Introducing animals to one another, and particularly introducing an animal to a household which is already home to other animals can be a fraught and worrying time for owners, however there are techniques you can use to make integration more likely to succeed.
The ideal time to introduce a dog to a cat, or any other animal, is when the dog is still a puppy, says dog behaviourist, Nick Honor. A properly socialised puppy, which has had the opportunity to co-exist with other animals in a controlled environment, is much more likely to live harmoniously with other species.
When choosing a dog to cohabit with other animals, the age and breed should be taken into consideration. The first meeting is an important step towards integration and approaching it in a way to keep the dog as calm as possible is paramount.
Introduction is a gradual process and works best by slowly increasing the amount of time the animals are exposed to each other. While the meeting takes place, use food rewards and speak to the dog in a calm manner. Always monitor the dog’s reaction closely, and look for signs of excitement or distress.
If you are introducing a dog to a household with a cat, consider the dog’s prior experiences with cats (or animals similar to those it would be housed with) and how they reacted. When you have ascertained that the dog will be happy living with cats, you will need to introduce them carefully. Begin by creating cat friendly ‘areas’ in the house, ensuring that each area has an escape route for the cat which the dog cannot use. To minimise stress to the cat during the transition, they should also have their own areas to eat, sleep and feel secure. To create these ‘safe’ places, put stair-gates in strategic places around the house. Providing the introduction goes well, this should only be a temporary measure to ensure the cat has a place to retreat should they need it.
Using obedience exercises will help to strengthen the dog’s impulse control, using commands such as ‘leave it’ will help deter the dog from chasing the cat.
It’s important to remember that the introduction can be just as unsettling for the new dog as it is for the animals already in residence, so it’s worth considering is using body wraps. Body wraps can help reduce anxiety in dogs as they give a sense of security and can help dogs keep calm in situations they find stressful. There are also various plug-in, herbal diffusers which can achieve a similar calming effect.
Before choosing a dog, it’s vital that you consider what you want to achieve and to be realistic with your expectations.
Introducing dogs to other household animals may not always go smoothly, but with a little patience and by using the techniques recommended you can give yourself the best chance of having a happy multi-pet household. It is important to remember that with animals, there is no guarantee that the introduction will turn out as you would like, but with a little perseverance, there’s every chance you will have calm and contented pets.
If in doubt seek advice from a professional animal behaviourist.
Have you ever encountered problems when bringing a new pet home? What tips would you offer to other pet owners? Share and let us know!