ADDING TO THE PACK
with Lisa Peterson
Dear Lisa: We have a 22-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. We just adopted an intact 7-month-old Standard Poodle. We have had the puppy for four days now. At first everything was fine, but the past two days the “Berner” has been getting rough with the puppy when they play. We are afraid the puppy will get hurt. We scold the Berner to stop, but we don’t want him to think he is being punished and not loved since this new guy came on the scene. Do you think we should have the puppy neutered? Maybe this would solve the problem! — Playing “Ruff”
Dear Playing: All responsible dog owners should consider spaying or neutering their family pet if they do not intend to breed or show in conformation events. However, neutering the Poodle won’t curb the behavior of the Berner. But with two males in the house it would be a good idea to have them neutered before they become fully mature males.
What you are dealing with is a new member (the puppy) coming into the pack and upsetting the hierarchy of the house. Since the Berner was the first dog, he is simply displaying his dominance over the recent arrival, which is normal behavior. Because there is such a size and weight difference between the puppy and the adult, it would be wise to keep the two dogs separated for now and not let them play together until the Poodle grows up a bit.
The best way to approach your problem is to reinforce to the Berner that he is still the number one dog in the house. Feed him first, play with him more, and give him the attention he is seeking. But whatever you do, please don’t scold the Berner as that will tell him that you have selected the puppy as the new head hound.
If, for example, you are petting the puppy and the Berner comes along for some TLC, immediately turn your attentions to the Berner and ignore the puppy. This behavior on your part will go a long way to helping the Berner welcome the Poodle when you eventually put them together again.
As for keeping them apart, you might try an ex-pen to keep the puppy in temporarily. This would keep him safe from the big guy, yet they will grow accustom to each other while in the same room. Or keep both on a leash when playing and if things get too rough, remove the puppy by gently leading him away with his leash. Do not say anything to the Berner.
As the Poodle grows up in the coming weeks, you can let the two get acquainted off-leash, yet supervised. There may be little spats of growling or snarling to establish the pecking order in the home, but this is normal. Once that is done they should be best buds.