My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

Is This Okay? Typical Interactions between Puppies and Adult Dogs


People are often concerned when their adult dog growls at or snarls toward their new pup. Chances are good this is a normal (and needed) canine exchange, but I thought that some guidelines might be useful. I share them here:

Puppy jumps onto older dog with paws or whole body

Typical response? Older dog spins and roars in pup’s face. The older dog may or may not bump or hold down the puppy with a paw. The puppy may squeal in surprise and/or run off. If the puppy comes back harder, jumping back up into the adult’s face, your older dog may need to make his point more firmly. All normal exchanges are brief and to the point. A very tolerant older dog may walk away the first few times but then may lose patience. This is also normal. Worrisome responses include chasing after your puppy and any reaction that lasts more than a few seconds or draws blood.

Puppy comes too close to adult dog chewing a toy

The adult dog may freeze, silently lift a lip, growl, then snap. This is an expected warning sequence that the pup will soon learn to respect. DO NOT SCOLD your adult for this; this is a normal and needed exchange.

Some dogs may leap up and go a step or two toward the puppy (especially toy breeds with larger-breed pups). This may cause the puppy to squeal, run away, cower, grovel back up to the adult or stay well clear. All are normal.

The rare older dog allows the puppy to take the toy. This may mean your adult dog is extremely tolerant or the puppy extremely powerful. Either way, it is not the expected response. Some adults will be very tolerant of pups under four months of age, but that may (and should) change as the pup grows up. The adult dog’s role is to teach your pup safe dog behavior, and that is best learned at home.

Puppy gets in adult dog’s face over and over and over

Intervene! Stop the puppy or let him learn about being a dog, if you trust the adult dog to teach him. If the puppy misses subtle signals, that can force the adult dog to “speak” more clearly. Our personal dogs have raised many a puppy. Any youngster who raced up, slamming into any of our adults, would be corrected for this wildly impolite behavior. If the pup is under four months these corrections will happen quickly and quietly; if he’s over four months, they’ll probably happen more loudly with more forward body motion into the puppy (but still safely). Please do not yell at or scold your older dog for setting reasonable, clear canine boundaries. He’s probably doing you and your pup a favor.

Puppy leaps onto sleeping adult 

Expected responses range from doing nothing to roaring, snapping, standing up and snapping, putting his mouth on the pup’s head or neck (without injury), or putting his paw on top of the pup to hold him down. What you get depends on the size, breed or mix, and age of both your puppy and your adult dog as well as the energy of the contact.

Older dog does harm to the youngster

Be concerned anytime your adult dog follows your puppy around with a stiff tail and low head, which is stalking behavior, or if one dog is deeply frightened of the other. Learning to read canine body language and intention is tricky. If the harm requires veterinary treatment, separate the two dogs while you seek competent professional assistance. If you aren’t sure, ask for help from an experienced dog professional.

Your pup’s “Puppy Pass” expired!

Most adult dogs give young puppies a lot of leeway in their behavior, much as we humans do with toddlers. But as the puppy matures, this “Puppy Pass” generally expires. When it does, frequently around four to six months of age, your adult dog will (sometimes quite suddenly) get down to the serious business of teaching your puppy how to behave in the world of canines. As long as these lessons are taught with restraint and are brief, with no one getting hurt, it is usually safe to let them happen with normal adult dogs. That said, I cannot know what is happening in your home so please – seek qualified professional assistance if you are concerned.

by Sarah Wilson

Author of handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog


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