7 Tips for Introducing a New Dog or Cat to Your Resident Pets

As I’m writing this, we’re smack dab in the middle of our free “Dog-to-Dog Aggression & Prey Drive Workshop” this week and both Emily and I are having a blast getting to know our workshop attendees! As I was thinking about the workshop and our upcoming course on the same topic, I realized that one of the topics we don’t get into as much is how to set up introducing a new dog or cat into your household so you can mitigate some of those future issues. A blog post seemed like the perfect way to supplement the workshop! So without further ado, let’s get into 7 tips for introducing a new pet into your household. 

1. Learn each species’ body language first.

For those of you who’ve followed our blog for a while, you probably knew that this tip was going to be in here! I truly believe that one of the most important, most influential things we can do as pet parents is to learn our pets’ body language. Yes, there are signals that are intuitive and there are some people who have a natural inclination towards understanding body language without learning it. However, there are body language signals that aren’t intuitive: lip licks, stress yawns, tap outs, cat tail wagging is usually angry, and so on. 

Everyone needs to study animal body language to understand the nuances and it’s our responsibility as pet parents to know what our pets are saying. There are a lot of great resources available online (and some not so great ones) to help learn each species’ body language. Check out this blog post for more information on dog and cat body language and resources. 

2. Go slow. Even slower. 

I know it’s tempting to try immediately integrating your new household member in with the rest of your pets. We want to start this new chapter in our lives as soon as possible! Sometimes doing that turns out fine. But there are many times where it does not and people need to bring in a behavior professional after fights have already happened and there’s been damage to the relationship– which makes it harder to work on. Resist the temptation; do slow introductions. Whatever time frame popped into your head– go slower. 

When I’m working with clients who are integrating new pets into the household I tell them that  my time frame is at least 2 weeks for day-to-day cohabitation with supervision; longer if any pet has a history of having trouble making new friends. There have been cases where it’s taken months but everyone was happy, healthy, and safe throughout the entire process. This is absolutely a situation where slow and steady wins the race.

3. Don’t provide opportunities for conflict. 

Reading it that way, many people would say, “Sure! Makes sense! Moving on.” But what if I said that trying to feed your new pets together can count as a common opportunity for conflict? Giving them chewies together? Playing fetch together? Being in a tight space together? 

For some pets these scenarios may not be sources of conflict; but you don’t know if that’s true or not for your new pet. And, you don’t know if that’s true or not for your pet and this particular individual at this particular point in their relationship. For example, I’ll share my credit card with my husband, but not a stranger. Nor would I have shared my credit card with my husband when I first met him. There would’ve been conflict if he’d tried to take it from me when we first met. Relationships change and evolve over time.

Let’s work on their relationship together before adding resources– and opportunities for conflict– into the mix. (Side note: I always recommend feeding pets separately even after the initial introduction period. It’s such an easy management tool and I have so many people tell me that their pets got into a fight over the food bowl that the risk just doesn’t seem worth it to me. Unfortunately, I feel like I see few people agree with that sentiment until it happens to their own pets.)

4. Provide plenty of exit strategies (especially for cats!).

There’s a fine balance between keeping your pets near you so you can supervise them and keeping them so confined that they can’t leave the situation if they want to. For introducing new dogs to one another, this can look like having them interact in a larger space (but not so large that you can’t get to them if needed) and routinely monitoring interactions and separating when needed (see the next tip for more information on that.) For dogs and cats, cat trees are my go-to for providing exit strategies. 

5. Provide plenty of break time and be an advocate for your pet.

Have you ever had a roommate who just won’t leave you alone? How did you feel in those interactions? Did you eventually snap at them? The same thing happens with our pets, too.

We need to provide adequate break time and time apart for our pets. This can especially be true for the resident pet and older pets. They didn’t necessarily consent to having a new roommate and it’s unrealistic to expect them to hang out with their new roommate 24/7 without conflict. 

Break time should also be based on their body language and behavior. This particular point reminds me of a client I had last year. They brought a new, younger female dog home and the male resident dog was periodically growling at her and eventually lunging and biting. When they brought me in they asked about changing the resident dog’s aggressive behavior. As I asked them more questions, it became clear that the resident dog was asking the new dog to give him space and that she wasn’t respecting his request and eventually that led into the fights. I told them to be his advocate; she was the one pestering him until he snapped. As we worked through their behavior modification plan and reintegrating them, they realized that that was true– she was annoying him. When they saw that happening they’d call her over and give her something else to do. Fights didn’t happen anymore after that! 

6. Don’t let them “just work it out”.

This is another fine balance item. There’s a fine line between micromanaging appropriate interactions and stepping in and appropriately managing and modifying behavior. This is one of the reasons why it’s vital to know and understand your pets’ body language before you’re in a situation. You need to first know what appropriate interactions and inappropriate interactions really look like! There are plenty of instances where I’ve seen people try to discourage appropriate interactions and other instances where people needed to step in a lot sooner to keep everyone happy and healthy. (Another side note- there are very polite ways to step in without correcting, physically grabbing, etc.)

7. Seek professional help- especially for animals who’ve had trouble making new friends in the past.

When in doubt, seek professional help. A professional can help you with all of the above and help create a viable, sustainable behavior modification plan for your household. It’s what we’re here for!

Now what?

  • It’s never too late to learn about body language and appropriate vs. inappropriate interactions. Our Setting Yourself Up For Success: Behavior Modification Basics course is chock full of body language information for dogs!
  • Do you have a relatively new pet in your house and you think their relationship with the resident pets could be better? You can always go backwards, increasing management through separation, and start back at square 1 with the above tips.
  • Do you have pets in your household that aren’t getting along well or are sometimes getting into fights? Our Dog-to-Dog Aggression & Prey Drive course is for you! This course starts on Wednesday 9/2/20 and client spots are going fast. Check out more course info here

Happy training!

Allie