Canine Behavior/How Long?
Hi again Jody, you recently answered a question for me and it really helped. I told you I had a 4yr old toy male poodle, and recently brought home an 8wk old chihuahua\dachshund mix female. My resident dog is avoiding walking on the floor, barely coming when his name is called and wants basically nothing to do with the puppy. I'm fearing I may have to find her a new home if he continues to act like this. How long does it normally take for a dog and puppy to adjust to each other? I brought her home almost 2wks ago. I'm not expecting a miracle, but this is creating a lot of stress. Thank you in advance!!
Thank you for the followup question.
So... it can take anywhere from a few minutes to several months for a resident dog to feel comfortable with a new arrival. It depends on the individual dog, how they feel about other dogs in general, how this one feels about puppies in particular and how much space is available between the two dogs at any given time.
Is he more comfortable with the puppy when they're outside in the yard - where there's generally more room to move away if he feels he needs distance? If so, then for a few weeks, I'd have all their interactions be outside, and confine one or the other while inside.
When I had a 10-year-old female and brought in a 5-week old puppy, the only interaction they had for the first few weeks was outside in the yard. Otherwise, the puppy was in his playpen while the resident dog was free to move about, or the puppy was in my lap while the resident dog was free to move around, or the resident dog was confined to another space behind a baby gate so she could watch while the puppy had some play time. I also spent time in the playpen with the puppy to play with him and cuddle while the older dog had free movement in the house.
It required very heavy supervision for the first few months before I was confident that they were comfortable enough to be unattended together for any length of time. And I did question several times over that first couple months whether or not this was a good fit and if it would work or not. I went back and forth at least 3 times that I would have to find the puppy a new home, and 2 different vets even suggested it because my older dog was bullying the puppy (60 lbs vs. 5 lbs at the time!). I finally sought assistance from a veterinary behaviorist to help me work it out for my dogs.
In my case, my older dog had been a social butterfly when she was younger. She loved to meet and play with other dogs. She had a dog friend who was a house guest for 4 months about 2 years before this puppy, and we puppy-sat someone else's puppy for a weekend about a year before this puppy joined our family. So I knew that she was capable of being comfortable with other dogs in her living space, and even young dogs. But at 10, she was starting to have senior issues, and so that's why I needed the assistance of a vet behaviorist.
In your dog's case, I don't know if he likes other dogs in general or how he feels about puppies or if he has any prior experience sharing his living space. So, I answered your original question just one week ago. I made several suggestions to help your resident dog learn to be more comfortable with the puppy including have the puppy confined to a playpen or crate in the room while you play with the older dog and having the puppy tethered (by harness) to furniture on one side of the room while you engage the older dog so he can choose to approach or walk away from the puppy. Of course, in each scenario, the puppy must have something to do (e.g.a stuffed Kong or Bully Stick or nap time) to occupy her so she's not just crying and getting frustrated in wanting to join in your fun with the older dog.
I'd give it at least another week to see if there's any relaxation on the part of your older dog. Go out of your way to provide him his very favorite dog-safe human food every time he's in the same space as the puppy. If necessary, start when they're in different rooms, but he can see her. Example: if you're playing with puppy and he's refusing to come into the room, toss him treats all the way to him so he can get them without having to come in the room. As he gets more excited about those treats, begin tossing them so they land just a few inches into the room and every third treat, toss behind him so he has to move AWAY from you/the puppy to get it, and then wait for him to decide if he wants to come closer again. When he comes a little closer, toss treats to him and then toss one behind him again... The idea is to give your older dog the choice as to whether or not he wants to approach the puppy and to create an association for him that this most wonderful bit of food happens only when the puppy is present.* Then he'll (eventually) start to seek out the puppy in hopes of getting his most favorite human food. And because she now predicts that manna from heaven, his emotional response to her will no longer be such trepidation, but rather anticipation of good things.
*That favorite treat should never happen without the puppy, so if you want to give him a bit, bring him to the room where the puppy is and then give him the treat. And don't forget to have a bite for the puppy too (size appropriate, of course, so we don't over feed either of them).
This is our ideal scenario. But, we need to keep in mind that not every dog will get along with every other dog. It is possible that your older dog has zero interest in puppies or other dogs or maybe just this puppy in particular. Sometimes personalities clash. Since I'm not there to observe, I can't suggest which might be the situation you're experiencing. I encourage you to trust your gut. If your older dog is just stressed and unable to relax and feel comfortable, and you give it a good solid effort to help him feel better, then I think you're right - the puppy will need to find a new home.
This is no way makes you a failure at pet parenting. Quite the opposite, in fact. Recognizing that this puppy will not be able to thrive in your home and she will be living in constant stress because the other dog is stressed (which makes you stressed), and also recognizing that your resident dog (your priority in this) is stressed and clearly not happy, and then taking steps to remedy that makes you a very good pet parent. Sometimes the best gift we can give a dog is to acknowledge that we cannot provide what that dog needs to be the best dog they can be, and then setting out to find them the right place to live so they can thrive.
And while I can't make the decision for you, I do need to get on my soap box for a moment since this is a public response: When we adopt a pet it is a commitment to do right by that animal and tend to that animal's needs to the best of our ability until that animal breathes its last. They are not throw-aways that can replaced at whim. Your resident dog was there first and the priority is to him and his comfort, so if this living arrangement isn't working, then it's the new dog that needs to find a new home. All to often, shelters are filled with senior dogs because the family adopted a puppy that the older dog didn't get along with and so the dog who had lived with that family for 6, 8, 10, 14 years gets dumped to make room for the new dog. I think this is the deepest betrayal anyone can do to their senior pets, who rely on their family to keep them safe and comfortable, when they are at their most in need and deserve to have a space that is theirs with the love of a family to their final days.
I understood from your question that if this isn't working out, your intention is to re-home the puppy and I agree - as hard as that may be, it is the right thing to do for a couple reasons. First, because your older dog was there first and should be the priority, but also because puppies get adopted. Quickly. Older dogs (over 2 years old) don't. Often they spend the rest of their days in a shelter, which is no place for a dog to live.
OK, stepping off the soap box now. Sorry to usurp your question for that, but it was relevant.
So, the short of it is this: go out of your way to make your dog comfortable. Encourage him to be in the same space. Take walks with both of them, play off leash in the back yard with both of them, give him the greatest food on earth (to his taste) only when the puppy is in the same space and see if his opinion changes. If he begins to relax a bit, even if he's not in love with her yet, you can continue to work at it. If his stress does not decrease at all, or if it increases over the next week or month, then you'll have to decide what is best for him - to keep trying to get him comfortable or to find the puppy a new home so your dog can relax. I'm sorry I don't have a definitive time line, but it's just so individual to each dog. If there's a local trainer/behavior consultant in your area that utilizes positive reinforcement and force free methods, you may wish to consult with them - have them come and meet the dogs and tell you if they're seeing red flags that indicate it's never going to be a good match, or guide you in person, tailored to your two dogs to help them develop at least some level of connection and bond.
Good luck. Please let me know how it turns out.
Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist