Older Dogs, New Puppy — A Tale of Jealousy, Depression and Labrador Retrievers

“What made you decide to get a puppy?” several people asked me, “Two dogs not enough?’

Two dogs, two large Labradors were enough. But here was the issue. Our two Labradors are mother and son, best friends, always together.

Josie, the mom, is 14 years old and while she will still hike, er walk, a couple miles and play fetch, she can no longer jump onto the bed or into a car. She doesn’t see or hear as well as she used to, and perhaps the biggest reminder of her stage of life is that occasionally when I go to wake her in the morning, I wonder if she is gone. As in gone, gone. No longer with us. So far, every time I have instead breathed a sigh of relief when I’ve managed to rouse her, but it’s a regular reminder that someday we — my husband, myself and Sam (her Labrador son) won’t have her.

And Sam, our wonderful lovable, happy dog, what would happen to him when Josie is gone, if he was an only dog? He’s a sensitive soul and we were concerned his heart would break. So, we wanted to add another dog to the household.

In a perfect world, we could, time it seamlessly. When faced with Josie no longer being here, we could go and add another dog to our household as a companion for Sam. But finding the right puppy or dog to add can rarely be done in just a few days. Besides, WINTERS, where we live, are no time for potty training a puppy. So Sam might have faced a very lonely and depressing time by himself — something we wanted to prevent.

Enter Lucy — a yellow female Labrador puppy.

We had brought puppies home to other dogs before. Generally, one puppy and one older dog. It had never been a particularly big deal. A week before Lucy arrived someone showed me this YouTube video of a new puppies arrival.

While we didn’t expect that we cheerfully looked forward to introducing Lucy to Sam and Josie.

We decided to introduce Lucy to one dog at a time and choose Sam first. As I approached carrying Lucy (probably a mistake to not put her down far away from him), he became visibly agitated. The ruff of fur on the back of his neck rising and his muscles tensing. I put Lucy down and she trotted over to him. Sam appeared to be a mixture of revolted and irritated by her presence. As we cooed encouraging statements, he wanted nothing to do with her and gave a few low growls to be sure everyone understood his feelings.

Next we walked Lucy around to meet Josie. Josie is a female black Labrador just like Lucy’s mother. Lucy gleefully greeted Josie who also appeared to be repulsed by this adorable bundle of fur.

My husband suggested we play fetch with the dogs in the backyard, to shift the focus to something positive. Our big dogs grudgingly fetched. Shooting dirty sideways looks at Lucy as if to say, “DON’T expect me to be happy with THAT.”

And in terms of how our big dogs looked at us. They were clearly hurt. “How could you?” their eyes asked. “Weren’t we enough for you?”

Over the next week John and I had several conversations about whether Lucy had been a mistake. “Sam seems depressed. He won’t even walk with us. He just sat down when we got to the edge of the woods.”

I scoured online “older dog new puppy depressed” and emailed encouraging suggestions to my husband every lunchtime.

I was reading more forum suggestions on dogs getting depressed when puppies were added to the house, this one jumped out — have them sleep in different parts of the house.

I hadn’t thought about it, but we put Lucy in what was really Sam’s crate each night. We put her in his safe spot. Maybe we should setup the crate we use in the car in the basement some place and put Lucy downstairs tonight.

Another post was also from a husband where the sad dog was primarily his dog, but he was doing a lot of puppy care. They shifted so the wife was doing most of the puppy care and let the husband just interact with the sad dog for a few days and he perked up.

a few days later with things still looking grim….

I found a useful article at https://www.clickertraining.com/what-to-expect-introducing-a-puppy-to-your-adult-dogs — you should read the whole article, but it says ‘none of my dogs has ever welcomed a puppy with open arms (paws)’ and ‘all of the dogs growl and snap and move away from the pub’ and it talks about how the older dogs are TEACHING the puppy things by growling.

Sam, even among Labradors, is noteworthy for being a happy dog. But he was so not himself in the days following Lucy’s arrival that it was heartbreaking. Josie might have been ticked off by Lucy’s arrival, but Sam seemed transformed, despondent and dejected. Further complicating this was the fact that Sam had had a new medication prescribed shortly before Lucy arrived, one that had seemed to put him in a bit of a funk and reduced his energy level. It was impossible to say how much of his lying around and lethargy was Lucy and how much was the medicine. All we knew was it was not good.

As time passed, we could get the dogs closer together physically, but it felt more like Sam was tolerating or in denial of the new arrival rather than adapting to the idea that a new puppy could be fun. Here is how a fetch session looked about 2 weeks later. Sam is making eye contact with us again

but his overall demeanor was still very dispirited. We debated about whether he would recover and even if he recovered, had we ruined his life instead of making it better. We discussed how long we should wait before considering another home for Lucy. This really didn’t seem great for her either. And we talked about if we did find another home for Lucy, what that meant for Sam’s future when we did lose Josie.

This story is continued….

I’ve also written about dogs in Dogs, dogs, Dogs available in Kindle and paperback… the No-Work Spanish audiobook 1 — Yaks March in Washington (main character is a dog named Dash) and No-Work Spanish audiobook 3 — The Case of the Missing Poodle

A programmer by day, author by night. When I put on running tights, I like to imagine I’m a super hero. Creator of Unemploymentville.com. Follow me if you dare.

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