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Is my dog too old to accept a new puppy in the house?

Is my dog too old to accept a new puppy in the house? We have an 8-year-old West Highland White Terrier, Dewey, and earlier this month our 8-year-old Welsh Terrier, Murphy, died of liver disease. We got the two dogs within a week of each other, so Dewey virtually always had been with Murphy.

Dewey seems very lonely without Murphy and constantly goes from room to room looking for his "brother" (or so we assume). We would like to get a second dog (a puppy) to keep him company, but we don't know if Dewey is too old to accept a youngster in the house. What do you think?

An 8-year-old Westie is by no means "over the hill," and unless Dewey is an exception, I don't think age is the major concern when considering adding another dog to your family. Introducing a puppy to an older dog can work wonders by bringing out the "inner puppy" in a senior pet, provided the two dogs are compatible. Because he always has been a part of a team, I'm sure Dewey is lost without his brother dog. I think a second dog might be just the thing to put a spring in his step, as long as he isn't springing for the other dog's throat in aggressive attack! If Dewey has a very dominant nature or shows aggression toward other dogs, introducing a new dog of any age into your home may cause trouble. What you do not want to do is introduce an antagonistic, annoying rival for rank.

If he seems to tolerate other dogs pretty well, the greatest odds for success would be to introduce a puppy of opposite gender (a new little "sister") with a low dominance drive. The best way to determine which puppy would be most compatible would be to bring Dewey along when you begin your search for a companion. Introducing him to a puppy on neutral territory, without any other dogs present, will let you to observe how they relate. (Of course you shouldn't even consider this if you have the slightest doubt about the puppy's safety!) Positive body language cues indicating a submissive demeanor from the puppy include approaching Dewey with a lowered head; a tucked, wagging tail; submissive licking--tongue pushed forward through closed mouth; rolling over onto its side or back; spreading its back legs to expose genitals; and possibly even wetting. Also look for interested, nonaggressive investigation of the puppy by Dewey (sniffing of genitals, ears and mouth). Even less gentle investigation is OK if Dewey is controlled and deliberate. Posturing over, vocalizing, mouthing, pawing, rolling, pinning and "rough housing" all are appropriate ways Dewey would let a subordinate know "I am the big dog in the family," provided he shows deliberate inhibition of his bite. Assume that play-invitation postures, such as "bowing" or rolling onto his back to lure the puppy into interaction, are positive signs as well. Normal adult dogs are very gentle with puppies, even when they are seemingly "playing rough."

Problems in multiple-dog households often stem from unresolved battles for dominance between equally matched dogs; usually those of the same gender, size and strength. Dogs of equal tenacity with strong drives to lead rather than follow are most likely to get into serious fights for rank.

Another big factor in intercanine aggression problems occurs when owners accidentally undermine their dominant dog by trying to treat their dogs as "equals." Although two dogs may get along on equal terms with neither dog taking the leading, seemingly greedy role, most don't. Usually one dog is the "top dog"; it claims perks and privileges at the other dog's expense. Although the subordinate dog may be perfectly accepting of lower rank and its fallout (loss of toys, bones and food to the more assertive dog), humans have been known to bristle at these seemingly unfair canine rules of fair play. Inflicting human rules--undermining the more dominant dog by taking back stolen possessions and making the dog "share"--can lead to increasingly vicious attempts by the dominant dog to re-establish rank when the sabotaging owner is not around. Because most dogs accept either a leading or following relationship with one another, sometimes even trading back and forth, they usually are able to get along without big problems. Rough play is how dogs most often test each other and establish rank. Allowing this is not only healthy and entertaining, it allows the dogs to work out their relationship nicely without bloodshed. Because some terriers tend to be aggressive toward other dogs, especially once they are challenged, it would be wise to choose a less assertive new sibling for Dewey if you decide to get another dog.

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