Introducing your dog to other animals, whether new pets or resident pets, can be nerve-wracking. Both dogs and cats are territorial pets and often object to new pets with fear or aggression. Bringing a new dog around small pets, such as birds or rabbits, probably won’t trigger territorial instincts but may simply be too tempting for a dog’s hunting instincts.
As with so much in dog ownership, introducing your dog to other animals depends in part on your dog’s personality. Although some dogs are more accepting of new pets than others, slowly and carefully introducing new pets to resident pets is always a good idea.
Introducing Cats to Dogs
While both dogs and cats are territorial pets, they express their territorial tendencies in different ways. Resident dogs tend to act aggressively towards a new cat; resident cats tend to react with fear or, at times, aggression when they meet a new dog. Introducing your dog to your cat must be handled carefully, as most dogs can easily kill a cat.
Be realistic when introducing your dog to other animals, especially cats. Introductions are best made slowly. Be attentive towards your dog’s temperament. A dog with strong hunting instincts may never be able to be trusted with a cat. However, keep in mind that seemingly aggressive behavior may, in fact, be your new dog’s attempt at playing with a cat. Paying close attention to their initial interactions will help you to decipher the difference.
One of the best ways to introduce a new dog to a resident cat, or vice versa, is to slowly allow the animals to swap scents with each other. Territorial pets live in a world of scent as much as sight. Swapping scents allows both dog and cat to become accustomed to each other before they meet face to face.
Here are a few different ways to initiate the process of swapping scents:
- Switch the new pet’s blanket or bedding with the resident pet’s bedding.
- Rub a towel over one animal and place the towel under the other animal’s food bowl.
- Feed the new and resident pet on either side of a closed door so each comes to associate the other with the pleasure of eating.
The First Encounter
After swapping scents, the new and resident pets are ready to meet. Before introducing your dog to other animals, make sure that the dog has some obedience training so it can at least respond to sit or down/stay commands.
Pick a quiet, relaxed time for the initial encounter. Leash your dog and have her sitting or in a down/stay position by your side. Have a second person sit with the cat on the opposite side of the room. Don’t restrain the cat, and make sure he has an easy exit route if he gets scared.
Keep the first few visits short and reward good behavior with positive reinforcement. If inappropriate behavior occurs, don’t blame the animals: they could associate negative reinforcement with the other animal, making it difficult for them to accept each other. You want the pets to associate positive reinforcement with each other.
If aggressive or frightened behavior occurs, terminate the visit immediately and return to swapping scents. Behavior indicating that the animals aren’t ready to accept each other includes:
- hissing, growling, or snarling
- attempts to attack or flee from the other pet
- play behavior from the dog that frightens the cat.
If introducing your dog to another animals results in extremely aggressive behavior, cease any attempt to bring the two animals together for a while. When territorial pets develop an immediate dislike for each other, attempts to change this will only result in injury to the new pets, the resident pets, or yourself.
Dogs, Cat Food, and Litter Boxes
Although cats can live in harmony with other animals, a cat is staunchly territorial when it comes to the food bowl and the litter box. Unfortunately, these great feline treasures are quite fascinating to dogs.
Dogs will eat both cat food and cat feces. Of the two, cat food is the most harmful to your dog. Not only will Rover tick off Kitty if he cleans out the cat bowl, the dog could develop kidney or liver conditions. Place the cat’s food bowl above floor level where Kitty can reach it but Rover can’t.
Cat feces aren’t a health hazard for Rover, but his intrusion into the littler box will really offend your cat (and let’s face it, it’s a disgusting snack choice). Try placing the litter box where dogs can’t reach it. Some pet owners put a tall, open-topped box over the litter so the cat can jump in, but the dog can’t.
Introducing Your Dog to Other Dogs
As with dog and cat introduction, introducing your dog to other dogs should start with swapping scents. Some dog owners get crates for each dog, and place the crates where the dogs can smell (but not see) each other. Another way to swap scents that is particularly effective with two dogs is to let the new dog out of its crate while the resident dog is out of the house.
Let the new dog explore the house for ten or fifteen minutes, and then return it to the crate. When the resident pet returns to the house, let it explore the new scent. Gradually, the two scents will overlap, making the dogs more accepting of each other.
Remember . . .
that dogs are pack animals as well as territorial pets. Ideally introduce the animals on neutral territory, outside of the resident pet’s territory. That way the resident dog won’t feel he has to defend his territory.
Dogs need to know where they stand in the pack hierarchy (in this case your family). To help prevent serious contests for dominance, have the new dog in a stay/down position when meeting the resident dog. The prone position emphasizes the resident dog’s higher rank in the pack, and hopefully makes her more accepting of the new dog. Over time, the two may jockey for dominant position, but hopefully without violent fights.
Leashes are also essential when introducing your dog to other animals, especially other dogs. As with cats and dogs, use positive reinforcement to reward both dogs. At the first sign of aggression, separate the two dogs and return to swapping scents. With patience, most resident pets will come to accept new pets.
Introducing Your Dog to Small Pets
Introducing your dog to animals other than cats and dogs can be risky. Dogs are hunters by nature, and many small pets will look like food to your dog. Some breeds, like Spaniels and Golden Retrievers, were originally bred to hunt rabbits, rats, and small game. When bringing a dog in contact with small pets, make sure that there is adequate supervision. Some animals, such as birds and rabbits, can literally be scared to death by a barking or inquisitive dog.