This is the first in our series of puppy, dog, and cat behavior articles, to help readers with their newly adopted pets! The method I describe below is for DOG-FRIENDLY adult dogs. If you do not know if your dog is good with other dogs, or has ever shown any type of aggression to another dog (growling, snarling, barking), please do the introduction with a trainer or behaviorist present.
Ideally, you’ll have assessed your household’s current dog(s) before you add a puppy to the mix. Consider the physical condition of your current animals. Many people think getting a puppy will ‘liven up’ their older dog. Most older or calm/quiet dogs are quite content as they are and may be intolerant and very unhappy with a puppy’s boisterous behavior. In multi-dog households, a new puppy can throw off the balance and everyone might need some reminding of their training. A temperament and energy level match for your current pets is usually the best match, but if you do end up with a puppy and older dog, here are some suggestions to get it off to the best start!
- Get ready. Make sure your dog(s) are current on all their vaccinations, including bordatella (kennel cough) especially if the puppy is coming from a shelter or rescue kennel, or has been exposed to other dogs within the last 2 weeks that were from or in a kennel. Get your vet’s recommendations whether total separation (quarantine) is needed and for how long. There are many potentially fatal diseases that puppies can be ‘incubating’ that will not show up for up to two weeks. Altered pets are less likely to be territorial, so getting your current dogs fixed at least 1 month before introducing a puppy is recommended. Also treat your current dogs for fleas and other parasite prevention as recommended by your vet.
- Total separation. Just having the new puppy in the house is enough for your older dog to get used to, without having to deal with the puppy jumping all over him and his toys, bed etc. Try to have the puppy’s starter room be one that your adult dog does not use for sleeping or eating and is puppy-proof (bathrooms work well), or use a crate. Feed, play and train separately, giving equal time to both dogs.
- First introduction. Pick neutral and unfamiliar territory, such as a street or park you don’t usually visit, or if the puppy has not completed his vaccinations yet, ask a neighbor if you can use their yard. All dogs and new puppy should be on leashes. If you have more than one dog already at home, introduce them to the puppy one at a time. Start with the most friendly and submissive of your dogs.
For a really young puppy (4 months and under): start by having a friend (not a family member) holding the puppy in their arms and letting your friendly adult dog take a good sniff. Then separate them, put the puppy down and allow the dogs to approach one another at their own speed. Stay relaxed! The dogs can sense if you are tense. Try to keep the leashes slack at all times. Verbal encouragement, such as “good dogs!” reinforce any good behavior. If the adult dog wants to stay away from the puppy, do not “force” him to say hello. If there is any growling or other signs of aggression, you may need to do a slower introduction, such as walks around the neighborhood together, with the puppy walking behind (not able to touch) the adult dog. If the aggression continues, consult a behaviorist or trainer. If all goes well, allow the dogs to spend five or ten minutes together and then proceed to the next step.
- Short sessions. Going on walks together is a wonderful bonding activity! Even one or two walks a day is enough time together for the first week. If all goes well, you can progress to supervised off-leash access to one another, often after a big walk together, when both will be more relaxed after the excercise. Pick the largest play area possible so the dogs have room to move around. Remove all toys from the mutual play area to avoid possible fights over toys. End the play session if the older dog repeatedly exhibits ‘lay off me’ behavior such as trying to avoid the puppy, showing teeth, or growling/snapping. See next section.
- Allowable behaviors. Especially before the age of 4 months, or if they have not been around other dogs, puppies may not recognize subtle body language signals from adult dogs that they have had enough. Well-socialized adult dogs with good temperaments can set limits with puppies with a growl or lip-curl. These behaviors should be allowed, within reason – once or twice is ok, especially if puppy “learns” and stops the behavior. Do NOT correct an adult dog that is showing “correct” back off signals, but do step in to stop the reason for them: don’t allow your puppy to continue to harass your adult dog with too-rough or unwanted play. Step in and redirect puppy’s teeth onto a toy and get him to play with you instead, or end the play session completely.
For the most part, dogs adjust to puppies over time, but since the consequences of a problem can be severe, it is wise to follow a slow introduction process as outlined above to ensure all goes well with adding a new puppy to your home.