So you’ve decided to extend your little family to include one more…how exciting! You’ll soon be hearing the pitter patter of four little feet, or paws rather. Perhaps you are adopting a new puppy from a shelter or a rescue agency. Or your neighbors have a dog that just had 4 little cuties and want to gift you with one. Maybe an adorable but homeless stray pup followed you home or jumped into your car at an interstate rest area (this actually happened to my brother-in-law, and yes, he still has her.)
But you have a canine kid at home and he’s pretty much been “top dog” for several years now. You’ve often thought about getting him a little friend, and now that it’s going to happen, you’re wondering just how to go about introducing the puppy to the older dog. This can be a very delicate situation, and there is a right way (and a wrong way) to do it.
Scents Make Sense ~ Especially to a Dog
Dogs have 50 times the amount of smell receptors that humans do and the portion of the canine brain that analyzes scents is 40 times that of our own(!)
Having said that, if you are visiting a litter to pick a puppy out, or know the one you’re going to adopt and can visit beforehand, it’s a great idea to bring along a blanket or an article of clothing to absorb the new pup’s smell. Let the puppy drool on it, play with it, sleep with it.
Then bring that article of clothing home and casually leave it out so your dog can sniff and analyze to his heart’s content. This way, the scent of the new puppy will be somewhat familiar to your dog when they do meet face to face, and nose to nose.
Fun Fact: Doctors also recommend this to couples bringing home a new human baby if they have a dog at home.
Helpful Hint: When considering compatibility for your resident dog, keep this in mind: Male and female dogs get along best. The next best combination is male with male. Female with another female is the match most likely to result in conflict. That’s not to say that a beautiful friendship can’t blossom between any two dogs, but those are the statistics.
Prepare the Home Territory
Before you bring your puppy home, there’s a few things you should do around the home territory to facilitate the process of integrating the new arrival.
- If your older dog has favorite chew toys, stuffed animals, or a security blanket, put them away somewhere for now. Until he and the puppy have been properly introduced, you don’t want to stir up possessive aggression.
- To each his own. Be sure to purchase a separate food bowl, dog bed, and collar and leash for your new puppy.
- Everyone needs a little ‘me’ time. Create spaces in your home where each dog can get away from the other if need be.
- Do the same outside. If both dogs are going to be sharing a backyard for a large part of the time, get a separate doghouse or Dogloo for the puppy. Your Top Dog may be territorially grumpy about sharing his own doghouse, especially at first.
- Make sure both the puppy and your dog are current on recommended vaccines. Most breeders or adoption shelters take care of this before they will let a puppy go to a new home.
Introducing the Puppy to the Older dog
Try to do this on a weekend or at a time when you have a day or two to be at home with the pets. It’s best if you don’t leave two newly introduced dogs alone together until they are well acquainted, and you’ll want to closely observe and supervise at first.
When properly introducing the puppy to the older dog, you will need: Your dog’s leash and collar, a leash and collar for the new pup, and another adult to help you. Oh yes, and Neutral Territory.
The actual “sniffing each other out” introduction should take place on neutral ground. This simply means not in your dog’s house or yard. You can use a park or a neighbor’s yard, or even a close by area of woods. Just make it a place where there aren’t a lot of other people and dogs around. You hold your dog on his leash while the other person holds the puppy on a leash. (You want the leashes for control, but you also don’t want either animal to feel restrained, so give them both plenty of room to maneuver.)
Then walk the dogs, side by side but with a bit of distance between them. This way they can look at and sniff each other but there will be other things to sniff and catch their interest as well.
It’s important that you stay relaxed and free of tension at this time. Talk and laugh with your friend as you walk and speak to both dogs too. Praise and pet your dog but don’t hesitate to pet the puppy too.
This walk should take you back to your own house. Allow the dogs to continue interacting in the yard or on the porch until you see relaxed and/or playful behavior from both. Then get both dogs into the house fairly quickly, in a relaxed and easygoing manner. Animals are very adept at sensing tension in humans. Your older dog takes his cues from you and if you are apprehensive, he will be too.
The First Few Weeks
There is usually an adjustment period, no matter how mellow each dog is, but this can be a positive learning experience for all involved. At first, feed your dog the same way you always have, and feed the puppy in a different room. (Puppies should be fed 3 to 4 times a day and this should be done away from your dog.)
Likewise, don’t change your old buddy’s sleeping arrangements. He needs to know that he is still Top Dog before he can accept the newcomer willingly. Lavish him with praise and affection but let him see that you are also going to praise and play with the new puppy.
Sometimes, a puppy’s relentless energy and playfulness will aggravate an older dog. If your dog growls or snaps at the puppy (without really hurting it), don’t scold or punish him. Instead, put the puppy in another room or in the backyard for a while. In the dog world, boundaries need to be set and your dog is trying to set them. The puppy needs to learn where the boundaries are.
As much as you want your dog and new puppy to hit it off right away, just decide to take things slow and easy. Observe and gently supervise both dogs’ behavior and make sure they are becoming more and more comfortable with one another. If you’re not sure if it’s safe to leave them in the house alone together yet, put the pup in another room or behind a baby gate.
The good news is, most dogs work out their social ranking and begin to interact in a positive way fairly quickly. As the puppy grows, he or she will adjust to the environment and feel more and more at home, and your older dog will be more and more accepting. Soon you’ll be a bona fide two-dog family.
A Note of Caution ~ What to Consider Beforehand
Under special circumstances, bringing a new puppy into the home of an elderly dog is just not a good idea. Is your dog geriatric? Does he have physical disabilities that limit his activity level or mobility? Canine arthritis if left untreated can result in uncharacteristic aggression in very old dogs.
As some dogs get older, they can develop mental health issues such as canine dementia (which tends to get steadily worse instead of better). Does he seem confused at times or get ‘lost’ in familiar surroundings? On occasion does he not recognize you or other family members? Canine dementia is a disorder that can also lead to episodes of atypical aggression in even the friendliest of animals.
I include this note of caution because sometimes well-meaning pet parents believe that a new puppy will make the old dog feel ‘young again’ or get a ‘new lease on life’; And sometimes it does it happen this way. But take a realistic look at your old dog. A healthy new puppy is going to be a frenzy of unstoppable energy and playfulness at first. If any of the above conditions describes your senior dog, it’s probably not a great idea to bring a new puppy into the home. Think about what’s best for your faithful old friend first and allow him to live out his sunset years in peace and quiet.
Thank you for reading my article and please leave me any comments, questions, or observations you may have in the comment section below!