Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grumpy old dogs and crazy puppies

Liam the pug lying in his bed and looking guilty
"Was my reaction a bit too much?"
Over the weekend, we took a long trip to visit the in-laws in a neighboring state. We spent six very long hours in the car, and when we arrived, we were all a little bedraggled and worn out. I had high hopes that Liam would be glad when we did arrive, however, as I knew he'd have an opportunity to play with a brand-new puppy. I think I had visions of them running, jumping and being the best of friends.

Unfortunately, this is not what happened.

This puppy is an amazing dog who is smart, well socialized and well loved by his parents. In short, he is a great pup that is going to grow up into a great adult dog. Unfortunately, he is also a big guy at 40+ pounds, and he has a lot of energy. When we arrived, he was intent on making Liam play with him, and Liam suddenly became a grumpy old man, growling and snarling and resorting to snapping when the behavior didn't stop. In the end, I had to carry him from place to place, and he continued to growl. The pup continued to muzzle nudge Liam, and he would lick his little feet as Liam sat in my arms.

Throughout the entire weekend, this behavior continued. Liam and the pup would be on good terms for about 5 minutes, and then Liam would become upset at the puppy's constant invitations to play and he would become a snarling mess.

I have a feeling he learned this behavior from the foster pug we had for a few hours (see that post here). This old gal used the same tactics on Liam to keep him from bothering her, and he seems to have internalized those lessons quite quickly. While I appreciate his capacity for learning, however, I do find the episode distressing.

Most dog training sites tell you to allow the dogs to "work it out" and establish a hierarchy among them. Once again, I think this is easy advice for owners of large dogs to hand out, and difficult advice for owners of small dogs to follow. It's easy to say that dogs should fight it out when the large dog is destined to win. It's hard to let them fight when your dog could die in the process.

By the end of the weekend, I was encouraging both dogs to lie down near one another, without touching one another or moving to play. They could do that without growling, or without the behavior escalating. That's the best I could do on this trip, but I am hoping to make more progress in March, when we may make a visit to this pup once more.