Gradual introduction of new pet is best

How do you introduce a new pet to animals already in the home? This question came recently from a reader named Bev, who said she was bringing a Maltese into her home, where she already has a 6-year-old German shepherd named Luke. Luke is neutered and always got along well with Bev's other dog, which died two years ago.

In addition to the general introduction, Bev will need to take into account the physical size and strength differences between her two dogs, and not just while the Maltese is a puppy.

When introducing a new puppy into my household, I tend to go slowly. Since the ultimate goal is to have all of my dogs get along well long-term, I want to make sure I foster good relationships from the beginning. I always introduce a new puppy to the pack with a barrier between them — a baby gate, a screen door, an exercise pen, etc.

Rather than orchestrate an up-close introduction, I simply allow the puppy to be loose in the contained area and allow the adult dogs free access to the rest of the house. This way, they can explore and get to know one another in their own way.

Perhaps the puppy isn't confident enough initially to get up close to the barrier with the adult dogs right on the other side. The puppy might feel more comfortable watching the other dogs from a distance at first. Plus, introducing the dogs in this manner allows each to become familiar with the others — how they smell, how they move, what they sound like — before any direct contact.

Once all dogs have grown accustomed to one another's presence — and this may take a few days or weeks — I begin to take the pup out of the containment area and allow, with plenty of supervision, some direct contact with the adult dogs.

If the adult dogs have become used to the new puppy behind the barrier, then direct contact should result only in some initial curiosity before the dogs resume regular activities.

My goal with each new puppy is to get a strong bond developed between us before the pup has much access to the other dogs. This means that interaction with the adult dogs is limited. Especially with the size difference between a Maltese puppy and a German shepherd, even gentle play could accidentally result in injury.

And I wouldn't want the puppy to be disciplined by the older dog, for the same reason.

If, for example, the Maltese saunters up to Luke while he is eating and tries to steal a morsel from the food bowl, Luke may respond with a gentle scolding — a hard eye stare or a low growl, which should warn off the puppy, or he may choose to snap at her instead, which could result in an injury.

Initially, activities for each of these dogs will be different.

A puppy requires a lot of supervision and training in order to grow into a well-behaved adult, but Luke still needs attention as well.

Bev should treat the dogs as individuals and not set them up to compete with each other for her attention.

They will need to be walked and exercised separately, for example — the puppy will need to learn to walk on a leash, while Luke will require a longer and faster walk.

While it is certainly possible for Luke and the Maltese to eventually have total access to each other, and even play well together, this should happen gradually.

Many a small dog will run circles around a larger dog during play, and large dogs often play quite gently with their smaller friends, but I'd still recommend lots of supervision until the puppy is older, larger and less fragile.