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Introducing Your New Dog to Your Other Pets

Thinking of adopting a dog or puppy? There’s nothing better than rescuing a Mutt-i-gree®, one of the wonderful companion animals available at shelters. But if you already have a pet or pets as part of your household, it’s important to know the best way to introduce your new canine to his housemates.

Making the initial meeting as stress-free and calm as possible will help lay the groundwork for happy relationships, so take some tips from the experts at North Shore Animal League America.

Before deciding which puppy or dog is right for your family, speak to an adoption counselor, who will have a good sense of the personality of the animals under his or her care. “Since we spend a lot of time with our dogs, we know which are most comfortable with other dogs or cats,” says Kristine Furnari, kennel manager at the Animal League. You should also let the counselor know the temperament and personality of your other pets.

When possible, it’s a good idea to bring your existing dog to the shelter to meet your prospective new dog before your adoption is finalized (always ask the shelter before bringing another dog in). It’s also typically better to have dogs of the opposite sex, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule. 

Meet on Neutral Ground

When it’s time for your new dog or puppy to meet your current dog or cat, make sure you closely supervise the big event.

For dog-meets-dog introductions, keep both animals on leashes, and bring along a second person to help. It’s best if the dogs can meet on neutral territory—if not the shelter, then perhaps a park or friend’s house.

To start, let the dogs sniff each other briefly, keeping them leashed. Speak in positive, happy tones. If they seem agitated, redirect their energy by taking them separately for short walks and let them investigate other areas. Reward them for obeying a simple command, like “sit” or “stay.” And don’t forget to maintain a positive demeanor.

“Dogs are very sensitive to our energies,” says Furnari. “If they sense you are anxious, they’re far more likely to be anxious themselves.”

Keep a careful eye on the dogs’ body language. If you see signs of hostility—snarling or growling, baring teeth, tucked and/or raised tail, raised fur on nape of neck, flattened ears—quickly separate and redirect them.

Establish Home Rules

Once the dogs have gotten accustomed to each other, it’s time to head home. If your resident dog still seems to show any signs of aggression, put the new dog in a crate and give your older one a lot of positive attention for a while. Ignore the new dog for a bit to reassure your pet that the new guy isn’t a replacement!

Once your older dog seems calm and reassured, let him near the crate for a visit. Continue to praise him for good behavior and give him lots of attention. When it’s time to let the pets meet nose to nose again, keep them on loose leashes, so you can separate them if need be.

Always feed them separately and give them their own toys (they’re not kids, so don’t expect them to share well). They should also have separate sleeping areas.

When introducing your dog to your resident cat, give the dog lots of exercise and a meal first, and put him on a short leash or in a crate. Let the animals observe each other at a distance; praise both animals and give them treats for calm behavior.

Don’t be surprised if your dog lunges toward your cat. That’s normal behavior, especially for a puppy, who wants to make a playmate (or toy) out of this furry little moving creature. But it could also be an act of aggression. Either way, it’s up to you to teach your dog, whatever his age, how to respect your cat.

If he lunges, use the leash to correct him and then separate the animals for a while. Repeat this process many times a day for several days. Once the animals are remaining calm during these interactions, move on to unleashed visits, supervising closely.

Don’t leave them alone until you are absolutely certain they are comfortable together, and even then, make sure your cat can escape to higher ground. Also, put up a baby gate to the bedroom or another room so that the cat can get away from the dog and have a place of her own. 

Your pets will most likely develop a comfortable coexistence over time, but if unwanted behavior continues, contact a behavioral specialist.

You can reach the Animal League’s behavior experts at behavior@animalleague.org.

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