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Big Dog Meets Little Dog: Introducing a New Puppy to the Pack
Bringing home a new puppy can be an exciting experience. However, when you already have a dog at home, introducing a new bundle of fluff can be quite frightening. Many people worry that the older dog may feel threatened, play too rough, or resent/reject the new pup altogether. While it's true that first impressions can last forever, remember that you are trying to foster a lifetime relationship. It will take time for your animals to form bonds of love and trust. A successful introduction, handled with care and patience, will help build the foundation needed for a wonderful pack dynamic. Here are some tips to help make "day one" a breeze...
Capture the Scent
The preparation for bringing home our Yorkshire terrier puppy, Ziggy, began weeks before he was even ready to leave his mother's care. My fiancé (B) and I were lucky enough to have found a good breeder who graciously allowed us to make weekly visits after Ziggy was born. On one of these occasions, we brought along a small plush to leave with Mom & her pup. The week before Ziggy came home, we brought the same toy home to our pitbull, Cisco, and let him conduct a smell inspection. B and I would also allow Cisco to sniff us up and down whenever we returned from a visit with the puppy. This strategy addresses a dog's natural instincts, as "odor-checks" are most often a dog's first impulse. The identification of a familiar scent can help relieve tension, putting your older dog into an inquisitive (as opposed to threatened) state of mind.
The Name Game
Choosing your puppy's name early, and using the name frequently before the introduction, can also help create an positive atmosphere for the older dog. It took about a week after Ziggy was born before B and I finally decided on his name. The debate was tedious as we shot names back and forth like it was the damn Wimbledon. Yet, as soon as we agreed upon Ziggy, the name became a part of our daily vocabulary. Long before even meeting his new brother, Cisco knew his name. We'd ask Cisco,"Where's Ziggy? Find Ziggy!" and he'd go around the house to investigate. Next, we set up the puppy's kennel and referred to it as "Ziggy's house." Cisco eventually learned to go there when we asked him to find Ziggy. In addition, after coming home from visiting puppy, we'd also say Ziggy's name during Cisco's sniff inspections. Essentially, Cisco became accustomed to the idea of having Ziggy around before the pup even moved in.
Power in Pairs
Even if you live alone, I highly recommend having another person to help you facilitate the introduction. Your spouse, a family member, or a friend who visits the home often is the most desirable choice for this position. Although it will be tough to let go of your precious new fluff-ball, your partner should be in charge of holding the puppy while you control the older dog. As pack leader, it is your job to prevent any aggressive behavior before it begins. A proactive approach will set the example of expected behavior for the weeks of bonding ahead.
Secure the Puppy Cave
Every puppy, regardless of how many animals there are in your pack, must have a sanctuary. Create a space, which cannot be accessed by your older dog, where your puppy can be alone to eat, sleep, and play. Puppies need time to adjust to their surroundings and having a place where your pup feels safe will nurture his/her trust in you. Try to set up this area before your puppy comes home, preferably in a place with a door you can close for added security. This will also ensure that your puppy will have a safe haven should excitement levels during the introduction get too high.
Where to Welcome?
Setting is another factor important to a successful introduction. You may want to conduct the introduction in a neutral area (i.e. dog park, ), especially if your older dog is very territorial. Cisco, who is territorial yet doesn't respond well to high-traffic areas, met Ziggy in our home. Because Cisco does most of his bark-and-protect duties outside, we introduced him to Ziggy in the house. B and I were confident that this was the best fit for us. Only you can truly predict how your alpha dog will react to the new puppy. Thus, choose a positive, comforting atmosphere. Keep in mind that a young puppy, who hasn't received all the necessary shots, should not be taken into a public area for a play session. Therefore, if you do choose to introduce your pets in a public setting, make sure not to allow your puppy to wander around on the ground. As much as your pet may want to explore, a puppy's immune system is delicate and won't be able to fight off the diseases that s/he may come in contact with.
Rituals & Routines
It's important to set the rituals and routines early on, and don't compromise them once they are in place. Feeding times, exercise, and trick-for-treats play should be established as a pack activities once your puppy has spent a few months in the home. Remember to play fair without playing favorites. Rules should be universal and absolute (i.e., don't potty in the house, don't beg for food, don't jump on guests). Giving in will only reinforce the undesired behavior. Treat times can also become wonderful learning experience for your puppy. Ziggy learned the commands "sit", "speak", and "kiss" by following Cisco's example. Be sure to supervise all play sessions during the first few weeks of your animals being together. Older dogs, especially those who have not yet been exposed to young pups, need to to adjust to a puppy's high energy and need for affection (see video below).
With a positive attitude, the right preparation, and a whole lot of patience, you can help foster a lifetime bond between your pets. Much mahalo to our friends Mike & Joy for all their animal knowledge (the pack who taught our pack- paws to you ;) I hope these tips come in handy now that our pack has passed them on. Good luck and happy puppers to all!