Introducing a puppy to a multi dog household.

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I thought it might be useful to share my experience of introducing Hobson, our English setter puppy, into my multi dog household. We lost Lola, our 14 and a half year old English setter back in July 2017, so our remaining four dogs are – Hattie working cocker is 14 in May, Gracie whippet cross is approximately 13, Morris pointer setter is 10 and Figgis cocker is 9. Although the two boys Morris and Figgis are still very active, the old girls are both deaf, they can’t see too well, and both have some joint pain (both on pain meds). In terms of humans, it’s just me and my husband. I’m a dog trainer and dog photographer and my husband sometimes works from home too, so both of us are around a lot. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if I had a full time job and was away from home each day. Puppies need someone around most of the time. Hobson is our 9th dog, and he’s our 6th puppy. We’ve had three rescue dogs too, so I’m experienced at introducing both puppies and rescue dogs to my doggy family.

Initial introduction was in the evening as it had taken us all day to get to Derbyshire and back with Hobson, who thankfully slept all the way home. I brought him into the house and put him on the floor. I should say that all of my dogs are fine with other dogs and none of them are reactive. Even so, of course, I was incredibly careful that the introductions went ok. We had (and still do have) dog gates up in several places around the house, so that I could separate them very easily if the older dogs weren’t happy. In an ideal world, I’d have brought the puppy home in the daylight, and introduced them in the garden. But unfortunately life doesn’t seem to work that way! They were all pretty horrified at this tiny little puppy wiggling his way around the house, and equally horrified if he came up to them. Don’t expect your adult dogs to take to a puppy straight away. Some do, but most don’t. I let him investigate them but not in a really annoying way, he was very easy to distract with toys and happy to play with me and with toys.  They were mostly all very kind to him, letting him sleep near them but not touching initially, and tolerating him trying to play with them, although it wasn’t really reciprocated to start with.

^ Figgis letting Hobson sleep in the same bed.

I won’t go into house training too much but it’s really easy if you concentrate on it for a couple of weeks. Every single time they wake up take them out, every time they have eaten, take them out. Mid playing, take them out, if they sniff the floor, take them out! Go out with them, wait for them to wee or poo, praise them, and come back inside. Rinse and repeat about 50 times a day! Hobson has never pooed in the house, and he probably weed in the house about 5 times. You have to really focus on it to get it done this fast but it’s easy if you’re around a lot. I don’t use puppy pads as I think it encourages them to go inside the house.

At feeding times, Figgis the 9 yr old cocker, is separated from the others, as he eats quickly and would have no qualms about nicking everyone else’s food. I also didn’t want Hobson to stumble over to Figgis while he was eating as that wouldn’t go well. Figgis doesn’t share food, we can manage it no problem. Don’t expect a puppy to know they can’t steal the adult dogs food, they won’t know, and it could be a source of conflict. So at the moment, I have Figgis eating in the porch, Hobson eats in the hallway, and the other three eat together in the kitchen. You don’t want the older dogs to see the puppy as a negative, if you can help it. Same if they’re having chews, if you have a dog that doesn’t like to share, make sure they are separate. Manage the space. Hobson can eat chews with Morris but not with Figgis. Every time Hobson had a meal (remember puppies eat 4 times a day til about 12 weeks old) the others had a small treat. It all helps to build a positive association with the new puppy.

^ eating a chew near Morris no problem but I still wouldn’t let this happen near the other dogs.

Hobson sleeps upstairs with us on our bed, again, I realise this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but for me it works and I could get up easily when he moved around and needed a wee in the night. If you don’t want them on the bed, then a puppy pen or large crate in your bedroom would also be good. When we got to about 9 weeks old, he could hold on through the night, and now (17 weeks) he can hold on from 10.30pm to 7.30am no problem. Two of my other dogs sleep on the bed too– basically my dogs choose where they want to sleep and that’s fine for me. I expect as Hobson grows bigger he will choose to sleep on another dog bed in the bedroom, or he might sleep on a sofa downstairs like Morris does. I want him to bond with us and to feel safe with us. I would never shut a puppy in a crate downstairs and leave them to cry. Puppies cry because they are distressed – that’s what it is, a distress call, and if you ignore that, then eventually they will give up asking you to help them. Same as babies – we have almost identical brains, babies cry because they need something. I don’t want my dogs to feel stressed and I certainly don’t want a puppy’s developing brain to be flooded with stress chemicals. I also don’t want my adult dogs to be anxious about the puppy crying. So I didn’t let Hobson cry.

To start with Hobson pretty much followed me around the house, in the bathroom, everywhere I went, he’d fall asleep on the bathroom floor while I was in the shower. By about 10 weeks old, he was happy to stay outside the bathroom door. Now we’re at 17 weeks old, he will sleep (out of choice) in the kitchen with Morris and Figgis, for several hours during the day and I can be in a different room, or working in the study. I can go out for an hour without him getting distressed, and he feels happy and secure. It takes a while, you have to be patient. Remember for the first 8 weeks of their life, puppies are with siblings and Mum, they have to get used to being left alone, even if they are with other dogs. (As an aside, because of the other dogs, I can’t leave him with chews or food activity toys in case they try and take it from him, so my three boy dogs are getting used to being left together *without * food).

^ the tall dog gate on the kitchen is really handy. The boys are happy to be left in there together for short periods of time.

Puppies sleep a lot, eat a lot, wee and poo a lot and play a lot. They don’t really do much else. They can’t go for long walks because they are too young and could damage their joints. My older dogs don’t play much, and they sleep a lot. So it’s really important that I’m around to play with Hobson, give him other stuff to do as opposed to bothering the older dogs all the time. Morris and Figgis are brilliant with him, they love him and will play with him. Gracie and Hattie really don’t want to have much to do with him, they sleep most of the time and don’t want a puppy dancing around them, however cute he is! So there’s a tall dog gate on the living room, and there’s also a puppy pen around Hattie’s bed in the living room, we can move the barriers around, depending on who’s awake or asleep etc. I absolutely don’t want my old girls jumped on when they are asleep, and equally I don’t want them shouting at Hobson if he went over to them when they were asleep. So I manage the space, make sure he can’t do that. And by doing that he’s starting to learn to leave them alone especially when they are asleep.

^ little folding barrier around Gracie’s bed for when she’s asleep.

^ looking for a lost toy under Gracie’s bed, he’s extremely careful when he does this!

Puppies don’t magically know all this, they have to be taught – by us and by other dogs. But – I only want him to learn lessons from dogs who can teach him nicely. So for example, if he tries to chew on Morris’ face, Morris will initially turn away. If he carries on Morris will growl. If he still carries on, Morris will get up and walk away. Morris doesn’t snap at him or ‘tell him off’. I’m supervising these kinds of interactions too. If I hear any of the adult dogs growling I’ll check why and what’s happening. I can call Hobson away, distract him away to play with a toy instead, call him into another area of the house etc. I don’t just leave them to ‘sort it out’, it’s too stressful for the older dogs and I don’t want Hobson to learn behaviours that I don’t want him to continue practising.

^ Hattie doesn’t mind him near her as long as he’s not trying to play or lick her face!

The old girls Hattie and Gracie are still not thrilled about Hobson, obviously he’s a lot bigger now (17kgs) but at the same time he’s a lot more aware that he’s got to be gentle around them – remember how much I’ve managed their space. Hobson is brilliant with Gracie the whippet cross, he’s very gentle and careful around her. He’s not so gentle with Hattie the working cocker so they are still separate unless I am 100% supervising. He’d quite like to bum barge and play with her and she’s not keen to do either of those things! If he’s asleep, Hattie wanders around the house wherever she likes but if he’s awake and active then Hattie is in the living room, with access to multiple dog beds, water etc. She can always see us though as we use dog gates, not solid doors, to separate them. I don’t want any of them to feel excluded.

^ waiting for a treat with Figgis and Morris.

If you can manage it right, then it’s certainly possible for oldies and pups to live together but for sure there has to be a lot of care taken that all their needs are being met. I certainly wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t at home a lot and didn’t have a house where I could separate and manage the space as I do. I think for me too it helps that I have two older boy dogs who I knew would really like Hobson pretty quickly and he spends a lot of time with them. It’s also a wonderful experience for him to grow up with older brothers and sisters as it has taught him loads of nice appropriate dog skills.

© Penel Malby Dog Communication 2018