A puppy plays with every pup he meets, but an old dog has few associates.
– Josh Billings
There’s pouting in Poochville.
Lately our beloved little white dog, for eight years a pampered pup and family favorite, is not dealing well with competition from his 7-month-old understudy.
We’d gotten a puppy at the first of the year as a companion for the old dog – same white terrier breed, same curious interest in all things on the floor, same delight in a morning saucer of milk.
“It will keep him young,” said my wife.
She thought we had to do something. If you do the dog-year math, you figure he’s about 60 in human age. He’s had two leg surgeries, nagging allergies that keep certain treats out of his diet, and his coat has grown a bit rougher with dark spots here and there.
He tires more quickly than he used to. He will often stop after one lap around the park and balk when encouraged to keep going. After each daily exercise excursion, he will return to the den, find a place to curl up and nap.
Not so, the puppy.
Her energy is boundless. Her activity, rambunctious. Her appetite, enormous. Her need for attention, continuous.
This does not sit well with the old dog, who sees his competitor getting the ear rubs and treat rewards that used to come to him alone.
We try to be fair, deciding that when one gets food or water or whatever, the other gets the same deal.
That doesn’t always work, however. Both dogs seem to want what’s in the other’s bowl. And the growling and snarling and woofing and barking begin quickly.
The old dog is bigger, but clearly not used to a puppy who likes to play. She loves to ambush him, hiding behind a couch or corner, then springing onto his head when he gets within range, mauling his neck and nipping his ears.
If he ignores her, she will bark a squeaky alto yip into his ears until he responds, or better still, give chase. This allows her to dash into her usual hiding spaces, too small for him to fit.
If he goes back to his corner, she’ll slip out, track him down and begin the game again.
Last week, the old dog finally seemed to say enough was enough.
Although he still shows up at feeding time, he will finish and turn his back on the family pack, amble off to a corner and ignore all invitations to return or interact.
After a day or so of this, my wife began to single him out for extra treats and I tripled his regimen of routine ear scratches. Even the puppy noticed.
The other night while my wife sat beside the older dog talking soothingly while petting his head, the little pup walked up with her favorite toy, a little stuffed tiger, and set it down beside her older playmate’s muzzle, before retreating away to a respectful distance.
You know what I think?
The old dog has learned a new trick.