Stop Poking Grandma! What’s Fair Between Older Dogs & Puppies

“Help me! I’m being poked and I can’t get up!” she cries. The kid pokes her again, laughs; he’s having a ball. She swings ineffectively at the kid while muttering a bit under her breath, “you brat… leave me alone!” then louder, “HELP!”

From the other room, she hears the kid’s mother: “Stop poking Grandma, Jimmy. Stop! I said STOP!”

Nothing changes. Jimmy keeps poking Grandma, who is now whimpering a bit and asking again for help.

“JIMMY!” Pause. Longer pause and then, “Oh, whatever. If Grandma gets fed up, she’ll let you have it. Then maybe you’ll learn!”

Fun for all, eh? Unfortunately, this scenario isn’t too far from the truth for some dogs faced with pesky puppies.

Recently, a reader wrote:

I’ve just read your article “It Takes a Pack to Raise a Puppy.” I’d like to ask you a question: Should a puppy (12 weeks) be taught he may not endlessly harass an older dog? Here is why I ask . . . I have a 6 year old large working breed dog with wonderful temperament; she is a therapy dog, he loves everyone and everything (cats love to snuggle up to her, etc.). She stays with my mother at her home during the day while I’m at work. My mom has a new working breed puppy who is good natured and friendly – and desperate for a playmate.  He harasses my dog constantly- chews on her face and ears and feet and so on. While my dog will growl, snarl, and occasionally snap, the puppy ignores this and harasses her endlessly. Added to the mix is the fact that my dog has had a cruciate replacement on her right hind knee, and has chronic pain in both hind legs.

Ideally, my dog would react strongly enough to put this puppy in his place. At the same time, I consider myself my dog’s pack leader, and I regulate any and all behavior in my home. When I have the puppy with me, it at first takes one strong-voiced “leave-it” command coupled with a hand clap in his direction – and then he finds something else to play with. Subsequent attempts to harass my dog are met with a simple but firm “aht aht – leave it” and that’s all it takes. When the puppy and my dog are left with my mother, she isn’t as effective as a leader. The puppy ignores her “leave-it”, and she tires of endlessly trying to protect my dog.

Tonight at her puppy class, she was told by the instructors that she should never interfere with this puppy’s behavior toward my dog – if my dog has had enough, she’ll respond accordingly. I think in many cases, this is great advice, but I also think dogs are individuals and they deserve consideration for individual temperaments, especially if they deal with chronic pain. I’m not sure my dog will ever respond strongly enough to deter this puppy – she might, but I’m not sure I agree with forcing her to be driven to that point. She’s a therapy dog, and I celebrate her kind-hearted temperament. I am also concerned that she actually may be waiting on her pack leader (me) to regulate this puppy-harassing behavior, because I so strongly regulate all of her and my other dogs’ behavior. My greatest concern is that my dog will suffer endlessly, if she feels it is not her “place” to lash out aggressively.

Is there any chance you can weigh in on this and give me some advice? At this point in time, my efforts to encourage and demonstrate effective pack leadership to my mother have been squashed by her puppy class instructors.

Thank you!


First, please follow your very good instincts and clear thinking. It is unfair to force anyone (dog or human!) to have to be confrontational with another being.

If you cross out “my dog” and write in “grandma who just had knee surgery” and we cross out puppy and write in “toddler with no one his own age to play with so he attacks grandma” — would the advice your mother’s puppy class instructors gave her make any sense? While I do not mistake a puppy for a child, it can be helpful to create a similar human scenario and play with the logic of what you’re being told. Most sensible people I know would never allow a young person to harass Grandma until Grandma lost it and told the kid off. Not if they cared about the kid’s future as a sensible citizen, and not if they cared about Grandma and forcing her into a confrontation.

It’s not about Grandma being able to defend or stick up for herself, nor is it about an older dog teaching the pup a thing or two. It’s about the quality of life for both. Both the puppy and the older dog deserve a peaceful life, and since you brought them together, it’s your job to make that happen for them both.

Our job with puppies:

  • teach them how to be appropriate canine citizens
  • protect them from bad influences
  • prevent them from practicing bad behavior
  • never let them bully or be bullied

Our job with ALL our dogs:

  • be their advocate
  • protect them from being injured by anyone (human or dog)
  • create a calm, peaceful life for them to enjoy
  • avoid being confrontational with them
  • protect them from being forced into confrontations

It is unfortunate that the puppy class instructors have given your mother such poor advice. It would not be okay for a toddler to harass grandma; not okay for the puppy to harass the older dog. Every time you see the puppy harassing your older dog, visualize a kid poking Grandma.

THE GOLDEN DRAGON HAS BEEN FOUND! Sorry someone with quicker fingers got here first. But remember to use your coupon code for $25.00 — and thank you!!

Just like us, some dogs are better at setting limits and teaching others how to behave. But none of us should be asked to do that job especially while hurting or needing protection themselves. As a cautionary note, a dog who is hurting may get pushed accidentally into a far bigger, harder or rougher response than she might normally give a puppy, and if the pain is intense, she may accidentally hurt the pup. Pain makes it hard to be careful. Don’t put your older dog or the pup in that position.

Even if the older dog was feeling 100%, you absolutely have an obligation to regulate the interactions in your household so that ALL dogs (and other residents, whatever species!) feel safe, comfortable, valued and can enjoy their lives. Just as a good parent moderates the behavior of all children in their care. Or a good hostess makes sure all guests are having a good time.

Follow your very good instincts. Give your older dog a big ex-pen so that she can have a comfortable puppy free zone when you are not supervising the interactions with the puppy. Give your mom some strict guidelines about what is and is not okay. And give that puppy a lot more to do!!!