Read Column – Puppy Rough Play with Older Dog

Dear John,

Is my 7 month puppy out of line by biting my other dog all the time? It seems to be annoying to the older dog. Should she have grown out of this puppy biting stage by now? Is there anything we should be doing to stop it? Or will the problem fix itself over time?

Hi Donna,

There isn’t one answer to this question. Most pups do settle down over time but the way an older dog (and we) respond to rough play can have positive or negative impact the youngster’s attitude down the road. Play has a few purposes, one of which is that it’s a way of testing one’s drive and physical abilities against others. In a more natural setting this sort of behaviour (and energy expenditure) plays out mostly amongst litter mates and to a limited extent mom dogs, rather than uncles, aunts or geriatric grandparents. Later in life conflicts may be resolved without a knock down, drag out brawl as the dog’s have their past play to refer to giving them a pretty good idea how things would play out.

As a general rule I let dogs work things out, but how an older dog might respond to a younger can really vary and sometimes we do need to intervene. Some older dogs simply don’t have the confidence to settle a pup down and so a dog owner should step in to reduce the stress.

If they’re of different breeds and the physical size of the younger overtakes the older, he or she may want to provide the youngster with some guidance but be physically unable to. Once again, I think the dog owner needs to step in.

In other cases, some older dogs will tolerate more of this sort of behaviour then others but will start handing out smack downs once they figure the pup is old enough to know better which would be in the range where that breed is near young adult hood.

I’ve seen situation where I’ve thought some dogs may not think it’s their place to discipline the pup and be wondering while they’re being mauled, “Your pup, your problem, what are you waiting for?”

I think we should be sensitive as well when the older dog is a canine senior citizen.

Playfulness that gets too rough without some clarity as to boundaries can turn a dog into a bully. If all it ever knows is “might is right” with the dog it lives with, it can set that dog up for an awful surprise when one day it meets a less tolerant dog. There’s an old cowboy saying, “There ain’t a horse that can’t be rode, nor a cowboy that can’t be throw’d.” If the dog is going to interact with others down the road it’s much easier to learn a little humility now whether that lesson is coming from the resident house dog or the dog’s owner.

There are different ways for dog owner’s to intervene but without meeting the dog’s involved I hesitate to suggest what would be best. If the pup involved is clear as to who’s the teacher and who’s the student when it comes to itself and its owner it usually doesn’t take much to get the idea across but dogs need to be respected as individuals and what might be just barely “clear” to one pup might overwhelm another.

– John Wade

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