When Harry Meets Sally - Introducing Your New Dog to Other Pets
When Harry met Sally in the famous movie of the same name starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, he didn’t know he would fall in love with her. In fact, their relationship took many turns to build up to that love over time. Not every meeting is love at first sight. It’s important to keep this in mind when introducing new furry members of your household to existing members.
Whether the existing members of your household are also of the canine variety, or whether they don’t even have four legs or a tail, there are steps you can take to ensure that the first introduction goes as smoothly as possible. Here are a few things to consider:
- If possible, do it on neutral territory. This is most important for two dogs meeting for the first time. An older dog, or one who has lived in the household for quite some time, may challenge a new addition trying to enter its territory. Allowing both dogs to meet in a friend’s fenced yard or on a walk down the street is the best way to go. If both dogs are on leash, try to keep the leash free of tension. A tight leash can cause your dog’s arousal level to rise and he may get more defensive; and if you are stressed about the meeting, your dog will feel this too.
- Introduce only one other pet at a time. How uncomfortable do you feel if you are a new member to a group where the other members all have established relationships? It’s much more intimidating when meeting others if you’re feeling ganged up on. Ease your new dog into meeting one other animal family member at a time, and a while later, depending on how well your dog handles the first encounter, you can introduce another (again, individually). Once you see how your dog handles all the other members individually, you can get a feel for how comfortable he can handle a two-on-one, or three-on-one, etc. scenario.
- Make sure each pet always has an “out”. How many cats scratch when cornered? If they have claws, the answer is “a lot.” And any other animal (rabbit, guinea pig, snake, etc.) can bite if feeling threatened. So when introducing your new dog to any other animal, do it in a place where your dog’s options can be limited (such as on a leash), while the other animal has a chance to escape if it feels like the introduction is too much. A gated room with a cat door works well if your dog can’t fit through the cat door behind the cat. For smaller animals, having a cage to retreat to or an ability to be picked up out of the way may help too. Likewise, if a dog is showing it’s afraid of the other animal and trying to get away, do not allow the other animal to continue to follow your dog; rather, allow your dog a break and an ability to observe the other animal through some kind of barrier (like a glass door, pet gate, or cage – as long as this is not going to escalate his arousal level).
- Keep all animals feeling safe. When there’s a big size difference, it’s easy for a smaller animal to get stomped or squished by an overzealous larger animal. This can be a hamster being introduced to your new pup, or your new pup being introduced to your horse. Sometimes a smaller animal may need to be held at an even height to the larger animal to level the playing field. Allow both animals to sniff one another when they are feeling comfortable enough to do so, since animals receive a lot of their information from their scent glands. If one is more easily excitable than the other, try to introduce for a few seconds and then give each animal a break for a few minutes by putting some distance (and maybe a barrier) between them to allow them to calm down before attempting the introduction again. Many short introductions that are done carefully and respectfully go a lot further than a full-on bombarding that can result in one animal (or both) feeling threatened, or worse, getting hurt.
- “What the heck is that?!” If your dog is not used to seeing various other kinds of animals, his arousal level may rise as he tries to figure out what the other creature is. This may look like a lot of enthusiasm (for meeting something so funny-looking), or moving away as a sign of fear (until he figures out that the other animal is not a threat). And your other animal may react the same way if it has never seen a dog before. You are now presented with a good opportunity for socialization!
- If your dog has a hard time controlling himself, you may want to give him some distance from the other animal and let him get to know the other animal’s scent, movements, noises, etc. further away where he may have an easier time holding it together. You can gradually get a little closer as your dog can maintain his cool.
- If your dog is showing some fear, it may help him feel less afraid of the other animal if he sees you interacting with it. Speak calmly to the other animal, pet it, hold it or crouch down on the floor with it – allowing your dog to observe at his own distance. You don’t need to say anything to your dog, just let him watch you. He may even get curious about the fun you are having and decide to approach. You can praise him calmly when he does for being so brave.
- In either of these scenarios, it’s best to proceed with continued positive exposure in small slices until your dog (or the other animal) can remain in a calm emotional state in the presence of the other.
- Love each animal equally. It’s easy to get caught in the allure of a new pup, but be careful not to neglect your other pets as you help your new pet acclimate to his new home. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time with your new pup, make time to spend with your other pets separate of your new addition. Remind them what it was like when it was just you and them, before the upheaval of a new family member. Whether than means letting your cat cuddle on your lap while your new pup practices some crating time, or taking your other dog(s) for a walk while leaving the new pup at home. They all love you and want to be loved in return. Share your love and everyone will find harmony.
No matter what the species you are introducing your new dog to, as long as you RESPECT each animal’s comfort level and preferences, and find ways to give each member what they need, you’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll have fast friends, or maybe they will each choose to keep their distance at first. You may even find over time that the two unlikeliest of friends will grow to tolerate each other – and maybe even love one another! I guess it’s similar to how we feel about our human siblings. Sometimes we want to ring their necks, but then when they aren’t pushing our buttons we remember all the wonderful things we share – and then they’re usually not so bad!
For help acclimating your dog to other animals in your family, or if your dog has a hard time playing appropriately or controlling his enthusiasm, contact me at (845) 549-0896 or firstname.lastname@example.org . I can help you and all the members of your household live in harmony!
Written by Maria Huntoon, Maria G. Huntoon Canine Consulting Services