Canine Massage Guild

Old dogs and new playmates

There’s nothing cuter than seeing our older dogs playing with a new puppy and showing them the ropes. In some cases it actually gives an older dog a new lease of life, and they start acting like a puppy again themselves, playing and bouncing around all the time.

But keeping up with puppies is hard work. It really can take a physical toll on an adult dog, even if they are normally pretty fit and healthy, and dogs with orthopaedic conditions or in their senior years can really struggle. Assuming we have an adult dog who likes the new puppy, and we’re not having to carefully manage interactions anyway, here are some of the things we need to watch out for -

Constant playing - Puppies rarely come with a built in off switch. With a willing companion they will play all day, or at least until they collapse exhausted. And playing is hard work. Puppies bounce on heads, they body slam, they roll over and over, and they launch stealth attacks when the other dog least expects it. And the play is rough. An adult dog often handicaps themselves so they don’t hurt a pup, but it means they are then the ones which get slammed in to or flipped over, creating a lot of impact on a body that just isn’t used to it.

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Lack of rest - An older dog often spends much of their day lounging around, snoozing and conserving energy in between walks and fun things. A tiny furry missile launching at you constantly really interrupts that rest. A change in routine generally can upset a dogs rest, and if you have a puppy who isn’t sleeping through the night, that can really interferes with an older dogs sleep.

Changed exercise schedule - most people are pretty aware that puppies need short walks, built up gradually as they age. A puppy walk is often a slow mooch around the block while puppy marvels at every leaf, or a social play in the park. For an older dog used to long walks, if time constraints and practicality mean that it’s difficult to do separate walks, an older dog can find their walks are suddenly a lot shorter. And their fitness levels can drop sharply if this is a longer term change.

Potential weight gain - new puppies tend to equal more food! That might be older dog sneaking some of puppies food, it might be extra treats because we feel guilty that we interrupted their life with a puppy! Treats can help an older dog accept a puppy quicker, there might be more reward based training happening, or possibly just due to reduced walks.

Even the best natured, most puppy loving adult dog can be affected by a new puppy. Play can hurt after a while, whether it’s the continual battering or the occasional awkward tumble. Lack of rest can affect recovery time and if it’s prolonged can make your usually cheerful dog a little grumpy. At walks and food changing can lead to weight gain and a decline in fitness, which can cause injury if you then let your adult dog do a lot more without building them back up gradually.

So what can we do to help our older dogs stay as fit, healthy and happy as possible without hurting their bond with their new puppy friend?

Interrupt and redirect play - some adult dogs will willingly play all day, and others just don’t know how to make a persistent puppy stop. We have to step in and help them. Give them time apart, and give them shared activities to do where they aren’t just jumping on each other. 

Give them time to rest - adults and puppies need a lot of sleep, for their bodies to recover and to keep them calm and happy mentally. If they aren’t naturally resting you might have to help them. Putting them in a quiet area of the house, separated from each other, with a calm chew for the puppy or in a covered crate can help. You can’t rely on your dogs to choose to rest, you need to help them before they become overtired and grumpy or silly.

Try to maintain your older dogs exercise routine - if you have a small puppy you could carry them for part of a long walk, or use a dog buggy. If not you and another family member could take the two dogs for some separate walks, a good idea for helping the dogs maintain their bond with you as well as for fitness. If you live alone, try to build up to leaving puppy at home alone while you walk older dog sometimes, or ask a friend for help. And if you really can’t exercise them separately, remember that you need to be just as careful building older dogs fitness back up as you would a puppy.

Use your dogs dinner for treats, and get them working for it. Foraging for food or using a Kong can be really calm relaxing activities for a puppy and older dog to do together so they get used to spending time together without it all being mad play. Again training can be done using their dinner, or low fat treats with an allowance taken off their meal. If you are walking less and feel like you’re feeding more often just be very mindful of weight gain, watch both your dogs actual weight and also their body condition for any changes.

Puppies don’t stay puppies for long, so if you can help teach your puppy appropriate manners and interaction at this stage while avoiding injury and grumpiness from older dog, then you’re setting them up to be firm friends for life. While hopefully retaining a little bit of your own sanity!