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We're Retired! Let's Get a Puppy!

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

There are two kinds of retiring dog owner.

The first kind has an older dog that they adore. But they know that, when he passes, they have absolutely no intention of getting another dog. They want to travel and help with the grandkids and have a social life. In other words, they want the freedom that "no work, no children, no dog" implies.

The second kind are the dog owners who have always had a dog and can't imagine life without one. So when their elderly dog passes, they promptly get another dog. Usually these are the dog owners who have always gotten a puppy because they want to raise it themselves.

Let's stop right here and consider this plan.

Most people retire in their 60's. I'm in that age category myself, and I can tell you that every single day, some body part or another hurts. Sleep is fitful at best, and bending over or squatting is more challenging than I care to admit. And I am more sensitive to temperature extremes. Both cold and hot weather are difficult to tolerate.

So the thought of willingly - knowingly - taking on an active, jumpy, mouthy, not housebroken, demanding creature makes me feel, well, exhausted.

With this in mind, it is no surprise that dog trainers get calls from older adults with young puppies. Lots of calls. Frequent calls. Frustrated calls. Occasionally, panicky calls.

For example, let's have a visit with the Vinceks.

This recently retired couple has had Golden Retrievers one after another, from the time they arrived home after their honeymoon 42 years ago. Their precious Bailey passed away at the age of 15, and they were bereft. Their house felt empty and sad. Despite the misgivings of their adult children, the Vinceks had ALWAYS gotten their Goldens at 8 weeks, and Petey was no exception.

Of course they had researched breeders and found one nearby. After talking with the Vinceks, the breeder felt that Petey would be a perfect match for them. Later, I learned that the Vinceks did not have say in this decision. After meeting Petey, they both had the same undeniable sense that this was not the right dog for them. But who were they to tell this to a dog expert like the breeder?!

Don't get me wrong. Petey is a exuberant Golden pup, perhaps a bit more exuberant (hyper?), mouthy (bitey?), unfocused (ADD?) than other puppies. I was called in a week after he arrived in his new home, and I could hear the tension and fear in Mrs. Vincek's voice:

"I've had 7 Golden Retrievers over the years and I have never, ever, encountered a puppy like this" she said. It sounded like she was about to cry. "I must be doing something wrong. This dog doesn't listen to anything I say. He is just plain wild! He's peeing everywhere, he chews everything in sight, he howls when I leave the room, and he cries all night long. Help!"

After meeting Petey, I felt their pain and not just because of his non-existent attention span or constant jumping up on people and furniture. Like a tri-hook fishing lure, his sharp baby teeth seemed to embed themselves into each and every surface he came into contact with, particularly human flesh. When the hour lesson was over, I left with both pity and relief.

Here is the gist of that first lesson:

1. Confine Petey to a small, safe place that has been puppy proofed. A crate without bedding (he eats dog beds) and the mudroom when he is not crated.

2. Adhere to a housebreaking schedule and a sleep schedule. Puppies need routine and predictability, so they can learn where and when to do their business, and where and when sleep is expected.

3. Teach Petey to fetch and drop durable, indestructible balls outside in the fenced yard. He needs plenty of exercise to deplete some of that energy.

4. Do not feel guilty about needing time away from him. Being with such an exhausting dog 24/7 will only cause frustration and resentment. Everyone has to have a break.

5. Arrange play dates for Petey with another puppy of the same age and energy level.

6. Remember that in 18 months to 2 years, Petey will be that wonderful Golden that you had hoped for.

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