Whole Dog Journal's Blog November 30, 2016

Is There Such a Thing as Oldest Dog Syndrome?

Posted at 03:53PM - Comments: (18)

My one-year-old dog Woody is maturing into a WDJ model, which is great for me; his ability to quickly learn a new behavior and to stand patiently in place while I change lenses or something gives me an additional option when I need to illustrate something for the magazine, or for a newsletter I sometimes produce (as a volunteer for my local shelter). Plus, he has a nice short coat; when I’ve had to take photos of collars or harnesses on a dog in the past, I’ve always had to borrow a friend’s (untrained and/or inexperienced) dog rather than use my professional model, nine-year-old Otto, because it’s hard to see gear on a fluffy or fuzzy dog model!

However, everyone I know is giving me flack about it! Friends, acquaintances, and even Facebook “fans” of WDJ are commenting about the plethora of Woody pics in the magazine lately (Woody modeled with a lot of items for a “gift guide” in the December issue). I’ve heard “I miss Otto!” from any number of people.

Even those closest to me, who know I haven’t abandoned Otto, are teasing me. “Poor Otto!,” my son commented on the pictures I posted of Woody posing with some pancakes (taken for that shelter newsletter, to advertise an upcoming pancake breakfast fundraiser). “I think the ones you took a few years ago of Otto and the pancakes were way better than these,” my husband chimed in!

Woody is ready for pancakes

So, maybe I’ve gone overboard with using Woody lately. But anyone who has an older dog and a younger dog ought to be able to relate: When your older dog is behaviorally more or less perfect, and your younger dog still needs tons of guidance, practice, and management, you naturally find yourself spending more time with the young one. And if you are a training and behavior junkie like me – I love teaching dogs new things, and watching them figure stuff out! – then working with a “green” dog is just more interesting than working with Mr. Been There, Done That!

Also, I can’t yet leave Woody to his own devices for hours and hours on any given day, just yet. If we do a big hike on one day, then, yes, I could likely leave him for 6 or so hours the following day without anything being destroyed. But if we haven’t taken a good off-leash romp for a few days, his  unsupervised time (indoors or out) has to be limited to just an hour or two, unless I don’t mind losing yet one more wooden thing (bamboo, rosebush, corner of the deck, etc.) to his restless chewing. So when I’m super busy, say, running a lot of errands, I tend to make sure he’s with me. Unlike Otto, he likes riding in the car, and is happy to run with me into Petco (home of Otto’s dreaded slippery floors) or the shelter (where Otto droops and starts panting in anxiety). Woody is happy to go anywhere, any time. So Otto gets left home with my husband, and I get teased some more about favoring “the new guy.”

I’m pretty certain there is some projection going on here, especially with my son and husband. Are they defending Otto because they, too, feel neglected? It’s possible.

Professional model Otto

But I haven’t forgotten Otto, and I’m not neglecting him. He still gets privileges that Woody hasn’t earned, and he always gets fed first, and receives the choicest bits of leftovers. I bring him and leave Woody home when I go to visit friends, so he can get some special attention from friends who have known and loved him for a long time. And when I need a rock-solid “demo dog,” like when a friend asked me to bring a dog to juvenile hall to talk to young inmates about dog training and behavior, Otto is my go-to guy. He seems to really enjoy being the dog with all the right answers and performs all his tricks for audiences eagerly. (He slayed the crowd with his dramatic “bang, you’re dead” trick; he always throws in a deep moan or groan as he “dies” and then lies still. The guys cracked up and asked him to do it again and again.)

Having these two dogs in my life – one older, wiser, and more reliable, and one younger, more mischievous, and unpredictable – is kind of like having a really great husband, and a fun new boyfriend, too! J

Comments (18)

I can totally relate! Our 13 year old female Ali, and her daughter 4 year old Britta, both are sociable, fun, trainable, etc. however, Britta is the one who needs 3 miles of exercise a day, tends to be the one who goes with me everywhere for the same reasons Nancy mentioned; and yes, you read right, Ali had Britta's litter when she was 9 and the vet who had to to a C-section on a stuck puppy said she was healthy enough to b bred again! Then I told him how old she was and he said I don't care how old she is, I'm telling you she is that healthy! Well, we acquired Ali when she was 2 yrs old, immediately converted her to a raw diet, never had another vaccination, we don't use any chemicals and at 13 she still keeps up with Ms. Britta!

Posted by: Tina Lynn | December 3, 2016 12:29 PM    Report this comment

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
Not a bad principle to work with with family and dogs.

Posted by: Jenny H | December 2, 2016 11:20 PM    Report this comment

Ancient Chinese proverb "There is no greater feeling than watching your child walking confidently down the road after you've shown them how"
And Groucho Marx said "outside a book a dog is man's best friend-inside a dog it's too dark to read" :)
My four therapy dogs were wonderful especially after the OKC bombing-but my rescued dogs are the most appreciative I have ever met

Posted by: puddlyduck | December 2, 2016 2:55 AM    Report this comment

I have a 13 year old pit mix and a 3 year old terrier/pit mix. My 13 year old is "perfect" and so easy. The 3 year old keeps me running! She's come a long way and I love both of my girls to bits, but I am aware that my younger one soaks up more time for the very reasons you stated; she needs more guidance, training and she's needier and demands more attention. I make it a point to spend special one-on-one time with my older gal - love our special times together!

Posted by: LydNJ | December 1, 2016 10:36 PM    Report this comment

I can so relate! I have a 3 1/2-year-old border collie/corgi mix who is so much fun but needs a lot of attention and exercise. I have a 17-year-old corgi/dachshund mix who is the love (of the furry variety) of my life and in great shape but can't go on long walks and do some of the things the young one can. I always feel guilty when I leave her behind. Both your babies are adorable!

Posted by: lynnfrbs1 | December 1, 2016 7:22 PM    Report this comment

Doesn't seem like too long ago that Otto was the "kid" Time flies when you're having fun (with dogs).

Posted by: My life is K9 | December 1, 2016 5:52 PM    Report this comment

Great post, Nancy! My four dogs & two cats range in age from 15 years to 5 years, so no youngsters other than my 2.5-year-old toddler. My son is definitely getting the most attention! It's a difficult balance at times with our many senior pets. Both cats are 15 years old. My Dalmatians, Darby & Jolie, are 14.5 years & 13 years, respectively. If anyone asks you if they should get a Dal, tell them no unless they're willing to walk them one mile every day & swim them for a 1/2 hour twice a week, plus mental games daily. And these are senior Dals! lol

Like the folks who commented below, I, too, am shocked by Jessie's comment. As a professional dog trainer, I worry that she was taking Pete to CGC & agility classes, yet no instructor picked up on his increasingly aggressive behavior?

Jessie, I am very sorry for your loss of both dogs. I can't imagine. Even though this happened years ago, I hope you're getting the support & guidance you need. Hopefully, Nancy & WDJ can offer you some resources. Take care.

Posted by: Julia Lane | December 1, 2016 2:42 PM    Report this comment

I'm a competition Obedience and Rally trainer, handler, and instructor at our local training school. My older Australian Shepherd Spooky, gave me the "training bug," and without him as my teammate, I never could have imagined becoming an AKC/UKC/ASCA Obedience and Rally Judge! Before I lost him at 11.5yrs to hemangiosarcoma, he was my longtime demo dog and teaching partner, and helped more that 300 dogs earn their CGC titles. But early in the second pup's career, Magic became my go-to demo dog for certain special things in the CGC class, mostly because she was smaller and lighter weight than old Spooky. Her favorite demo activity is showing how to clicker shape getting a dog to accept both the Dremel for nail trimming, and getting teeth brushed with a battery powered spinning toothbrush. Now Magic is the Old Girl, and new puppy Loki will be learning to become my next teammate for classes in the future.

In one small way, Magic is learning just how big of an annoying, obnoxious puppy SHE was, to good old Spooky - little Loki, at 7 months, has been just as persistent, annoying, and obnoxious to her, and I don't think she likes her own role reversal. He is still taking advantage of the "puppy permit," yet we are all looking forward to The Day when it Expires, and the knucklehead puppy chew face game will move firmly into the past....but it's HER job to do the correction, as only an older female can.

Posted by: ardea | December 1, 2016 12:44 PM    Report this comment

I have been away from Whole Dog Journal for a number of years... New subscription now, and when I was last on Otto was the new dog! .... and your dear Border Collie had gone to live with you father..... Time warp here.

Posted by: NLMP | December 1, 2016 12:33 PM    Report this comment

My older dog died recently and I had no intention of getting another any time soon. Right! I tried to foster a 6 month old Pit, but she stole our hearts and now my 8 year old (who I call a Rottstrialian Shepherd) is feeling the part of "left out" because the puppy needs training and attention. However, it's also been a good thing because the older dog is now much more interested in play and has become more active, if for no other reason than wanting the attention. And a note to Jessie: you didn't say it, but I hope you don't think your situation happened because the younger dog was a pit mix. The same thing happened to a friend of mine, but the dogs involved were a Westie and a Jack Russell.

Posted by: MJC | December 1, 2016 11:25 AM    Report this comment

I loved this post and don't think you should feel guilty at all about your stand by husband and your new boyfriend :o)! As someone who has shared my life with multiple pit bull mixes since I was a kid, I've been Woody's biggest fan since day 1. Particularly because you were not initially a fan and your reach is large which would go far to alleviate opinions about the most maligned dog breed on earth. But I have to comment on how disturbed I was by Jessie's posting.... I'm incredibly sad for the death of Sparky and have no idea of her level of expertise in assessing the capabilities of Pete, but frankly, I hate that this story was shared. I'm not blaming Pete or Jessie for the outcome, but in my opinion, this wasn't the right forum for her story.

Posted by: SFLSue | December 1, 2016 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I caught myself giving my dog "oldest dog syndrome" when I started fostering. My fosters all needed so much work and my dog was so good with her commands. I tried to think of new things to teach her during snack/training time and finally I realized that at not quite 3 years, she could do with plenty of refresher courses herself! So she was sent back to the "remedial" training classes so to speak and it wasn't long before I realized that mine was not nearly as well trained as I had thought! Now she's relearning all her commands along with the new guys! Everyone is getting equal attention again.

Posted by: Stephenie D | December 1, 2016 10:27 AM    Report this comment

Ha.. LOVED your story.....especially the ending! Yes I can totally identify with this situation.

Posted by: Olivia | December 1, 2016 10:23 AM    Report this comment

I think this is a familiar story for any of us that have had the older, but wiser and well-behaved and bonded dog as well as a puppy or new dog from the shelter who needs the extra attention. Kudos to you for planning out what each dog needs and providing it! We really didn't get to know our "new" adopted border collie until our australian shepherd passed away at 16. I realized that he had been playing second fiddle and came into his own as an "only dog."

Posted by: Robin Chaffey | December 1, 2016 9:57 AM    Report this comment

Same thing in my household- my now 7 month old Aussie gets the lion's share of my effort and attention, which he needs. But I do my very best to make sure the other three dogs get their special attention each day :)

Posted by: Pat Engel, CPDT-KA | December 1, 2016 9:38 AM    Report this comment

I can't stay quiet any longer! I desperately hope that you don't have the same experience with Woody that I had with Pete, a pit mix that I adopted years ago. Before he hit 18 months, I thought Pete was the perfect dog. He earned a CGC and did really well in obedience and agility classes. Then at 18 months his hormones kicked in. I was in denial and believed his intensive social conditioning would outweigh the increasing signs I saw of aggression. Then he killed my older dog Sparky.

Posted by: Jessie | December 1, 2016 9:29 AM    Report this comment

I loved seeing Woody in the December issue! :)

Posted by: KimberlyO | December 1, 2016 8:52 AM    Report this comment

Great article and perfect timing for my situation!

Posted by: CanvasDancer | December 1, 2016 8:40 AM    Report this comment

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