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Introducing a new pet to your household


Introducing A New Pet To Your Household

Introducing a new pet to a household can be easy or hard and successful or not successful, depending on how the introduction is done and on the temperaments of the animals involved.  Irregardless, there are things that you can do to make the process easier and more successful.

In general, introductions should be done in a slow manner.  Also, using positive reinforcement, in order to make the introduction an enjoyable experience for all, will help the process.

Be realistic about your expectations.  Do not expect the animals that you are introducing to be best buddies from the get go.  Expect that you will need to move slowly.  Even with that, perhaps the animals will never become best friends.  Perhaps, with time, they will only learn to tolerate each other.  An older animal that has always been alone with her family may not learn to buddy up with a new animal.  On the other hand, a new puppy or kitten may just love having a companion.

Introducing a new cat to resident animals is a process that should be done as slowly as needed.  In the beginning the newcomer cat should be confined to one room with her litter box, food, water, toys, bed and scratching post.  Let the resident cats get used to the scent of the new cat through the closed door at first.  You can then feed the cats on their respective sides of the door, putting the dishes as close to the door as they will comfortably allow.  When this is going well, you can start to open the door just a crack so that they can see each other.  If one or the other animal becomes upset or aggressive, backstep a bit and try the process again more gradually. 

Keep in mind that new cats should be confined to their own rooms for the first 2-3 weeks after you bring them home anyway to allow them to become comfortable in their new surroundings and to watch them for any signs of disease or illness that could be transmitted to resident cats.  Once your new cat is using her litter box and eating regularly, you can let her have free time in the house while the resident animals are confined.  This will allow the resident animals to become used to the scent of the new cat without meeting face-to-face.

You can also get them used to each other’s scents by moving blankets, towels or toys that have the scent of one animal to the room of the other animals.  You can also put these things under or next to the food dishes.

Hopefully, if the introductions are slow and smooth enough, the animals will barely notice when the time comes for them to live together.  You should avoid any situations that evoke intense fear or aggression.  Mild forms of these responses can be expected, but they should not be allowed to intensify.  If these intense responses become a habit, they are difficult to break.  If intense fear or aggression are noted, you should backtrack on the introduction process and proceed more gradually.

Introducing a cat to a dog has its own set of unique challenges.  Dogs can kill cats, even without intending to do so.  For that reason, you muse be very vigilant in introducing dogs and cats.  In addition to following all of the steps as mentioned above in the section on introducing a new cat to resident animals, there are other steps and precautions that should be taken.

If your dog does not already know the commands “sit,” “down,” “come” and “stay” you should begin working on them.  This is not only useful for new introductions, but is important to the overall well-being and sociability of the dog.

Once the cat and dog are comfortable eating on either side of the closed door, and have gotten used to each other’s scents in the manner described in the “Introducing a New Cat to Resident Animals” section above, you can attempt a face-to-face introduction in a controlled manner.  Be sure that the dog is on a leash and have him either sit or lie down and stay.  Have another person sit quietly next to the cat on the other side of the room, but do not physically restrain the cat.  Both cat and dog should be offered treats or, for cats, possibly catnip.  Lots of short introductory meetings like this are better than a few longer ones.  Repeat this process until the cat and dog are tolerating each other’s presence without fear, aggression or other undesirable behavior.

Once things are going well in the same room, you can allow the cat to explore the dog at her own pace, with the dog still on a leash and in a “down-stay.”  During all of this the dog should be given treats and praised for being calm.  If you cat runs away or becomes aggressive, go back to the previous steps and repeat them.

Note that if the dog is always punished for bad behavior when the cat is around, the dog may begin to act aggressively toward the cat because of that.  Be sure that good things (such a treats) happen to the dog when the cat is around.  The dog should also be rewarded for good behavior (such as coming when called or sitting when instructed) when the cat is around.

You may want to keep your dog on a leash and with you whenever your cat is free in the house during the introductory period.  Also, you should keep the dog and cat separated when you are not home until you are certain that both will be safe together.

If there are kitten or puppies involved with cat-and-dog introductions be extra, extra vigilant.  Kittens may be very much in danger of being killed by an energetic dog.  You may need to keep a kitten separate from an energetic dog until the cat is grown.

A well-socialized cat can usually keep a puppy in its place, however a cat that is especially shy or fearful may not be able to do this.  In this case, you may need to keep the cat separate from the puppy until the puppy has matured enough and has learned some obedience skills.

Introducing a new dog to a resident dog should also be done slowly and in a manner that is as positive to both dogs as possible.  Because dogs are territorial, introductions should be done in a neutral environment.   

With both dogs on a leash, you can take the dogs separately to a park, neighbor’s yard or other area that is unknown to both dogs.  We recommend that you take the resident dog to the shelter to meet his new perspective housemate.  During the introductory process use treats and speak in a happy and friendly tone to reinforce to both dogs that this is a positive experience. Do not allow them to sniff or investigate one another for a prolonged period at first, because this may escalate to an aggressive response.  After a short period give each dog a treat in return for obeying a simple command such as “sit” or “stay.”  Take the dogs for a walk and continue with the soothing talk, treats and positive reinforcement. 

Watch for signs of aggressive or fearful behavior.  If you see these, interrupt the dogs immediately in a calm fashion by getting the dogs interested in something else.  For example, both handlers can call their dogs to them, have them sit or lie down and reward each with a treat.  Later try to introduce the dogs again at a greater distance or for a shorter period of time.

When the dogs seem to be tolerating each other well, you can take them home.  Continue monitoring them at home and giving them each special attention and treats until the introductory phase is over.

When introducing a puppy to a resident dog follow the steps listed above for new introductions. Be especially careful that you do not leave the puppy alone with an older dog until you are sure that the older dog will not harm the puppy.  Adult dogs who aren’t well-socialized, or who have a history of fighting with other dogs, may attempt to set limits on puppy behavior by displaying aggressive behavior such as biting, which could harm a puppy.

Punishment does not work in introducing pets to each other and it could make things worse.  If one animal is always punished or reprimanded for bad behavior whenever the other animal is around, the animal being punished could equate punishment with the presence of the other animal and begin acting in an aggressive manner toward the other animal.                   

If you need further information or assistance we recommend that you visit the Denver Dumb Friends League website from which much of this information was taken.  You can refer to http://www.ddfl.org  or more specifically to http://www.ddfl.org/behavior/catintro.htm or http://www.ddfl.org/behavior/intro.htm.   Also, if the introductions are not going well, despite the fact that you are using all of the suggestions listed above, you should contact a professional animal behaviorist.  The longer the problem continues, the more difficult it is to solve.



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