Puppy energy is no joke! If you have an older dog at home when you add a puppy to the family, the two might not mesh well together at first. Your older dog has been the alpha of the house, but it can take some time for your new puppy to learn to give the other dog the respect it deserves.
In wolf packs, respect for elders is taught to puppies over time.
Since domestic dogs leave their mothers between 8-12 weeks of age, they don’t always get this education from other dogs. As their new owner, it is up to you to step in as the teacher and get your puppy up to speed on appropriate behavior.
How can I stop my puppy from bullying my older dog? The easier method to stop your puppy from bullying your older dog is to separate the two dogs.
It is going to take plenty of supervised “play dates” for your puppy to learn how to treat the older dog. During their time together, you can do things like feeding them (in separate bowls but the same room), offering them each a toy to play with, and petting or snuggling with both dogs at the same time. Make sure you are playing referee and keeping your puppy on its best behavior.
Every puppy is different when it comes to interacting with older dogs. The best thing you can do to foster a good relationship between the two dogs is to invest time into training.
Sometimes, the older dog’s reaction to the puppy is appropriate. They are just communicating their boundaries to the puppy. It is important to understand canine behavior because sometimes these reactions can seem aggressive.
Ways to Stop a Puppy From Harassing an Older Dog
These methods are suggestions for things you can do to help your puppy and older dog get along well. Choose one or multiple options that work best for your family and dogs.
Keep Them Separate
Keeping your puppy and older dog separated is not a forever solution. However, it can be very helpful in the early stages of introductions to keep the dogs apart for most of the day. Most of the time, you can keep your dogs together after a couple of months or when the “puppy energy” wears off.
Many dog owners use a baby or dog gate to create separate spaces in their homes for each dog. By using a gate instead of a closed door, the dogs can still see, smell, and hear each other. They can even interact if they choose.
While they should be separated when you are not able to watch them, the dogs should have multiple supervised interactions throughout the day. You can feed them in the same room with their bowls far apart. Take both dogs outside to run around and play at the same time (with plenty of distractions and toys available). If either dog wants to get away from the other during these interactions, respect their wishes and allow the dogs to go to their own spaces.
As you see their behavior progress, you can start increasing the amount of time that the dogs are together during the day. The goal is to eventually have the dogs sharing the entire home throughout the day. Remember that every dog is going to react differently to gaining a new sibling, so follow their lead during this process.
Tire Out the Puppy
One of the reasons that puppies “bully” older dogs is because they are looking for a playmate. In the canine world, playtime is very important for young dogs to learn how to interact and what social cues are. Unfortunately, some older dogs just don’t have the energy or care to interact with a puppy. Elderly dogs commonly get called grumpy or aggressive when interacting with puppies.
If your puppy is given plenty of opportunities to play, run around, and burn off energy, it is less likely to bother your older dog when they are together. When your puppy is chill and relaxed, your older dog will probably have better reactions to the new addition.
With puppy energy comes lots of puppy naps. During these restful periods, allow your dogs to sleep in the same room. This shows your older dog that the new puppy is not always annoying and bothersome.
Let the Dogs Work It Out
To preface, this method should only be used by owners who have a good understanding of canine behavior. Sometimes dog interactions can look aggressive or scary, but they may be perfectly appropriate.
In wolves and other wild canines, the pack works together to teach pups appropriate behavior. This can include growling or nipping at the young dogs when they do something wrong or cross a boundary. If an older dog bites a younger dog, it is usually soft and does not cause an injury. The reaction is the dog equivalent of a spanking.
This can be the fastest method for your puppy to learn how to interact with an older dog. However, if your older dog is elderly and does not have the energy to react appropriately to the puppy, it will not work. If your puppy is bullying your older dog because the older dog cannot fight back, use other methods to train your puppy.
When your puppy is bullying your older dog, move their attention to something else. This could be a training session, a chew toy, treats, or something else. You don’t want to reinforce the bullying behavior, so it shouldn’t be their favorite treats or toys.
Furthermore, you don’t want to immediately offer the fun item or the puppy will equate bullying the older dog with getting something they want. Instead, call your puppy’s name or physically move them away from the older dog. Then you can offer them a distraction item.
If you are offering food or treats to the puppy, make sure the older dog is getting the equivalent. You don’t want to increase the competition or jealousy between the two dogs.
In animal behavior, positive reinforcement means giving an animal something to let them know that you want to see a behavior more frequently or tell them that they are doing the correct behavior.
When your puppy is behaving appropriately (by not bullying the older dog or staying away from the older dog), you can use verbal praise, physical affection, or food. This will teach your puppy that not bothering the older dog is the correct way to behave.
You should never use punishment to train your puppy. Punishment, especially when physical, can cause aggression and fear in dogs. This can lead to even worse behavior from an otherwise healthy puppy.
Spend Time Training Your Puppy
Animal trainers talk about having a behavior “under stimulus control”. This means that your dog does a certain behavior when you give them a cue. The cue is the stimulus to tell the dog what behavior to do. Oftentimes, trainers put an unwanted behavior under stimulus control to decrease the behavior overall. Difficult behaviors, like jumping and barking, can be controlled using this method.
You can also use training to stop your dog from biting, pouncing on, chasing, or otherwise bothering your older dog. When your dog learns to do these behaviors after a cue and followed with a high-value reward, they are less likely to exhibit these behaviors on your older dog.
Some ways that you can put these behaviors under stimulus control is by training your dog to bite a rope toy or chase an inanimate object. They should be rewarded with their favorite treats when they do these behaviors when asked. While you are still working on training these behaviors, do not reward your puppy if they are exhibiting these bad behaviors with your older dog.
Work With Your Older Dog Too
A majority of your training should be focused on your new puppy as they learn how to appropriately interact with other dogs. However, it can be helpful to ensure that your older dog is also interacting appropriately with your puppy.
Your older dog will most likely be the alpha or dominant dog in your house. You don’t want them to get too dominant though. If your older dog becomes too dominant, your puppy may become fearful of the other dog.
Spend time training and working with both dogs, separately and together, to ensure a lifelong happy relationship.