Introducing a New Puppy to Your Older Dog

Your resident dog may not immediately roll out the red carpet to welcome your new puppy.

Created: 25/08/2020 Updated: 13/08/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

Behaviour & Training

It's hard to imagine anything more exciting than bringing a new puppy home; however, you should prepare yourself for your older dog to take a different view! All too often, a caring owner will expect the older dog to immediately act as a surrogate parent but this very rarely happens. Wanting or expecting a new addition isn't something an older dog considers and while a puppy's day will revolve around play, the older dog will be perfectly happy with the previous routine. As a result, the resident dog may not immediately roll out the red carpet to welcome your new puppy!

Communication between new puppy and older dog

At this age, puppies are just learning to communicate with each other and will not have the social skills to communicate with a more mature dog. Indeed, they don't even know that rules exist!

Husky puppy standing on the grass.

Puppies find everything new, exciting and in need of investigation! However, being just a few weeks old, they haven't yet had time to learn the social skills needed in the big, wide world. The rough and tumble rules of play they knew, until a few hours ago, are all they have ever experienced. This boisterous play will not work in their new environment where the older dog knows all the rules of the house.

Supervising new puppy and older dog

Without another puppy to play with, your puppy will expect the older dog to play by the same rules and an older dog's warning growl may not be enough to deter the puppy from trying again. Most communication between adult dogs is based on an unspoken code of behaviour where each dog knows what to expect from the other. Few dogs seek confrontation, so the first reaction is often a cautious period of observing each other. If a puppy doesn't yet understand this, the older dog's first task will need to be to teach the youngster the rules.

Many older dogs do not really want to have to undertake this task. Some adult dogs will be more tolerant than others but, if your older dog growls or shows some disapproval, this is normal. For the older dog, your puppy's enthusiasm and lack of respect will be simply aggravating. Many older dogs will never have learned how to interact with an annoying puppy and may react to persistent and irritating behaviour a little more forcefully than you might like. Supervision is imperative for all the time that the two dogs are together, until it is evident that both dogs can co-exist harmoniously.

Keeping the puppy safe is challenging for any owner, but it is really important to supervise this process calmly and firmly without either dog feeling that he or she is being punished. Your older dog will rapidly pick up on any stress in your behaviour or attitude, so it can be helpful to create an environment beforehand that encourages success - for everyone.

Labrador puppy sniffing the ground

Get ready!

Dogs are naturally territorial and this applies to their toys, beds and feeding routines just as much as it does to their house, car and family. It is usually a good idea to arrange for the two dogs to meet first on neutral territory and, preferably without other dogs being present at the time. It can be helpful to put the puppy in their crate when this first meeting takes place so that you can prevent an over-enthusiastic reaction by the puppy, as this could cause a poor first experience.

Before the new puppy arrives at your home, remove all your adult dog's toys, bed and feeding bowls from the area where the dogs will meet, so that the puppy doesn't, inadvertently, make an important social mistake. Set up a short supervised period where the two can meet calmly and then separate them, allowing your adult dog to have an escape route.

Close up of a Golden Retriever puppy.

Every dog needs his or her own safe place where the normal comforts of a bed and toys will be reassuring. While your puppy will soon find that the crate becomes their safe place to rest, or hide away for a while, your adult dog also needs a safe place to escape to. Puppies are persistent and energetic so keeping the two dogs separated for most of the time will allow the puppy to learn the rules in short, supervised periods but will also allow your older dog to maintain as much of the normal daily routine as possible.

Adjusting to a new puppy

Like humans, dogs like new experiences but find 'normality' reassuring. Your older dog will almost certainly make some allowances for the puppy. And, once they are more comfortable together, will be far more tolerant of puppy behaviour than would be the case with another older dog. Many experienced dog trainers will say that this tolerance gradually diminishes as the puppy grows up. However, as we will be almost totally dependent on the older dog teaching the younger one the rules of the doggy world, we need to play our part in teaching the puppy the rules of the human world. It is important that we do not neglect the older dog during this period. Training can involve both dogs in rewarding, and rewarded behaviour. Learning and experiencing things together will help create a bond between the dogs, and reinforcing already-learned behaviour in the older dog will be valuable.

Some helpful pointers:

  • Introduce the dogs in a neutral space

  • Always allow both dogs to escape to a 'safe space'

  • Allow dogs to greet each other at their own pace

  • Remember the needs of the older dog

  • Encourage and reward desirable behaviour

  • Spend time with them separately

  • Feed them in separate areas

  • Allow the older dog to teach the younger one 'the rules'

  • Allow them to spend time and play together with supervision

Adult dog sniffing a puppy

Never

  • Allow the dogs to fight

  • Tolerate aggression beyond normal warnings or bullying

  • Hold the puppy in your arms when the dogs meet

  • Force them to sleep together or share a small space

  • Feed them together

  • Punish undesirable behaviour

Finally, you will want a lasting and harmonious relationship between these dogs so don't rush it.

The transition will be stressful for your older dog and it may take more time than you expected. If you manage the process with kindness and patience, treating your older dog with as much care as you did before the puppy arrived, they will become firm friends on their own terms.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.