Introducing Your New Dog to your Four-Legged Family

It is common for dog people to love more than just dogs.  Often they are cat people, reptile people or hamster people too.  While it may seem as if some of these animals may not get along, it is possible for animals of different species to become friends and play together.  (Yes, this even  applies to cats and dogs.) However, there are a few things a multiple species pet owner should consider as a new pet is introduced into the household:

  • Research the Breed – Some dogs get along better with cats than others.  For example, if you have a Jack Russell, it is not likely s/he would get along well with a cat.  This type tends to hunt and kill small animals so it is best not to adopt a cat or another small animal if you already have a Jack Russell.  Although it is possible for some dogs of this breed to get along well with small animals, they were bred for this instinct.  Therefore, it is likely the match will not be a successful one.
  • Prey Drive – The prey instinct is stronger in some dogs than others.  If you already have a cat and are adopting a dog, check with the shelter or rescue to see if the dog has been exposed to cats.  Be sure to inquire as to the reaction the dog had when s/he saw the cat.  Was the dog really interested in the cat?  Did it wag its tail and get excited?  Or did it have a look, take a sniff and then walk away?  This is important because the dog’s reaction can demonstrate its prey drive. Dogs who are very interested in cats, and other small animals, are more likely to have a strong prey instinct.  If it has spent the entire introduction watching the cat and/or acting excited to have the cat around, it may not be best to introduce a cat into the house.
  • If you have a dog and don’t know how it will react to a cat, you can introduce it to one and test its prey drive.  However, remember that this is a delicate situation.  It is best to restrain the dog and ensure that there is an avenue of escape for the cat.  You don’t want to end up taking the cat to the vet after the introduction or worse.
  • Take it Slow – Remember when you first met your current best friend?  You were introduced and got along well, but it took years to develop the deep bond of friendship you now share.  The same applies to dogs, cats and other animals.  The introductions should be made slowly and if the pair, or more, don’t get along at first, give it a little time.  Some friendships take longer than others the spring up and grow.  Here are some tips to introduce your animals:
  • If you have a dog and are introducing a new dog, have the new dog walk around the back yard so it can pick up the scent of the other dog(s) in your household.  Since this is a new place with new smells, the new dog will be eager to walk around.  And, this will begin the introduction process.  Allow the dog to do his business and then bring him/her inside.  Once the dog is in a safe place, bring out the resident dog(s).  Let the dog(s) sniff the yard and pick up the scent of the newcomer.  Once the dogs have gotten used to each other, place them on leashes and let them sniff each other. Once you are confident that they will not attack one another, allow them off leash and give them time to sniff away.  Be sure to watch them closely to determine whether there is any hostility.
  • (Note:  This assumes that the dog has already been tested to determine if it has a prey drive)  If you are introducing a cat, it is best to have the cat shut in a room for 5-7 days.  This will give the cat time to get used to the smells of the new home, which include the smells of the dog, and it will give the dog time to adjust to the smell of the cat.  Once they have shared the house for several days, bring the cat out to meet the dog.  When the introductions are made, it is best to have either the dog cat or both in a crate  or carrier to judge reaction.  Have them meet each other for 15-30 minutes and then take the cat away.  Do this a few times before having an open introduction where there are no cages.  When this occurs, ensure that the cat has the means to escape if s/he becomes uncomfortable or threatened by the dog.  Over time, they will get to know each other and adjust.
  • Give Extra TLC – When a new pet is introduced, your existing pet(s) may feel as if you have betrayed them.  They don’t understand why you want to provide a home for another animal.  So, be sure to spend some extra time with your existing pet(s) to ensure that they still feel loved and protected.
  • Accept When it Won’t Work – Not all matches were made in heaven and not every animal is going to get along well.  The most important thing is to ensure that the animals are happy and healthy.  So, if you introduce a new member to the family and the existing member(s) are not happy and can’t adjust over time, it may be best to help the shelter/rescue adopt out the newcomer to a new family.  No one wants to give up and send an animal back, but if one or more of the animals begins suffering illness or anxiety from the relationship, it may be in the pet’s best interest to find a new home for the newcomer.

This article includes several examples about relationships between dogs and cats.  However, the same care should be taken when introducing other small animals to the existing family.  Some animals are easier than others (e.g., snakes, hamsters, birds) since they are secure in a case and can be in a room with a closed door.