Have you ever had things go disastrously wrong when introducing a new dog to an existing one in the household?
You can never know how your beloved dog or cat is going to react when introduced to another animal. No matter how well you know your pet’s personality, they may still have the capacity to surprise you. An introduction to a strange animal is the most likely occasion for upsets to happen.
Bringing a new dog or cat into the family is a joyful time for the human members of the household, but it can be extremely stressful for the animal members of the family. Understanding how to facilitate introductions of your pets can bring happiness to everyone. Not paying attention to animal etiquette can create a traumatic situation for pets and people alike.
Table of Contents
- Precautions for Introducing Pets Together Are a Must
- How to Introduce New Pets Together
- Alternate the Rooms Each Animal is Kept In
- Let the Animals Smell Each Other Through a Glass Door
- Don’t Introduce Animals Until Both Are Relaxed and Calm
- Keep Animals Separated When Introducing in the Same Room
- Use Leashes on Larger Pets or Hold Smaller Dogs and Cats
- Show Animals Equal Love While Introducing Them
- Repeat Introductions Until Animals Are Comfortable with Each Other
- Redirect Negative Behaviors Exhibited by Either Animal
- Reinforce Good Behaviors in Both Animals
- Just a Few More Questions to Ask Before Introducing Your Pets
Precautions for Introducing Pets Together Are a Must
Pets in distress don’t mean to do it, but when they are overwhelmed by anxiety and fear, they tend to bite down on the nearest object. When you are making an unplanned introduction of dogs to dogs, dogs to cats, or cats to cats, the nearest available object can be you. A first meeting with another animal that results in a fight between the two pets is also an inauspicious beginning to their membership in the family.
Let’s look at some reasons that precautions are required when introducing pets to each other.
Precautions for Introducing Dogs to Dogs
Puppies that are socialized by exposure to dogs other than their litter mates between the ages of seven and sixteen weeks usually have no special difficulties meeting other dogs. Puppies that do not have this formative experience often grow up to become dogs that are hesitant to meet or interact with new canine companions. Some breeds are especially aggressive toward dogs they have not known since they were puppies unless they were socialized to other dogs as puppies.
The primary precaution for introducing dogs to dogs is finding out how the dogs were treated as puppies. If you adopted a dog from the animal shelter, or if your dog did not have the benefits of a caring home early in her life, make sure your dog has been spayed or neutered and also take extra time to make the introductions as explained below.
Precautions for Introducing Dogs to Cats
The most important thing to remember about dogs when introducing dogs and cats is that some dogs simply are not compatible with cats. Here are a few dog breeds that you should not attempt to house with feline members of the family:
- Hunting breeds. These dogs were bred not to retrieve birds and foxes, but to hunt them down. Hunting breeds include Alaskan Malamutes, Norwegian Deerhounds, Samoyeds, German Shorthaired Pointers, Scottish Deerhounds, and Siberian Huskies.
- Sight hounds. These breeds are hard-wired to react to movement of smaller animals. They will chase and catch any smaller animal that moves without thought. Sighthounds include Afghans, Borzoi, Greyhounds, Salukis, and Whippets.
- Terriers. Terriers were originally employed as energetic killers of mice and rats. They sometimes fail to make the distinction between rats and cats and endanger feline pets. Bedlington Terriers, Fox Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, Rat Terriers, and Schnauzers generally should be kept separate from cats.
All these dogs may make loyal and devoted pets, but your cat is sure to have a different opinion. On the other hand, Beagles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Golden Retrievers, and Shelties are usually cat-compatible, and most other breeds and mixed breeds can be successfully introduced to pets of other species.
The most important thing to remember about cats when introducing dogs and cats is that cats are not small dogs. They have different physical reactions and different coping mechanisms when they are introduced to different species. Cats can become alarmed by the scent of dogs, even if the dog is not physically present. Feral dogs, after all, are the mortal enemies of feral cats. The cat is hardwired to protect itself against dog attacks. Sudden introductions of dogs and cats are never a welcome event from the cat’s point of view.
Precautions for Introducing Cats to Cats
Cats are social animals, but their social structures are quite different from dogs and humans. When food is sufficient, free-living cats prefer to live in groups known as colonies. Cats show affection for other members of their colony by grooming each other, usually on the head and neck. But affection for new cats is not immediate.
Cats are programed to hunt as often as 20 times a day. Pet cats may want to eat small amounts of food as often as 20 times a day. Any cat that interferes with the feeding routine will be rejected, and every cat needs time — usually several weeks — to feel comfortable around a new feline companion.
How to Introduce New Pets Together
Once you know what not to do when you introduce your pets to each other, you can slowly take the necessary steps to facilitate a happy new relationship. The key thing to understand about animal introductions is that, unlike humans who get to know each other through words, animals get to know each other through scents. Dogs and cats recognize each other through their magnificent senses of smell, and they trust each other when familiar smells become associated with happy events.
Here’s how you introduce pets to each other’s scents and eventually to each other’s presence.
Alternate the Rooms Each Animal is Kept In
Human noses detect only a tiny part of the broad spectrum of scents associated with their pets. Dogs and cats use chemicals called pheromones in much the same way humans use post-it notes. Pets emit one pheromone when they find food, another pheromone when they are happy, yet another pheromone when they are afraid, and still others when it is time to mate.
These pheromones permeate fabrics. A pet’s blanket is saturated with scents humans cannot detect. So are carpets and upholstery.
The first stage of introducing pets, whether dog and dog, dog and cat, or cat and cat, is to let them get to know the other pet’s pheromones. Leaving blankets, at least some of the pet’s toys, and bedding where it is, switch the rooms where your pets spend their time. Make sure you are switching their sleeping rooms. Your pets may react defensively when they detect new odors, but as they stay with those odors without harm, they will be less apprehensive about the new pet smell.
Let the Animals Smell Each Other Through a Glass Door
The next step in introducing pets is to help them get used to the sight of each other. Letting pets see each other from behind the protection of a glass door helps them associate the other animal with safety and affection.
There is a special precaution for using this method to introduce cats to either other cats or dogs. Cats that have been recently traumatized, for instance, or cats that have been in a cat fight or clipped by a car, should not be exposed to the sight of other animals until they have had an opportunity to receive treatment at a vet and recover from their injuries. Some cats fixate on the sight of the first animal they see after a traumatic injury as if to blame that animal and become violently defensive—even if that animal has done nothing to harm them. If your cat hides rather than letting you introduce him to the rest of your pets, give him extra time.
Don’t Introduce Animals Until Both Are Relaxed and Calm
Remember that animals "make a note" of traumatic events by releasing pheromones. You don’t want your pets sniffing their trauma-pheromones when they are meeting new animals. If either of the animals you want to meet is upset or afraid, put off introductions for another day.
Keep Animals Separated When Introducing in the Same Room
Even when your pets are both relaxed and calm, after they have had about a week to get used to each other’s scents, after they have seen each other through glass doors at least two or three times, it’s still not a good idea to let them meet unattended. Before you place your pets in physical contact, just let them spend some time separately in the same room. You might put your cat in its carrier. (It’s a good idea to have conditioned your cat to react to its carrier as a positive experience with treats and praise before you try this.) You might place your dog in its kennel. (Likewise, it’s optimal to have trained your dog to enjoy its kennel.) Let them interact with sound and scent in a room they both know before you let your pets have physical contact.
Use Leashes on Larger Pets or Hold Smaller Dogs and Cats
Finally, it’s time to let your pets sniff and greet. Don’t get in a hurry for this important meeting. Your pets need to have already become accustomed to the scent and sight of each other before they have physical contact. During this first meeting, and maybe for the next meeting, you need to be able to separate pets in case of an altercation. You and a helper need to have larger dogs on a leash. You can hold puppies and kittens so larger animals can sniff and kiss.
Show Animals Equal Love While Introducing Them
When dogs and cats live with more than one human, they tend to latch on to a single member of the human family for guidance and protection. Often, the dog and the cat identify more with different members of the human family. Each pet should have his or her "best buddy" present when being introduced to other animals.
If you live by yourself, you will need a friend to help you introduce pets safely. Anyone who holds a leash or holds an animal in his or her hands should also be comfortable and relaxed during the process. People who d on’t have the confidence and affection needed for calm introductions should sit the event out, because the pet will interpret any hesitation or fear as a lack of love.
Repeat Introductions Until Animals Are Comfortable with Each Other
Animal introductions are not one and done. Pet owners (and their helpers, if they live alone) should monitor interactions of pets until both animals are relaxed and at ease. By the time your dog and cat curl up on the same cushion, you know they have become friends.
Redirect Negative Behaviors Exhibited by Either Animal
Don’t panic if one pet is more affectionate and relaxed than the other. Pets are like people in that they can have good days and bad days. Even when your pets are old friends, they may sometimes fight and fuss. But dealing with friction between animals requires some advanced pet parenting.
What you don’t want to do when animals are antagonistic with each other is to reward undesirable behavior. You don’t want to pick up your pet every time it gets angry. Your cat and dog will think "Aha! If I growl or hiss, I will get petted!"
You don’t want to punish good behavior, either. You don’t want one pet to be exhibiting happy, friendly behavior only to be yanked away from the other. Always separate animals before they can harm each other and cause lasting harm to their relationship. But before things get to that point, try the following.
Reinforce Good Behaviors in Both Animals
Dogs respond to praise and treats. Cats respond to food and stroking. Reward your animals’ good behavior regularly, but not after absolutely every desirable action. It’s best to keep your pets guessing whether this time acting the way their owners want will result in a reward, or maybe it will be the next.
Just a Few More Questions to Ask Before Introducing Your Pets
Now you have the basics of animal etiquette for introducing pets. But before you start preparing your pets to meet the new animals in your family, take time to answer a few questions.
- How big are the animals and what is their size difference? Just as you wouldn’t introduce a Chihuahua to a cheetah or a Munchkin cat to a Malamute, you need to take additional cautions when there are size disparities between your animals. The greater the difference in size and vulnerability, the longer you need to extend the courtship period to ensure safety. And don’t forget, as mentioned earlier, some breeds of dogs shouldn’t be introduced to cats at all.
- How have the animals reacted to other animals in the past? If you have had a disastrous pet introduction once, don’t risk having it twice. Some pets have had traumatic histories and simply can’t develop the trust and security to get along with other animals. it may be best to keep them separated from other pets.
- What are the energy levels of your animals? High-strung animals can have many endearing qualities, but they tend to stress out over introductions. Make sure you don’t take any shortcuts when you introduce them to other pets.
- How old are your pets? The ideal age for animal introductions is seven to twelve weeks for cats and seven to sixteen weeks for dogs. Kittens and puppies adapt more easily to the presence of other animals. If just one pet is in this trainable age range, the whole process of introducing it to the rest of your animal family will be much, much easier.
Pets can make treasured lifetime companions not just for people but also for other pets. Taking the time to make introductions the right way, or socializing dogs and cats when they are very young, can enhance the happiness of everyone in your home.