In early 2016, our family lost our 12.5 year old German Shepherd mix, and left us with only one dog – Marlo, a then 8 year old pit bull mix. While he had always lived with other dogs, he struggled with social skills from the time he was a tiny puppy. He was leash-reactive, resource guarded many things, and lacked “normal” communication skills in order to negotiate with other dogs. We knew that we wanted to add another dog to our family – my husband missed “his” dog, and I needed a dog to help me in my business. But now, with Marlo getting older, could we successfully integrate a new puppy? While Marlo did have a small circle of friends, he also had a bite history with other dogs, and we had fostered a puppy previously with whom he did not mesh well. We started a project that would involve many months of research, practice, training and consulting with experts, culminating in our bringing home Joni, a 9.5 week old Rough Collie puppy in July of 2018.

Since then, our project has continued, with many ups and downs. As a professional behaviour consultant, it made sense to share this experience with others, so you can learn from my successes, and my mistakes. I originally intended for this to be just a short blog, but as it turns out, I have a lot to say. So this will be the first of a multi-part series on integrating a new puppy with your current cranky dog.

Joni and Marlo in April 2020

Puppy, Meet Problem Dog

When we think about having more than one dog, the vision usually looks like a giant dog park 24/7 – the dogs are best of friends, they play happily together all day and sleep cutely together all night. They share all their treats and toys and never argue. In fact, some of us have lived with dogs in that very idyllic situation before.

However, not all adult dogs will welcome a live-in canine friend – even those who are friendly with other dogs out and about. Add to that the fact that the interloper is a new puppy, who is tireless, and pointy, and annoying, and this can be a recipe for a disharmonious household – sibling rivalry instead of the multi-dog revelry we hoped for. In addition to my own experience, household integration issues are also some of my favourite cases to work with clients. Sometimes people are planning ahead, anticipating issues with their older dog – and some people are surprised by the rancor their dog is showing to the new little bundle of fluff. Either way, there’s lots to do!

My puppy project – Joni and Marlo in 2018.

Match Making

This first part of the series will concentrate on things to consider *before* you choose or bring home your puppy. I want to emphasize that the following tips are suggestions to help you stack the deck in your favour. There are no guarantees that a puppy will turn out a certain way, or that you can “force” your older dog to love a new puppy. And, if you’ve already got your new puppy but didn’t have a chance to take any of the pre-puppy steps, don’t despair – we can work with what we’ve got 🙂

To make the best match, you will have to consider not just what your wants are in a dog, but what kind of pup will mesh well with your older dog. If you prefer male dogs, but your current male has a strong preference for the girls, a compromise will make your future smoother. The same goes for size, breed and energy levels – if you have a grumpy elderly shih-tzu, they may struggle to accept a bouncy labrador puppy. It can be done, but will require more management and training on your part.

Choosing a puppy of similar size and energy level as your adult can be helpful

Finding Fido

When considering a picky older dog, there are some advantages to getting a purebred dog from known parents, but no guarantees. Some people advise to get a slightly older puppy if you’re trying to get a good match, because you may have a better idea of their temperament at say, 16 weeks rather than at 8 weeks. Determining the adult temperament of a rescue puppy can be more challenging, especially if the parents are not known, but some information can usually be gleaned from breed guesses and size. Often puppies will have a mother with a litter, so getting some information on her can help you decide. And definitely look for a foster home that is setting the puppies up for success by socializing them, getting to know their temperaments, and beginning confinement training. I have had clients have integration success with both purebred and rescue puppies, so if your new baby is a mystery mutt, don’t despair.

If you haven’t gotten your puppy yet, spend some time thinking about what’s important for you in a puppy. For our household, we knew we needed a puppy with the following traits:

  • Easy to be confined
  • No separation anxiety
  • Medium/low energy levels
  • No resource guarding

By working with a reputable breeder who knew her dogs and lines, she was able to match us with a puppy most likely to mesh well.

Joni adjusted very easily to her puppy pen which helped us manage the two dogs in the home

I would also suggest being honest with whomever is helping you find a good puppy match. Sometimes people are worried that if a breeder or rescue knows they have a “tricky” older dog at home, they will be unwilling to let them have the new dog. In fact, we did encounter this issue with one rescue we inquired with. Overall, even though that was disappointing, it will be easier for you if everyone is on team “success with puppy”.

Strength in Numbers

For dog/dog introductions and household management, having a second person in the household can be invaluable. On walks, having one handler per dog makes things much easier. If the dogs must be separated at home, one person can spend time with each dog. It is not impossible to do integration exercises with a single person, but it’s an additional consideration!

Having multiple handlers will help you manage your puppy around adult dogs

Hope For The Best, Plan For The Worst

Unfortunately there are some cases where I may not advise getting a puppy, or where perhaps rehoming the puppy is the best option. These may include when the adult dog has a damaging bite history to other dogs, serious prey drive, or if the puppy is experiencing severe behaviour issues themselves.   A reputable breeder or rescue will take a puppy back and assist in finding them another home, and they will not make you feel badly about it.

What’s Your Happily Ever After?

Finally, it’s also a good idea to consider what you consider success and acceptable in your household. In my case, my household will always be somewhat managed – my dogs are not together at all times and this will likely be the case as long as Marlo (my older dog) is alive. I anticipated this, and we have a home set up where both dogs are happy and comfortable with it. Everyone might have a different definition of success, but be aware that if your only acceptable outcome is completely seamless living with all dogs freely together at all times, it will be that much more challenging to accomplish.

Family photos can be a lot of work when you have dogs of different tolerance levels, but very rewarding!