Older Dog Is Aggressive With Puppy? (Mine Was Too) My Best Tips For Dealing With Dog Aggression

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If one (or more) dog has resided in your home for awhile, and you plan to introduce another dog into the family — like a puppy — then at some point you are likely to sense some jealousy or have some issues with dog aggression.

It happened in our home!

This is natural — primarily because the dogs’ instinctual pack behavior comes into play and a hierarchy must be established as to who is the “lead dog” (Alpha), the “second in command” (Beta), and so on down to the “lowest ranking dog” (Omega).

Here’s what you need to know before bringing another dog into your home… (This is what worked for us.)

If there was only one dog in the home before, then the new dog will quickly learn that the older dog is the big cheese around here.

The older dog calls the shots as to what the new dog can do, what toys he can play with, what food he can eat, when he can receive pets from you and others, when it’s time to play, etc.

For the most part, this all happens naturally, and without incident — especially when you’re dealing with an older dog “teaching” a younger dog how things are to be done.

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However, when you introduce a new dog (especially a puppy) into a home that already has 2 (or more) dogs, then you will likely notice some peculiar dominant or aggressive behaviors from one or more of the older dogs. The reason: they are trying to establish the pack’s dominance hierarchy.

You see, every time you add a new dog into the mix, the “dog hierarchy” must be completely restructured in order to accommodate all dogs that are currently in the home.


My Experience With Dog Aggression

In our case, we already had 2 dogs.

The 16-year-old American Eskimo male (“Jersey”) had clearly determined his place as the “big cheese” when we introduced a new male puppy (“Destin”) into our home 2 years earlier.

For the most part, that introduction and transition went well. The puppy accepted his role as “second fiddle” in relation to the older dog’s status. There were no major incidents.

However, 3 years later, we introduced a third puppy into the mix (another male, “Tenor”) and we immediately saw some dominant/aggressive behaviors that we knew we needed to gain control of early.

The middle dog (“Destin”), who until now had been the submissive one, immediately assumed the role of “leader of the pack”. This was primarily due to the fact that the eldest dog (“Jersey”) was completely aloof to the whole idea of having another dog in the family. Jersey wasn’t taking any kind of leadership role in this dog pack, so Destin stepped up to the plate to do it.

As a result, this completely changed the dog hierarchy in our home. The tricky part came when Destin had to learn just how far he could go with his new-found pack privileges.

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Establishing Rules & Boundaries Between Dogs

Early on, it was clear that both Jersey and Tenor accepted their inferior status to Destin’s “leader of the pack” mentality. But sometimes Destin took it too far with the new little puppy (“Tenor”), and he appeared to more or less be bullying the little guy.

Older dogs recognize the puppy as an infant. They will discipline the youngster until they can’t take it anymore. That’s when the tolerance level drops and aggression escalates. —Dr. Jo Ann Eurell, DVM

Since Destin is has always been a gentle, sweet and very good-natured Black Lab/Golden Retriever mix, these rare bouts with aggression troubled us greatly. They seemed to be largely unprovoked, and never centered around the same thing (be it food, bed, toys, or affection).

We struggled for a few weeks as to whether or not this was a food aggression problem (because sometimes it happened around food) or purely a dominance issue (because it was never clear when or where Destin would “turn it on”).

In the end, the aggression Destin displayed toward the new puppy seemed to be primarily a release of pent-up frustration for him. It was as if he had taken on such a huge responsibility as the “middle dog” who had to become the “big dog” and keep all other dogs in line 24/7.

Dogs are always happier not to have to be pack leaders.
Ron Hines, DVM PhD

Destin simply had to learn that he could turn it off sometimes. That it was okay if he was sleeping while the other dogs were playing. That he didn’t need to look out for and “protect” the other dogs all the time. And that he was still loved unconditionally, despite having this new dog in the house.

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Here’s How We All Learned To Get Along

From the beginning, once Destin (the middle dog) established himself as the leader of the pack, we acknowledged his status by:

  • Always rewarding him first (when doling out treats to the dogs)
  • Greeting him first (when we’d come home and 3 dogs wanted love & hugs from us immediately)
  • Feeding him first (at the dogs’ meal times)
  • Giving him a bath first (when all dogs needed a good cleaning)
  • Repeatedly praising him for even the smallest of actions on his part that were POSITIVE in relation to the other dog(s)

Once Destin was clear of our undying love for him, despite the addition of this new puppy, he seemed to lighten up a bit. Eventually, Destin started “playing” more with Tenor, rather than just “babysitting” him.

If an aggressive encounter should occur, do not grab the puppy up and scream and yell at the adult dog. This will only add to the resentment of the adult dog toward the puppy. The adult dog’s “feelings” about the new pup will be determined by how the owners react when they must discipline the newcomer. — Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America

Today, these 2 dogs are pretty much best buddies.

They still have their issues on occasion, because they both have dominant personalities, and they’re both males. But for the most part, they get along, and there’s nothing better than watching them “jaw” at each other for hours — in between the times when the little guy dives head-first into Destin’s furry belly and they begin playing rolly-polly and hugging games. It’s priceless!


Facts About Dominance In Dogs

According to Barbara Nibling, author of A Behavioral View on Dog Aggression, here are some things you need to know about dog dominance aggression:

  • Intact males are more likely to exhibit dominance aggression than neutered males or females.
  • Females who show aggression before puberty and who are spayed become more aggressive.
  • Dominance aggression and protective aggression are the #1 and #2 causes of treatment by behaviorists.
  • Protective aggression is stimulated by sudden movements.
  • Dominance aggression is likely controlled by androgen and runs in family lines.
  • Dominance aggression occurs overwhelmingly in males (90% of cases).

Please remember this, if you don’t remember anything else: Once a dog has reached dominant status, punishment cannot be used to correct a dominant aggressive dog! The trainer may make the dog revert to a submissive-aggressive or defensive-aggressive animal, and the dog may respond to that person out of fear, but it will never be trustworthy around others — even family members. The most that may be accomplished is to reduce the frequency and severity of the aggressive acts. With biting dogs, humane euthanasia is often the kindest form of treatment. Biting animals often go from home to home and lead a life of fear and severe, inhumane punishment. —A Dog Owner’s Guide To Canine Aggression


More About Aggressive Dogs

In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you resolve whatever dog aggression issues you might be having:

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I like to help Dog Parents find unique ways to do things that will save time & money -- so I write about "outside the box" Dog Tips and Dog Hacks that most wouldn't think of. I’m a lifelong dog owner -- currently have 2 mixed breed Golden Aussies that we found abandoned on the side of the road as puppies. I've always trained my own dogs and help friends train theirs, as well. Professionally, I worked at a vet and have several friends who are veterinarians -- whom I consult with regularly. (And just because I love animals so much, I also worked at a Zoo for awhile!) I've been sharing my best ideas with others by blogging full-time since 1998 (the same year that Google started... and before the days of Facebook and YouTube). My daily motivation is to help first-time dog owners be better prepared from the first day your new puppy enters your home. I like to help dog owners understand what's 'normal' and what you can expect in terms of living with and training your dog -- how to get through the ups & downs of potty training, chewing, teaching commands, getting your dog to listen, and everything else that takes place during that hectic first year! When I'm not training, walking, grooming, or making homemade treats for my dogs, you will find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites). To date, I've written over 600 articles for dog owners on this site! Many of them have upwards of 200K shares.

14 thoughts on “Older Dog Is Aggressive With Puppy? (Mine Was Too) My Best Tips For Dealing With Dog Aggression

  1. Our 3 year old (100 lb) German Shepherd lost our female Rottie (13 yr old) in Dec. 2009. He went into a horrible depression (as we did), and he wouldn’t eat, lost fur with hot spots, etc. Nearly 3 months later, we got a Rottie puppy (7 1/2 weeks old). She rolled on her back the second she met him and they began to play together immediately. For 12 days, they played and everything seemed to be going well. On day 12, my husband came home from work to find our puppy dead and bloody. It has been 3 weeks and it has been devastating (I have raised many puppies with adult dogs and never had an issue before). Our Shepherd is back to being horribly depressed and refuses to eat many of his meals. This has been a nightmare.

    1. i haven’t got much advice. just my sympathy and prayers. it’s hard enough to go through the loss of an animal companion w/o having this tragedy happen. i know you know this but don’t feel bad toward your shepard. he is confused and very sad. just love each other. again, my prayers and sympathy.

    2. Hi Barbara,
      I cannot even begin to comprehend the feelings that you (and your Shepherd) are going through right now. Terry’s right… it’s no one’s fault… not yours, not your Shepherd’s. Hopefully, you can find some small speck of comfort in knowing that.

      If it was me, I would seek the advice of a professional pet behaviorist — just for some reassurance and guidance through this difficult time. Here locally, I’ve gone back to the place where we took our dog for puppy training classes years ago whenever I had a ‘serious’ question. Since they (vaguely) knew us, I’ve always felt that they’ve been a tad more willing to help by pointing us in the right direction. That, and our vet has been a TREMENDOUS help during the most challenging times that we’ve found ourselves in with our dogs. Our vet will even call you at home after hours for a one-on-one conversation when it’s something serious like this.

      I’ve also heard of pet professionals coming by your house to interact with the dog on a semi-regular basis to work through incidents like this — and it wasn’t very expensive either.

    3. Wow you should have disciplined your Shepard for that! Being sad is no excuse to kill a puppy! You don’t have to get rid of him but my goodness! Discipline goes a long way. And never leave a puppy unattended with an adult dog for an extended amount of time, until they are at least a year old and can defend themselves. He should have been crated or put in his own room!

  2. I need some help with my family pets. Here’s their story hopefully someone can give us some advice.

    Last year I went to the pound and a adopted our first dog, Wendy the border collie. She was a year old and grew up in the shelter. She actually stayed in the cat in-closure for the first 8 months in the shelter. When we brought her home we had no problems. House breaking her was a cinch.

    A couple of weeks ago we decided we could afford another dog/puppy. I went to a friend who had a litter of pups who needed homes. They are basset hound mixes. I took 2 because I thought my mother wanted one, I was wrong so I brought both of them home. Wendy became aggressive to one of the pups but not the other. BUT the other one we discovered had some health issues and we gave her up, keeping the one Wendy was aggressive towards. Afterwards both seemed to settle down and they actually played.

    Last week my daughter moved back in with us bringing another pup. Younger than the pup we had by a couple weeks. She is a pit/lab mix.

    Now Wendy is being aggressive toward both puppies. I have found her twice nearly “attacking” the basset pup. She runs and knocks her over and then mouths at her neck, a couple times a little too hard I believe. She does the same to the pit/lab pup but not as hard. The basset pup is also doing this to the pit/lab pup. I do see the pup playing at times, but when Wendy is around the aggression starts again.

    When is rough play considered aggression? What do I do to stop the aggression to the pups? (I have trained Wendy to stop and come lay down, but she ends up spending most of her outside time in the calm/submissive laying down position.) Is there a “top dog” in the house? Wendy?

    I would appreciate any advice. I would really hate to come home and find Barbara situation. you can also email me at [email protected]

  3. Hi we need to help we have a 11 year old male yorkshire terrier and decided to get a puppy, she is 11 weeks old, our older dog is aggresive towards the puppy and now he is shaking, panting and when we take him for a walk he doesnt want to come back home

  4. IMPORTANT NEED HELP any and all advice y’all have. I have a one year old female pit mix who has never been agressive towards humans or other dogs. The only exception is when a dog would come near her while she was eating but no aggression towards humans. I recently brought another female, full blooded pit, into my home. She is about 4-5 months old and the agression has progressed to the point where my puppys face is scarred for life. I am aware that this behavior is about dominance and alpha behavior but I have no clue how to fix the situation. All I have been able to do is put the older dog outside on a chain and I am completely against keeping a dog on a chain AT ALL. Someome please give me some advice on how to defuse this situation so me and my 2 females can live happily ever after. Thank you in advance for anything that can help me.

  5. hi i have an 8 yr old cairn terrier bitch (skye) and a 6 yr old westie cairn x (buddy),we have just had a new puppy a bischon frise called alfie he is just 8 weeks old,buddy has taken to him quite well but skye is being a bit nasty to the pup,and she keeps going for buddy,when buddy is near the pup,she is fine with us and buddy at other times,will she ever grow out of it,our new pup is in a crate and we are introducing the at a slow pace,is that the right thing to do………please if anyone could give me abit of advice it would be very much appreciate,thanks Tina

  6. The scenario above is nearly identical to what I’m going through. Original dog, Moose (neutered male) is a very awesome and very loving little mut. Same body shape as Italian greyhound but a type of terrier face and attitude. The second dog we got is Sadie, (spayed female) a border collie/lab mix. Got her at 6 months old. She was very skiddish around new people. Especially adult males. Luckily she still bonded with me and my wife and my two boys quickly. Everyone else though, it took some time. She is bigger and about 30 lbs heavier than original dog but she was instantly 2nd in line. Moose was alpha. (I actually thought of him as beta. In my opinion, I am the alpha and they know it too). This week we added a 3rd and final puppy to the mix. Another spayed female. She is an American pitbull terrier. She’s 2 months old. (If any of you are pitbull haters, please educate yourselves. They are an amazingly loving, and affectionate breed. Their bad rep comes from irresponsible owners, and/or owners that train them to be vicious). Moose instantly dismissed Luna, the pit pup. At first, I thought Sadie was simply just acting as a mother to the pup but now it’s becoming clear that she is now the lead dog, and establishing order. She hovers over new pup a lot and dictates when I can pet her. (Oddly enough, she’s cares not at all when my kids play with the pup. She’s very close with my kids, so I’m assuming she’s allowing that freedom out of respect to me, cause she knows I am my kids’ alpha). Th pup has been here only 4 days. But, Sadie’s gotten carried away twice when establishing her order to the new pup.

    Now, here is my concern. This new pup, the omega, will grow to be stronger, bigger, and heavier than the other two. She will be more capable of ending a dispute between her and Sadie. Pits are very friendly with people and dogs when socialized properly from a young age. That being said, if Sadie were to get aggressive with her again months or years down the line, Luna will still be very capable of overly defending herself. So, I guess my real main concern is making sure that doesn’t happen. Any tips and advice would be GREATELY appreciated!!!

  7. Thank you so much for your very informative info, I will try these tips but I think it may take time and we must be patient.

  8. The very next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won’t fail me just as much as this particular one. I mean, Yes, it was my choice to read through, but I really believed you would probably have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something you can fix if you weren’t too busy searching for attention.

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