Pet parents have told me that adopting another dog transforms their sedentary senior pooch into a spry pup! Yet others tell me they spend their days carefully supervising their dogs’ interactions to prevent brawls. The result of adding a furry family member depends on each dog’s personality—dogs who’ve been fearful of or aggressive toward other dogs their entire life are unlikely to soften with age. And a pet parent’s ability to provide patient, gradual introductions and timely, positive reinforcement also influence the outcome.
Adopting a new furry friend could be a good thing! IF your senior dog would be amenable, and IF a new addition would not bring undue stress—for your grey muzzle buddy OR for you. A boisterous puppy could be too much for an older dog who has osteoarthritis—or too much for you on top of managing your elderly dog’s ailments. So consider a potential new companion’s age, their breed and size, and their physical ability compatibility with your older dog. Perhaps a mellow, middle-aged dog would be a more suitable new companion for your senior pup. And some seniors may relish the status quo of their single-dog household—with no intrusions on their stable routine.
If you decide to introduce your senior dog to a new fur sibling, do it cautiously and gradually—over a period of several hours, days, or weeks. The time it takes depends on their personalities and behaviors, and on your ability to “read the room.”
Meeting a new dog may be intimidating, and dogs use specific social signals to communicate that they feel worried about a threat. Watch for signs that either dog feels stressed, afraid, or threatened. If one dog doesn’t respond appropriately to the other dog’s cues, or if you don’t give the dogs an opportunity at the right time to relax and reset (never force the interaction), the interaction can quickly escalate to aggression. Also keep in mind that senior dogs who have diminished vision or hearing may not recognize another dog’s signals, or a wobbly geriatric dog with painful joints may be more irritable and quicker to aggression.
A dog’s early distress signs can be challenging to pick up on, and every dog doesn’t always give each cue before showing outright aggression.
A dog’s signals that suggest, “I’m worried about this situation, please calm down”:
- yawns, licks nose, blinks;
- turns her head away from the perceived threat;
- turns his body away from the perceived threat, may also paw at the ground, raise a paw, or sit;
- paces, trembles, pants.
A dog’s signs that suggest, “I’m really uncomfortable in this situation and prefer that you leave”:
- walks away from the perceived threat;
- shakes off (like when her coat is wet);
- cautiously creep-walks, holds ears back;
- stands crouched with tail tucked;
- lies down with a leg up.
A dog’s signs that suggest, “Stop now and go away! I’m threatened and need to defend myself”:
- stiffens and stares;
Learn these cues! They come in handy for reading your dog’s body language in many other situations, such as greeting new visitors at home (especially young children), encountering others on a walk, playing at the dog park, and, of course—during a veterinary examination!
It’s best to start a dog meetup in a neutral location, rather than on your home turf. If all goes smoothly, you can repeat the introductions in your yard, and then inside your home. Both dogs should be leashed and gently controlled by adults during each introduction in each location. The humans involved need to stay positive and remain relaxed, because dogs not only read each others’ cues, they also watch our facial expressions and pick up on our emotional states.
When you introduce your senior dog to a new dog, use a step-by-step approach, and proceed to the next step only when both dogs are comfortable:
- visual contact only,
- walk together near each other but apart,
- polite sniffing only,
- then mellow play if appropriate.
Keep each interaction brief and progress at the dogs’ pace. Move on to the next step only after both dogs exhibit consistent, positive interactions. Reward calm and friendly interactions immediately with your enthusiastic praise, and when appropriate, give treats, too!
It’s unreasonable to expect that each dog will readily share resources within the home. Provide separate treasures for each dog—toys, treats, bowls and feeding locations, petting times, resting spots, beds, and sleeping locations. When each dog is comfortable, they may be able to eat meals near each other (for example, starting with the new dog being fed in a crate near the senior dog’s eating spot).
Gradually encourage your dogs to explore, relax, and play in close proximity. Always supervise the dogs’ meetings and activities, and provide separate areas for each dog to retreat to independently and allow opportunities to be apart. Use baby gates and crates or separate rooms to keep them safe when you’re not available to supervise.
To delve into more details on introducing your dog to a new friend, look into the resources I’ve listed below. And for many more practical tips on enhancing your older dog’s well-being, check out my new book and journal written especially for pet parents of geriatric dogs!
"it's Never Long Enough: A practicle guide to caring for your geriatric dog"
Geriatric Dog Health & Care Journal
References and recommended resources
Canine ladder of aggression. The Blue Dog. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.thebluedog.org/en/dog-behaviour/behaviour-problems/why-does-my-dog/ladder-of-aggression
American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Decoding Your Dog. Mariner Books; 2015.
Foote S. A new friend for Fido. September 27, 2015. Cattle Dog Publishing website. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/a-new-friend-for-fido/
Introducing a new dog to your current dog. The Ohio State University Indoor Pet Initiative website. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://indoorpet.osu.edu/dogs/new_additions_dogs/dog-dog-intro
Luck L. What to expect: Introducing a puppy to your adult dogs. August 1, 2013. Karen Pryor Clicker Training website. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.clickertraining.com/what-to-expect-introducing-a-puppy-to-your-adult-dogs