Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Small black & tan dog with gray muzzle standing at alert with a tennis ball in front of her.
Missy’s ready to play ball! © 2020 Marty Schafer

But it might not be the “old dog” you expected.

In this case, I’m the old dog. Like most people, I don’t like failure or admitting I was wrong, but there it was, and there I was. Here’s what happened.

I shared a few weeks ago about Star, the new four-legged addition to our family. From the beginning we had agreed that our current dog, Missy, would be the deciding factor, and if she was unhappy, another solution would be found. And she was tolerant at first, if not exactly joyful. But the situation began to erode, slowly at first, then gaining speed.

As Star became more comfortable in her new home, she began taking over Missy’s toys. First her favorite stuffed lamb, then the turtle. I quickly confiscated Piggy to leave something for the old girl! The rawhide chews OK, as Missy’s teeth don’t like them anymore. They disintegrated under Stars’ sharp little teeth.

Then there was the play issue. Simply put, Star wanted to play and Missy didn’t. Star, like the puppy she nearly is, kept jumping up on Missy and getting nipped, but often wouldn’t back off unless distracted. So much for canine companionship!

Meanwhile, Missy was showing signs of arthritis pain from the colder weather, so I started giving her medicine. In two to three days, the diarrhea hit. Was it from the medicine? Was it stress from having Star around? Not to mention my stress level increasing. Now I was having to both patrol Star to catch any indoor accidents and Missy, who would leave an average of four brown puddles a night and sometimes during the day. Mind you, Missy is pad trained, and there were pads in the house. But she either couldn’t get to them in time or didn’t want to.

Walks weren’t as much fun anymore, either. Missy usually walks off-leash in our neighborhood, but there was no way Star could be let run. There are two areas where we often encounter loose dogs, and naturally they were out every single day. Keeping an eye on Missy, untangling Star’s leash from around the other dogs, and trying to make sure no one was being aggressive was taking its toll.

Then came the final straw. I had noticed on our walks that Star was getting a bit possessive of me. Not just with the neighborhood dogs but with Missy. I was trying to give Missy equal attention to help soothe her feelings, and Star wasn’t liking that. On Friday evening, my husband was sitting in his chair, and I was in mine with Star in my lap. Missy came into the room walking between our chairs, and Star ambushed her by leaping over the side of my chair to land on top of her.

My husband tried to soothe my tears, suggesting maybe they just needed another week or two. But I think it was half-hearted at best. We were all unhappy. I determined to start making phone calls on Monday. That gave me the weekend to get the tears out and say goodbye.

Sunday, the neighbor called about some wood in our yard. During the call I mentioned needing to find a new home for Star, and there was a long pause. “Tell me about her.” Turns out his daughter was looking for a small dog and was searching online as we spoke.

We met at the fence, and I handed the dog over to the daughter so they could get acquainted. I gave dad the rest of the rundown on her history as I knew it, and behavioral issues. We both knew it didn’t matter, because it was love at first sight. While they went to introduce her to the family, I retrieved her bed, paperwork and a few chews. When I arrived at the house, the mom had Star wrapped in a blanket and was cuddling like she was her dog!

I think they were grateful to have a dog they knew had up-to-date shots and wasn’t from a total stranger. I was grateful to find a home with kids that had the energy to play with her and a secure back yard. I thought about asking for some money towards the vet and grooming bills but didn’t. I know she’ll be spoiled and will be the household princess. This was much better than having to take her to a shelter, even knowing she would be snatched up quickly.

It wasn’t until Monday evening that it hit me: I was actually relaxed! Missy even wanted to play with her ball that night. It took another day for the diarrhea to clear up, but she was already more energetic and obviously happier. That was when I realized just how much that cute little ball of fur had upended our lives.

Small black & tan dog sleeping in her bed with favorite toys nearby
Now she can sleep with both eyes closed. Her Piggy is safe! © 2020 Marty Schafer

Perhaps it isn’t that I learned new tricks as much as that I learned some tricks are no longer where my time and effort need to go. Yes, I should have listened to my suspicions that Missy would be unhappy. But I also learned that I’m not up to dealing with a puppy anymore, either. I, too, am set in my ways and not as flexible as I used to be. My husband and I agree: no more dogs until Missy is gone. And when it is time to look for a new dog, we’ll look for a mature or senior dog that fits our lifestyle.

As for Star? The day before Thanksgiving, I texted her new owners: “Just checking — is Star settling in with you guys?” They answered: “She is awesome”[.]

Grace, Peace and Hugs!

2 thoughts on “Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks”

  1. Hi Marty, You did more than just learning the things about yourself and your household that you discussed here. You also taught Star enough to get along with a family who maybe doesn’t have as much experience as you with dogs. That gives Star a huge boost in being able to stay in her new home.

    • Thanks, Alice. The family is very experienced with animals, but I do feel good that I was able to socialize her before handing her off. It took a long time—when she was loose—before she would let me come close to her. Weeks, if not months.


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