How to Determine if Your Old Dog Can Handle a New Puppy
Getting a new puppy can bring joy to a household, but can be stressful on an older dog. However, if your dog has good hearing, vision, and mobility, getting a new puppy is a viable option. When you introduce your dogs, do it in a neutral place like a park or a friend’s house. Allow both dogs opportunities to socialize so they develop a positive relationship. Pay extra attention to your older dog and take steps to minimize the chance of conflict between your dogs by interacting with both of them, providing separate water and food dishes, and offering an adequate supply of doggie toys.
Deciding Whether a New Pup Is a Good Idea
1. Think about your dog’s personality. If you’ve introduced your older dog to new puppies before, you should reflect on that experience to determine if you should do so again. If your older dog has demonstrated disinterest in or hostility towards other dogs, especially puppies, you should think twice about introducing a new puppy to your household. On the other hand, if your old dog enjoys company and easily cultivates new friendships, they can probably handle a new puppy.
- If your older dog has an “alpha”-type personality (i.e., dominant, protective, territorial) introducing a new puppy into the mix is probably not a good idea.
2. Think about your older dog’s health. Older dogs are often frail and have mobility problems. Other health concerns include vision or hearing loss, chronic pain, or stiffness in their joints. These health concerns can lead to anxiety and even depression, and any disruption in your older dog’s routine can lead to undue stress for them. Dogs with minimal mobility are also less able to escape an abusive or irritating puppy.
- If your dog does have poor health, consider introducing another elderly dog or a cat to your household instead of a new puppy.
3. Think about how much space you have. Dogs need space to run and jump. Neither the new puppy nor the older dog will be happy if you’re all tripping over each other. If you’re already cramped for space, you won’t be able to accommodate another dog.
- Even if you have a large backyard or live near a park, sometimes the weather is bad and your dogs will need to work out their pent-up energy indoors.
- If you want another pet but lack space, think about investing in a small fish instead.
4. Consider your schedule. Adding a new puppy to your household won’t significantly increase the amount of time you spend on pet care in the long term. After all, if you’re hanging out with one doggie, you can hang out with the other at the same time. But in the short term, you might have to spend extra time taking your puppy out and training it to indicate when it needs to go out. It’s important that you pay your older dog an equal or greater amount of attention as your new puppy during this introductory period. If you don’t have this time, you should reconsider investing in a puppy.
- If you’re pressed for time, you could hire a dog-sitter to watch your puppy and train it to go out when you’re unavailable.
5. Take your finances into account. An extra dog means an extra mouth to feed. It also means extra visits to the vet or pet dentist. If you don’t have the funds to provide a decent quality of life for another animal, you should not invest in a new puppy. This is especially true when your older dog is likely to need increased medical attention as it ages.
- Remember, different dog breeds grow to different sizes. Find out from your vet how large your puppy will be when it is full-grown.
6. Don’t worry too much. Most dogs get along with each other and enjoy meeting new friends no matter their age or species. Typically, the most extreme measure a pet owner has to take is to basically keep the dogs separated until the puppy grows up a bit. If you believe your old dog is up to it, take a chance and introduce a new puppy to your family.
Introducing Your Old Dog and New Puppy
1. Make introductions in a neutral place. Your older dog and new puppy should first meet somewhere quiet and safe where both will feel comfortable, but which your older dog does not identify as its own space. For instance, you might want to introduce the dogs to each other at a public park or the home of a friend. Introducing your old dog and new puppy when your old dog is sleeping in its bed, on the other hand, could make it uncomfortable.
- Say to your older dog, “This is our new family member. Can you say hello?” in a gentle, reassuring tone.
- After your dogs have had 10 or 15 minutes of sniffing and studying each other together, head home. Let your older dog walk into the house first so it feels it is the leader of the new pack.
2. Give your dogs time to socialize. If you keep your dogs apart all the time, they will not have the opportunity to bond and get to know one another. Provide opportunities for your older dog and puppy to play and interact. For instance, put them in the same shared space – a living room or enclosed backyard is a good choice. Allow them to share experiences like going for walks or swimming in the lake. Through these social interactions, your dogs will become friends and learn to love each other.
- Monitor your dogs closely for at least two weeks to ensure they don’t play too rough.
- Giving your dogs the opportunity to socialize doesn’t necessarily mean they will do so. They might be slow to get to know one another, but it is important to let them socialize at their own pace. Don’t force your dogs to play or interact together.
3. Expect some friction. Your old dog and new puppy might roughhouse, nip at each other, or wrestle a bit when they are getting to know each other. This is normal and expected socializing behavior. It’s how doggies say, “Hi, who are you?” If your older dog and new puppy seem excited or agitated around each other for a week or so, don’t worry.
- Don’t step in to intervene every time your puppy and your older dog start pawing each other.
- While some friction is normal, be on the lookout for more serious conflict. If either dog demonstrates growling, bared teeth, or assumes an attack position (lowered head, ears pointed back, bent forelegs, hair raised slightly on back), separate your dogs immediately and play with them one-on-one. Allow them to see and interact with each other only through a baby gate for 24 hours after a serious conflict.
Minimizing the Odds of Conflict
1. Give your older dog extra love. Dogs, like humans, are susceptible to jealousy. Your older dog might act out if they feel they are being snubbed in favor of a new puppy. Be sure to share a bit more time with your older dog than with your new puppy. Dogs of all ages appreciate petting, verbal praise, and opportunities for play. Doing so with your senior dog will prevent them from feeling that the new puppy is muscling in on its turf.
- Always give your older dog attention first, to reassure it that it's still the top dog.
2. Ensure each dog gets time with you. While your older dog should have slightly more time and attention than the puppy, both should feel they are loved. Pay attention to each dog individually by petting them, playing with them, and offering verbal praise. If each dog feels appreciated, the dogs are more likely to get along and less likely to resent each other.
3. Provide plenty of toys. One of the primary causes for conflict between dogs is a lack of play toys. You can prevent this by ensuring there are enough for all your dogs. Don’t assume your new puppy will enjoy the same types of toys that your older dog does. Provide a generous variety of toys, including dog bones, chew toys, KONG toys, balls, and rolling toys.
- Ensure your puppy doesn’t steal the older dog’s toys. Puppies who are not socialized don’t understand boundaries and sharing the way older dogs do. Even if you’ve provided an adequate amount of toys for your dogs, your puppy might decide to take your older dog’s toys. When this happens, say “No” sternly to your puppy, then return the pilfered toy to the senior dog.
4. Provide extra exercise time for your puppy. Your new puppy will have a lot of energy, but your older dog will not. In order to prevent your new puppy from using its excess energy to harass your senior dog, give your puppy plenty of opportunities to run about. Let it out in the backyard on its own to frolic and play.
- Try to find opportunities to exercise your puppy without making your older dog feel like you’re neglecting them. Wait until your older dog is napping or curled up in front of the TV to take your puppy outside for a game of fetch or tug-of-war.
5. Provide separate food and water bowls. Apart from toys, dogs will likely feel their space is being invaded if another dog is eating or drinking from “their” bowl. Ensure you provide both dogs with their own food and water dishes, and place them at least three meters apart to avoid food fights.
- It might help if you begin feeding your new puppy in a dog crate.
6. Get help. If you really want your dogs to get along but they just aren’t, you might need to get professional help. Dog trainers can help dogs of any age improve their social skills and learn to tolerate others. Contact dog trainers in your area and explain your predicament.
- Ask your vet or friends who have dogs to recommend a good dog trainer, or try the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ searchable database at https://apdt.com/trainer-search/.
- Remember, dogs are like people, and they all have unique personalities. Some dogs will just never get along, no matter how long they’re together. If your dogs don't get along, don't take it as a personal failing on your part. Just try to minimize their conflict as best you can.