Introducing a Puppy and a Sound Sensitive Dog: Preparation Pays Off

Last month I posted to show how Marge Rogers introduced a friendly but possibly overenthusiastic dog to a very small puppy. But what if the challenge were a little different? What if your resident dog were both fearful of new dogs and sound sensitive?Young puppies are not exactly quiet!

My friend Kelly Viscosi has stepped forward to share how she prepared Dennis, her 9-year-old vizsla, to meet Saya, the new vizsla puppy. But actually, the story starts long before they meet, because Kelly did a ton of very clever preparation with Dennis.

Here are her words.

When we were expecting a puppy last summer, I asked the breeder to send me audio of the puppies crying and whining at their loudest (which happened to be right before breakfast time for them). She video taped it with her smart phone and sent it to me.

Dennis and stuffed dogFirst I classically conditioned Dennis to just the sound of the crying puppies. Once I was getting a good positive conditioned emotional response to this, then I set up a stuffed dog in a crate, placing a small, wireless speaker under the stuffed dog. At random times throughout the day, I would play the audio and treats would rain from the sky right in front of the crate with the stuffed puppy.

Dennis and stuffed dog 2Before long, Dennis would just choose to park himself in front of the crate, waiting for the “puppy” to cry. From here, I also began putting the stuffed puppy in an ex-pen (also with wireless speaker under stuffed puppy). We repeated the same thing: puppy cries, treats rain down. This worked very well to prepare Dennis, who is sound sensitive AND fearful of dogs outside the family.

When we brought the real puppy home a month later, he was very well prepared for all the extra noise his baby sister made. She would cry/bark, and it sounded just like the stuffed puppy had, because he had been listening to his sister and her littermates for several weeks now. I still tossed treats to Dennis every time his sister cried or whined, and he would park himself a few feet away from the ex-pen, waiting for her to cry so he could get treats. 

Yes, he gained some weight during this time, but it was well worth it because he had a positive association and we just reduced his calories a couple months later

Classical Conditioning Done Well

I just have to editorialize about this, to elaborate a bit on all the things that Kelly did right.

  • She got a recording of the exact sounds that Dennis would be exposed to.
  • She used classical conditioning: she played a few seconds of the crying, then rained the treats down. Notice that she did not just leave an audio recording going. She played a short segment and followed it with treats.
  • She played the noise (and followed it with treats) at random times throughout the day. She made it clear that the noise, and the noise alone, predicted the special treats.
  • She then made a further association: she made the sound source appear to be the stuffed dog. Even though Dennis doubtless knew that this was not a real dog, it gave a focal point for the sound and a visual that was similar to what he would later see with the real puppy.
  • She did the “noisy puppy” show in two different locations, the crate and the ex-pen.
  • She didn’t skimp on the quality of the the treats.

This work she did made a huge difference for Dennis. He could have been miserable from the noise and the new stranger. But with Kelly’s careful preparation, the arrival of the puppy meant enrichment opportunities for him. How cool is that?

Dennis and Saya

But Wait–There’s More!

Here’s some other great training Kelly did before the pup came. She set up a group mat exercise for Dennis, the future puppy, and Trixie, her other senior dog. She used the faithful stuffed dog as a stand-in for the puppy. Again, Dennis surely knew this was not a puppy. But the exercise helped create a routine. He learned that the object on the adjacent mat getting a treat predicted his getting a treat. Learning the routine was another thing that helped him adjust faster to the real dog when she came. (Kelly mentioned that Trixie, the black and tan senior dog, was gregarious and happy with other dogs, so this exercise was just a bonus for her.)


One of my favorite things in life is seeing the imaginative and thoughtful things that people all over the world do to make their dogs’ lives better. I hope Kelly’s work with Dennis plants some seeds of ideas out there for others who are preparing resident dogs for a newcomer.

Care to share? I bet there are some other great stories out there.

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All photos, the movie, and quotes from Kelly: Copyright Kelly Viscosi 2016

Eileen’s commentary: Copyright Eileen Anderson 2016

14 thoughts on “Introducing a Puppy and a Sound Sensitive Dog: Preparation Pays Off

  1. great, but I don’t think dogs aren’t aware that this is a toy, not a real dog.

    1. The cool thing is that it doesn’t matter, as long as it helps us build the habits the dogs is going to need. It provides a focal point whatever the dog perceives it as. And it has the bonus of evoking certain human behaviors that the dog will be seeing later, better than, say, a cardboard box sitting there.

  2. Pure genius! As to the comment that dogs know it’s not a “real” dog, many trainers start with a “fake” decoy dog when working with fearful/reactive dogs and it’s a very helpful first step. Just ask my Daisy. She’s the star of her reactivity class:-)

    1. I think the whole fake dog thing is fascinating. I have the same stuffed dog, but I use it for movies and such rather than interactions with the dogs. The first time my dogs saw it, they responded as they would to a real dog. After they got up close, they responded more as to a stuffed toy. But I have seen videos of dogs who certainly seemed to continue reacting to a real dog for quite a while after being in proximity to it.

  3. For kayaking on the lake, we introduced our puppy to the kayak inside first by letting her explore and climb on it, then with us sitting in it with her, then added us holding the paddles, then moving the paddles, then repeated the process in the back yard. We also put a small kiddie pool (empty) inside a larger kiddie pool that had some water in it to create an unstable surface for her, which she found quite amusing and fun. By the time we got her on the lake, the only problems she had were 1) she wanted to jump in the water and 2) she got upset whenever my husband and I got too far away from each other, so we made sure to stay close to keep her first experience as positive as possible.

  4. What a creative, well-thought-out plan to introduce a new puppy to a sensitive dog. Inspiring!

  5. This is remarkably similar to how I prepared Thorry, my weimaraner, for the arrival of a new dog into my home. Thorry is very reactive to a lot of other dogs; he has even put his teeth on another dog though no damage was done. Long before I chose the new dog I wanted to introduce, I started playing (at first so quietly that I could not hear it!) dog sounds on my computer. Even at that low level, Thorry became aroused. I treated him liberally, even through his arousal (e.g. I didn’t wait for “good” behavior). As he began to be calmer in response to the sounds, I gradually increased the volume. I simultaneously conditioned him to a stuffed dog lying on my lap. Thorry was “ready” before I found my new girl. When she came home, I brought the blanket she’d been lying on in the car into the house first for Thorry to sniff. Then, I muzzled him (after conditioning him also to wear a muzzle) and brought the new dog in. Within 5 minutes, the muzzle was off and they’ve been great friends ever since. I was feeling mighty proud of myself! Now I’m thinking of adding another…

    1. Melinda, that’s wonderful! I especially love it that you have shared an example of giving the treats even when the dog is unavoidably reacting, and it didn’t reinforce the reactive behavior. That’s great that the recorded dog sounds worked. Thanks for sharing and good luck with your next pup!

  6. This is fabulous! Before I brought our newest dog, Tucker, home (a very large, boisterous, and generally pretty restless labrador), I made a recording of his heavy breathing, pacing, and tags jingling. I did exactly the same as Kelly. I played the recording daily, and then fed Zoë, our resident dog, amazing treats. My colleague and friend, Kat Camplin also had the great idea to condition Zoe to the sound of a little cat bell too. Which I did for about two weeks. Then, when Tuck finally moved in for real, I hung the bell on his collar. This really helped curb Zoe’s tendency to knee-jerk startle every time she heard the new dog come in the dog door or appear suddenly around a corner. The bell would ring to give her warning, and because she already had a positive CER to that sound, she would look to me for treats. It made the whole transition much much easier.

    1. Great idea about the bell! Thanks for sharing. I love learning about what people do in this regard!

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