Bringing home a new sibling for your cat or dog is exciting … for you. But pets don’t automatically love each other, so you can’t just throw them together and hope for the best. You have to introduce your animals gradually to avoid causing them stress.
Most pets eventually learn to live with—and even enjoy—each other. If you have issues between pets initially, intervene, back up and slow down the introduction process so they don’t start their relationship with negative interactions. If you’re still having conflicts after the first few weeks, get a referral to a trainer or behavior consultant from your vet.
Here’s what you can do to help everyone get along happily ever after.
Consider your dog’s temperament
“Make sure your dogs are compatible,” says Mikkel Becker, certified trainer and certified behavior consultant for vetstreet.com. “Some dogs do better as single dogs. Others are social, or need a lower-energy companion.” You know your dog, so look for a new dog that is compatible in size, strength and energy level, but don’t forget that all dogs are individuals, so there are no guarantees which two dogs will get along. One note: Two females typically have more issues adjusting.
Meet on neutral ground
Arrange your dogs’ first meeting away from home, preferably somewhere outdoors such as the park. “The resident dog feels protective of his space, so meeting [at home] will be too stressful,” says Becker. Ask a family member or friend to help, and keep both dogs on-leash.
Bond by walking together
Keep the dogs parallel to each other with some distance between them so they can see each other but are not focused completely on one another. Gradually move them closer as the walk progresses. Praise and reward the dogs with treats if they look at each other calmly. The idea is to get them used to each other’s presence.
Bring the new dog home
Allow the dogs to meet in the yard keeping both on loosely held leashes. “A tight leash sends the signal that you’re tense and that will make them feel protective,” says Becker.
Don’t let the dogs face each other because it’s confrontational. Instead, let them stand side-by-side, practice sit-stay commands and reward positive social behavior with treats and praise. If you sense tension—hair standing up on the back, growling, staring—back off and try again later. If all goes well, let them meet off-leash with close supervision.
Help the adjustment go smoothly
Initially, keep your dogs separated indoors by a baby gate and observe their behavior, suggests the Humane Society of the United States. Reinforce positive interactions with treats and praise and avoid triggers for fights such introducing chews and toys. Feed the dogs in separate areas and give each dog his own bed, though they may sleep together eventually.
Also show the resident dog that the new dog is a wonderful addition to the family. “You want your dog to learn that the new dog is a good thing,” says Becker. Give your dog lots of attention when the new dog is nearby—your dog will associate positivity with the newcomer’s presence.
“Cats are very sensitive,” says Becker. “Because they like routine, structure and predictability, take introductions slow and steady.” Over a period of one to four weeks, slowly acclimate them to each other’s presence. The first few days, keep the new cat in a separate space or room with its own food, water, litter box, bedding, toys, scratching post and cat trees. You want both cats to get used to the smells and sounds of the other. Have them switch spaces every few days.
Start the introduction
Once both cats seem relaxed, gradually move food dishes toward the door that separates them. If they get stressed, move the dishes back and go slower. You can also play with a toy under the door when they are calm and curious. The American Association of Feline Practitioners suggests wiping your cat down with a blanket and putting it in the new cat’s room so she can grow accustomed to the scent. (Do the same for the resident cat.)
Make visual contact
When everyone seems relaxed, open the door a crack or set up a baby gate so the cats can see each other. If there’s hissing or swatting, back up the process and try again gradually. Reward calm behaviors with praise and treats. When this process goes well, put them in the same room with supervision or with one cat in a carrier so they can sniff through the door (or one person can hold a cat at the opposite end of the room). Keep introductions brief at first and intervene and backtrack if there’s conflict, says Becker.
Give everyone his space
Ensure each cat has his own things in different locations in the house including food and water bowls, litter boxes, toys, scratching posts and cat trees. “More available resources make it less stressful because cats are territorial,” says Becker. You also can try a plug-in diffuser containing Feliway, a cat pheromone that aids in reducing tension between cats.
By Arricca SanSone