In many households, cats and dogs live peacefully with one another. In fact, they often become best friends. While some introductions are great from the start, others take time before Fluffy and Fido realize they’ve each gained a new best friend. There are a few steps you’ll want to take to help ensure all goes well.
If you’ve decided to make your home one that includes canine and feline family members, here is the best and safest way to introduce a new dog to a cat house.
Give Both Pets A Safe Place
When you walk through the front door with a new dog, it’s natural for your cat to a bit hesitant and nervous about the new addition to the family. Conversely, the new dog will also likely be wary in unfamiliar surroundings. To prepare for doggy’s arrival, consider converting a spare room into a kitty room, complete with food, litter box, bed, and plenty of toys. That will give kitty a space that is solely his or hers while dealing with what may initially feel like an unwanted houseguest. It will help prevent kitty from getting aggressive, trying to ‘defend’ an entire house.
You will also want to have a crate for your dog, which will serve a similar purpose to the kitty room. Crates provide a safe, neutral space for your dog, allowing your dog to explore its new environment, roommates and rules while minimizing the risk of being overwhelmed or over stimulated. Most reputable rescue organizations strongly recommend at least a one-week “shut down” (crating) period for all dogs, regardless of temperament, age, or breed. Use of the crate and the kitty room allows for the animals to meet one another slowly and the crate, specifically, lets you gradually introduce your new dog to each room and floor.
Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel moving into a brand-new city or home. Your bedroom would quickly become a sanctuary in the midst of what might be a whole lot of initial unpacking chaos. It is likely that your new dog feels the same way and a crate provides your dog a space to retreat into when it needs to decompress, helping it resist the need to act out or destress in more destructive ways.
Introduce Each Other’s Scent
For virtually all animals, scent plays an important role in helping figure out if things are okay. Therefore, it’s very important to introduce the scent of your dog and cat to one another, before they even meet.
To do so, take a blanket or towel, rub it on the animal, and then give it to the other to inspect. This gives them a chance to get used to each other’s scents so that when they meet face to face for the first time, there is already something comfortingly familiar about that initial encounter.
Canine Obedience Training
If your dog has not completed (or begun) obedience training, it’s a good idea to complete a class as soon as possible.
Classes offer a great opportunity to socialize your dog with other animals and people. And, by teaching your dog basic commands such as sit and stay, you will have a much easier time redirecting your dog’s attention and excitment towards more positive and constructive behaviors.
Once the class is completed, make sure you consistently use their newly learned commands at home. Have your dog on a leash at first while giving the commands, to make sure he doesn’t dart off to try and find the cat, and always use positive reinforcement, such as scrumptious treats, to make the process fun.
Something key to note here: Just like humans, dogs have behaviors they’ve learned, both good and bad, and they have behaviors that are simply innate. Because of this, there are occasions when positive reinforcement is not the appropriate response to a dog’s behavior.
For instance, if your new dog is acting up in an aggressive, fearful, or overly excited fashion after meeting kitty, that’s an expected behavior. Just because he sits still for a minute, doesn’t mean giving him a treat is likely to calm him down, and it’s certainly not the right time for a reward. In fact, he may learn to associate treats and “good behavior” with his agitated mood, meaning he could begin to believe it’s “good” to be completely riled up around the cat.
In such circumstances, a command that your dog has learned (i.e. “sit.”) is likely to have much better results because it helps him find his place, know who is in control, and reminds him of what is expected, which is all comforting to a pack animal.
Supervise the Introduction
Even if you feel confident your dog and cat will be best friends, always supervise the initial introduction when everyone is in the same room, since even an innocent move by doggy or kitty could lead to chaos.
While you should probably expect some growling or hissing, if it seems as though one or both animals are getting too stressed, end the session and let everyone return to their respective areas.
For best results, the initial introduction should usually be about 10-15 minutes, with increasingly longer sessions as your pets get used to one another.
Praise Both Animals
During the sessions with one another, always be sure to shower each pet with plenty of praise and attention. Just like with obedience training, offer your dog plenty of treats for good behavior, and pet them often while telling them how happy you are at their behavior. But keep in mind what we noted earlier, that positive reinforcement must be measured against the behavior and sometimes a command works best to calm things down.
Since the cat has had top billing in the house prior to doggy’s arrival, it may require a bit more attention before consenting to the new animal in their life. So give your kitty plenty of treats and pet and play with it often, to ensure there’s no jealousy between the new housemates.
By taking a measured approach to introducing your pets to one another, chances are both animals will be able to relax, enjoy themselves, and soon start to see the advantages of having a new playmate.
Know Your Pets’ Personalities
If you want to make sure your dog and cat will get along, try to have a good understanding of each animal’s personality. For example, if your new dog is very outgoing but your kitty is naturally shy, plan on having to work a bit harder to turn them into best friends.
Likewise, if your dog is shy but your cat is a bit bossy, plan on doing the same. If possible, try to pick a dog whose personality is similar to your cat, since this might make it easier to get them to like one another.
Seek the Advice of a Professional
Even under the best of circumstances, kitties and dogs sometimes resist your efforts to show them how much fun they can have with one another. But rather than give up, return your dog to the local shelter, and decide a multi-pet household is not possible, don’t be afraid to seek out advice from professionals.
To start with, ask your veterinarian for any suggestions. You may also want to speak with a psychologist or behaviorist who specializes in animal behavior, since they may actually come to your home to assist you with the transition. So even if things get a bit hectic, stick to your plan, seek help if needed, and wait for the results you seek.
Visit the Veterinarian
Whenever you get a new pet, it’s always recommended you make a trip to the veterinarian for a thorough physical exam. By doing this, you can make sure your pet is healthy, and has no underlying health problems that might have gone unnoticed. Once you’ve made sure it has a clean bill of health, take care of any necessary vaccinations, flea treatments, etc.
Remember to do the same for your kitty. Since having to deal with a new dog in the home will be stressful enough, you don’t want it to be dealing with physical problems at the same time. By making sure everyone is healthy from the beginning, you’ll put the odds in your favor of having a happy household for you and your pets.
Always be Patient
Last but not least, always be patient with your pets. Just like humans have different personalities, animals are the same way. Therefore, while some dogs and cats will like each other from day one, others may take a while to warm up to cohabiting.
Emily Parker is a cat parent to 2 black cats, Gus and Louis. Gus only has one eye, but that helped convince her to adopt him! While she now shares her home with felines, she grew up with dogs and can’t wait to add one to the family. When she’s not exploring her neighborhood for new (cat) cafes, she’s researching and writing for her website, Catological.com
Emily Parker is a guest contributor. The advice and opinions of guest contributors do not necessarily reflect those of the Puptrait Studio.