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We're Living It! Managing A Household With A New Puppy And Established Adult Dogs

Bringing home a new puppy into a household with an already established adult dog can bring its own unique set of challenges, and requires lots of human management and intervention to ensure the relationship between them develops harmoniously. This can be especially exacerbated if the puppy and adult dog vary in size, breed types, and energy levels. Us Pawsitive Futures trainers Abbey Johnson and Maddie Speirs are living this reality in an established household with our dogs right now!

Maddie’s puppy Gumbo is now 10 weeks old, living with us for a little while, and will grow to be much larger than my Chihuahua, Pocket. He has started to learn how to play rougher than he did when he was 8-9 weeks, and play is getting too rough for the adult Chihuahua's preferences. We need to establish that her presence isn't always an adrenaline-filled experience of play and roughhousing, especially since his advances are becoming more unwelcome to the small dog as he grows bigger. He needs to be taught how to engage in other behavior while she is present.

How are we establishing this? A few of different dynamic ways:


1. Established "safe zones" for the adult dogs that the puppy doesn't have access to. At the moment in our household, this looks like the small dogs being allowed on the couch, and the puppy is not. This means that if they choose to get up on the couch, they are "off limits" to the puppy and can still hang out in the room with us while understanding they can opt out of interactions with him without escalating to needing to give him harsh corrections that may damage their relationship. If he goes to attempt to bother them when on the couch, we interrupt him and redirect him to an alternative, appropriate behavior. They also have safe comfortable resting places in a bedroom that the puppy is also not allowed in, with dog beds and enrichment items available to them so if they seem to be getting overwhelmed, they can be separated from the puppy entirely. In other households, barriers like baby gates, ex pen fencing, and tethering dogs on leash to divide the home up and give each dog their own space while coexisting together may be a part of your individual "puzzle" to create peace for your adult dog as well. Ensuring your adult dog has a space to escape to ensure the puppy doesn't get as many opportunities to "bother" them when they want to be left alone is key for managing relationships and stress levels.

2. All interactions are supervised and set up for success. Any time the dogs are together without a barrier in the house, interacting, or are out and about together, someone is keeping active eyes on them. This means we're not watching TV, cooking, looking at our phones, etc. Active supervision means closely monitoring the interaction without other distractions pulling attention away from at least 1 adult human in the social situation. This way, we're able to intervene before any inappropriate behavior escalates and are able to watch for low-level signs of stress or problematic interaction. We also ensure to get the puppy involved in activities with the adult dogs that don’t require nose-to-nose play and allow for them to engage in exploration-based behavior together to let off some social pressure for the adults. For us, this looks like finding low-trafficked areas (for puppy vaccination purposes) to walk the dogs together in an interesting environment where there is lots to sniff and explore beyond directly needing to interact.


3. Alternative skills are taught to help make management easier as they navigate their developing relationship. The two skills we've been working on heavily are positive interrupters and settling. Positive interrupters are a crucial foundational skill for all dogs in the household to learn to break up escalating behavior, reinforce your dogs for disengaging, and give yourself an opportunity to redirect them onto a different activity. Tutorial here:

As for settling, this is a great way to help reinforce an incompatible alternative behavior when the puppy finds the presence of the adult dog highly stimulating and an indicator to go and try to initiate play (even when the adult is not welcoming such interaction). Cultivating peaceful coexistence is vital to a healthy dynamic between dogs living in the same house! The video below demonstrates a training session where both dogs are working on settling around each other, and the puppy is getting practice staying calm and still while the adult dog moves around (best practiced when you have 2 people, 1 to handle or train each dog). In order to recreate this training setup, you will first need a foundational skill of teaching your puppy to settle without the other dog present first:


4. Giving the adult dog their own, one-on-one time away from the puppy. Bringing home a new puppy means your adult dogs may temporarily take a "backseat" when it comes to time spent on them individually. This is normal and okay, as a puppy has more attention, training, and care needs than the adult and it's important you spend lots of time helping cultivate them into the dog you want them to grow up to be. However, bringing home a new puppy can be a really drastic shift in the established dog's routine, lifestyle, and time spent with you that they're accustomed to. This can lead to overall increased levels of stress for your adult dog, so it's really important that you still intentionally carve out time in your schedule to spend on allowing your adult dogs to decompress away from the puppy. This both benefits their mental health and overall attitude towards the puppy in the long term. We make sure all adult dogs in the household spend daily time away from the puppy to rest, and also that they get opportunities multiple times per week to go out and do things they enjoy while the puppy stays home. This may look like going for their own individual walks, going to explore a new Sniffspot, participating in training activities or sports they enjoy, etc. When put away around the house each day for their own alone time, they're also provided with a self-soothing enrichment item to unwind with like an edible chew (bully stick, tendon chews, yak chews, etc), or a stuffable item like a stuffed frozen Kong, Toppl, or lick mat.


An additional, vital tip: It's better to intervene and manage your dog and puppy's relationship than to leave them to their own devices to "work things out" when you see signs of trouble. While in some cases, dogs do manage to establish communication and boundaries with each other without any issues, more often than not we run the risk of the dogs developing negative associations with each other, their relationship deteriorating, and increasing overall levels of stress for the adult dog and puppy alike. It's not the job of your adult dog to "raise" or babysit the puppy. If you see behavior that looks like pestering or annoyance to the adult dog, intervene on their behalf (with the above mentioned positive interrupter) before they have to escalate to growls, snaps, bites, etc. It's still a good learning moment for the puppy to learn that play will end if they escalate to a certain inappropriate level, and the adult dog isn't getting so many chances to develop negative associations and an unhealthy dynamic between them as they grow.

Managing households with established dogs and a new puppy is not easy! Give yourself a little bit of grace during this time and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you are seeing complications with incorporating your new family member into a house of established pets. We are happy to help you develop a holistic plan to manage your household, train essential skills with positive reinforcement-based training, and give you dynamic suggestions that will help make your individual circumstances a bit easier to navigate. Reach out today to book a consultation or a training session!


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