Keeping the puppy: The new normal


The news that I’m keeping my former foster puppy is leaking out. I loved him from the get-go, when I agreed to foster him for my local shelter, back at the beginning of March. The reason I didn’t just immediately decide to keep him was that I wanted to give my senior dog, Otto, extra consideration. No old dog should have to spend his or her last days being harassed by a rambunctious puppy – or perhaps a slightly disrespectful one.

But as it turns out, though 14 ½-year-old Otto doesn’t particularly like Boone (the new puppy’s name), he doesn’t seem to mind him, either. He mostly ignores most other dogs, just as he did with Woody, my six-year old dog, when he was a puppy. The difference is, Boone has another playmate: Woody! As much as Otto ignores Boone, Boone ignores Otto, and focuses all his love and mischievousness on the younger dog.

The one time Boone and Otto are ever proximate is when I work with Boone on good-manners behaviors. As soon as Otto sees someone getting treats for sits, downs, or stays, he comes a-running to get in on the fun. When he was younger, he’d be the first to hit the floor on the “sit” and “down” cues, like the smarty-pants kid, jumping out of his chair to raise his whole arm, frantic to let the teacher know he knows all the answers to all the questions the teacher asks the class. Today, he crashes our “classes” to demand treats – but often doesn’t even bother hitting the sits or downs! He’s playing the “senile old man” card a lot – and, because of his arthritis, I let him get away with it, most of the time. As long as he waits his turn and doesn’t interrupt the pup’s learning, he “earns” many treats for just being his usual handsome self.

As this spring warms into summer, Otto spends most of the day in his shady sandbox, which we keep nice and damp for him. He’s been insisting on spending a lot of his nights out there, too. I’m not crazy about him being out all night – especially since we have coyotes and even mountain lions in our neck of the edge-of-town woods, but if I’m to get any sleep whatsoever myself, I have to give in and let him go outdoors. Otherwise, starting uncannily close to 2 a.m. every night, he will pace and pant and escalate into whining and even barking, insisting to go outside. If I let him out and make him come right back inside after relieving his bladder, I will get maybe an hour’s peace before he starts with the pacing and panting all over again. This is torture for me; I start feeling crazy with lack of sleep myself! So I give in, and he gets to stay outside – usually until around five a.m., when he’ll bark to be let back in.

dog sleeping in sandbox
Otto snoozing in his sandbox. I rake and wet the sand daily, and he digs new holes daily, too.

I do have an outdoor pen that I could lock Otto in. He’d be outdoors, but protected from any potential predators. But no; that’s not his jam. I’ve tried it, and he just barks in protest. He knows how to accept being locked in the pen and wouldn’t dream of barking rudely during the day, but at night, he’s a different and fairly unreasonable old dog. He wants to be out patrolling the property (or surveilling from the sandbox). He’s going to make us all miserable if he doesn’t get what he wants at night. So he gets it, as scary as this is for me.

Boone and Woody sleep right through all of this letting Otto in and out. Thank goodness! If we had one more insomniac in the house, I don’t know what I’d do.

During much of the day, Boone shadows Woody, his idol. He sleeps with Woody (often, on Woody), and takes his cues about what to do when they see people passing our house from Woody (run to the fence, barking, and then run back to me, wherever I am, for treats!). He brings toys to Woody, inviting play, and when Woody isn’t interested in playing tug or chase games, he’ll kill time by laying on or near the big dog and chewing very gently on Woody’s ears! It’s the weirdest thing! Woody lets him do it; these days, his ears are almost always a little crunchy with dried Boone saliva.

Keeping the puppy: The new normal
Amusing himself by playing tug-of-war with a toy tied onto the bottom of the tree swing.

Boone does spend a little time on his own, exploring our property. He likes to play with a toy I’ve hung from the bottom of my grandson’s tree swing; he’ll grab the toy and run with it as far as the rope will go, and then turn and tug furiously, lifting his front feet off the ground, then dropping it and watching it swing away from him, chasing it, and starting all over again.

He also plays this game with the tree on our front lawn. My husband doesn’t like the willow-like hanging branches, so we allow him to go ahead and do a little trimming.

Here’s a video of Boone playing with the trees.

I make Boone spend a little time in the outdoor pen during the day. It’s where he gets to enjoy chewing on pizzles, licking toys stuffed with canned food and frozen or Lickimats slathered with peanut butter. He’s doing great with these short (maybe an hour-long), daily confinement/alone-time practice sessions.

It’s definitely harder to give each one of my three dogs individual attention, and I think maybe it’s Woody who is getting the short end of the stick. Because Boone adores him so much, he is forced to babysit, and while he clearly enjoys having someone to play with sometimes, at other times, he looks sort of glum. I imagine he’s saying, “When is this twerp leaving?” When that happens, I call my friend Leonora, to see if Woody can visit her and her little dog Samson, and enjoy some spoiling time free from puppy spit.

It seems to be working out.

dogs playing tug of war



  1. This all sounds very familiar, except both my adult dogs are now elderly. It was facing sad times ahead that led me to bring Freddy (10 week old papillon) home last September, on the strict understanding that it was my idea to get a puppy, and therefore my job to ensure the lives of the older dogs and elderly cat were disrupted as little as possible. I was blessed with an easy puppy who was happy to settle in his pen for a snooze from the first, which made everything much easier than I had dared to hope. Poppy (toy poodle, now 13 and has suffered from liver failure for 2.5 years) made it clear she does NOT do puppies and ignored him except when training sessions offered an opportunity for treats; Sophy (papillon, 13.5) set firm boundaries and taught him to play on her terms, then taught him 101 useful things for a puppy to know. If it got too much “Freddy Beddy!” would have him fly to his pen to settle down with a biscuit or chew while everyone else enjoyed a few hours of peace. But best of all has been the renewed vigour he has brought to Sophy, who now runs with him, plays with him, teaches him, and is never, ever bored. Like you I was fearful that a puppy would be too much for my old dogs, especially Poppy, but having a youngster in the house has proved one of the best decisions I ever made!

  2. It is so easy to spoil the little old man dogs. I have a senior Chihuahua that was not spoiled at all when I got him from the shelter. 9 months after I brought him home he went into liver failure and we thought it was the end so we spoiled him rotten for a couple of days and lo and behold he recovered completely but is still spoiled. But he’s old and I give in because the truth is it’s fun to spoil your dog and if you have an old one you have an excuse to do it and don’t have to feel guilty about being an irresponsible pet owner because you don’t know how much time they have left. I have a feeling I will look back on the time of spoiling him and be so happy that I did it when hes gone.

  3. So happy you decided Boone was perfect fit for your household! What a character! I have a year old Great Dane that acts just like your Boone and lost her friend 3 weeks ago. We were a household of 3 dogs and in a span of 1 years time lost 2. This last one was so unexpected. Your Boone jumping up onto the willow tree reminds me of our Holly. We call her our Gardner because she goes out in the back yard and trims our bushes. Then she will come in with a branch to show us the good work she has done. Have to love her energy and love of all things. Each dog teaches me more patience than the next. Lol

  4. As you probably already know, it sounds like Otto has dementia. A couple friends have had elderly dogs with similar behavior, pacing (sometimes frantically) at night. Caring for my mother through her dementia gave me insight into this, since she could verbalize the reason. She would literally run around the house in the middle of the night, attempting to complete imaginary tasks. She had to pack for a trip, prepare for her presentation tomorrow, run the snowplow, etc. It sounds like Otto also has nightly tasks that he is compelled to do.

  5. I too have had elderly and younger dogs and as far as treats go, when they would show up to the youngster’s training sessions, I’d tell the young one “sit” (or whatever) and reward with a treat. I’d turn to the oldster and says “breathe” and that was it, that’s all they needed to do to get a treat, just keep breathing. 🙂 Although worried about the pestering problems etc. bringing the younger dog in has produced some of the happiest times of my dog owning life. 🙂

  6. Congrats on Boone! It’s always a tough decision when elder pets are involved. We rescued another pup – Turbo- 3 weeks ago. Our 16 year old cat, Max has set the rules for Turbo and he abides very well. As max has loved on all our previous & current 5 year pup Tassy, I have no doubt he & Turbo will be bffs after the puppy crazies slow.
    I love Otto’s sandbox naps ❤️ Best of luck with Boone!!

  7. Hello, lovely to hear about your new pup! Just wanted to let you know that my border collie suffered from dementia last year and did the same thing at night, pacing and panting all evening and then in the evening I had to keep getting up and letting him in and out. He also started to get a massive appetite. Thought I’d just mention as we went to the vet but they didn’t even come up with a diagnosis of dementia and it was only after he died that I found enough information to put all of the symptoms together sadly. I miss that beautiful dog. Good luck with your gorgeous 3!

    • Otto definitely has some mild dementia, and much worse at night. His veterinary team has tried a few things, including Anipryl, which gave him the WORST diarrhea, so that’s out as a possible treatment. We do what we can to make him comfortable, and he’s hanging in there!

  8. I love the photo of the 3 dogs together! They look so happy in it. Boone does look like a “chip off the old block” Otto!

    Have you tried a cooling pad at night for Otto and maybe the CCD rx? I was just wondering if that would help.

    My dog has only just turned 8 but I bought the iCalm music chip for elderly dogs and have been playing it in my iCalm device when I leave the house. It seems to calm him especially with the construction noises nearby.

    Congrats on Boone!

  9. I’m so glad you couldn’t let him go!! I thought he was so beautiful and such a pistol! I too have 3 elderly. When I adopted my #4 at 10 mths old my then 12 year old was no having it. The 9 year old and 7 year old were neutral. Fast forward to today. The “baby” is almost 5 and the old guard are 16, 13 and 11. My 16 year old has cancer and the 11 year old heart failure. The old man of the group still doesn’t accept the 5 yr old and attacks him (lets say lunges and snaps at him) still, but only when I’m home. So we’ve accepted he’s very jealous. But like you, I’ve gotten attached to my youngest boy and he makes me laugh, which we don’t have enough of these days. The 13 yr old will snuggle with him sometimes and the 11 yr old will play with him. So we accept that one day in the next few years he’ll be top dog but for now he’s happy to let the others be that.

  10. Foster fails are one of the few aspects of the “new normal” I am delighted about.
    We have a neighborhood stray (long, sad story that still ticks me off to no end) who ended up pregnant and giving birth two doors down from my house, in the backyard of the street “party house” on March 31st of this year.
    They had no dogs and no interest in having one, much less six, so when they discovered her and her new babies, they called the pound to come get them. Their son came and got me, and since I knew the pound would put ALL of them down, my daughter and I moved them to our yard.
    The puppies are all rehomed, and we decided to keep the dog, who we named Ginger. She’s dog number four, and while our matriarch, a pitty/beagle mix named Lilly, isn’t fond of Ginger, she’s accepted her. Probably because we got Lilly the same way we got Ginger. Lilly was a stray who had a litter in our business park landscaping. Like people in my neighborhood fed / watered Gin, people in the business park fed and watered Lilly. (Only Ginger didn’t try to bite everyone like Lilly did. Unlike my terminator, Ginger is a truly sweet natured dog.) I brought Lilly & family home one night after a couple guys were trying to get to her pups. So I think Lilly sees a kindred spirit in Ginger.,,even if Lilly does consider Gin a suckup. (I’ve seen the disdainful looks she throws Ginger’s way.)
    But Gin doesn’t care…she’s too busy smiling, wagging her tail and dancing around in her new home to care. She has a brother to play with, lots of homecooked food in her belly, treats administered daily, and is an inside dog. She has another brother and an older sister too, who, while they may not play with her, they DO have her back.
    Now…just to get her used to the leash. We’re in a time crunch here… she’s to be spayed, vaccinated and chipped August 3rd. Gonna be hard to get her to the clinic if she won’t wear a leash.

    • Bless you for your work! I at least have a partner in my local shelter, who provides the vet care my fosters need. I’m THRILLED to be able to adopt a neutered, microchipped, fully vaccinated puppy for just $150.