How to Prepare Your Older Dog
Your thoughts may be over-taken by images of your new fluff ball (I know mine were), but if you have an anti-social pup already at home, there’s no such thing as beginning too early to prepare them ready for the new addition. If your dog has never lived with another dog before, there will be quite a few things that will be different – especially with a puppy. Let’s get started!
Honestly assessing your own dog will help you decide what you should do to prepare. If you have an older dog who is just a bit grumpy with new puppies, you may need minimal management in the house so that puppy doesn’t bug older pup continuously. If your dog is not great at greetings (like my old Shepherd) but is fine with dogs when they get to know them, then the introduction will take most of your planning. In this section, I will use my current senior dog, Marlo as an example of what I did to get him “puppy prepped”.
Get To Know Marlo
There are some cases where it may not be worth the risk to try to introduce a puppy, and this had crossed my mind with my own adult dog. Marlo is very reactive to dogs, he has a very short fuse for aggressing, and he is a significant resource guarder. He also moves very quickly to biting, rather than warning or posturing. However, I also know that he has good inhibition when he bites, and has not significantly injured another dog. He does actually enjoy the company of other dogs, and is more playful than my previous dog. He also is a fairly low energy dog, and we had the space and ability to exercise him and meet all his needs even totally separate from a second dog.
Set Up for Success
I knew from the beginning that the dogs would need separate exercise and training – our puppy would need training, walks and socialization in environments not suitable for Marlo. She would also need socialization with dogs who were not Marlo, and I also did not want to risk her picking up his reactivity. It’s much more likely that dogs will pick up unwanted habits such as barking, so although I hoped our puppy would be a good companion, I could not count on her “calming him down”.
Our house is also large enough to be divided with gates, x pens and tethers so that the dogs could be totally separated during the intros, including separate entrances and potty areas and complete visual blocking while puppy was in the kitchen and Marlo got to keep his favourite areas of the living room couch and bedroom. We set up the puppy zone early on so Marlo could at least get used to the change of environment.
Warm-Up For Pup!
In the summer of 2017, we had decided on the breed of dog we wanted – a Rough Collie. We began looking for an adult dog originally, but it was a challenge to find a female (we knew Marlo did better with female dogs) who met our criteria and who was looking for a new home anywhere close by. We ended up meeting our breeder in this summer, although it would be a year before our puppy was born. This was fortunate because it gave us a lot of time to get started on some specifics with Marlo.
Check Ups for Mind and Body
Before we even had a puppy in mind, I made an appointment with a veterinary behaviourist to assess Marlo’s behaviour and his medication regime. Marlo has been taking anti-anxiety medication since he was a young adult, so this wasn’t something we started just because of the puppy, but I wanted to make sure we had the best options on board for him. We also decided a short acting calming medication might be helpful for him during the first few days.
With any dog, but especially with an older dog, you want to discuss pain control with your regular vet. Marlo struggles with back pain, and I knew that if he was worried about being hurt, he would be extra defensive and grumpy to a puppy, so we made sure he was comfortable physically as well.
There are a lot of supplies and equipment that you can stock up on in preparation of puppy’s homecoming. This is a short list but it will give you an idea!
- Babygates, ex-pens and crates. You can borrow from friends or find them used online.
- Food toys and chews – stuff a whole stack of Kongs for your older dog to sweeten the deal.
- Favourite high value treats so you can have them everywhere. The night before the puppy came home, I bought Marlo an entire roast chicken (his top snack!)
- Calming products if appropriate (discuss with your vet if necessary). I used an Adaptil collar for Marlo for the first while of puppy being home, and some calming chews.
- Depending on the sensitivity of your old dog, white noise can help muffle the sounds of a puppy which may help them relax.
Back To School
There were also a list of specific skills that Marlo needed training/brushing up on to help him cope better with a changed household.
- Practice isolation – your dog needs to be able to be behind a gate or in a crate while you are in another room or outside with the puppy. Otherwise the stress of the puppy will be compounded with separation distress, and you’ll be working twice as hard.
- Practice confinement – similar but not exactly the same as above. This is teaching your dog to be comfortable in a crate or pen while you’re nearby. Many adult dogs are not used to this as they haven’t been in a crate since they were puppies. However, if you want to hang out in your living room or eat a meal with both dogs, it will be easier if they can both be crated.
- Obedience skills
- Positive interrupter – this is just a sound or cue that gets your dog to orient to you. As a resource guarder, Marlo is extremely sensitive to having his collar grabbed and it can trigger him to react. So I needed to make sure that if there was a tense situation I could re-direct him verbally. I actually practiced this with our cats, because he did have a history of guarding against them as well.
- Stationing – I love love love go to your mat/place/bed behaviour! In Marlo’s case we actually used the couch as his “place” most often. If both dogs have a good stationing behaviour, you can use this as the next step up from being crated in a room together, without worrying about uncontrolled interactions. A reminder that this must be taught with R+ training – suppressing behavour with aversives is very risky in any circumstance but especially when dealing with potential aggression.
- Leave It – also useful as a redirection cue, very similar to the positive interrupter but comes more naturally to people in the case of accidentally dropped food or road kill that might cause conflict between dogs.
- Re-Call – this became more helpful for us when both dogs were together later on, but it never hurts to have a solid, reliable come when called cue! Marlo was always pretty good at this but he didn’t have a lot of practice around other dogs.
Dogs are Friends, Not Foes
Obedience skills were easier than the actual process of having Marlo more comfortable with other dogs. Keep in mind that getting used to seeing other dogs out and about on walks is very different than accepting another dog into the household, so I concentrated on simulating the latter (we live in a pretty rural area and Marlo acutally didn’t see many other dogs on a daily basis). Here is what we did in terms of the counter-conditioning and desensitization to other dogs.
- Practiced group walks in a designated location, away from the home, where he became used to fairly easily accepting new dogs into the “group”. We would eventually introduce him to the puppy for the first time here.
- Had a dog he “knew” and who was calm and relaxed walk on our property with him. This was a big deal, as he was very defensive to seeing strange dogs on our property (stray dogs or neighbour dogs).
- Had a dog that he knew and was comfortable with spend the night in our home – they did not have direct contact in the house but he saw her and hung out crated in the living room.
- I don’t know how actually helpful this was, but I did bring back a blanket heavily scented with “puppy” from a visit with the breeder, and paired with some delicious treats 🙂
Get Your Party Face On
Finally, something that I recommend to most people who aren’t sure how their dog will react to a puppy is a muzzle. If your dog has a bite history, this is a must – in case the worst happens and a bite occurs, it can be detrimental on your puppy’s development and lifelong interactions with other dogs. I don’t recommend muzzles to every client with this project, but it never hurts to acclimate your dog to one. Because of Marlo’s bite history, he was quite used to wearing a muzzle, but I spend more time with him wearing it – I also invested in a custom fit, lightweight muzzle from BUMAS, anticipating that he would spend a lot of time wearing it. It was definitely worth it.
Stay tuned for next week’s entry – The Introduction!