Dog on the Couch

2016-10-06 06:00

Hi Susan,

I have recently remarried and my husband and I feel we’d like to add a dog to our family. I would love to get a puppy that I can treat as our new baby and develop a strong bond. But my husband feels we should rather give an older dog a chance. Is it possible for an older dog to bond with a new family? Won’t I just be taking on someone else’s troubles?


Older pets certainly can bond very strongly with a new family. Animals are emotional beings and normally respond to anyone who loves them and spends enough quality time with them, treating them with kindness and sympathetic understanding and meeting their physical and emotional needs. Although rescued animals may have surrendered to neglect or abuse and have emotional scars that need time to heal, even these can respond to a second chance in life and become devoted pets. I have found time and again that gentle, sympathetic training yields good results, even in dogs who had been ‘written off’ as hopeless characters.

Dogs retain juvenile characteristics throughout their lives. This neotenic trait has been bred over thousands of years, which is another reason why dogs naturally become such devoted and loving pets.

Normal behaviour in humans and other animals makes us feel the need to nurture and be protective of others with baby features. This is why it is so hard to pass a puppy by and not succumb to those big doleful or mischievous eyes.

Unfortunately, this is also one reason why so many pets are abandoned once they outgrow the “baby face” appearance. It is also a serious negative reflection on our society, with especially bad repercussions for children growing up with such poor role models who are very irresponsibly teaching that lives are cheap and disposable.

We all know that a baby grows up to be a teenager who will face hormonal and neurological re-wiring as they mature to adulthood.

These periods of flux are not usually easy for the children, or for dogs or other animals – and nor for their keepers. Patience, guidance, empathetic consideration and training can develop a special personality and a rewarding relationship.

Any relationship requires the input and qualities I have mentioned. Whether a puppy or an older dog, make an informed choice and follow the principles outlined above for the best results. Giving a home to an older pet can be so very rewarding. As my eight-year-old abandoned Border Collie “Chimney Sweep” would tell you, “an old dog can learn plenty new tricks and find great happiness in a new life”.

Susan Henderson (accredited
animal behaviour consultant)

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