Becoming a big brother: Tips for introducing a new puppy to dogs at home
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
It's so exciting to bring home a new puppy for the first time - and even more so when you are adding another furry member to your family. We've noticed a different dynamic when introducing puppies to older vs. younger dogs and have compiled some tips below to help your new family unit blend smoothly.
Although Ernie is the "big brother" in our house today, he was first a "little brother" to our Shepherd/Lab mix Ripley. When we brought Ernie home at 8 weeks old, Ripley was a senior dog at 10 years old. Ripley was used to being around other dogs since we'd recently lost our Golden Retriever Ted (also 10 years old), but he and Ted had a relaxed, downright sedentary routine. The puppy energy that Ernie brought to our house kind of rocked Ripley's world! Although we were busy keeping tabs on Ernie, we made sure to carve out special time to give Ripley one-on-one attention. Ripley wasn't up for much walking as he got older, but he loved a solo car ride as a special big brother outing.
We wanted to be sure Ripley felt secure in his status as the older dog. One of the most important steps we took was to feed them separately. Ripley would eat his meals in the kitchen and Ernie would eat in the basement. This kept little Ernie focused on his meal (we used a slow feeder for him to make sure he did not eat too quickly!) and avoided any conflict that could have been caused by a curious puppy investigating the adult dog food. It also helped accommodate Ripley's worsening eyesight and leg strength - he was beginning to have a tough time on stairs, so feeding him on the main level of our house helped him stay comfortable.
Over time, Ernie and Ripley developed a wonderful friendship. Ripley taught Ernie about the joys of romping in snow, barking at the mailman, and catching popcorn - although he never really imparted his love of fetch and tennis balls.
Having welcomed Ernie into our home with a much older big brother, we weren't sure what to expect when it came time to bring home Bert. At the time, Ernie was a few days shy of his 2nd birthday - still practically a puppy himself! Bert's breeder suggested we bring Ernie along when we drove to pick up our new puppy, so Ernie got to go on a very long car ride and came home with a new companion. This neutral site meeting was a nice way for them to warm up to each other.
We repeated some of the strategies that we had found successful before to make sure that Ernie got some special attention even when the puppy was getting a lot of our time. Taking Ernie for one on one walks (easy since Bert couldn't go more than a couple of blocks!) and outings was a nice way to get some big boy time. When we would go to breweries or restaurants with both dogs, Ernie helped demonstrate to Bert how to act and what to do. We also took Bert through the same manners/obedience training classes that we had with Ernie, so they were used to the same signals and cues for behaviors.
When both Berners were little, we were careful to monitor their interactions to make sure 1) they weren't getting on the older dog's nerves and 2) the older dog was correcting them appropriately and playing nicely. If things started to get out of hand, we were always nearby to separate and intervene. Sometimes a time out is good for everyone!
Ernie and Bert are truly best buddies. We find them cuddling together often - although Bert is usually the initiator... Because Ernie is so much younger and more spry than his own big brother Ripley was, Ernie romps and plays with Bert as a peer. Getting a second dog while our first dog was still young has allowed these two to grow up together with similar energy levels and experiences.