Puppies Playing with Adult Dogs
If you're thinking of adding a new pup to your home when you already have an adult dog, or if you're currently dealing with this dynamic, I'd like to share some advice to make this a safe and positive experience.
Let's begin with size difference, where pup is considerably smaller than adult. If the adult dog has a calm play style, and/or if he's consistently careful and gentle with his body movements, playful interactions should be fine, though you should always supervise. In the photo above, a Border Collie is intentionally making himself small when playing with an 8-week old Miniature Pinscher.
In this video, the bigger dog, Roo, plays so nicely with four much smaller dogs. (It makes me think of Gulliver and the Lilliputians!) She uses various body signals to both invite and temporarily stop play, and the other dogs respect those signals. Play breaks are so important for controlling arousal levels, and she does it like a champ.
If the adult dog is bigger and has a boisterous play style, the puppy may be thrilled to have a playful companion but oblivious to the potential for injury. Imagine a feisty paw-swipe by a big dog on the back of a tiny puppy, or the big dog barreling across the yard to knock the pup over -- that's an injury waiting to happen. In this situation, active management and direction are required from the pet parent to be sure play remains safe.
Regardless of size, what about an adult dog who appears to be saying, "Why was I not consulted before this infernal land shark joined our household?" Plenty of adult dogs have no interest in the sometimes irritating antics and sharp teeth of a playful pup, and they shouldn't be forced to endure that in misery, or have to hide in another part of the house. Instead, the pup needs other outlets to meet his needs for aerobic exercise and mental enrichment. And when the two dogs are together, the pup is managed and actively rewarded for settling nicely in the presence of the adult dog. Likewise, the adult should be rewarded so he learns nice things happen in the presence of the pup. Given some breathing room to adapt to the new addition, the adult may even deign to play with him down the road.
In another scenario, a new pup may arrive and be a bit cautious or fearful of the resident dog at first. In this case, managing their interactions so they are a consistently positive and rewarding experience for the pup is critical.
Let's return to the scenario of safe and playful bliss between pup and adult. Should they be permitted to interact unsupervised? I'd say, no. Arousal levels can rise, and dogs can get cranky or snappy after a while, especially when they've not yet learned how to take regular breaks during play. We don't want them rehearsing that overly aroused behavior. Instead, we have a wonderful opportunity to help both dogs learn how to toggle between excitement and calm behavior, so they can learn to self-regulate. We do this by positively interrupting the play, separating them for a bit of settled time and simple obedience practice (with rewards), then releasing them to go play again. This is done regularly during a longer segment of playtime.
One final thought: if you bring a new pup into your home, where another socially appropriate and receptive adult dog already lives, the pup is naturally going to bond very strongly with the adult dog. So although it may be tempting to leave most babysitting duties to the adult dog, I think it's really important for the pup to hang out with, play with, and train with the pet parents on a regular basis each day. In this way, the pup learns to focus on you, have fun with you, and bond with you. It's also important for the pup to learn how to spend time separated from the adult dog so he doesn't panic when his buddy isn't available to him on occasion.
If we put in the effort upfront to help create consistently positive and safe interactions, we'll reap the benefits of a happy relationship for the life of the dogs.
Virginia Dare is a certified dog trainer & behavior counselor with decades of experience. Her business offers live video consultations anywhere in the US for training and behavior help, along with pre- and post-arrival counseling for new puppy parents.
She also provides in-home, private lessons and behavior consultations in the northern areas of Fairfield and Westchester counties, western New Haven county, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties.
Please visit www.NorthStarCanines.com/services to learn more, or contact me at 804.784.0120