Learn what to do if you bring home a new puppy and it turns out your first dog doesn’t want him around. Can you fix their relationship? And if so, how?
This week, a question from my Facebook page. Linda and her husband...
“…are having a terrible time with our new Morkie puppy and our two adult dogs (Cavachon and Yorkie). The older ones are being aggressive and are constantly growling at the new pup. We love our two older dogs but have already fallen in love with the little guy. It has been a week now and there is no improvement in their reaction to him. What can we do?”
As a colleague of mine likes to say, the starting point in changing a problem behavior is to “stop the accident.” That is, stop the problem behavior from continuing. The longer it goes on, the more entrenched it will be, and the harder it will be to change.
In this episode, I'll talk about the steps you should take, in order.
- Monitor the problem to see if it can be fixed with training
- Enlist a professional
- If all else fails, consider rehoming
How Bad Is the Aggression?
Linda’s post didn’t give much detail about the older dogs’ behavior – she says they’re “aggressive” and “constantly growling,” but usually aggression is situational. For example, let’s say the puppy approaches the older dogs while they’re eating or resting, and that’s the only time they growl at him. When they’re out in the yard, all three dogs sniff around and roll in the grass, and sometimes the older dogs will play with the puppy. If the aggression is limited to certain situations like eating or resting, and otherwise the dogs get along, your first step is to put a physical barrier between the puppy and the older dogs at those problem times.
On the other hand, the situation could be much worse – let’s say one or both of the older dogs always stiffens up and starts growling the instant the puppy takes a step toward them. If that’s about the size of it, I want to see the dogs physically separated, period, while Linda and her husband decide on a course of action. That’s because, if the older dogs behave intolerantly toward the puppy at all times, it’s not just a question of the puppy learning dog social rules, such as “Don’t bother me during my nap, Puppy.” Instead, the puppy is getting the message that any attempt to interact with adult dogs gets an aggressive response. This is going to do his social development around dogs exactly no good. I would bet on more general behavioral damage, as well, because life as a target of frequent aggression is life under chronic stress.
Get Help to Teach Your Dogs to Get Along
Once you avoid more rehearsals of the aggression, you’re buying yourself and your dogs a breather. Take the opportunity to look for qualified in-person help, even if the aggression between the dogs isn’t constant or severe. To begin with, there’s the question of what your puppy is learning about other dogs. Now that he and your resident dogs have gotten off on the wrong foot, it may not be easy to reach a friendly, or at least accepting, equilibrium. Without careful intervention, matters may well get worse – as the puppy grows up, he may experiment with returning the older dogs’ aggression.
Repairing the situation takes some training and behavior-reading skills that most guardians don’t have and don’t need – but you do. All the dogs’ encounters from now on must be as pleasant and relaxed as you can make them. To ensure that, you need to plan and supervise; encounters ideally should end before any of the dogs shows signs of tension – that means you have to read their body language as minutely as any expert. And you’ll need to teach the dogs solid, reliable responses to certain cues. If you misjudge a situation, you may be able to break off conflict by giving the dogs a cue to leave each other alone, for example. And sometimes we can help dogs learn to spend time at ease in one another’s company by having them lie down on comfortable beds, at a distance from one another, and stay there. That takes training.
Besides developing a plan to repair the dogs’ relationship, and teaching you how to carry it out, a qualified behavior expert can evaluate the chances of success. How do the older dogs get along with each other? If they just about tolerate each other to begin with, religiously staying out of each other’s space, they’re living with considerable stress; the puppy’s arrival may have foregrounded problems that were already there. Do they get along with each other, but not with any other dogs? Do they enjoy the company of some dogs, at least if they’re introduced slowly? How well the older dogs get along with unfamiliar dogs in general can give us some idea of how easy or hard it’ll be to improve their relationship with the puppy.
Should You Rehome the Newcomer?
A few weeks ago, I did an article about rehoming dogs. Linda’s situation is one where rehoming the new puppy would probably be on my shortlist of recommendations. Remember, I haven’t seen the dogs myself and don’t have a detailed history of their behavior. But, as I’ve mentioned, I have real worries about the behavioral health of a puppy growing up with dogs who just plain don’t want him there. As for the two resident dogs, adjustment to life with a bouncy puppy may be too much to ask of them, especially if they are older and don’t have the greatest social skills.
The new puppy is a so-called “Morkie,” one of the “designer” mixed-breeds that are trendy these days. Pretty much universally, these puppies come from pet stores or are sold over the Internet, which means that returning them is not, and should not be, an option. (For more about designer mixes, check out this post.) However, a puppy who’s a mix of Yorkshire Terrier and Maltese is going to be fatally cute, besides which small dogs and young dogs are relatively easy to place. If Linda and her husband decide to go that route, some careful screening should enable them to find the puppy a home with humans as loving as they are, and where any dogs present will welcome a new friend. That could be the easiest and happiest ending for everybody.
To learn much more about teaching and living with your dog, check out my book, The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet. You can follow me on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and though I can’t reply individually, I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thanks for reading!