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When Senior Dogs Act Like Grumpy Old Men

When Senior Dogs Act Like Grumpy Old Men

My senior dog, Otto, is nearly 13 years old. He often acts like a big grump around any puppies or foster dogs I have here, but honestly, he goes out of his way to snark at them. There are many foster care providers who stop fostering during their dogs’ senior years, because many dogs who were social and willing to guide foster dogs around the house get sore and achey and stressed at the thought of young’uns and clumsy idiots underfoot – and honestly, I thought I would be one of them. Otto does not permit any other dogs to sniff his butt, stand anywhere between him and the door, or accidentally brush up against him while romping the “fun uncle” Woody. I have long anticipated the day when I would start saying no to fostering, to give Otto the space he deserves.

But I recently said yes to fostering a single puppy, because I could not imagine that this puppy would possibly – could possibly – get in Otto’s way. Right this minute, I’m fostering a puppy who was found in a ditch with a broken leg, starving and flea-covered and scared to death. The puppy’s injury appears to be weeks old, if not more than a month old, and severe enough that the veterinarian who saw him said unequivocally that the leg should be amputated. I figured I could keep the not-very ambulatory puppy with me in my office until his surgery date arrived; how could a puppy who can barely get around bother Otto?

In the space of a week, I have witnessed and learned some very interesting things:

  • Even severely injured puppies bounce back quickly when fed properly and given pain medication.
  • Puppies who are about 12 weeks old have REALLY sharp teeth. (My foster puppies are usually adopted by this age.)
  • Otto seems to actually enjoy being bossy and laying down the law. Several times this week, I have seen him get up from a comfortable dog bed, just to hover near the puppy, seemingly in order to have the opportunity to make ugly faces and his big “GrrrRUFF!” noise at the puppy (all the while wagging his tail!).
  • After the third time of being RUFF!ed at and not dying, puppies seem to learn that the old dog is harmless and can be ignored.
  • When the puppy gets particularly bitey and is aimed in Otto’s direction, Woody often inserts himself between his boss (Otto) and his minion (the puppy). He doesn’t get assertive or defensive; he still lowers his posture and wiggles and grovels to Otto like a little puppy himself – but he unmistakably puts himself between the puppy and Otto. I accidentally got a photo of this in action the other day, as I was taking pictures of cans of dog food (for our annual canned dog food review, coming up in the October issue). It’s not a great photo, but it was the first time I had a camera in hand when the behavior happened.
  • The thing about having a puppy here that seems to be the stressful for Otto? When I work with the puppy to teach him something. Otto can’t stand to hear the cues for “Sit” or “Down,” or to hear “Gooood boy!” addressed to someone else. He will come running from the far side of the property to insert himself into any training session that happens, so he can sit and down on cue, panting and wide-eyed and watching the treat bag to make sure he gets his share. He’s like a former child star from a television quiz show who can’t bear for anyone to watch “Jeopardy” without him in the room, and calling out all the answers before anyone else can even read the question.
The puppy was on a collision course for Otto, and Otto was already growling and making his fearsome snarl, warming up to a “RUFF!” But Woody hurried and inserted himself between the two of them, absorbing both the puppy teeth and Otto’s wrath (a second later). Otto looks momentarily disappointed here.

The puppy is having surgery as I write this, and I’m getting out all my exercise pens so I can limit the puppy’s movements and keep out from under Otto’s feet, and refraining from play with Fun Uncle Woody for at least a few days. The plan is for me to keep the pup for about two weeks post surgery, and then, hallelujah, there is a family who wants to adopt him.

And then, really, I don’t plan to foster again for a while… Or should I?

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