Blog post by Amber Quann KPA-CTP CPDT-KSA & Emily Jacobs
Harmony in the household is a pretty great goal, and harmony among the pets is an important piece of harmony for the whole family. Too often, bringing a new pet home can cause mayhem and discord. It can be a major nuisance, and it can also be a serious safety concern if the animals living under one roof do not see eye to eye. The great news is that with a combination of management and training, most issues can be avoided all together or at least mediated successfully.
The first step in the process of bringing home a new pet is deciding whether your current dog or cat would benefit from company, or if what you know about them actually points to them being happier as the only pet. If it’s right for them and you to add a member, here are some tools to help the transition flow peacefully.
Plan Ahead: Have some idea of your training and management tactics before the new pet comes home. It’s our responsibility as pet-owners to keep our animals safe and comfortable, and planning ahead is an essential piece of this!
Separate: Separating the new pet from your current pet is crucial in the initial stages. Until you know how they will react to each other’s presence when they are separated and supervised, it’s not a good idea to give them full access to each other. A house can almost always be physically separated into at least two zones: one for the resident animal and one for the newcomer. Utilizing those zones, delineated by baby gates or similar, can help reduce the stress of the introduction. Trading the zones between the animals can help acclimate them to each other’s scent and start to incorporate each other into their idea of normal territory.
Go Slowly: When it’s appropriate to combine them, interactions should be supervised and slow.
Observe Body Language: How do you know if your animal is comfortable? One hallmark indicator is body language. If you don’t know what signs of discomfort or aggression to watch out for, read up! Being prepared to spot whale eyes, for instance, and separate your dog from your new cat might prevent an overstimulation or fear reaction. Lots of dogs and cats are able to play and learn cooperatively, but it’s always important to ensure safety first. In fact, once they have an established relationship, there are many fun ways that you can help them bond and enrich each other’s lives.
Train Foundation Skills: Training preparation and practice with both dogs and cats, and current and new pets is extremely helpful. When you are introducing the two, focus exercises and a great recall are just two examples of real peace-keeping skills that you can keep in your training toolbox. There are a variety of exercises that will help you in bringing a new pet home, and they are just as helpful in houses with existing inter-species animal interactions too.
These concepts can be applied to most animal combinations, as positive reinforcement training is based on scientific animal behavior knowledge and is not species-specific. If you’re thinking of taking another pet into your home, or if you’ve already brought a new pet home and need some guidance, you might benefit from looking through our handout, “Dogs and Cats” (available as a PDF download in our store!) and/or scheduling a lesson with one of our trainers. We wish you the best of luck and the happiest of trails with your growing households. Maybe we will see you along the way!