The Meet Cute
Whether you’ve been planning for months, or you have an impulse puppy, you will remember one moment forever- the time your puppy first meets your problem dog. The most successful way to do the introduction strongly depends on the nature of your adult dog’s social issues: some older dogs accept puppies more easily than they would accept another adult, some will be grumpy for a few days and then get used to the interloper, and others will require a long, careful integration process.
The best place to introduce two dogs in neutral territory, outside your home. However, with a puppy, there are health considerations based on their vaccine status, and if you don’t have access to a safe park-like area, your backyard is probably the best bet. Whether the puppy is shy or confident, it’s best to allow them to explore the yard first. Using leashes or a fence or other barrier such as an x pen can allow the dogs to see each other without either the puppy leaping on the adult, or the adult intimidating the puppy. If both dogs show comfortable body language, allow short interactions, but practice your call-aways often to prevent either party from being overwhelmed. If it’s possible, continue moving – if the humans move, the dogs are more likely to keep moving, and this can make interactions less tense than if everyone is just standing around staring.
Inside the house will be more challenging, so be prepared to have a place to secure your puppy when you are not monitoring, such as an x pen or designated puppy room. When puppy is out, remove all valued resources that the adult dog might guard, such as bowls, toys or chews. Keep interactions short and watch body language carefully. Even if your adult dog is faring better than expected, don’t allow your puppy to pester them endlessly. Interrupt, redirect, or put puppy back to their confinement area as often as you feel you need to.
For dogs with more significant social issues, you will need a long range plan. We knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge to actually get Marlo to the point where he could see the puppy calmly, never mind meeting her. He struggles to meet dogs in general, but because he’s also reactive from a distance, we also had to think of the puppy. If we rushed an introduction it might have made him less frustrated, but could have been traumatic to a 9.5 week old puppy’s social development.
I actually spend the first night with puppy downstairs in our roommate’s suite since we got home very late. After that, we continued to sleep in separate rooms with them as well, until Marlo was comfortable enough around puppy in a crate. My husband travels a lot for work but puppy came home during a time when we were both home a lot which was a great help, so we could each ‘have a dog’. We communicated a lot via text message during those first few weeks!
Our strategy relied on keeping them as separate as possible inside, and starting to get Marlo comfortable with her on “parallel walks” outside, which we started three days after Joni came home. Joni was a bit limited in how far she could actually walk, but we knew this was the best strategy. Because we had also been “warming up” Marlo with group walks with other dogs, the first time he saw her was at our regular walking spot. We had the pugs there (dogs he liked) to walk with the puppy, and one of his other dog friends also came to walk with him.
Inside, we concentrated on counter-conditioning Marlo to signs of the puppy’s presence. We began with feeding him high value treats for hearing puppy noises because at first we kept the gate between the kitchen and living room covered so he couldn’t see her directly. The first couple of days were very challenging – he was pretty stressed and did bark when he heard her, however he was not obsessive about trying to get to her, which was a good sign. We let him explore her pen and area when she was outside so he could get used to her smell.
Eventually, we graduated to playing “Look At That” with him across the kitchen barrier, where he got rewarded for looking calmly at the puppy. We did some of this on the walks outside as well, but because we had more distance outside, I wanted him to spend time just being aware of her in the environment and desensitizing to her presence.
Although we had some rocky days, overall things went more quickly than I expected. In a little over a week, they could sniff each other through an x pen indoors, and walk together with Marlo muzzled.
Stay tuned for next week, when the topic will be managing daily interactions between grumpy older dogs and puppies.