When we bring a second dog into the family, we usually have visions of the two playing together, sleeping together and being all round besties. Not all dogs are destined to be the best of friends because they are individuals, and some personalities are not a great match. Whatever the case, attention and care are crucial to help foster a healthy relationship.
Take Advantage of a Good Puppy Plan
Bringing a new puppy home presents a special set of challenges. The good news is that many recommended steps for introducing a new dog are also part of a good puppy plan. So while setting your pup up for success, you can also give both dogs a comfortable transition and the best chance for a great relationship and happy life together. Regardless of how easy-going the older dog may be, it is still essential to use good management and care to ensure both dogs are set up for success in their new life together.
Be careful about how much freedom you give the puppy
This is the most challenging part for most parents. Whether because of the extra initial effort or because they feel freedom is the kindest welcome, most dogs new to their homes are given too much freedom to start.
This causes more stress in the long run because a puppy doesn’t have the understanding to make choices we like regarding potty, chewing and basic habits in the house. As a result, parents spend too much time dealing with mishaps and reacting to undesired behaviours.
Plan to keep the dogs separate for the first while
People often hope that their older dog will keep the pup busy and assume part of the responsibility of raising the pup. This is just not realistic or appropriate. Especially in the first months.
Too much freedom significantly impacts how the two dogs interact and how their relationship begins. Depending on the older dog’s personality, social skills and self-control, one or both will usually be challenged to some degree during the first weeks. Size, strength and energy cause a mismatch between the two. The older dog may be too much for the small puppy. More typically, the puppy, who only knows companionship and proximity with other dogs, will annoy the older dog because of continual attempts to be close or interact.
Whatever the case, initial interactions are usually not ideal. Bad associations will be created, inappropriate habits will develop, and the relationship will get off to a shaky start.
There’s another important reason to use management for the new puppy. Setting up time apart from the get-go will help prevent the dogs from becoming completely reliant on each other. The first dog will appreciate some alone time, and the puppy will benefit from time away from the other dog. Not doing so always results in the puppy expecting constant access to the older dog, causing stress when separated.
Set Both Dogs Up for Success
Have a puppy version of everything.
In addition to basic equipment, have resting spots, feeding stations and sleeping spots organized before the puppy comes home. These should be spaced so the dogs feel comfortable and relaxed about resources. To start, keep the new roommates separate. This way, they can enjoy their own quiet times, toys and chews with the other dog present.
A special note regarding food: Every dog will place different values on different things. It can be contextual, too, meaning specific situations may increase their concern about maintaining possession of something. Some dogs may only show guarding behaviour around natural chews or bones, while others get worked up about paper towel rolls. It’s always wise to be very careful about food and treats to be safe. This means structured feeding times with clearly defined eating areas. The dogs should not be able to go into one another’s areas during meal prep or when either is eating. Give them as much space as they need to be relaxed while eating.
Set up social space for the dog and new pup
Use baby gates or other management tools to keep the dogs away from each other for the first few days. Let them get used to each other in the home at a comfortable distance.
In addition to being mismatched as play buddies, one or both may initially be unsure of the other. Or too excited. Allowing contact and full interactions is not ideal, so having the pup stationed in a pen or den area will keep everyone safe and comfortable. A barrier so that the most that happens between the two dogs is nose contact is a great way to start. This will prevent skirmishes or inappropriate interactions that can negatively affect the relationship.
Note: It is essential not to isolate the pup from the family doing this, as this will be stressful. Do not place the pup in another room alone or even at a distance from the areas where people are. The puppy needs to be where you spend time until you are ready to start teaching some independence.
New to playpens and doggy dens? Check this out.
Build positive associations
Providing space will help keep things on a good note, but actively creating great associations is even better! When the two dogs are in the same room, give each something to keep them occupied and happy. This will build a positive association for both as well as teach them to be calm. Instead of fixating on each other, they will build a habit of settling or entertaining themselves rather than hassling the other dog.
Maintain a normal routine for the first dog
Suddenly having their routine disrupted, including walks and playtime, can be upsetting to an ‘only child.’ The pup’s arrival should not negatively affect the first dog. Through the transition phase, it is valuable to maintain the first dog’s schedule (private walks and play). Activities together can be a bonus. This will also help the two dogs not become cling-ons!
Be consistent with each dog
Household ‘rules’ regarding furniture and locations to wait to receive guests, get dinner, etc, can be maintained for the first dog. Different ones can apply to the pup, at least for the first few months. This will again show the first dog that things are staying the same and afford them comfort in regular routines. You have the advantage of starting from scratch with the pup. Clear, gentle boundaries will help her understand how to succeed in her new home.
You can designate special spots where she will feel included in the family but not infringe on the other dog’s space. For example, if your first dog routinely rests on the couch while you watch TV, you can provide a cozy bed near the sofa in a pen for the new pup. We often get hung up with this concept, but the dogs will still be getting individual attention, and these differences can be tolerated as long as they are consistent.
Take the older dog out for regular walks on their own as usual
The pup should also go for solo walks for the first while. This will allow you to focus on helping them learn skills outside, socializing them to the environment, and building confidence. This will also allow you to get to know the pup and develop a relationship.
Pups that go out with a 2nd dog present during their socialization period do not get a chance to properly build confidence. They will look OK if the other dog is present but are fearful or worried without the other dog when out.
Good management will pay off
Over the first few weeks and months, the management you use and the protocols that are in place can gradually change. The puppy’s increased skills will allow more freedom. And the gentle start between the two dogs will allow them to ease into some time directly together.
Most people are in too much of a hurry to have their dogs interact initially. First experiences are ‘sticky.’ Ideally, the initial experiences of the new pup and the older dog should be positive. Why leave it to chance by allowing dogs to sort things out and work them out on their own?
This protocol requires planning and time to ensure the introduction and transition phase go as smoothly as possible. But taking some care and a little extra time will minimize the chances of undesired issues that can be lasting and difficult to change. Since the two will share the rest of their lives together, what’s the rush?
You can reach me at hippup.ca to join our online puppy support group or set up private training.