My dog Frances was on squirrel patrol at the off-leash dog park when I saw a puppy making a beeline straight for her.
The puppy’s owner called over to me, “Is your dog nice?”
I was about to give an enthusiastic “yes” when I heard the puppy yelp behind me. Turning, I saw Frances pin the puppy to the ground, her mouth around the puppy’s scruff. Her owner broke into a run, screaming “Tiffin!” and heading our way.
Before we could reach the dogs, Frances got up and walked away as if nothing had happened. Tiffin also bounced back up, then bounded over to Frances, copying her every move. While we humans recovered from our racing hearts, it was clear that Tiffin wasn’t hurt or phased in the least.
What had we just witnessed? Did Frances suddenly hate puppies? Or was something else going on?
It turns out, Frances was just giving Tiffin a lesson in dog etiquette. As they played, every so often Frances would lift her paw and kind of step on Tiffin when she got too wild. Once Tiffin was calm again, Frances would lift her paw and they’d carry on. No harm, no foul.
Does my dog really hate puppies?
Your dog may act like they hate puppies, but that’s not necessarily what’s going on. There are a number of reasons an older dog might not want to deal with a puppy, from their inability to read social and physical cues to the relentless invasion of your adult dog’s personal space.
Puppies are jubilant, bumbling, messy-licking, up-in-your-space bundles of energy, and they generally have zero ability to recognize another dog’s body language. Many are separated from their mothers early, so they don’t benefit from the natural training that takes place as part of the litter.
For an adult dog with an established routine, having a new puppy invade their space is similar to how you might feel if a random kid started spraying you with silly string and tickling you with a sticky half-melted popsicle. Even if it’s a kid you love, it’s annoying!
For a grown dog, training a puppy is part of life. The tactics may seem aggressive to us (e.g. stepping on a puppy) but for dogs they’re normal. But what about senior dogs? In packs, the adolescents and adults train the pups while the seniors sit it out. It’s simply not their job anymore.
What should I do if my dog is mean to puppies?
If your adult dog seems unusually aggressive toward puppies, veteran dog trainer Robert Cabral says that may be because they’ve had a bad experience with puppies in the past…or might not have any experience with them at all. Your dog may be triggered by their fast movements and unpredictable behavior. Cabral suggests ample positive reinforcement to help your dog associate puppies with things they love, like treats.
There are many ways to introduce your dog to a new puppy, but here are four helpful tips from Cabral for those unexpected moments when your dog is confronted with a new puppy:
- Have treats on hand! When your dog sees a puppy, give them as many treats as it takes to keep them calm as the puppy goes by. Soon enough, they’ll learn that “puppy” equals “rewards.”
- Have your leash ready. If your dog is off-leash and you see a puppy coming your way, clip your leash to your dog’s collar to give yourself a little added control.
- Create a neutral zone. Gently take away your dog’s toy or stick so they don’t feel the need to defend their prized possession.
- Keep your voice and demeanor calm and friendly. This lets your dog know everything is okay so they’ll follow your lead.
If it’s a potentially dangerous situation or your dog can’t stand it, here are two strategies that can help in the short term:
- Clearly and calmly alert the puppy’s owner. You might say, “Hey! My dog doesn’t like puppies! Let me get some distance so you can go by.” You may suggest the owner carries their puppy past your dog, but it’s easiest to take on the responsibility yourself and move out of their way.
- If all else fails, leave the immediate area. Puppies don’t have any manners, but sometimes, their owners are learning too. You can discuss how dogs train puppies or how senior dogs think puppies are annoying later. Right now, it’s just about keeping the peace.
Featured Image via Instagram: MyaandMickey