The Golden Years are meant for relaxing after a lifetime of hard work. Yet many seniors, whether married, widowed, or divorced, can find the Golden Years lonely. Never has this been more true than the past 24 months where seniors have found themselves spending more time at home due to concerns about the pandemic.
Recently, companion animals have been in high demand due to people working from home or shifting in-person activities to online.
While it might be tempting to pull the trigger on that adorable doggy in the window, many seniors fail to consider the downsides of bringing an energetic, excitable companion with sharp teeth and nails into their home.
This might be a big mistake.
Here are some things seniors need to consider before bringing home that new puppy.
Often when I do my first session with new puppy owners I’ll say, “Congratulations! You adopted a newborn!”. We all get a good chuckle, but it’s actually true, albeit on an accelerated time frame.
You might experience many sleepless nights the first few weeks as the puppy adjusts to his new home and you work on potty training. If you already don’t sleep well, throwing a puppy into the mix will only make things worse.
The good news is that young puppies, like babies, need a lot of sleep. But when they’re not sleeping, watch out! They are go-go-go and require constant attention. Which brings me to point 2…
We often forget how much WORK puppies are. While potty training, you might feel like a slave to your puppy. Your entire schedule will revolve around taking the dog out to potty 10 times per day in the first weeks and several times a day thereafter.
While we’ve all heard neighbors and other family members brag about how their puppy was potty-trained in just a matter of days or as little as one week, in my experience, this is the exception, not the norm.
From what I’ve seen, it takes months before my clients have fully potty-trained dogs. Many people don’t plan on their puppy still having accidents when they’re 6 or 7 months old and frustration sets in that they’re still cleaning up messes in the house long after they planned to.
Undoubtedly the most exasperating issue my senior clients experience is that of puppy biting and chewing. We remember the puppies we had when we were younger and the puppy biting and scratching wasn’t such a big issue.
However, many seniors have much thinner skin, literally. Not only that, many are on blood thinners, so any little scratch or nip from those sharp puppy teeth can cause an awful lot of damage.
I’ll visit my senior clients and see many of them bandaged up from the various battle wounds their puppy has inflicted.
Unfortunately, puppy biting and chewing is something that does not have an immediate fix. People hire dog trainers thinking that they’re going to “train away” these innate chewing behaviors and that’s not the case.
While there are things one can do to mitigate the biting and correct it in the moment, puppies have as much of an innate need to chew, bite, and explore the world with its mouth as babies do. These are developmental phases and the only thing that truly cures them is time.
As I often say to my clients, “You can’t unpuppy a puppy.”
The aim of our training is to give our clients a well-behaved adult dog while seeing them through the frustrating puppy stages and equipping them with strategies on how to get through those hair-pulling first 8-12 months.
But those months can be agonizing on seniors.
I worked with a retired couple that bought a Doberman puppy. Sadly they realized by the time the dog was 4.5 months old that they had bitten off more than they could chew. They couldn’t wait another few months for the constant biting and chewing to subside and made the heartbreaking decision to re-home the dog.
There’s a reason why 70 year olds don’t give birth. Babies, and puppies, are mentally and physically exhausting. While in our minds we’re just as sharp as we were when we were 35, our bodies tell us a different story.
Back problems, knee problems, hip problems, slower reaction times — all of this translates to our puppies always having a physical advantage over us. And in the dog world, if a dog perceives they have a physical advantage over another dog (which is what they view us as), they think they’re higher up in the pack.
We need to be seen as the top dog in the pack. This is hard to do when an adolescent puppy is literally running circles around us, can get away with bad behavior because we’re too slow to react or stop them, can outmuscle us on the leash, and our ailments cause us to be sitting or laying down quite frequently, a sign dogs see as weakness.
All of this means it’s going to be a harder to mountain to climb to gain the respect of your dog, even a little one. And if your dog doesn’t respect you as a pack leader, you’re going to have more behavioral issues down the line.
Being seen as the pack leader relies on physical prowess and the ability to communicate with your body — by walking, standing, kneeling, or crouching (often in succession) — that you are capable of the job. Too often seniors find it difficult to project these behaviors.
With training, Bark Busters can equip seniors with the tools needed to have the well-behaved dog they always wanted to see them through the Golden Years. But it’s a bumpy road getting through the maddening puppy phases.
Almost to a number, most of my senior clients have shed tears of frustration over their puppies and have considered giving up and rehoming their dogs.
Then, as their pups start to mature and approach the 1 year mark, they’re thanking me profusely for helping them through it. The dog is everything they dreamed of and brings so much joy to their lives. But they couldn’t have done it without the help of Bark Busters getting them through those difficult first several months of puppyhood.
The end result is often worth it but seniors need to seriously consider whether they are mentally and physically able to do the job required of them and to persevere through the oft-difficult first year of puppy life.