Downeast Dog News

Introducing Your New Pet

By Christine D. Calder DVM DACVB | Jan 04, 2021

Did you bring home a puppy this holiday season? Or maybe a new kitten? How exciting! Do you already have a dog at home? With a little preparation, the transition of your new pet into the household can go smoothly.

Step 1: Make sure everyone has realistic expectations

Dogs are social animals. However, some dogs just do not get along with other dogs. Some dogs can have a strong prey drive which results in a strong desire to chase and catch small animals. It is these dogs that often do best as the only animal in the household.

Step 2: Separate and supervise

When introducing a new pet into the household, it is crucial to keep everyone safe by providing the pet’s own “safe haven” or area in which to retreat. This may be in a separate room, behind a gate, or in a crate. Initially, an adult should directly supervise any interaction between the pets for a while. Allowing your new pet time to acclimate to the new home will increase your success while supervision increases safety.

Step 3: A visit to the veterinarian

Have your pet examined by your veterinarian to ensure he is in good health and up-to- date on all necessary vaccinations and preventatives. This will help to reduce the spread of diseases between the new and existing pet(s) in the home.

Step 4: Introducing a new dog

Give your new dog time to acclimate, take in all the new smells, and learn the layout of the home. Initially, separating the dogs via a gate can give them time to meet yet give you time to monitor their reactions to each other before letting them spend time with each other.

Walking off property together can also help build a bond between the dogs. An adult should walk each dog on separate leashes. Appropriate walking equipment such as a front clip harness and non-retractable leash should be used for control and safety.

Make sure to feed each dog apart at first to reduce any conflict. Overtime, once the dogs get used to each other, you can start experimenting by giving them more time together. Continue to make sure both dogs have adequate resources (food and water dishes, toys, and bedding). Keep your routine as predictable as possible and give both dogs equal time together as well as apart.

If the new dog is a puppy, it is especially important that your older dog have a place to retreat or get away from the puppy. Monitor these interactions as well and give time for the relationship to build. Make sure you are meeting your puppy’s basic exercise, mental enrichment, and even rest time while also providing individualized human interaction and play time.

Step 5: Introducing your dog to a cat

For many dogs, cats can be fun to chase which may inadvertently cause harm. The cat must have a place to retreat where the dog cannot reach. This may be behind a gate or somewhere up high. Be sure to supervise all interactions and place the dog away in a secure location whenever supervision is not possible.

Step 6: No punishment

It is important to never yell, hit, or punish your dog if the introduction does not go well on the first try. These actions can increase fear and anxiety towards the new pet and the humans in the home. Make sure to reward everyone for being calm and always having an escape route available if your dog or new pet chooses to retreat.

If your dog has a history of aggression towards other dogs or cats, a basket muzzle can improve safety during the introduction. Have plenty of treats to reinforce your dog for making good choices in the presence of its new roommate.

Step 7: Learn to read body language

Recognizing and understanding both dog and cat body languages can be helpful when introducing a new animal into the home. You will understand your dog better and be able to communicate clearer when you can recognize that your dog is uncomfortable with the new arrival. Practice fun behaviors such as nose targeting “touch.” These behaviors can be used for redirection when needed or as an engaging game to help keep excitement levels down. This will help increase your dog’s focus and maintain a positive emotional state.

Step 8: Always reward good choices

Always recognize and reward the good choices that your dog makes during introductions. Food can be a powerful reinforcement and may be as simple as your pet’s own food or high value such as cheese or chicken. Stash dry kibble in various places around the house for easy accessibility during introductions.

Step 9: Plenty of Resources

Always have plenty of resources for all the animals in your home, including separate feeding stations and resting areas. Multiple beds in multiple locations provide choice and freedom to move away which will help lower overall stress.

Food dispensing and puzzle toys help encourage independent play and encourage interaction with the environment. Separate toys for each animal may help reduce resource guarding and fighting.

Step 10: Medications

In some situations, medications may be needed to help your dog feel safe around the new arrival. Nutritional supplements and pheromones can also help promote a relaxed emotional state and facilitate introductions between pets. Your veterinarian can help determine if medications would be beneficial for your pet.