Festina lente– “Make haste slowly.” I grew up hearing this saying, and I always apply it to dog introductions now. I would rather be safe than sorry, another useful motto I keep in mind when thinking about introducing dogs to one another. Years ago, before I was a dog trainer, I used to be in a hurry to introduce dogs, thinking that it would be nicer for everyone if they could just get to be friends, but now I take my time and let them gradually become acquainted.
Petra and Milo have always been good with other dogs, and especially with puppies, but both are older now, with Petra twelve and a half and Milo almost fourteen. When Ramble joined our family a couple of weeks ago, I knew that having his puppy energy in the house would be a change for my older dogs, and I wanted to give them time to adjust, and Ramble time to learn to respect them before I let them loose together.
Milo was the first to check out Ramble and his brother Simon when they were first here, sniffing around the expen they were in, while they sat quietly watching him– a good start, but that’s as far as it got with Milo for quite a while.
Petra, being a very sound-sensitive girl, didn’t like the rattling of the expen, and she stayed away with a worried expression on her face, so I let her keep her distance, knowing that she’d relax in her own time and would be happier meeting outside (always a better place to do actual face to face introductions without a gate or expen in between).
Once I started walking Ramble outside on a leash, Petra began coming near to sniff him and pretty soon was ready to start interacting with him a little bit at a time. After just a couple of days she was happily playing with him in the house and outside, having fun while also teaching him good puppy manners. Now she wants to be with him more often than not, and she’s been having fun teaching him to play tug and chase– her favorite games with puppies.
Milo, on the other hand, was not pleased to have a puppy bouncing around anywhere near him and stiffened visibly anytime Ramble approached him. I knew Milo would relax and accept Ramble eventually, so I wasn’t worried, but I knew he would need time if I wanted to get their relationship off to a good start. For that reason and out of respect for Milo’s age, I gave him all the time he wanted and didn’t rush things or push him to “make friends.”
I kept their contact limited to Milo running loose in the yard with Ramble on leash, so Milo could choose how much contact to have (I knew Milo would not be aggressive, so I was comfortable letting him decide how close to come). Milo pretty much ignored Ramble, and if Ramble tried to jump at Milo in his friendly eagerness to meet, I would gently block him.
In the house, I crated Milo in the kitchen with his nice, soft bed-on-a-heating-pad in a wire crate, so they could see each other and Ramble could play in the room but couldn’t get to Milo (Milo had already been sleeping on his bed in the crate, so he didn’t mind at all). Whenever Ramble would push up against the crate to get close to Milo, I would calmly body block him away– telling him in dog language that Milo belongs to me and that Ramble should leave him alone. That helped Milo trust that I would protect him from an overly enthusiastic puppy and Ramble learn to respect Milo’s space.
Over the period of a few days, Ramble paid less and less attention to Milo, and Milo’s body language became more relaxed and he started coming near for attention when I’d have Ramble on leash in the yard. By two days ago Ramble was leaving Milo alone in the yard and in his crate, so I stopped closing the crate when we were hanging out in the kitchen. And then this morning I looked over while eating breakfast and saw Milo out of his crate, lying contentedly beside Ramble! And a little later, when Ramble was sleeping beside my chair, Milo sat down with his back pressed up against Ramble’s soft, warm fur, the way he often used to press against Rowan’s soft, warm fur.
As always, I’m happy I kept it slow and safe. If I had rushed introductions there could possibly have been more tension that, in the end, would have taken longer to overcome. So when introducing a new dog or a visiting dog, Festina lente– make haste slowly.