Does introducing a puppy to your one-canine household put the older dog’s nose out of joint? David Tomlinson advises on how to introduce a puppy
Ensuring a new recruit is welcomed by long-standing residents can be a tricky business. David Tomlinson advises on how to introduce a puppy to an older dog, having successfully integrated sprocker puppy Emma into the pack.
There are many considerations to weigh up when looking for a new pup, including which breed. Read best spaniel breed: a new companion for David Tomlinson’s musings on which spaniel is top dog.
HOW TO INTRODUCE A PUPPY
It was a question from a Field reader that has inspired this month’s column.
“Recent family discussions have centred around getting a new puppy; we already have a 12-year-old labrador. This poses a question, following a comment made by a family friend. If we bring a puppy into the home, will the old dog feel she is being replaced? Our friend said they sense you have brought home a replacement. We certainly don’t want her to feel like that. We had never thought about it before but now the question has been raised, it has made us stop and think. Does the resident see the younger model entering the family home and feel their days are numbered?”
Introducing a new puppy to a long-established resident is a tricky business, and one that I wouldn’t have felt qualified to comment on a year ago. However, regular readers of Sporting Dog will know that a sprocker spaniel puppy called Emma joined the Tomlinson household this summer, posing the challenge of how to introduce her to Rowan, the 12-year-old resident springer. We bred Rowan, as we did her mother, and her mother before that, so after a long succession of mothers and daughters it was the first time we had had a new recruit for many years.
Initially, we favoured taking on a rescue dog. A quick search on the internet revealed a worryingly large number of gundogs looking for a new home, mostly through no fault of their own. We eventually decided
on a puppy as we were far from confident that Rowan would tolerate another adult moving into her territory. Since her mother died at the age of 15, two years ago, Rowan has been top dog.
I suspect our concerns were largely unfounded, as a succession of friends’ dogs stay with us during the year. As I write this there’s an elderly cavalier in temporary residence, the presence of which is totally ignored by Rowan. She does, in fact, ignore most of our canine visitors, with the notable exception of her two litter brothers, both of whom stay frequently. She tolerates visitors using her bed, usually because she is sleeping in theirs, and the only hard rule is that she won’t share her dinner bowl with anyone.
I asked various friends as to the best technique for introducing a puppy to an old dog. One idea I rather liked was hiding the puppy in the garden and letting the old dog discover it. The idea is that the old dog somehow feels responsible for the new puppy and tolerates it accordingly. I think that this is somewhat anthropomorphic, but it an idea with an appealing charm.
THE DIRECT APPROACH
Instead, we opted for a rather more direct approach. Rowan was taken with us when we went to collect the puppy, and the two spaniels had an hour’s journey in the car together on the way home. In fact, they didn’t actually travel together but the old dog would certainly have been aware of the puppy in the car. They had a more formal introduction in our kitchen, with Rowan giving us a look that assured us she was appalled that this small bundle of mischief was moving in.
For the next two or three days Rowan remained aloof, curling her lip if the puppy came too close, which of course she did. Then, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, Rowan accepted the newcomer, permitted her ears to be pulled and was quite happy to indulge in long and noisy rough-and-tumbles. Emma was clearly accepted as a member of the pack. Even more surprisingly, Rowan appeared protective of her new companion when they encountered other dogs on their first walks together.
Perhaps we were lucky but there’s no doubt now that the two are firm friends, with Emma happy to climb into bed with her godmother. Of course, Rowan wouldn’t dream of getting into bed with Emma, but we long ago noticed that daughters will happily climb into their mother’s bed but never the other way round. Only the dinner bowl rule remains: it is Rowan’s private property and never to be shared. They will, however, cheerfully lick a plate together if it is held for them.
Rowan has never been a jealous dog, which might explain why she has been happy to befriend Emma. If you know that your older dog is of a jealous disposition, then introducing a new puppy is likely to be a far harder and more stressful experience. Most adult dogs are mentally programmed never to hurt a puppy, mouthing them with their teeth but never actually biting. A jealous dog, on the other hand, might inflict serious damage on a puppy, something to be aware of. Meetings must be carefully chaperoned.
One modern essential when introducing a new puppy is a cage or crate to house it in. This is the puppy’s sanctuary, somewhere it feels 100% safe. Should the puppy pester the older dog persistently, then it can be shut away until it calms down. Similarly, the puppy can be fed in the cage without the risk of the older dog stealing its supper.
Lastly, dogs live for the present and don’t look into the future. I’m confident that Rowan doesn’t think that Emma is her replacement. If she did, then perhaps she wouldn’t have been so welcoming.