How to Introduce a Puppy to Your Older Dog

Should you get a puppy if you have an older dog? What's the right way to introduce the pair? 

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #110
The Quick And Dirty

Before you buy a puppy, you should consider the following about your current dog:

  1. If your older dog has a chronic health condition or has lost much of her hearing or sight, puppy energy may be too much for her
  2. If your older dog doesn't get along with other dogs, they probably won't get along with a new puppy. And, if a puppy wouldn't get along with your older dog, then neither of their qualities of life will increase
  3. Make sure your new puppy doesn't wear out your older dog — it's not your older dog's job to babysit! Your older dog might need breaks from your new puppy, which should be integrated into your training methods

Your pup is middle-aged, or older. She’s not as energetic as she used to be. The idea that one day your household may be dogless makes you cringe. And maybe a puppy would liven your own dog up. The local shelter has a litter of super-cute puppies. Should you bring one home?

As usual, the answer is “It depends.” Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself before bringing home baby.

Question #1 - Is your older dog healthy?

My old lady Izzy adored puppies, but in her arthritic last few years she really did not need one bouncing off her hips. If your older dog has a chronic health condition or has lost much of her hearing or sight, puppy energy may be too much for her. Talk to your vet if you have doubts.

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Question #2 - Does your older dog enjoy other dogs?

If your older dog has plenty of canine friends, it’s an easy call, especially if those friends include any pups who happen to appear. If she’s not the life of the dog party but she exchanges polite greetings with most dogs and has a few friends she plays with, ditto. But plenty of dogs are indifferent to other dogs, or afraid of them, or quick to get into fights. These dogs will not magically fall for a new puppy roommate.

Do Dogs Need to Play With Other Dogs?

And in turn, they may not be so good for a puppy. Very young puppies seem to have a “license” with most adult dogs, who’ll put up with in-your-face, sometimes annoying behavior that they wouldn’t tolerate from an adolescent or grown dog. Now, even the most patient adult dog may sometimes get fed up – you can expect an occasional lip curl, growl, or snap. It’s normal. What isn’t so great for a puppy is life with an adult dog who barely tolerates him, or who routinely aggresses against him. Dogs are social animals. To live with someone hostile to them produces chronic stress, which can alter the brain permanently and have long-term negative effects on their behavior. 

Question #3 – Will a puppy affect your older dog’s quality of life?

By the way, before you decide that the villain is the older dog who dislikes puppies, remind yourself that she was there first. Life with a puppy wouldn’t be any more fun for her than life with her would be fun for the puppy. Of course, if you have a large house, plenty of open space for exercise, and terrific dog-management skills, you can raise a puppy even if your older dog isn’t a fan. And it’s okay to adopt a puppy for your own sake. Just make sure that the pup’s presence doesn’t diminish your older dog’s quality of life.

Question #4 - Will the puppy wear out the older dog?

So – your dog is basically healthy and loves other dogs, especially puppies; you bring her along to the shelter for introductions, which go swimmingly; your adoption application has been approved, so you bring your new puppy home. Welcome to your new career as playground supervisor. Puppies have a lot more energy than middle-aged and older dogs do If you haven’t had a puppy in a while, it’s easy to forget just how rowdy they can be. Your puppy may well liven up your older dog's life, but don’t let him wear her out.

Make sure your puppy has plenty of outlets for his energy that don’t involve pestering your older dog.

Schedule playtime and fun training time just for him and you. Take him to a well-run puppy play group, or a reward-based puppy manners class that includes play breaks. Better yet, do both! Provide him with satisfying chew toys so he has something to exercise his jaws on besides Dogalini’s ears and your hands. And a housetraining side note: Watch your puppy like a hawk when he and your older dog play together. Vigorous play stimulates poop and pee.

How to Tell When Your Dog Is Stressed

Question # 5 – What are your older dog’s signals that she needs a break?

Make sure your older dog gets a break from the puppy when she needs one. Although the occasional lip curl or snap may be normal, better things shouldn’t get that far. If your older dog is looking away from the pup, licking her lips, or moving to another part of the room, she’s signaling that she needs some time away. Give your puppy a toilet break and then put him down for a nap in his crate or pen so there’s a physical barrier between him and the older dog.

This is a kindness to your dog, and it’s also behaviorally wise. Some exceptionally persistent puppies won’t leave an older dog alone, and ignore her look-aways and lip-licks. It’s not the end of the world if the older dog blows her stack a couple of times and the puppy winds up on his back screaming but unhurt. But I never like to see dogs or puppies of any age repeatedly practicing either end of an aggressive display. It’s just not a social habit you want to develop. On the other hand, if your dog is super-patient, the lesson for the puppy is that other dogs’ “Please stop now” signals can be ignored. In human terms, he’s learning to act like a bully.

Popular (but Harmful!) Myths About Dogs

Bottom Line - Puppies and older dogs can thrive together

With a little management—okay, a lot of management, because, hey, puppy—a sweet young thing and a sweet old thing can thrive together. Just bear in mind that you, the brainy human, need to play emcee.

About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).