Thursday, October 14, 2010

Old Dogs, Young Dogs

A year ago, our Borzoi Catera at age 12 was a perfect match for 8 week old puppy Melissa. Catera is gentle, she is very careful where she puts her feet, she has always been very much aware of where she places her body. I could let Catera run with Melissa and knew that Melissa would be safe.

Safe from what? From being stepped on, from being body slammed, or from a harsh reprimand. Reprimands are not bad, but some dogs are not comfortable being around other dogs, especially puppies, and may reprimand a bit too harshly. A young puppy may not heed a well deserved growl if he uses his puppy teeth too hard while playing and the reprimand may escalate. Puppies learn by interacting with appropriate playmates whether they are pups of the same size and age, or a stable adult who has good skills interacting with young pups. I certainly did not want Melissa playing with an adult dog who may have a rough style in playing when she was just a tiny pup. I protected her from being physically hurt. I chose her playmates accordingly.

Dogs have different play styles. Some play rough and body slam. Some like to play chase but have little body contact, some like to roll on the ground and mouth each other for hours. Melissa and Lucy continue to play for hours, gently mouthing each other. Lucy always comes back for more if Melissa stops, a sure sign the dog at the bottom is having fun.

Catera allowed a few nibbles from puppy Melissa but moved away to stop the game when Melissa mouthed too hard. Melissa lost her playmate. The game stopped, she learned to use her mouth softly on Catera.

Fast forward a year. Catera is now a teenager, although still maintaining her weight at 72 pounds she is not as strong as she was when Melissa first arrived. Catera no longer goes on long hikes. Melissa is 85# she is strong and powerful and still developing muscle. Melissa no longer runs with Catera, she could easily knock Catera over, purely by accident. Catera still frolics in the yard, but her pace is slower. She is not as quick to turn, she prefers to walk the property boundaries rather then run long distances. Catera prefers to play with little body contact, where as Melissa enjoys body contact. Some senior dogs continue playing rough and tumble games as if they were youngsters but it is up to us to keep active puppies and strong adolescents from doing any physical damage to our older dogs. Senior dogs still enjoy socializing with pups, we just need to monitor that the pup does not overdo things.

Sara, a black Labrador had wonderful manners with all dogs, she was a good choice for Melissa to socialize with. But we watched carefully that puppy Melissa did not walk on teenager Sara, or that she did not overstay her welcome.

* Senior dogs may tire more easily.
* Seniors may be frail and may not be steady on their feet. Protect them from injury from a boisterous active puppy.
* A lifting of a lip and a show of teeth from the older dog may be necessary to tell the pup that the game has gone too far with those needle sharp puppy teeth. This is all part of canine body language. Of course if bodily harm is going to happen to either senior or pup, you must intervene. If you are not sure what your dog is saying, have a professional dog trainer who uses humane methods help you learn how to read your dog.
* Some adult dogs prefer not to play with very young puppies, but enjoy playing with adult dogs and older pups. Maybe a few weeks of management is necessary before your senior is comfortable with your new pup.
* Make sure to spend quality time with your senior, they may walk slower, and need to sleep more, but they still enjoy our company.

* Give your senior a play that is off limits from an active pup/adolescent, they will appreciate the time alone to rest. Catera certainly enjoys her quiet time.