Veronica Mountain, CPDT-KA
A common situation dog owners find themselves in is where they have a senior dog and puppy living under the same roof. There is a big energy difference between 11 years old and 11 weeks old. Your older dog may already be experiencing age related aches and pains or maybe has rusty social skills. Your new bouncing, social, and active puppy has probably already attempted to make the senior dog play. So, how can you have such different dogs live peacefully?
The first step is a good management plan. The puppy should be restricted to a smaller area of the house and be working on their crate training. The senior dog should have a comfortable “safe zone” which is off-limits to the new pup. If your senior dog enjoys his crate or sleeping in your bedroom, those are great options. This means that your new puppy is not allowed to enter the senior’s crate or bedroom when occupied (the bedroom rule has some leniency later on). If your senior dog is used to being close to you or would be stressed by being gated in the bedroom, no problem! You can easily just manage where the puppy is by gates and crates. For example, if your senior dog has a favorite spot in the living room where he naps all day then your puppy would be in a crate, playpen or tethered in the living room. Your goal is for the puppy to not be able to approach the senior dog all the time. The senior needs a break.
The next step is to start making positive associations between the two. Whenever this new pup is around some good things are going to happen! The easiest way to make positive associations is with high value foods (think real meat and cheeses). Be generous with the food rewards! Whenever the new pup is in the same room as the senior dog, give him his favorite snack. A filled kong or "lickimat" can give you a bit of duration.
Now, your new pup needs to learn some manners! Just a couple behaviors will help. A solid down/stay and leave-it can help the two live together. Consider teaching the pup to hold a down/stay on a special mat. These behaviors will enable you to lift some of your management (baby gates, pup trailing leash, etc.) over time.
If your senior dog knows any behaviors, these will come in handy as well! If not, then it is never too late for your dog to learn something. Start with the basics: sit, down, leave-it, stay, etc. This is because another great way to make positive associations between the dogs is training together! At first, each dog will be on leash and have its own handler. They will be in the same room, but far apart. The distance will help the puppy focus on his handler instead of the other dog. With more training sessions, you can decrease the distance between the dogs while still getting focus! Soon they will be doing their training side by side and enjoying it the entire time.
If you have been seeing progress, but have also seen some growls from the senior along the way, then tighten up on management in situations where the growls occur. Common situations where you might see growling is if the puppy gets too close or tries to take the senior dog’s toy/food. Remember, never punish a dog for growling. Growling is great communication and a way to decrease conflict, not cause it.
You will also want to make sure your new puppy is getting a heaping helping of socialization. Socialization is exposing a young dog (age 3-18wks) to new things and pairing it with something exciting (tasty food). It is important that your puppy is getting access to a lot of other puppies. His play energy needs an outlet and he needs to learn how to play. He also needs to learn that not all dogs are growly.
Finally, if you are seeing more than indifference or growling from your senior dog the please contact a positive reinforcement trainer immediately!