Have you ever been told that dogs lose their alpha status as they get older? Well that's nothing more than a myth. What usually happens is that senior dogs become more selective about who they will play with. As they age they usually lose interest in the high-impact, fast-paced action of the younger dogs. After all, your senior dog has done it all before, right?
Just like with us, age changes many aspects of your dog's life. As your dog gets older there will be a change in his canine interactions. He will lose interest in the younger, more vigorous, dogs and begin associating more with dogs his own age.
As your dog ages there will probably be a change in its behavior. If you notice any such changes you should visit your veterinarian to have your dog checked over. Usually a dog is able to negotiate new relationships with older dogs without any intervention. Sometimes, however, older dogs end up in a situation where they become more aggressive and end up in fights. Also be on the lookout for any hesitation to stand up or lowered desire to play. These behaviors could be an indication that your dog is in pain or has another medical condition that is related to aging.
Older dogs don't lose their alpha status. Instead they usually don't have to need to enforce it as often with younger dogs. If your dog is still enforcing its alpha status this may be a sign of fear or anxiety rather than a sense of leadership.
Your Dog's Alpha Ideal
Many people use the alpha dog theory as a valid point for human intervention into a dog's relationships with other dogs. This usually will result in conflict between both dogs. A senior dog does not need to have the first access to things like petting, toys or food. They no longer have a great need to keep younger dogs in their place.
Older dogs tend to willing give up any first access to things. They also usually don't take the lead when you go for a walk. This type of behavior is kind of like your older dog telling the younger dog "hey I won't be around for ever so it's time for you to take command."
As your dog ages he will also slow down. This doesn't mean that he couldn't beat a younger dog to a toy. It just means that his priorities have changed.
Many times the problem is with the owner and not the dog. Humans are notorious for not accepting change. And because of this they tend to interfere with their dog because they want their dog to be in charge like it was when it was younger. Doing things to help your dog maintain its dominance with other dogs can be very damaging emotionally to your dog.
The best thing that any owner can do is to let the natural process of aging occur. If the changes are peaceful then there is nothing to worry about. If you have any concerns talk to your veterinarian. They are the experts and will tell you exactly what to expect and do.
What Can You Do to Help
There are steps that you can take to ease the age transition from young dog to senior. The first thing that you need to do is to recognize when your older dog may need a break from an overly enthusiastic puppy housemate. Younger dogs usually want to play all day. They don't realize that the older dog may need a break from play. If the younger dog does not know when to give the older dog a break the older dog may escalate to behavior that causes stress in the home or erupts into physical conflict.
Another step is to create quiet spaces in your home where the older dog can go for a break from the younger dogs. Also be on the lookout for behavior which causes tension between the dogs. If you see any you should then intervene and separate the dogs for a while. If the younger dog won't back down when asked to, attach a dragline to a harness and physically remove the bothersome dog before trouble starts.
The most important thing for you to do is to minimize any triggers that will result in a fight. You may have to feed the dogs in separate rooms as well as to keep their toys in separate rooms.
Another area that can cause tension between dogs is when you give attention to one dog or the other. Plan to spend some time with each dog separately so they don't feel neglected.
Providing a consistent schedule and clearly defining your expectations will help to minimize any chance of a conflict. Older dogs tend to like a routine that they can count on each day. A clear, consistent, daily routine will comfort your older dog and stabilize his environment.
The bottom line is that a dog doesn’t need to be a so-called alpha to be happy in his senior years. Instead, most relational conflict between dogs can be eased by attending to each dog’s unique needs for his particular stage of life.