Having more than one pet can be fun; but, it can also lead to stress. Many people consider their pets part of their family, so if two dogs are fighting or one dog is chasing the cat; it can be not only dangerous, but emotionally draining.
Many pet owners are injured by their pets when the owner tries to break up fights. If you are bringing a puppy into a home with existing pets; make sure you set everyone up for success.
First, whatever you do; please do not ever get rid of your old dog because you got a puppy or younger dog. Sadly, shelters are full of older pets whose owner traded them in for a younger model. There is absolutely nothing more heartbreaking than seeing an older family pet vainly searching for his family after being dropped off at a shelter. Let your older pet live out his or her golden years with you. That may mean delaying getting a puppy until your older dog has left the world.
You can however do a lot to ensure your pets love each other as much as you love them (well if not love each other at least tolerate — don’t we all have that relative we may tolerate more than love?).
My number one recommendation is to have multiple management plans in place before you bring a new pet home. Have a way to keep pets separated in the beginning. Make sure all of your pets have a way to take a break from a puppy. If the puppy is not interested in taking a break and it is obvious the other pets are getting stressed; have a fun place to put the puppy so he can play by himself for a bit and give the other pets (and you) a breather.
I get calls every week from clients desperate for help because an older pet is not tolerating the puppy, or the puppy is not leaving the older dog alone. Then there are the people who have cats that are being terrorized by the puppy (and even an occasional call from someone whose cat is going after the puppy). Often your best option will be a management tool; meaning you have a good way to safely separate everyone.
Falcon moved into a home with an older dog. Bandit is between 12 to 15 years old. No one is really sure how old he is. He is in great shape for his age; but he really just enjoys a nice nap on the couch. Then there is Harley, a 10-year-old chihuahua who has some social issues and Skywalker who is 2 years old. My roommate has cats. So, it’s a full house.
I asked my breeder, Susan Shelton, to expose Falcon to some cats at an early age (she does this anyway). She sent me some videos of Falcon interacting with her very dog-savvy cat. Falcon also met many adult dogs prior to 10 weeks.
Falcon has a tendency to annoy Bandit. I allow Bandit to growl and snap at Falcon within reason (and Bandit is very reasonable). Generally, Falcon will try jumping on Bandit a few times then get the hint that he should not do that. However, occasionally, Falcon decides to push the boundaries. I do not want Bandit to have to heavily correct Falcon and I don’t want Falcon to suddenly think adult dogs could be scary. If I decide Falcon is just not getting the hint and Bandit is becoming increasingly stressed; I stop the behavior. If Falcon isn’t interested in chewing or playing with a toy; then we get some high-value treats and he goes into his doggy playpen for a bit. He never gets in trouble; I just ask him to get a treat for going in the pen.
Harley is more problematic. Harley lacks social skills with both people and dogs. He is fine with me and my roommate, but he is not a fan of strangers. He is fine with dogs; but only to a certain point. Harley will initiate play, but if he gets bumped just a little hard or Falcon gets too close to something Harley values; then Harley turns into a demon chihuahua and he over corrects Falcon. I watch Falcon and Harley closely and generally won’t allow them to play for very long. Harley just doesn’t have good skills in terms of saying “no.”
I have the opposite problem with Skywalker. Skywalker thinks the puppy is his size and can keep up with him in play. Sky and Falcon are very good friends; but sometimes Sky plays too rough. I watch Falcon and if I seem him trying to get away from Sky; I stop their play. Skywalker is very easy to redirect with a toy or chew item. The other worry is that Sky could accidently hurt Falcon during this very important time when his leg are growing.
I also want to make sure Skywalker gets time with me that does not include the puppy. As I type this Falcon is in his playpen and Skywalker is asleep with his head on my foot.
I also sometimes let Skywalker and Falcon out in the yard while Harley and Bandit snooze on the couch.
For my cats, I have a lot of options for them to escape. Cats are height seeking, meaning they want to get up high if they are worried. I have a 6-foot-tall cat tree the cats can climb in my living room. There are also tables in the kitchen they can get on and they can all get up on a shelf or a dresser in my bedroom. So, no matter where they are in the house, they have a place they can use to get up above dogs.
Cats that are not worried about getting stuck without a hiding spot are less likely to run. Cats that don’t run are much less likely to attract the attention of a fun-loving puppy.
I never stop my cats from swatting at the puppy and Falcon is good at going “darn, that hurt, I should leave that alone.” Two of my cats however egg the dogs on by rubbing up against the dogs, then running. I will call Falcon back from them (he has an AMAZING recall). I do have one big rule though: Ginger is 16 years old and she is not at all interested in being bothered by a puppy. If I see Falcon nosing Ginger I immediately call him away and give him lots of praise and love when he leaves her alone. Falcon is learning that when I call him away from the cats; he gets a huge party. He likes this game.
Here are some other ideas that will help everyone live peacefully:
- Feed your dogs in separate locations. Many dogs don’t want to share their food and some will eat faster in order to stop another dog from getting their food. Other dogs eat fast so they can then get food from another bowl. I never allow my dogs to eat together.
- Watch your dogs when there are toys and treats around. Some dogs will play with each other and share a tug toy. Some dogs won’t share. Not sharing is NOT wrong. Not sharing is probably more correct as it would mean the dog in the wild would keep its valuable resource rather than sharing it. Don’t say “well each dog has the exact same thing.” Dogs don’t look at it like that. Some dogs want all of the things. Some dogs let other dogs take their stuff (but that doesn’t mean they aren’t stressed by that behavior). If your dogs can’t each settle with a resource then consider separating them while they get the high value resource.
- Have more than one water bowl so the dogs don’t have to push into each other if everyone is thirsty at the same time.
- Feed cats in a place the dogs can’t access.
- Do not leave dogs alone with cats or other dogs unless you are 100 percent confident those animals will not injure each other. I got a call from a very tearful mother who came home to find the family dog had killed the family rabbit while the everyone was gone. The dog and rabbit had lived together for six months. I just talked to another mother whose dog had killed the family cat after the dog and cat had lived together for two years. Falcon is never loose if no one is home. He is either in his crate or in his puppy play pen. Skywalker just started to stay loose in the house while I’m gone. I started just leaving him for a short time and now leave him for many hours.
- The hard part about doggy interactions is that dogs will growl, show teeth, maybe even snap and it is perfectly fine. Some owners step in too quickly and stop their dogs from finishing their sentences. It is a fine line to walk as you don’t want a discussion to turn into a fight; but having a discussion is perfectly acceptable between dogs.
For many situations; giving all of the pets in a home a break from each other from time to time will solve many social issues. However, there are dogs who have more issues with new dogs or puppies. Some dogs and cats have a harder time living peacefully together. If your pets injure each other; seek help from a qualified force-free trainer with behavior experience immediately.