I was sitting in bed this morning thinking about all the errors we humans make as far as dogs are concerned. I pondered on some of the most common ones that I see before deciding to write about this one. This is a big one and probably one of the most impacting errors that an owner can make. Disciplining the wrong dog, yep, telling the wrong dog to stop. This typically happens when a new member of the canine family has entered the picture; especially common when that new member is a puppy. The protectiveness in us kicks into high gear and we often overreact to a lot of things.
I have seen the sweetest little puppies turn into monsters due to no fault of their own. They have been indulged and put on a pedestal until they are sure that they are the boss of the world. We tend to hover and not allow other dogs any access to the new little member until we are sure that they will not have anything said to them that is not wonderful. Big mistake. Many people tend to think that a teeth display is horrible; they think that it means that someone is going to get hurt. When in fact a teeth display is one of the nicer ways that a dog communicates. It is a warning and that is all that it is. Heed the warning and no one gets hurt. Upon seeing teeth an owner often scolds the adult dog and this is where it starts to unravel.
The big dog is demoted so to speak; the puppy is given undo status. The adult dog feels the need to speak louder next time and the puppy is more pushy. Each time the owner stops the adult from disciplining the problem grows. The puppy becomes confused by the given status and the older dog is feeling the need to clear things up. The mess grows and grows while the owner becomes more angry at the older dog as the days and weeks pass. Until finally the over stuffed puppy is left alone with the adult dog and they finally have their say.
When a new dog comes into a home; the existing dogs will quickly assess what is needed with regards to acclimation. It really depends on the temperament and personality of the newcomer as well as the existing dogs in the family. Puppies need lessons in life and as much as it is our job to do that; it is also the job of the existing household dogs as well. Without constant feedback, a puppy will not learn. If we stop our older dogs from scolding and disciplining a new puppy then we are messing everything up. Sure, we are there to make sure that the disciplining doesn't go too far and to also help in the disciplining.
Some puppies are very pushy and our older adult dogs need help in establishing rules. If you just leave it up to the older dogs to do; things can also go awry. It is a balancing act; when to step in and when not to. We cannot let our hearts rule; we tend to do that as humans. Dogs deal in facts, and to make things really work well we must look at dog/dog issues in dog terms, not human. Let's say that your new puppy is bothering your older adult dog. The adult has growled several times at the puppy's advances. I would watch closely to see what the response of the puppy is before stepping in. If they are heeding the warning and backing off then great. If not, then your older dog needs your support. With your assistance in disciplining you let your puppy know that this is not acceptable. You also let your older dog know that you are there to protect them as well. This creates harmony.
Many people don't have older dogs at home when they bring in a new puppy. This is when socializing is even more important. That puppy needs to get out and interact with older dogs; receive some feedback and learn some rules and boundaries. I am always happy to offer that to people with puppies. Luke is very good at teaching puppies what is and is not acceptable. If you have a puppy and do not fully understand canine behavior; rest assured that teeth are not a bad thing. Even the loudest most demonstrative growling display from an adult that causes a yelp from your puppy is usually just fine. Lots of puppies need serious lessons in life.
If a puppy never receives lessons from older dogs as a puppy then they are more likely to get into trouble later in life. It is our over reacting as humans that skews proper order in canine life. When I am called out to a consult for a dog/dog issue within a family; it is almost always due to human interference. Disciplining the wrong dog does a great deal of damage. The bottom line is that we are the leader, fact. The dogs must follow the leader but they must get along among themselves as well. It is our job to know when it is too much or not enough. Step in or step out of a situation, but never stop watching. It's our job.