We’re All In This Together
Once your puppy and older dog are at the point where they can sniff, walk together or even play, you may still have some work to do in terms of monitoring day to day interactions, deciding what is to be permitted and what is not, when you should step in and when you should “let them work things out” and where are your potential “hot spots”.
Deciding how strictly interactions should be monitored will again, depend a lot on your adult dog. It’s appropriate to allow some communication from the adult dog – and that can include growling, lip lifting, snarling and even snapping or pinning the puppy. Even if you intervene, your adult dog should not be punished for reacting to the puppy – they should be supported by you so they can trust you to keep them safe. For example, if the puppy is pestering the adult and the adult snaps and the puppy backs off, both dogs can be praised. If the puppy does not back off, the puppy should be removed or redirected so the adult dog understands that a moderate warning will keep them safe.
Understand the body language of your adult dog will be key for this part of the integration. We knew that Marlo had very limited dog/dog communication skills – he never growled or showed his teeth but tended to progress from freezing to biting very quickly. Because of this, we used a muzzle for more than a year, and also did a *lot* of practicing call-aways for both dogs. I did not want the interactions to escalate to the point where Marlo would react, so we would intervene quickly – you may be able to allow the interactions to play out longer. Keep in mind that your puppy does need to be actively trained in call-aways as well as your older dog – you don’t want your puppy to develop leash frustration (they will naturally be drawn to your older dog).
For more than a year, Marlo and Joni’s direct interactions were limited to the outdoors. There were a few reasons for that: we knew that Marlo is very sensitive to space and being trapped, we knew he guards resources like food and toys, and we knew that Joni really wanted to play with him. It was inevitable that Marlo would feel trapped more easily as Joni approached him inside the house. We also had a lot of resources around – because Joni was a puppy, she was constantly surrounded by toys, chews and food toys and we didn’t want Marlo to guard those, and we didn’t want to deprive Joni. So the easiest solution was to keep them separate. I also had decided that if things progressed really well and the dogs ended up playing, that we wouldn’t allow play in the house. It’s unrealistic to expect a young puppy to be hanging out loose with an adult dog for long periods of time and not try to interact, so physical management was the best for everyone.
Even if your adult dog is doing well with interactions, make sure that they get regular breaks from puppy. They may have a limited amount of tolerance and if that limit is reached, they may react more strongly than usual. Your puppy will need regular interactions with other dogs as well – you don’t want them to only learn about dog/dog skills from a dog who may be lacking! So make sure your puppy socializes with appropriate adult dogs and young dogs for play – this will also tire out your puppy and make them more tolerable to your adult dog 🙂
As time goes by, and you allow more and more interaction, keep in mind that there will always be a gradient of “easy” to “challenging” interactions between your adult dog and puppy. In addition to resources, arousal/excitement level can be a hot spot. Your older dog may be fine in the house when things are relaxed, but when the energy level goes up, for example when someone comes home, or you are preparing for walks – your adult dog may have less tolerance, so have a management plan in place for that, such as sending dogs to their stations to get their leashes on, or greeting each dog individually when you arrive home. With Marlo and Joni, we allow a lot of interaction in the home now, but they are still separated before and during their meals, while we are eating our meals, when we both come home and greet them, and if Joni is becoming a bit to excited or playful towards Marlo.
Other times that could be tricky are:
- At night – who will sleep where?
- First thing in the morning – everyone is hungry and excited
- In the car – excitement will be high and space limited
- During training – fun + food may increase guarding behaviours
- In the yard
- Going down stairs/doorways
Have a plan ahead of time for these scenarios and keep dog and puppy separate if you are not sure how things will play out.
Note: you should always keep your puppy and adult dog separated when you’re not home and they are both alone. If you’re concerned about aggression, I recommend *at least* two levels of containment (crates, x pens, doors, baby gates) when you’re not home.
One last note on puppy vs dog interactions – if you walk your older dog around populated areas, avoid taking your puppy as well – particularly if you have to walk both at the same time. Reactivity can be “contagious” – and unfortunately young dogs can pick up on unwanted habits much more easily than desired habits!
Stay tuned for next week: Meeting Your Puppy’s Needs