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Tips for Adding a New Dog to Your Pack

How to guide your older dog through big life changes that shake-up their world.

Tips for Adding a New Dog to Your Pack

Help your older dog cope with a new puppy by always putting the older dog first. Feed first, train first, etc. (Photo By: Jerry Imprevento)

What can happen when the resident dog perceives competition for space, resources, general security? Most often, this involves a new pup brought into the mix. It could also be a new child that demands the attention the dog used to get. Or it might be a new partner enters the scene when your always-there hunting buddy has to share a spot on the sofa, or even lost his place there as well.

It need not be just a change involving a new dog or person who is competing for your time and attention. Changing locations — resulting in a change in your dog’s accommodations, a change in his schedule, or even a change as small as a home renovation can be a disruption to his wellbeing. What you need to remember is that many, maybe most dogs, do not handle change of any kind very well. For some, it might be a short period of adjustment, but for others the sky has fallen in. Dogs in general, prefer a schedule that remains the same, unchanging and predictable. Most thrive in status quo.  

But things do change. The dog does age and a replacement pup is an inevitable happening. Partners change; children are born or grow up, get a new schedule or leave. Changes can be sudden, large, or small, but they will happen. If you are thinking ahead, you will do what you can to prepare your dog for changes, and smooth the transitions. The question is, how do you do it?

Changing Routine  

One of the responsibilities of having a dog is anticipating things like a new dog entering the scene, either a puppy or an older dog, the arrival of a new little person, partner or relocation — any major change from what has been. You should prepare the dog by instituting small changes in "the routine" just about every day of his life, especially during his first year. You need to cultivate whatever innate adaptability your dog has just as you need to cultivate his desire to hunt or to please you. You need to keep altering the schedule, locations of things like the food bowl, training techniques, locations and direction of walks, experiences with new places, new dogs, new people, and new sounds. Keep the changes small; avoid things that your dog won’t be able to handle. Start with minuscule changes and work up to full intensity very gradually. You need to provide all possible experiences for him. Your dog needs to learn that slight disruptions won’t hurt and are perfectly acceptable. Too large of a change will set you and your dog back and can even leave a permanent security wound that might never heal.

Puppy Preparation

But what if you suddenly realize your dog is six or seven years old and you need to start cultivating a replacement for when the inevitable happens? How do you help your old dog to cope with a new pup or older dog? To ensure your older dog keeps his preferred status position, always make him first. Feed him first, if the dogs sleep in their crates, older dog is closest to you, pet him first; if training, have the older dog go through the exercise first. If dogs are play-fighting and the young dog yelps, don’t scold the older dog, he knows what it means and will stop. The pup will not get hurt. Be sure to give the older dog preferential attention in everything until the older dog is voluntarily accepting the younger dog’s antics. Let the older dog be the finishing school teacher for the youngster, transferring his social learning with his littermates into his sub adult life. How long this takes is a function of the older dog’s temperament. The level of the older dog’s possessiveness and defensiveness will be the determining factors in how difficult it is for the older resident to accept the new dog. You need to recognize these factors and play to it. Usually a same sex adult dog is much more difficult to integrate into your dog’s life.

older dog playing with young puppy
Allow your older dog to teach your young puppy how to be a dog. (Photo By: Jerry Imprevento)

Bringin’ Home the Baby

The intrusion of a little person into the resident dog’s world can be more problematic because the sources of contention are more subtle, at least until the little person begins to menacingly motor around on the floor in the dog’s realm. To smooth things, your dog can be introduced early to the baby things preceding the arrival. The dog can be introduced to things like a crib parked in the bedroom near where he usually sleeps, and to toys, he will need to be taught “leave it.” He will need to learn to dodge a small three-wheeler rolled toward him. Later it will be powered by a noisy, destructive peddling menace bearing down on him. Sounds and activities will change and disrupt the dog’s routine and cannot be prepared for specifically, but if exposed to small changes and experiences, these will be handled appropriately by the older dog.

Again, the dog’s temperament will dictate what measures might be necessary to protect the child. Making the dog a part of all the activities and rewarding his good behavior will go a long way toward avoiding the bad stuff that might happen including the threat to the dog when mobility on the floor kicks in and things get beyond parental control. Primarily the interaction between baby and dog is a management problem that falls on the parents. Management goes both ways, anticipating what the child will do and what the dog will do in any given situation then heading off as many sources of contention as possible and managing them to the best advantage.

older silver Labrador retriever with young english setter puppy
The number one key to success is helping your older dog adapt to changing conditions over time. (Photo By: Kali Parmley)

Intrusion of a new adult person into an established dog’s life is perhaps the easiest to manage because communication is more possible than with a baby. The most important thing to do here is to have the new person bond with the dog so as to become a new additional preferred person. If the new partner doesn’t want to get a good relationship with the dog, better perhaps to re-evaluate your choices, and assess priorities.  

For any change to your dog’s life that you can anticipate, and therefore can prepare for, you need to think like your dog, know and understand his temperament, and gently as you can, lead him through the process of coping with any change from what has been. Dogs do best in absolute stability, when things are predictable, unchanging and he knows what his job is and is willingly doing it, anxiety free. But changes do happen, and it is essential that the dog is prepared to the best extent possible and everything made as gradual as possible to minimize the disruption and to help him adapt. Post-traumatic stress syndrome is as real in a dog as it is in any of us. We really don’t need it in our beloved gun dogs.

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