One of the questions I get asked a lot is about welcoming Fred to the family and making the process as smooth as possible. Naturally, every situation is unique. Not only because some families get a puppy, while others choose to adopt an older dog, but because every dog has a mind of his own. The way he sees you, his family, the house he lives in, the garden he made his own, and even the area you regularly walk around is very much his unique perception. It will always differ from some other dog’s view and most definitely – the way you believe he is thinking…
Fortunately, most cocker spaniels are pretty good when it comes to bonding with another dog provided they don’t have issues such as territorial aggression, food guarding, extreme anxiety, fear or depression. Male dogs that have been previously mated may also react to the new pup as an unwelcomed guest, especially when the little one hits the puberty. There are also dogs who simply love being the only pet and will never ever agree sharing you with anyone else.
When choosing a new puppy, try to find the one who is similar to your first dog in personality and behaviour. Of course, it would be very difficult to tell by looking at a 5-week old pup, but pretty easy – by meeting his parents and having a good chat with a breeder.
After you’ve made the decision, found the pup and started counting days before he comes to live with you, use the time wisely and get prepared.
First of all, make plans for the dog number one. His life will need to remain as normal as possible regardless of the new arrival. He will need his walks, so ideally there should be two people around – one to stay with the pup, the other one – take the older dog out. I had to do it on my own, which was not always straight forward.
On most days the boys were in the garden and house in the morning, but at lunch I would put Fred to bed and take Cooper out for a long walk. Luckily for us, Fred was a star from the beginning and didn’t mind being on his own at all. Most of the time he would snuggle in his favourite bed and happily nap until Coop was back, washed, dried and ready to play with him.
When Fred was finally allowed to go out, I had to take them together because Fred simply refused to go anywhere without Coop and Coop hated being on his own. The three of us would have a walk that was sufficient and safe for Fred and then me and Coop would pop out again for some quality time, just the two of us. Eventually, Fred’s walk time increased and we no longer had to worry about splitting them apart.
Beside the walks, we always made sure that Cooper had plenty of attention, special time and hugs. He’s also he first one to get the food, treats and grooming. I also ensured that he was not disturbed when having naps by putting his own bed in a “safe place”, setting him a comfy spot on the sofa and, of course, allowing him to continue sleeping next to me at night.
Secondly, the feeding time. Planning meal schedule was pretty easy. Fred arrived with his own, so I slowly shifted his and Coop’s meal times until they met in the middle. Both ate three times a day – Fred started with three full meals and Coop had a snack at lunch and two full meals at breakfast and dinner.
From day one we separated the pups by having a puppy playpen in the kitchen. This way Fred could eat his food without worrying about Cooper flying over in a manner of hungry hawk and Coop had a chance to enjoy his meals and not having a chubby little boy investigating his menu.
Upon arrival Fred also got his own puppy bed and had a puppy proofed room in case one of the dogs needed a break from the other. At night Fred slept in his own bed while Cooper could find peace in mine.
Fred also had his puppy area in the garden for the toilet. We bought an outdoor playpen to create a space big enough for the pup to walk around yet small enough for me to manage him. This allowed me to house train him quicker without distraction and also gave Coop some peace when popping out for his wee breaks. The outdoor playpen also served me well if I needed to keep Fred in a safe spot whilst dealing with Cooper, garden or cleaning leaves or mess.
Indoors we also added a few free-standing room dividers and puppy gates. Originally those were meant for Fred (both the safety and for teaching him to be on his own), but they worked brilliantly well for both dogs. I was relieved to discover the free standing option because I really, really did not want to drill into walls and doorways. The Trixie barrier was a very smart and sturdy option, though I would not leave the pup unsupervised with it because most will definitely chew the wood frame. For the puppy-safe options we invested into freestanding iron gates that looked smart and were definitely puppy-proofed.
About a week before Fred’s arrival I visited him to have plenty of cuddle time and have his scent all over my jumper, which I then passed to Coop for a thorough inspection.
On the day we brought Fred in his puppy carrier and let Cooper come over and sniff him properly before Fred was allowed on the floor. I know many people arrange for the dog number one to find the pup in a garden, but Fred was not vaccinated properly yet, and the February-induced weather outside really was frighteful, so I chose not to risk it.
For the next few days I was making sure Fred was settling in nicely, yet allowed Cooper to play by his own rules without forcing him into any joined puppy activities (unless he wanted to do so himself). In the beginning Coop found co-living arrangement a little challenging, but slowly realised that the pup is actually pretty fun to have around.
I made sure that I was always around when the two were playing and bonding because Fred was extremely small yet feisty while Coop could get carried away and start jumping about in a manner of an unrestrained hippo.
The boys had plenty of toys, too. Of course, Fred always thought that Coop’s selection was the best and worth stealing whenever possible, so in early days I’d let Coop pick a toy and retire with it to the safe spot, or play with it (and me) in the garden.
It was also extremely important not to force our understanding of dogs hierarchy onto the pups and let them figure it out on their own terms (but under careful supervision!). Many dogs take up to 6 months before they really get used to each other and another 6 months before they truly bond. In our case Fred slowly made his way into Cooper’s bed (and heart) and the two started napping next to each other and playing together within a few of weeks, though it really did take a few months for them to become best friends.
Right now they have their own language that allows them to wake me up in the morning (Coop usually sends Fred to sit on my face), get biscuits out of us or have an extra fun run around the garden (absolute madness but they love it so much!) Fred also looks after Coop in a car (Coop is a bit nervous when it comes to travelling) and Coop lets Fred play with most of his toys.
The secret communication between the two also worked wonders when I started training Fred. Coop could not help joining the sessions, so I ended up training them both at once. It helped Fred to pick things faster and Coop clearly loved being a special boy who already knew every trick! Just remember that the pup is like a toddler who is learning a language – it may take a while to learn the good stuff, but any bad words (or habits your first dog has!) will be picked up in no time!
I would absolutely lie if I said that every day was a happy day! Not at all. There were days when I was absolutely exhausted or upset and there were days when I was really worried for my pups because one thing or the other didn’t seem right. Fred became my new baby, so now I have two. I love them with all my heart and cannot imagine my life without the boys. Seeing two cocker spaniels happy and playing with each other is one of the most heart warming things in the world. They really are worth pretty much everything.
Photo credit: all photographs are taken by me