Introducing a puppy to your older dog
Adding another four-legged friend to your family is an exciting time. It can also sometimes prove to be tricky as we try and navigate the reality of relationships between dogs. While we all want all members of the family, furry or not, to get along, sometimes these relationships can take a little longer to form.
Some dogs may never become best friends but there is plenty that can be done in the introduction phase to help things go in the right direction. Below, we have outlined some tips and advice that may be helpful if you find yourself in the position of bringing a puppy home to your older dog.
Before you bring a puppy home
Get expert advice:
Before you even begin the journey of looking for a puppy that will suit your home and lifestyle, it may be useful to get advice from a qualified dog trainer or behaviourist. They will be able to provide an impartial, educated opinion on whether your adult dog would embrace having another dog in the home or not. Some older dogs may not appreciate an energetic, bouncy little puppy in their space. Additionally, a trainer or behaviourist will likely be able to advise you on the kind of puppy that would suit your home.
Make sure all vaccinations are up to date:
One of the most important things you can do for the health of both your new puppy and your older dog, is to make sure all vaccinations for your older dog are up to date before they meet each other. Puppies can be vulnerable to infections before they have completed their vaccination course so to keep them safe, make sure this is checked before bringing them home.
Begin with scent swapping:
Scent is very important to dogs as it is largely how they navigate their world. Swapping their bedding or toys will help familiarise the dogs with each other's scent. This may help the introduction to go more smoothly by allowing the dogs to get accustomed each other’s scent before they meet.
Create spaces for each dog in the home:
It is important to create a space for the new puppy in your home that is away from the older dog. This is vital for both your older dog as well your puppy as they will both need their own place in the home where they can relax and have time to themselves undisturbed. Make sure each dog also has their own food and water bowls. Put the older dog’s toys aside and get the puppy their own to minimise potential tensions. Keep all toys, bedding and food bowls packed away for the first few hours, until the dogs are more settled, to avoid any competition over them.
Choose the right time:
Pick a time when both dogs are relaxed and in a calm state. Avoid introducing the puppy when the older dog is tired, stressed, or hungry, as this could lead to unnecessary tension.
If possible, try and have your dog meet the new puppy in neutral ground such as a local dog friendly park at a quieter time. Choosing somewhere with few dogs around can not only help prevent distractions but is also important in helping your puppy avoid infection. It should be at least a week since your puppy had their first set of vaccinations if you are carrying out introductions in a public area.
If you wish to introduce them in your home, for example if they cannot safely meet in public due to the puppy’s vaccination status, the garden would be best if you have one or the largest indoor neutral space, if not. Always consult your vet for advice if you are unsure!
Keep both dogs on a lead:
For the initial meeting, have both the puppy and older dog on leads. This allows you to have control over the situation and intervene if necessary. Allow them to approach each other at their own pace, without forcing interaction.
Observe body language:
Pay close attention to both dogs' body language during the introduction. Dogs can show low-level discomfort like walking away from the other dog, lip licking or turning their face away. These are important signs to watch out for so that so that behaviour doesn’t escalate and each dog can be given the space they need. If either dog displays signs of discomfort, calmly redirect their attention and give them space. Provide the dogs with something like an enrichment toy or a treat once they are physically separated to divert their attention away from each other. You can read our guide on dog body language here.
Reward both dogs with treats and praise for calm and friendly behaviour during the introduction. Positive reinforcement helps create positive associations with each other's presence. This should be done when both dogs are physically separated from each other in different rooms as we want to avoid causing competition between them. Dogs don’t necessarily have to eat their meals or any treats while they are in the same room together.
Integrate both dogs gradually:
Once the initial meeting goes well, bring the puppy into your home if you introduced them in the garden, but keep them separated initially. Use baby gates or create separate spaces for each dog to have their own safe area. This area should be somewhere that has the dog’s bed and water and ideally would be a quiet part of the house.
Puppies are still learning about the world around them, so it is essential to monitor their interactions with your dog. Gradually increase the supervised interactions between the puppy and older dog in a controlled environment. Always keep an eye on their behaviour and be ready to intervene if necessary.
In those initial few days of having a new puppy in the home, try not to make an elaborate fuss of one dog in front of the other. We want to keep things as calm as possible, particularly in this settling in period. Instead, if one of your dogs approaches you, you can acknowledge this by giving them a gentle and relaxed stroke.
Building a strong bond between the puppy and the older dog takes time. Be patient and give them space to adjust to each other's presence and establish their relationship at their own pace. As much as we all want our pups to be best friends, remember that each dog is an individual with different preferences and so it likely won’t happen overnight.
If you follow these steps and remain patient and attentive, you can increase the likelihood of a successful introduction and create a harmonious relationship between your new puppy and older dog.
When to contact a qualified behaviourist:
You may need professional assistance if your puppy and your dog are not taking to each other. You should also consider seeing a qualified behaviourist if your dog is experiencing even low levels of general anxiety before things potentially escalate further.
Contact your vet for a medical check-up, to make sure there aren’t any health factors that might be making matters worse and ask your vet to refer you to a qualified behaviourist for expert help.
Dogs Trust provide lifelong behavioural support for all our adopted dogs. If you need help for your Dogs Trust Dog, please email: [email protected]
The advice contained in this blog is of a general nature and is no substitute for specific behavioural or veterinary advice.