Is There Such a Thing as Oldest Dog Syndrome?


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!

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.

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