What Your Older Dog Can Teach a Puppy

Lindsey ZimmermanDog Health

We have all heard the adage: “with age comes wisdom.” If you already have an older dog and are introducing a new pack member, much can be learned from the senior dog. Just like older siblings teach the younger kids both good and bad habits, so too do dogs.

Dogs often mimic the behavior of other dogs. According to Psychology Today, this is called allelomimetic behaviors by the scientific community.  In other words, when you bring a puppy into your home with an older dog present, this can greatly reduce the training time. It is a well-known fact that dogs watch the behaviors of other dogs and try to gather useful information from their observations. Dogs will often model the behaviors of other dogs when there seems to be advantage to be gained.

For instance, initially my puppy was terrified of going up or down the stairs. This is very true for many puppies since it seems so foreign to them. However, by going up and down the stairs repeatedly, the puppy learned from watching my older dog. The puppy would watch the older dog very carefully, always looking in the direction he looked, as if there was something very important to observe. Additionally, he would follow the older dog around the house everywhere he went, knowing the older dog knew the lay of the land! !Watch this cute video and you will see the hesitation of the puppy until the big dog steps in.

Additionally, my older dog and I love to play Fetch and tug-of-war. Although I had to get a much smaller tug rope for the puppy, she caught on in no time merely by watching our older dog. Catching the ball on the fly? We still have a lot of work to do! Housetraining was easy, because the puppy would follow the older dog right out the door.

Know that when you have multiple dogs in a home, there will always be a pecking order. My neighbor has 5 dogs. It was complete chaos when someone came to the door. All five dogs would bark excitedly and jump repeatedly on who ever came in, even the family members. When the dog trainer came to her house, they started with the alpha dog and began teaching her a different response. Once she was pretty good, the trainer added a second dog. It grew easier and easier by the time the fifth dog needed to be trained!

Time after time I see how dogs teach each other. Sometimes its good things, sometimes not, but they do watch and learn from each other. If you have multiple dogs, you must take their relationships with each other and with you into consideration. Dogs are not people — they look at life differently than we do, they communicate differently than we do, and their relationships are different. This is natural because they are a different species. They can’t change how they view things so it’s up to us to adjust and look at situations from their perspective. You know the results when we do.

Conversely, if you are adopting a senior dog into your home and you already have an adult dog, the senior dog can learn from the dog already established. Indeed, old dogs can learn new tricks because no one, human or canine, is ever too old to learn!