So you’ve finally made your decision and in a few short weeks you will be bringing home a new puppy! Puppies are bundles of joy, most of the time, but they can also bring about a lot of stress and schedule changes. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do ahead of time to prepare your home, yourself, and your current resident dogs to make the addition of another dog go more smoothly.
Checking Expectations The first thing we always want to prepare is our own mindset and expectations. Dogs are a lot of work. Multi-dog households are even more work. And no matter how much we do right, there is always a chance that dogs in a multi-dog household may not get along as best friends. This is even more likely if your resident dog has not been overly social throughout their lives. As owners, we need to be prepared for the possibility that our dogs may not get along.
So, it is always a good idea to check in with ourselves and make sure we are adding a dog for the right reasons (for us and not because we think it may change an existing dog) and that we are prepared for all the possibilities. This new puppy will be our responsibility and not the responsibility of our kids or the other resident dogs. We will need to be committed to putting in the work to help it all go right. For example, we will need be in charge of the training and exercise, and not count on our other dogs to tire out a puppy. And if things don’t go as planned, we will need to keep working with our new dog as well as our other resident dogs.
In addition to evaluating why we really want this puppy and whose responsibility it will be, we want to try to prepare for puppy antics. Puppies are a lot of work and it can mean a few exhausting weeks of little sleep and little time for ourselves. Be prepared for accidents and nipping. It isn’t personal, it is part of learning. Putting in the work now will help you have a well-behaved adult dog and a peaceful multi-dog household.
Sharpening Training Skills Not all of the challenges we will be encountering as the family grows will be related to the new puppy. Our resident dogs will also be undergoing some big changes as well and their behavior can have a big impact on the puppy’s behavior and your own stress levels. This is why it is always a great idea to spend some time before the puppy arrives working with the resident dogs to refresh their training skills.
A general skill refresh is a good idea because you will be busy when the puppy arrives and will have less time and energy to work with your resident dogs. Before the puppy comes, you should work on general life skills with your resident dogs such as:
Staying quiet in the home (you don’t want the new puppy learning to bark)
Relaxation (more dogs means more energy)
Leash manners (it’s harder to walk multiple dogs at once)
Impulse control (like polite greetings, no counter surfing, and waiting at the door)
There are also a few specific themes that will make life in a multi-dog household much easier such as learning acceptance and comfort with management and station training.When the puppy comes home you should have lots of management during play, in order to keep everyone safe (no inappropriate puppy chewing and no fights), prevent unwanted behavior (jumping on counters, inappropriate chewing, dumpster diving), and develop positive relationships between your dogs. In the beginning, resident dogs should be separated with crates, x-pens, or baby gates from the puppy and from you at times. It is important that they learn how to be comfortable with this separation process BEFORE the puppy comes to avoid additional stress and the potential of negative associations with the puppy.Organize your management early to allow yourself time to train and to allow your dogs to get comfortable with it. You can use breakfast and dinner to play games with the crates such as working on “in” and “out”cues, then advancing to relaxation inside the crate with the door open and with it closed, and finally moving on to relaxation in the crate with distractions and with longer duration. We want to make sure that you can move around and be active in a space while our resident dogs remain quiet and calm. By using baby gates you can work on rewarding your dog for remaining quiet, calm, and having four feet on the floor while they are separated from you and while waiting at thresholds.
“Settle on a mat” and “go to place” are also very helpful behaviors for the resident dogs to know. Adding dogs to the house usually increases the overall energy level, which makes it harder for all the dogs to relax. Teaching “settle” not only gives you the ability to ask for it, but your dog will start to offer it on their own, giving you more chances to reinforce calm behavior. You can even work on skills like “place” or “settle” on a mat with separation via a baby gate or x-pen to help your dog prepare for longer-distance relaxation.
Setting Up Your Home
As I already mentioned, home prep is key and the sooner you can make changes to your house and routine, the less stressful those changes may be on your resident dogs. A crate for each dog, an x-pen in a central area for the puppy, and baby gates partitioning off parts of the home will all be helpful.
However, we always want to make sure that when it is safe, the resident dogs have freedom to move around. This was in fact their home to start and if you introduce too much control and too many changes they may experience stress and negative associations with the new arrival. Your new puppy can have free time in the exercise pen where they will be safe and confined, while the resident dogs can approach and retreat as desired. Confinement will also help prevent your puppy from being too obnoxious with biting and jumping, which many resident dogs do not appreciate in excess and from strangers.
Enrichment for The Residents During those first few weeks it is important for your resident dogs to continue to get exercise, attention, and enrichment. Splitting up duties in households with multiple adults can be very helpful. One adult could do some puppy training while the other heads out for some stretching and sniffing with the adult dogs. If you are a sole caregiver, plan for some additional activity and special outings for the resident dogs while the puppy naps or works on a food puzzle.
You will also find it helpful to stock up on activities. Chews like bully sticks, tracheas, raw bones, and no-hide chews can be given daily for energy reduction and stress relief. Food puzzles like the Kong Wobbler, Starmark Bob-A-Lot, and snuffle mats can be used to work the brain and body during meals. And pacifiers like Kongs and Toppls can be frozen as a meal or snack when you need to promote some down time and relaxation. Purchasing in bulk and prepping ahead of time can help make it easier for you to give in a hurry.
Building Positive Relationships Multi-dog households provide an array of new challenges but preparing for those early with management and relationship building is key. Some dogs who are more sensitive or more reactive might need lots of time and space to adjust and it is recommended to have a double barrier system like a puppy in an x-pen in the front room and the resident dogs behind a baby gate in the kitchen. Blankets can be used to provide visual blocking to help reduce some of the stimulation as well to make it easier for the resident dogs to be relaxed as they adjust to new smells and sounds. As arousal and stress decreases (make sure you are proficient at reading dog body language), you can reduce some of the visual blocks to partial blocks. And later on you can allow full vision and can begin to open gates and x-pens under direct supervision for short periods of time.
Reinforcement is key here as well. We want to make sure that we reinforce desired behaviors from all involved. Some of the key pieces I am looking for here from the dogs are:
Quiet, four on the floor, sit, down, and settle on a mat on opposite sides of the baby gates.
Impulse control (wait or stay) at the baby gates as you move in and out.
Quiet and calm behavior while the puppy is active (ignoring the puppy).
One for you one for me game at the baby gate. Stand on the same side as the puppy (after the puppy gets a chance to play this a little on their own). Say a dog’s name and give them a treat. Repeat going around offering a turn for each dog!
You can also do group settle on a mat practice. Try sitting down on the same side as the puppy and reinforcing all of the dogs periodically for a short relaxation session while they are all in close proximity.
When the dogs are all getting along it can be easy to want to ease up on those management restrictions. Trust me, in a small home I don’t much appreciate a Malamute sized x-pen in my living room either. But removing the management too soon can be a recipe for disaster and can lead to your puppy becoming a pest to older dogs. Training setbacks like that can be like emptying a piggy bank prematurely and can lead to you needing to fill it back up slowly over time with coins (training sessions) until you have consistent behaviors again.
Eventually, as you do start to allow more interactions between your dogs, there are a few behaviors that will help you manage everyone calmly:
Attention on cue and positive interrupters are wonderful ways for you to be able to get focus from your puppy or your adult dogs. Once you have attention you can do a treat scatter, a recall, or even ask the adults for something like settle to help redirect unwanted interactions.
Hand targets are also great tools and can be used to help redirect behavior as well. Once a target is taught, puppies quickly will learn to follow a hand , making it easier to guide a puppy out of trouble.
As you integrate your new puppy into the household remember that slow and steady wins the race. The goal is to use management, usually longer than you think you need to, as you prevent unwanted behaviors and carefully work on developing positive associations between all of your dogs. And before you know it puppyhood will be over and all of the hard work you have put in will pay off.
Are you bringing a new puppy into your home? Let us know what you are struggling with.