Bringing a new dog into the family is an exciting time for the human “pack” members, but can create stress for the non-human pack—whether dog (both new dog and resident dog), cat, bird, or other small pet. Understanding how to manage pet introductions can help ensure a lifetime of harmony for everyone.
- Set reasonable goals when you bring a new dog into your pack. Knowing the dogs’ backgrounds as to how well they were socialized will help you manage what might happen. Remember and respect that your resident dog and/or cat may perceive the new dog to be encroaching on their established territory, which can be very stressful.
- Proceed slowly and calmly. Slow-paced introductions may help prevent any fear-based or aggressive reactions from developing. If bad behaviors are not reined in from the start, they can become a habit and be very hard to change in the future.
- Never leave new pets unattended, even if a pet is caged. When two pets meet, it is imperative you watch them at all times. The situation can change suddenly.
- If you have more than one resident dog, introduce each dog one at a time to the new dog to prevent them from overwhelming the newcomer.
- Stay in control of the introduction. If you are not sure how your pet will react, take the necessary precautions to keep him (and you) safe. Be patient and adaptable. You will need to teach your new dog to trust you while communicating with your resident pets that you will continue to keep them safe. Building good relationships takes time.
Dog to Dog
Before you bring the new dog (or puppy) home, bring home his scent so your resident pets can be introduced to his smell first. Rub the new dog with a cloth or use a blanket he has slept on and bring it into your home and place it where he will be sleeping.
In addition, be sure both your resident dog and the new dog are up to date on their vaccinations to avoid any risk of infection.
Introduce in a Neutral Location
Introduce the dogs in a neutral location that is unfamiliar to both dogs, such as a park. This prevents your resident dog from feeling his territory is being threatened.
Each dog should be on a loosely held six-foot leash and handled by a separate person. Try to stay relaxed so the dogs don’t pick up on any tension you might be feeling.
Don’t force an interaction between the dogs. Just walk near each other for a few minutes. One or both of the dogs may ignore each other, which is fine. Just stay upbeat and give the dogs time to get comfortable with the situation.
Now, allow the dogs to sniff each other for just a few seconds, with the handlers offering high-pitched, happy praise if there are positive signs from the dogs. Then lead the dogs away from each other. Do several more sets of brief introductions, which prevent the dogs from focusing too hard and escalating to an aggressive response. Refocus each dog’s attention with obedience commands or short walks.
There are two goals with this exercise:
- To allow the dogs to meet and be tolerant of one another without exhibiting any bad behavior.
- To keep the meetings pleasant and friendly so the dogs learn to associate good, relaxed things with being together
Watch the dogs’ body language. Things are going well and you can proceed to the next step if you see:
- Loose body movements and muscles
- Relaxed open mouths
- Play bows or another playful posturing
However, take caution if you see:
- Stiff, slow body movements
- Hair standing up on the back
- Tensed mouth or teeth-baring
- Prolonged staring
If you see any of these types of reactions, quickly lead the dogs away from each other and try to get them to focus on you. Then you can try a very brief introduction again, at a further distance. Only proceed to the next step when you see the dogs are tolerating each other.
Managing the New Dog in Your Home
Pick up all pet toys, food bowls, beds, and the like before you bring the new dog into the house to prevent any tiffs over prized possessions. You can return the resident dog’s toys to him in a few weeks, and give the new dogs some new toys of his own. In the meantime, give the dogs toys only when they are in separate areas or their crates.
When you bring the new dog home, put your current pets in a separate area of your home; then, walk the new dog around your home on a leash to show him where he will sleep and eat, where the other pets sleep and eat, etc.
Establish boundaries in your home by using baby gates and closing off rooms and areas while all the pets acclimate to the new situation. This way they can see and get used to one another. Allow the resident dog to roam the house while confining the new dog behind a barrier at first.
Keep the resident dog’s areas for sleeping and eating separate so he doesn’t feel his territory is being threatened. Feed the dogs in separate areas, and pick up their food bowls after feeding time is done. Keep the dogs confined in separate areas of your home any time you are away or can’t watch them.
While your dogs may enjoy each other as playmates, supervise their play to prevent them from getting over-excited, which can lead to injury of one or both dogs. Interrupt their play if one dog begins to bully or growl at the other, and separate them for a few minutes. Praise them when they are playing well together.
Remember to devote plenty of time to each dog individually for both training and play. If one dog is much older or less energetic than the other, be sure you give him time and space to himself so he can rest and feel secure.
Dog to Cat
The prey drive in some dogs is exceptionally strong. In order to ensure your cat or other small pets stay safe, you must get your dog to look to you as his leader so that his desire to please you overcomes his desire to chase another pet.
As with a dog-to-dog introduction, take things slowly, calmly, and cautiously. If you can, bring home an item with the new dog’s scent on it so the cat can learn about the dog through his smell first. Plan to place the cat’s things somewhere the dog can’t reach (such as up high) and be sure there is always an escape route so the cat can get away from the dog and feel safe.
While holding the dog on a loose leash, at first allow the dog and cat to see each other. If you fear the dog may get away from you quickly and hurt the cat, use a muzzle if necessary.
With the dog in a down-stay, let the cat wander and come to the dog, if she chooses, for a sniff. Then call the dog away to get him to redirect his attention from the cat, and then allow them to greet again.
Remember, you also need to keep the cat from getting afraid and then running away, which will only trigger the dog’s desire to chase. If the dog begins to fixate on the cat or lunges to get at it, quickly give him a command or just lead him away from the area for a few minutes.
Your goal is to help the animals learn to trust each other, as you yourself work on building a relationship of trust and leadership with the new dog.
In the meantime, don’t allow your dog to chase any type of small animal, but do let him chase a ball or other appropriate toys.
If your dog begins to chase the cat, do not run after the dog. Instead, try to get his attention with a loud hand clap or command (“Leave it!”), or even a shake of his dog food bin. Redirect his behavior so you can leash him and allow the cat to get to a safe place.
Dog to Other Small Pets
If you are not sure of your dog’s background with regard to being around small pets, plan the introductions carefully to avoid risk of the pet being harmed. Introduce the animals as you would dog to a cat. If you must hold the animal in your arms, take care not to let the dog to get too close. Just let them sniff each other’s scent and learn to tolerate one another’s presence.
Some dogs get jealous if they see a small pet such as a hamster or bird perched on your shoulder. The dog may see this as an unfair advantage and therefore feel challenged and want to harm the pet. Other dogs, however, may be totally accepting of the pet and its perceived higher status.
Always keep small pets in a secure, sturdy cage out of the dog’s reach, and always supervise your dog even when the pet is caged. When you’re away from home, do not allow your dog to be loose in the same area as the caged pet.
Puppies to Adult Dogs
Not all resident dogs will welcome a new puppy into the home. Puppies are notorious for looking for attention from adult dogs (and everyone else), and so must be supervised when they are with other animals. Very young pups may not pick up on an adult dog’s body language that says he’s had enough playing. A well-socialized adult dog may growl to tell the pup to back off, which is an appropriate behavior that helps the puppy learn boundaries.
However, an adult dog with poor social skills may present a danger to the puppy, as he may only know to bite rather than a growl. Thus, do not leave the dog and puppy alone together.
Respect the adult dog’s need for puppy-free quiet time, and be sure to spend one-on-one time with him as well.
Handle the puppy-to-dog introduction as you would between dogs. Keep both animals leashed, carefully watch their body language, allow brief sniffs, and offer praise when they behave well.
Know When to Get Help
People keep household pets because they enjoy their antics and companionship. However, if your dog doesn’t get along with other pets, this only creates tension and disharmony in your home.
A qualified dog trainer such as a Bark Busters Dog Behavioral Therapist can help resolve conflicts your dog may be having with other pets and can provide ways to help you live in a peaceful, happy household of pets and people.