My Older Dog’s Aggressive to My Puppy! What Should I Do?
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You have a sweet, new playful puppy. You pictured your older dog welcoming the puppy and romping around with him, tugging at toys.
And you picture the two sweetly snuggling together on the floor.
But, instead, reality hits. Your older dog wants nothing to do with the newcomer. In fact, he’s pretty rough with the little guy.
What should you do?
How you introduce them and have them live together is important. Be patient and go slowly.
Some adult dogs are better with puppies than others.
Things To Consider Prior To Getting a Puppy
I love puppies. But not all adult dogs want a puppy to live with them–even if they’re friendly to puppies away from home. Consider the following prior to getting your new puppy:
1. Does your older dog like puppies in general?
If your older dog has been properly socialized to puppies in the past and enjoys encounters with them, the chances are greater that you’ll be successful in him accepting one at home if the situation is properly managed.
If your older dog doesn’t like puppies, it’s much harder to get him to accept them living in your home.
2. Does your older dog have any behavioral issues?
If so, it’s better to resolve them first prior to getting a puppy.
Any issues will be magnified when you have a puppy, Plus it’s not fair to either dog to ignore any issues.
If in doubt, get advice from a canine behavioral expert.
3. Does your older dog have any health issues?
If an older dog has health issues that affect his sight, hearing, or mobility, it’s probably not the best thing to get a young puppy. It may be too much for him.
Also, if he has any issues that can affect his pain level, such as arthritis, he probably won’t enjoy playing with a young puppy.
My rescued Shih Tzu Trevor loves all dogs. But he’s about 16 years old now and is losing his vision.
I wouldn’t put him together with my Aussie mix puppy Millie off-leash and expect them to play together. It wouldn’t be fair to either dog.
But I do have them meet on leash, in harnesses, after Millie has had a sufficient amount of exercise to be calm.
4. Consider whether the puppy you choose is appropriate for your older dog
For example, a Saint Bernard puppy may be too much for an older Maltese.
When choosing a puppy, choose one that won’t overwhelm your older dog and that has similar energy levels.
Doing so increases the likelihood that they’ll successfully live together.
It’s not impossible for the odd couple to get along. It usually just makes it more difficult.
But I’ve had my Lhasa apso Ralphie who’s an adult accept my Aussie mix puppy Millie. It just required more management and work.
5. Has your older dog been properly vaccinated?
Check with your vet that your dog has all necessary vaccinations prior to getting a puppy.
What’s Normal Behavior Between the Puppy and Older Dog?
It’s normal for an older dog to appropriately correct a puppy. The problems arise if the older dog becomes truly aggressive to the pup.
It’s very stressful for the older dog when a newcomer joins the home.
Is your older dog being aggressive to the puppy?
If your older dog snaps at or growls at the new puppy when the pup becomes rambunctious, that’s normal.
The older dog is telling the youngster to respect him and back off, much as the puppy’s mother would do.
The puppy should then back off from the correction. He should respect the older dog.
The puppy may even let out a squeal. But as long as the interaction is brief and the puppy isn’t injured, it’s probably normal.
If, at any time, there’s any question regarding whether the interaction is normal, separate the dogs and get professional help from an experienced, positive-reinforcement trainer.
One thing we’ve noticed with our older dogs and new puppies is what we call the “puppy license”.
For some reason our older dogs let our pups get away with more when they’re little but as they get older they lose their “puppy license” and the older dogs start correcting their inappropriate behavior.
What Can You Do To Be Successful?
There are many ways that you can help the relationship between your older dog and puppy be successful.
You never want to rush introductions or give the older dog an opportunity to guard desired items.
Also, the two should not be left alone together until you are sure that they are getting along. And that takes time–even many months. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
1. Prepare your house prior to the puppy’s arrival
Pick up all chews, toys, and food bowls. These are all items that your older dog may guard. (Please note that if your adult dog guards such items–or even you–prior to getting a puppy, get help from an expert before deciding to get a puppy.)
Have a toy-free zone in which both can learn to get along. At first, you can have separate play areas with their toys for each so that there’s no conflict between them.
You want to set them up to succeed.
2. Swap scents
If possible, have something with the puppy’s scent placed in the older dog’s crate or bed so that he gets used to the puppy when he arrives.
If possible, have something with your older dog’s scent left with the puppy prior to his arrival too.
3. Introduce them away from home base
It’s usually best to introduce your older dog to the puppy at a neutral location, not at your home.
Doing so will help prevent any territoriality that your older dog may show.
It’s difficult to introduce a puppy to an older dog in many locations because the puppy shouldn’t be where other unvaccinated dogs may have been.
So you might introduce them at a friend’s house or another neutral location.
When I got my Aussie mix puppy, Millie, last summer, the rescue group had us meet her at their location. And I brought my five other dogs to meet her.
My other dogs are dog-friendly and tolerate puppies and know how to appropriately correct them. But it was still important for them to meet there.
4. Make introductions slowly
Have your older dog get treats when he even sees the puppy and is calm. If at any time he seems aggressive (raised hackles, lunging, snarling), end any potential interaction and get professional help.
In your introductions, you need two handlers–one for the puppy and another for the older dog. Have one person hold the puppy on leash and the other person hold the older dog’s leash.
Have them on six-foot leashes–no long lines or flexis. Also, it’s best to have them on harnesses they can’t slip out of.
A tight collar on the older dog may send him the signal that something’s wrong.
Have them on opposite sides of the room.
After they get used to being in the same room together, move them a few feet closer, making sure that the older dog is comfortable.
It may take an hour or more, depending on the dog, to have them meet briefly face-to-face.
Walk up to each other over time if the adult dog seems relaxed, have them meet for a few seconds if all goes well, then walk apart (telling them “let’s go” as you walk away).
5. Walk the dogs together to get acquainted
If the puppy can walk on a leash, you can walk him parallel to the older dog, with separate handlers walking each canine.
This is a good way to introduce two dogs. Keep them at least 10 feet apart. You can move closer over time, depending on how the older dog reacts to the puppy.
6. Slowly integrate them together in your house
Don’t force them to interact, play together, or pose for photos.
7. Feed them separately
So that there’s no conflict over food, it’s best to feed them in different areas.
8. Manage all interactions
Use gates between rooms to have them meet. One can be on one side of the gate and the other on the opposing side.
Get your puppy used to a crate, so that he can be crated sometimes when in the room with the adult dog.
Watch your older dog’s body language so that he doesn’t go over threshold and become too rough or aggressive to the puppy.
In the beginning, and for days or weeks (depending on the dog’s reaction), I would have them meet in harnesses on loose leashes.
Have two handlers–one for the puppy and one for the adult dog.
Take your time and be patient.
If the first encounters go extremely well, you can eventually (over days) have two leashes dragging so that each person can take a leash and tell the dogs “let’s go” and walk in opposite directions before things escalate.
Make sure that the leashes don’t tangle or wrap up the dogs. After all, you don’t want any problems or want them to be too rough with each other.
If the older dog demonstrates any stress such as raised hackles or tense body language, end the interaction immediately.
Have one handler lure the puppy away with a toy and the other handler call the older dog over.
Take each dog to separate areas, such as separate rooms to settle down.
9. Don’t let the puppy harass the adult dog
Even adult dogs who enjoy the company of puppies don’t want them constantly bothering them.
Redirect the puppy away from the adult dog. Use a toy to get the puppy to play away from the older dog.
10. Have the puppy exercised before interacting with the adult dog
Set all interactions up for success. If the puppy isn’t too frenetic, the older dog is more likely to accept him.
Have the puppy exercised through a walk or play session away from the older dog so that the puppy won’t be too energetic for the older dog.
11. Teach the puppy some commands
In order for the puppy to understand what’s expected, obedience training is important.
As a foundation, the pup should learn to sit, lie down, walk on a loose leash, pay attention to you, and settle on command.
The more the puppy knows, it’s more likely that the two dogs will get along.
It’s important to teach the puppy some impulse control.
12. Have both dogs sit and reward and praise
As long as your older dog won’t guard resources, give each a treat and praise them. Give the treat to the older dog first.
13. Give the older dog attention first
It’s less likely that there will be a conflict between the two if the older dog is acknowledged first.
14. Create positive associations with the puppy
Have two handlers. Have someone hold the puppy on a leash walking the puppy near the older dog.
They should be at least 15 feet apart so that they can see each other but not reach each other.
Pet and give positive reinforcement (treats, praise) when your older dog is calm.
Move the puppy closer as the older dog can handle it without becoming stressed. Keep giving high-value treats to the older dog so that he’s associated great things with the puppy.
As the handler with the puppy walks the puppy away from the older dog, stop giving treats to the older dog.
You want the older dog to think that great things–treats like small tidbits of chicken or hotdogs–appear when the puppy’s present or approaches.
Have bonding activities. Walk the older dog at the same time (a short walk) with the puppy. One handler should walk the puppy while another walks the older dog. Only walk where unvaccinated dogs haven’t been.
Once the puppy has had all his vaccinations (around 16 weeks old), he can walk in regular areas.
15. Redirect your older dog to known commands
Call him over to you and praise and reward him. Have him target–touch–your hand. Have him look at you on cue.
This will help get control and not have him be hyper-focused on the puppy–in addition to having him know what’s expected.
PRO TIP: It’s usually best to have them walk in well-fitted harnesses rather than a collar. A tight collar can send a message to the older dog that something’s wrong. And a collar may put too much pressure on a young puppy’s trachea.
16. Maintain a routine
Dogs are creatures of habit. So try to keep your adult dog’s routines that you had prior to the puppy’s arrival. A routine also helps the puppy know what’s expected.
17. Give your older dog separate attention
It’s important that your older dog knows that he’s still loved and valued by you.
Still play with him and walk him separately. Do other activities with him that you used to do prior to the puppy’s arrival.
18. Introduce valuable items like toys slowly
At first, they should have separate play areas with separate toys.
As you see that they’re getting along, introduce toys that your older dog doesn’t really care about and that are safe for the puppy. Or bring in new toys as long as the older dog doesn’t guard them.
Have one handler play with the puppy and another with the adult dog.
What NOT To Do
There are some things that you shouldn’t do in trying to integrate the puppy into your household. You don’t want to harm their interactions or unintentionally set them up to fail.
Don’t force them together
It’s important to not force the puppy and the older dog to be face-to-face or otherwise in each other’s space.
Patience and time are important for the older dog to accept the puppy.
Don’t suppress the older dog’s growl
Some things that the older dog does to correct the puppy are normal. A growl, and air snap to tell the puppy that he’s crossed boundaries are normal.
If, however, your older dog truly seems aggressive to the puppy, get professional help.
Don’t let them be together until any issues have been resolved.
How Long Does It Take For a Puppy and Older Dog To Get Along?
There’s no set formula regarding how long it will take for your dog to get along with a puppy.
It depends on the two canines.
Some adult dogs accept a puppy pretty quickly. They may have successfully been exposed to them in the past.
Whereas even some older dogs who like puppies may take a longer time when the puppy will live with them in their house.
Some adult dogs will never accept a puppy no matter how well you introduce them and manage the situation.
After getting professional help to evaluate the situation, sometimes it’s better for both dogs to rehome the puppy.
Some senior dogs may have vision problems, arthritis, or other problems and a puppy may be too much for them.
Is It Normal For My Older Dog To Bite My Puppy’s Neck?
We observe this behavior quite often between our new puppies and older dogs. It usually goes back and forth with the older dog biting necks then reversing with the puppy biting at the neck.
Fortunately, for us, our older dogs are very patient with our younger puppies.
Our older dogs like to play a game with the puppies that we call “bitey face“. Basically, grabbing cheeks, necks, scruff, faces, showing teeth while making a growly noise. It’s usually a harmless game but it can sometimes escalate.
In our house when the game escalates our older dogs will sometimes make a yelping noise and other times, they will give the puppy a correction by nipping.
However, always keep a close eye when your puppy and older dogs are playing a rough game like bitey face. You want to make sure you are there in case you need to regulate play.
How Do I Stop My Puppy From Biting My Other Dog?
Here are some things we do to control our puppies and keep them from biting our older dogs:
- Exercise Your Puppy’s Body And Brain – a tired puppy is a good puppy.
- Teach Your Puppy Bite Inhibition
- Redirect Puppy Biting To Your Pup’s Favorite Chew Toy – one of our favorite methods. We like redirecting to our favorite chew: Bully Sticks.
- Distract Your Puppy By Giving Her A Command – use a command that your puppy is very familiar with. “Name” is a good one and make sure you have a high-value treat ready to give.
- Use Bitter Apple Spray – often used to deter biting and chewing on one’s own fur. This can also be used to deter another dog from biting. Be sure to check the product and make sure it doesn’t irritate your dog’s skin before using it.
- Give Your Puppy (and dog) A Break – separating your two canines gives your puppy a chance to calm down and play more respectfully with your older dog.
I always considered my first two dogs, Stetson and Linus the best puppy raisers in the house as they taught the younger pups the rules of the house. They’d yelp at the proper times and sometimes give corrections with a quick nip to a puppy’s butt.
Now that we have two more easy-going dogs (Raven and Elsa) I have to oftentimes intervene using some of the methods mentioned above.
An older dog can often live well with a new puppy.
They may even become best friends.
But it will take a lot of time, patience, and management to set them up to succeed.
How about you? Have you brought home a puppy to your older dog? How did it go?
Tell us about your experiences in the comment section below.
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UPDATE: This post was originally published on May 29th, 2021. We periodically update blog posts with new experiences and information to keep them as relevant as possible.
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Check out more of our favorites on our New Puppy Checklist.