Originally posted May 2013
If I had a nickel for every time that someone said to me “Danish GutterHund, and you know they are like potato chips, you can’t just stop at one” I would be a moderately wealthy behaviour consultant. When I first got involved with dogs almost everyone I knew only had one dog, or maybe a dog and a cat and very few people had multi dog families. Now multiples seems to be more and more common. We had a family join us recently who have FIVE dogs and had just gotten another puppy. Increasingly I am being asked for help integrating the newest puppy into a multidog household.
I have lived with more than one dog for most of the past twenty years because when John and I moved in together, he had a dog and I had a dog. When his dog died, we had a brief period where we only had one dog, but we have almost always had two, and often had three or more dogs living full time with us. When we were raising service dog puppies, we integrated a new puppy into our home at least once a year, so we have this down to a bit of a science.
To start with decide on what the rules are. This is a good idea even if you are preparing for your first dog. It is much easier to teach your puppy what you want him to do if you have spent a little time ahead of time working out what the rules are going to be. In our house, dogs are not permitted on furniture, they are not permitted to rough house indoors, they are expected to sit before doors open and they can touch their toys but nothing else in our very messy house. When the resident animals know the rules, then it is much easier for the new animals to learn the rules.
From time to time I meet a very unruly adolescent dog and the owners tell me that in the past they had older resident dogs teach the youngster the ropes and they expected the current older dog to pass along the rules of the house to a puppy. While the adult dogs are helpful in modelling good behaviour in your home, they cannot be responsible for teaching the puppy what is expected. The older dogs and other pets don’t have thumbs and cannot open doors, operate the car or control any of the fun stuff that comes to young dogs who are well behaved.
When we bring a puppy home, he spends his first two months or until he outgrows our puppy crate in our kitchen. We live in a 160 year old farm house, and our kitchen has a door directly to the outside, making this a great place to toilet train puppies. We work strange hours and we tend to be up at about 8 in the morning and the first thing we do is clip a leash on the puppy and take him outside to toilet. Then he comes in and stays with us as we do our morning routines of making coffee, hitting the bathroom, cleaning teeth and so on. When we have the early morning basics underway, we hand feed the puppy a meal, usually as part of a training session. The adult dogs eat in their crates separately.
After the puppy eats his breakfast, we go outside again to toilet and sometimes if the weather is good to have some outdoor exploring and play time. We live rurally which means that there are lots and lots of outdoor rules to learn too. We want our pups to like our horses, but we don’t want them to harass the horses. We have electric fencing and eventually pups learn that they mustn’t touch that or they will get hurt. We also live near a busy highway so we have boundary training to do so that the dogs learn never to go across our driveway towards the unsafe road. If the weather doesn’t co operate we will play with the pups in the kitchen. We have a system that helps us to teach puppies what to do. We have a giant puppy toy box filled with everything a puppy could possibly want to play with. The pup is permitted free access to the toy box when he is loose. We also have dozens of shoes and boots and other household items that just hang out on the floor of our kitchen. When a puppy interacts with an item that is permitted he gets to keep playing. When he touches an item he may not we call out a warning signal; “that’s enough”. If the puppy stops immediately he gets to continue. If he continues to touch the forbidden items, then we say “too bad” and put him in his crate for a short period of time. After a few minutes, the puppy comes out and gets to try again..
|Baby D’fer explores the adult dog water bowl. It was raised because we had an elderly dog who had difficulty dropping his head to drink. Notice that I am right beside him actively supervising what he is doing. Supervision is key to success with young dogs.|
You may notice that so far I have not mentioned having the adult dogs interacting with the puppy. After the pup has had his morning play time, I allow the adult dogs up and the pup can see the adults through the crate and they can get to know him without being harassed by him. In our current home we have three adult dogs. One of our dogs, Eco is a great dog for interacting with puppies. He sets boundaries and shows them cool things. He gets time through the day to interact in a supervised way with the pups. Another of our dogs does not like puppies at all and he never gets to interact with them. Our third dog has not yet had a chance to help raise pups because she has so far been too young, but I am better that she will be terrific with them. Through the day, we provide opportunities for the puppy to interact with the adults in supervised structured ways, but we don’t just let the puppy loose with the adults without guidelines.
|D’fer meets Bear for the first time. Notice that John is right in the middle of things. Bear didn’t like puppies and John allowed him to escape through his legs and kept his hand on D’fer so that he could not follow. When an adult dog tries to avoid a puppy, we support the adult dog; the puppy can learn some manners before he is required to put up with D’fer loose in the house. D’fer and Bear went on to become fast friends as D’fer matured into adulthood.|
If you are integrating a puppy into a home with a cat, you can use the “That’s enough, too bad” system for harassing the cat or cats. I don’t expect puppies to cuddle up with cats until the are much older, so my early introductions are all about being polite to the cat and not playing roughly and setting a boundary and guidelines about what is and what is not acceptable behaviour related to the cat. You must decide ahead of time what you want this relationship to look like and if you have a cat who objects strongly to the dog, you must put the needs of the cat front and centre. Cats usually cope quite well if they have space to go and avoid the dog. Cat ladders, baby gates and hiding spots for the cat help a lot with the cat’s ability to relax in the company of the dog.
Most of my pups quickly learn that after breakfast is a time to chill out and relax, to settle and to rest. The busiest part of the day doesn’t come till late afternoon. After a morning nap, we repeat our early morning routine at noon, training through the puppy’s lunch. Adult dogs are in a different room when we train the puppy. With young pups, we teach a lot of self control activities such as the automatic leave it, waiting for the food bowl to drop and not touching it till told to, waiting at doors and not rushing through them, creating puppies who are mannerly and self controlled. Most of our pups also master sit, down, touch, come when called and go to mat by the time they are about sixteen weeks of age. After lunch, we may take the youngster out for a walk with one adult dog. We have found that walking a puppy in the company of multiple adult dogs is risky; adults get to running and racing and it would be a small thing for the puppy to be tripped on or trampled.
|Puppies need naps, just like children do! When you cannot supervise, or if your puppy is tired or if you are between play times, a crate is a perfect place for a puppy to rest.|
Our pups go back down for a nap in the afternoon and at about four pm we move our activities to the training hall. When we are at the training hall our pups are always crated in our kennel area where they can be safely contained and kept out of trouble. Our pups usually get into a class at least once a day, and this is where they have their third meal. By having our dogs at the training hall we are able to get them out to pee on a regular basis and they learn that there are behavioural expectations at work.
As our puppies learn the ropes, they get more time out of their crates and doing things and gradually they spend more time both in the house and outside with our adult dogs. When the pups go through periods of testing the boundaries, we back up and give them fewer freedoms. We really feel it is important not to allow our puppies out of our sight until they are about sixteen weeks of age. At that point they start getting more house time as long as they are not making mistakes such as getting on furniture, stealing items that don’t belong to them or playing roughly in the house. At about sixteen weeks, we start adding pups into play groups in our yard. We are fortunate to have a yard attached to our farm house and with multiple dogs we find that it is important to give each dog some time with us alone. This time each day means that the dogs are more bonded to us than to one another, which makes training easier. In our house, adolescent and adult dogs get time in the yard with one another, and time in the house with us, both alone and with the other dogs.
It is also important to keep in mind that your adult dogs didn’t sign up for a puppy and they will need time alone with you. This is where having a crate in the kitchen where we spend the bulk of our time can be really helpful. We can have the adult dogs out with us, and the puppy can learn about the adults in a safe way, but the adults don’t have to put up with a rude puppy who might interrupt time with me. Puppies in our house also learn that it is not always their turn and that if they start to fuss in their crates then everyone will just leave the kitchen.
|Bear was never impressed with having puppies around. Generally Crow (the German Shepherd) liked puppies, but he did not like change and the first few days home with a new pup were always difficult for him.|
Integrating a new puppy into your home is really a matter of deciding what you want and teaching your puppy the rules. Young pups need lots of supervision and when we cannot give it to them, using a crate is a great way to keep your puppy safe. Not everyone has the luxury that we do of being available for our pups all day long, so sometimes we have to work around other constraints. Many families arrange to come home at lunch time to let their puppies out and then leave again for the afternoon while their pups nap. Sometimes a good strategy is to get a dog walker who can come in and let the pup out while you are away. Whatever your schedule is, working around keeping everyone relaxed and happy depends on knowing what you want ahead of time, and then implementing a plan to meet the needs of your household.