We often think of dogs as some of the most loving and lovable creatures on earth. These four-legged good boys and girls are our constant companions. So tolerant of other animals—even going so far as to building beautiful friendships with animals that definitely aren't other dogs, like this one between a husky and a duck. Just as we can all agree that dogs are awesome, it would be super difficult to find anyone whose heart doesn't melt at the sight of a puppy. All of the adorable lovability of a dog condensed into a tiny fluffy, four-pawed package is impossible to say no to. Since puppies are maybe the cutest things of all time anywhere, what's the deal when your dog doesn't like them?
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Don’t worry, your dog is not a heartless monster
If your dog seems to get annoyed any time she sees a puppy, it's ok. As we know, puppies have a tendency to be rambunctious and excitable. Usually, when it comes to puppies, they wind themselves up only to fall asleep where they stand. For adult dogs, that wound-up puppy-whirlwind might be overstimulating. Older dogs, who perhaps suffer from arthritis or other ailments, may not be thrilled to be at the bottom of a puppy pile. Some dogs enjoy puppies and will themselves play and frolic lightheartedly, but some dogs would prefer their own personal bubble, and puppies as a general rule have no respect for boundaries and have to learn.
That annoyance might be puppy training
As any dog's person will tell you, training your dog is important. Behavioral training isn't just something that people specialize in. In fact, a large portion of a puppy's early training comes from interactions with his mother and other adult dogs. What might look to us humans as annoyance might be an adult dog's way of cautioning or reprimanding a puppy who is misbehaving. Like humans, dogs are social creatures, and as such, social learning is really important.
What is social learning?
Social learning theory, similar to other behavior theories that we often use when training our doggy besties like, is based on the idea that behavioral learning occurs through observation and as a result of the environment. Observation and imitation are the hallmarks of social learning. So, to put it very simply, dogs—like people—learn through interacting with the world around them as well as the other dogs—and people—they engage with. Puppies observe how older dogs act and they model their own behavior accordingly.
Just as dogs can pick up each other's bad behaviors, they pick up the good ones too. So that nipping and growling your dog is directing at a puppy might be the canine equivalent of, "cut that out." The older dog is correcting the puppy's behavior. For example, if your dog is lying on the floor, and a puppy runs up and jumps on him, he may snarl or snap his jaws at the puppy. The puppy needs to see that his acrobatics are not appreciated and that it is important to respect the personal space of your dog. There is a difference, however, between a reprimand and a beat down. A small amount of annoyance that results in a learning opportunity is not the same as aggression or aggressive behavior.
Annoyance vs. aggression
Since the ways adult dogs correct puppy behaviors can look aggressive or scary to humans, it is imperative that dog owners pay close attention to their dog's behavior. If your dog is meeting a puppy for the first time, be present and stay aware. Aggressive behaviors that last longer than a few seconds or that result in the puppy being injured are a sign that this is not a teachable moment and that there is a problem that requires human intervention. Rough play is essential for a dog's social learning and growth, but knowing when it is play and when it is fighting will help respect everyone's boundaries and prevent any injury.
Follow your dog’s lead
If your dog is distressed or anxious when around puppies, this is a sign that a change in environment is in order. If you are introducing your dog to a new puppy, take it slow. Allow your dog space to get away from the pestering puppy if he is signaling that he is tired or frustrated. Bringing home a puppy can bring light into your household, but it may take some time for your dog to get used to his new, much younger, roommate.