is simply too energetic.”

Evaluate your senior dog’s needs

To avoid this and other problems, Kremer recommends evaluating what your older dog can handle – based on its age, health, and energy level – prior to getting a new addition. “You want to make sure it’s not so old, it can’t enjoy the company of a younger animal.”

You also want to make sure your senior dog doesn’t have any injuries or hip or joint issues that would preclude it from being more active, especially if you’re thinking of getting a puppy. “Most puppies go like wildfire and crash,” he said. “If your dog can’t deal with that, you may want to get a slightly older pet instead.”

Make it a perfect fit

This raises the issue of the perfect fit – and how important it is in terms of introducing a second dog into the family.

“There’s no hard and fast rule like the dogs should be ‘this many’ years apart in order to live well together,” said Kremer, adding that some 3-year-old dogs act like 10-year-olds and vice versa. “It’s more a matter of knowing your current dog well and applying a little common sense.”

That means:

  • Using what you know about your older pet to narrow the playing field in terms of the type of new dog you get.
  • Paying attention to how your senior dog interacts with others on walks and at the dog park. Is it drawn to puppies or older dogs?
  • Identifying the type of dog your senior prefers and seeing how it does with individual candidates.

“Try to isolate your dog and the prospect in a room so you can watch them interact,” Kremer said. “If it’s a good fit, they’ll get over their initial apprehension quickly. But if the younger dog jumps all over the older dog or either one looks irritated, move on.”

Your senior dog in training

Once you find the right fit, prepare your older dog for the new dog’s arrival both physically and mentally:

  • Take your dog to the dog park to fine-tune its socialization skills – especially if it’s been isolated.
  • Integrate activity slowly, especially if your dog hasn’t been getting regular exercise. “Give it daily walks in 10-minute intervals,” said Andrea Metcalf, a fitness expert in Chicago, “going up hills and stairs gently for strength training.”

Finally, if you plan well in giving your senior dog a friendly and well-matched companion, the benefits can far outweigh the risks, Kremer and others agree. “They’ll keep each other company, be more active, and stay in better physical condition,” he said. “And that can be a real positive.”  The most important thing is to make sure you care for the needs of your senior dog, while providing the proper training to your new puppy.  

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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