Happily Ever After

Now that you’ve gotten your dogs primarily integrated, you will probably have stretches of good, peaceful days – however, it’s important to be aware that setbacks may occur, and to prepare for them.

Ahhh, the hard work is done. Or is it?

Constant Vigilance

It’s normal for dogs to have minor disagreements, as your younger dog matures, the intensity of their interactions may change as well. Intra-home dog problems can begin to appear when the younger dog approaches social maturity (1.5-2.5 years) and begins to push their boundaries with the older dog (this is another reason I recommend opposite sex puppy to the “problem” dog). Some things that you might notice could be:

  • the younger dog not ‘backing down’ from resources that the older dog is guarding
  • the younger dog being less respectful of the older dogs’ space and body (charging, wrestling hard, body slamming) especially if the younger dog is growing larger
  • the younger dog becoming more pushy or aggressive if the older dog becomes injured or infirm
  • a further change in the family dynamic (an older dog passes) where the relationship between the remaining dogs may change
  • any change in behaviour of your older dog (may be a health issue, contact your vet)
As your puppy ages, monitor their interactions with your older dog closely.

It’s wise to contact a behaviour professional if you see any of these signs, as it can be difficult to predict how your older dog will respond. In the mean time, you may have to re-up the management you relaxed when the puppy began to integrate. There is no evidence that “supporting the Alpha”, a technique where you make sure that older dog gets everything first, is effective in these cases. Instead, determine a management plan for tricky spots, perhaps implement some new rules for the younger dog, and reinforce both dogs for any good behaviour you notice, whether you ask for it or not. Adolescent dogs benefit from increased clarity and consistency in training and management anyways, so this will help you in that respect as well.

It is also OK for the older dog to get some privileges that the younger dog doesn’t get. At night Marlo sleeps on the people bed but Joni sleeps in an x-pen, and this will continue as long as he’s with us. He’s earned the right to sleep uncrowded by Collies 🙂

It’s OK for your older dog to get certain rights and privileges that the puppy doesn’t get.

Stumbling Blocks

If, like me, you have a large age gap between your puppy and older dog, you may run into health issues that complicate the relationship. When Joni was about 8 months old, Marlo ruptured the cruciate ligament in his knee while playing with her. This changed the way we managed the dogs together, and set us back a bit because his pain made him slightly more defensive of her. After his surgery he also struggled with separation anxiety, which made it difficult for us to take Joni out without him.

If your older dog is quite a bit older, watch for behaviour changes that might indicate health changes

It’s normal for things to change as your dog gets older, so just be aware that influences other than behaviour can impact the way your dogs interact and the way you care for them.

Growing Pains

Be sure to monitor your puppy’s behaviour as they grow into young dogs as well. There’s no guarantee that your puppy will be behaviourally perfect, and addressing any of their issues as early as possible will reduce your stress as well as preserve the relationship between your dogs.

Know the difference between normal “teenager” behaviour like chewing and stealing, and more serious behaviour issues.

Here are some things you might see in your young dog that are worth addressing sooner rather than later:

  • confinement anxiety or separation anxiety
  • puppy is “bullying” or very fixated on the other dog
  • reactivity to people or other dogs
  • persistent fear of people, environments or other animals
  • resource guarding

Celebrate Your Successes

It’s amazingly rewarding to see your older dog interact “normally” with your younger dog! All that hard work pays off.

As long as you are flexible and have realistic expectations, you can expect to enjoy the relationship between your dogs for many years. When we brought Joni home, my expectation was that Marlo would be comfortable seeing her in the house and may have to be kept physically separated indefinitely. The fact that they interact nicely and Marlo genuinely likes her is a bonus, and something that I get a great amount of happiness from. The little moments of interaction between them are very special.

Having said that, their lives remain very different, and for some dog families that will be the reality. Although they get along, they are walked separately: Marlo needs short quiet walks and Joni needs off leash time, longer walks, and lots of social interaction. Marlo gets time in the yard with his ball, and Joni isn’t invited. They will never eat near each other or be loose together overnight or alone. I still consider their integration very successful, and success will look different for every family. Just rest assured that your dogs don’t have to do all the same things at every time in order for them to be happy and fulfilled.

Marlo and Joni in April 2020.

If you have questions about preparing for integrating a puppy into your home, or are currently struggling, please reach out! I can help you online or in person.