Posted: Mar 20 2009
By Judit Arroyo
Question: We want to adopt a two year old male dog. The problem is that we don’t know how our nine year old female dog will react to him. Where should they meet, and what can we do to help ensure they get along well? They are both sweet and kind dogs! - Sandy, via email
Answer: It’s understandable to be concerned when bringing a new dog into your household. When I first decided to get a puppy I wasn’t sure how our seven year old dog, Rocky, would react. Rocky was used to being the only dog in the family so bringing in a young pup would be a big change, and he would need to adjust. Today, Rocky is 15 years old and our then puppy, Puffy, just turned 8. Happily, both dogs are inseparable!
It’s important to note that Rocky and Puffy’s friendship did not happen over night. It took time for Rocky to accept another dog in the house, but with proper guidance and supervision, they are now able to live harmoniously. The first thing to take into consideration is the age difference. Your nine year old female won’t have the same energy as a two year old and this might make it difficult for her to keep up. An interesting anecdote in my own situation is that Puffy’s “puppy energy” seemed to revive Rocky much of the time (although not ALL the time!)
To help mitigate potential problems in your situation, I suggest using crates and baby gates to separate each dog. It is important that your older dog has a safe and quiet space she can retreat to for rest and relaxation. A young dog’s limitless energy can sometimes be too much for an older dog, and if she is not allowed a space to “get away” it may lead to friction.
As you know first impressions are important, therefore it is essential for you to create pleasant experience for the first introduction. Here are some guidelines to follow:
1. Have a neutral place as the meeting area.
It is beneficial for two unfamiliar dogs to meet in a neutral area such as a park or large field. I prefer tennis courts as they provide a large yet enclosed space for added safety.
2. Do not force dogs to interact, and always give them a “back door”.
Allow the dogs to investigate one another naturally and on their own terms. While it’s okay to encourage them with praise and happy talk, do not force them to interact. And, if one or both dogs wants to move away simply let them. A good idea is to drop their leashes (if the dogs are in an enclosed area) so that they don’t feel restrained or feel any pressure from you. If you’re in an open space have the dogs on a long line leash so that they have room to move around.
3. Be aware of body language.
It is important that you protect the safety of both dogs. The best way to do this is to be mindful of body language. This can help you predict if something negative is about to happen. Some warning signs include: face-to-face approach, freezing, raised hackles, growling, raised upper lip or a frozen tail.
4. Avoid treats and toys.
It is advisable to avoid giving treats or toys to either or both dogs during their first meeting. Because many dogs have resource guarding tendencies avoiding food and treats during the initial meeting is preferred. Ideally, you want to allow both dogs to get as comfortable with one another as possible before testing out things like giving treats, feeding rituals and toys. Once both dogs have met and are ready to go home make sure you have arranged should separate spaces for each dog. This includes things like: different food bowls, separate toys, beds and crates. This will reduce the possibility of either dog feeling as if they have to compete for resources.
When two kind and social dogs meet for the first time in a control setting, things typically go well. Ultimately, you have a better understanding of your older dog and should be able to predict her reaction, or at least intervene if things go poorly. While every dog is an individual and reacts differently; following these guidelines will increase the likelihood of creating a positive experience for both dogs.