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Introducing your puppy to other animals

It seems like an easy task, but there are a few things you can do to make your pet introductions go better.

Introduction to other dogs in the house

A “neutral” area, ideally not on the property where either dog lives, is your best location. This way neither dog will view the other as a potential territorial intruder.

Have each dog handled by a different person. Try starting with a short walk around the block, a nice, normal activity where the dogs will have less reason to interact with each other. When you meet the other dog, hold your puppy in your arms and give the older dog a chance to sniff the puppy. Quietly praise both dogs.

Then put the puppy on the ground away from the older dog. Begin your walk, walking side-by-side with the other handler, but don’t get close enough for the dogs to interact yet.

If you are in a space that is safe and appropriate, introduce your dogs off-leash. On-leash interactions can spark defensiveness in otherwise non-defensive dogs, so it’s best to take that out of the potential equation.

Watch the dogs carefully for any body language that indicates fear or aggression, such as

  • Hackles up (hair standing up on the dog’s back)

  • Growling

  • Teeth baring

  • Excessive staring

  • Stiff body posture

If you see these behaviors, immediately pick up your puppy and have the other handler recall their dog, leash it, and speak soothingly. It’s always possible that the older dog can snap at the puppy, so be sure never to get between the puppy and the muzzle of the other dog.

Most of the time, however, introductions involve an initial sniff, and then either play starts or the dogs ignore each other.

The older dog should be polite, but is never required to pay attention to the puppy.

If this initial introduction doesn’t go well, call us before allowing any future interactions. An older dog can traumatize a puppy to where a puppy will forever have troubles with other dogs, so please don’t push it and don’t wait to contact us or another professional.

If the off-site introduction goes well, take both dogs home. When you arrive at home, allow the puppy in the house alone first. Let the puppy explore the house (under your supervision) and get to know his new environment. This also distributes his scent in the house.

Put the puppy in a secure room, playpen, or crate. Then let in the older dog and allow the older dog to investigate the smell of the new puppy in the house. Be sure NOT to put your older dog in a restricted space (such as a closed room or a playpen) with the puppy, as that situation is more likely to spark conflicts.

Whenever the older dog goes near the puppy, praise the older dog and give her a treat (assuming she acts appropriately, with no growling or lunging). Repeat this whenever the puppy is around the older dog for at least a week or two, so the older dog associates the puppy with praise, attention, and treats, rather than a competitor for affection and resources.

If you have multiple other dogs in the house, repeat this introduction for each one.

If a dog is aggressive, do not allow your puppy to interact with this dog, even through a fence.

Remember that your older dog is not required to babysit or tolerate puppy behavior. If the older dog doesn’t want the puppy nipping or playing, she has a right to be unhappy. Be fair to your older dog and watch for subtle behaviors that indicate unhappiness with puppy behavior. Never leave your puppy with the older dog unsupervised.

If the older dog is well-socialized, then trust her to set limits with the puppy. Limits can include growling, snarling, or a snap. Do not stop or correct the older dog, but watch carefully to ensure this doesn’t escalate into a more aggressive situation for the older dog or a fearful one for the younger dog.

When in doubt, seek professional help for introductions from a local behaviorist or trainer or contact us.

Introduction to cats

Your puppy will need clear instructions from you about how to behave appropriately around cats. Puppies under 3 months of age are less likely to harm an adult cat. However, puppies rarely show cats as much respect as they deserve.

Do NOT bring your puppy home and release him in the house to chase your cats. Keep him confined so your cat can get used to the puppy and can easily get away from the puppy if she wants to. Playpens and baby gates are great for this.

Next, place the puppy on a leash and allow him to interact with your cat. Moving animals cause a “prey response,” meaning your puppy may instinctually want to chase the cat. Correct the puppy with a tug on the leash and use a “leave it” or similar command. As soon as you see the cat (or the puppy) showing signs of being frightened, end the session and try again later.

Always ensure that your cat can get away from your dog, regardless of how old your dog is.

Living with cats also means you have cat food and cat poop around. These are both irresistible to puppies and dogs, so always ensure they are well out of reach of your puppy or dog. Covered or sequestered litterboxes may be needed.

Other types of pets

Whatever type of pet you are introducing your puppy to, make the interactions highly controlled.

Always begin interactions with a secure fence between them and give your puppy the opportunity to choose to approach the animals — never force interactions.

The prey response in puppies and dogs can cause them to chase other animals, and that can be horribly deadly for all involved. Please set up your introductions and all interactions so it provides safety for all involved. When in doubt, consult a behavioral professional.

Frightening experiences

A frightening experience with another dog can scar a puppy for life. This is not a trivial matter. For example if your neighbors have dogs that aggressively rush the fence, one event can terrify a young puppy and cause anxiety problems for life, and daily events can cause irreparable damage.

The same holds try for frightening experiences with other humans, or anything else.

Always manage the interactions your puppy has with other dogs and people, and never underestimate the damage that can be done to a young puppy by a frightening experience.

It is your responsibility to carefully manage your puppy’s interactions until she has reached maturity. Signs of stress or fear in a puppy include:

  • Ears back

  • Tail down

  • Licking lips

  • Shaking

  • Whining (not the eager kind)

  • Not accepting treats

  • Trying to hide

Be aware of these signs and once you see them do not wait before intervening.

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