How to Introduce Your Dog to New Family Members (Part 1!)
Dogs are social creatures and pack animals by nature, but that doesn’t mean they’ll instantly fall in love with new pets or new people in their lives. That’s why today at Doggy Brace, we created a guide for introducing your dog to cats, kids, other dogs, birds, and more!
In general, remember that all dogs are different. For dogs, some of them love all animals, while others are trained (or instinctively know) to chase and hunt smaller animals. Before you introduce them, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my dog a hunting dog?
- Is my dog a herding dog?
- How old are the animals in question?
- How does my dog react to other animals?
If your dog is a hunting dog, then ask yourself if they can tell the difference between prey and friendly animals without your supervision. If the answer is “no,” then you will want to train your dog before bringing any other animal into your home.
Herding dogs generally love other animals, but other animals may feel cornered by them — literally! If your dog is a herder, then expect them to “herd” whatever new pet (kids too!) you bring in to your home. Train your dog that their new friend requires a little space and doesn’t need to be herded around the room.
While not always true, it is usually easier to introduce younger dogs to younger animals. While older dogs can get along with older cats, they may be more set in their ways and may not like having a new friend “intrude” on their space. This can make the introduction longer, but with patience, they will coexist just fine.
Finally, knowing how your dog reacts to strange animals and people is a huge indicator of how they’ll react to a new pet or human. Expect that same reaction to the new pet or human, though they may be a little more shy or timid.
Introducing Your Dog to Cats
While old cartoons would have you believe that cats and dogs are mortal enemies, they can actually coexist perfectly well and even become best friends. It mainly depends on your dog and the cat. It all depends on how you introduce your dog to cats.
To know if your dog can coexist with cats, it’s important to watch their body language.
Watch their Ears and Tail
It’s true that cats and dogs can’t speak, but they do talk to you using their body language.
A cat will let you know if they are irritated, so watch out for their tail. If their tail is swishing back and forth, they are likely upset. If their ears are pinned down, then they are likely nervous or aggressive toward your dog. If this happens, slowly remove your dog from the room and try again later.
If the cat is showing a hooked tail and forward ears, then it is in good spirits.
As for your dog, notice how focused they are on the cat. A strong focus might mean they see the cat as prey and not a friend, depending on how the rest of their body language is. If your dog is stiff, staring, barking and whining aggressively, then they likely shouldn’t be near the cat right now.
If your dog is attentive with a happy tail and playful ears (forward facing or slightly raised), then they are just excited about meeting a new friend. Still monitor them to make sure both animals can handle the introduction!
Remember that first impressions aren’t always positive, but that won’t set the tone for their entire relationship. They have to get used to each other before they can become friends. Sometimes too, friendships between cats and dogs are almost instant. It just depends on both animals and if they’ve known other cats and dogs before!
If they’re not instant friends — and more like instant enemies — try this method.
Slow and Steady
If your dog is too fixated on the cat, you can try desensitization your dog to the cat. We recommend putting the cat and dog in different rooms where they are able to see each other, but not interact. A tall baby gate works great for this.
Do not let them see each other at all times during the day and always keep it supervised. If your dog seems aggressive at first or if you’re worried they may try to jump the gate, use their leash to help refocus them.
If your dog is fixated but more relaxed, try to distract them with a toy. This shows your dog that they can be playful when the cat is around, and it shows the cat that your dog isn’t interested in them too. Praise both of them and repeat this process until you feel comfortable that both animals are relaxed enough around each other.
We do recommend having your dog on leash during their first meeting though, just as a precaution.
Introducing Your Dog to Smaller Animals (Mice, Rabbits, Hamsters, etc.)
Dogs can be friends with smaller pets too! While mice, rats, ferrets, hamsters, guinea pigs, and other smaller mammals are generally considered prey, the right dog will see them as friends.
Before you try to introduce them, keep your dog’s breed in mind. Some breeds are less likely to get along with these animals as they are specifically bred to hunt them. Even if your dog has never been hunting before, those instincts will likely still be there. For example, Jack Russell Terriers are a lot less likely to get along with a pet rat than a golden retriever.
However, the only way to find out if your animals will get along is by introducing them to each other.
Introducing Your Dog to a Smaller Pet
Firstly, make sure both are comfortable with being handled. You will want your dog on a leash and your smaller pet to be contained comfortably as well — whether by a harness or in your hands.
Some animals have harder-to-read body language, so look out for:
- An aggressive stance
- Biting you or your dog
- Clawing you or your dog
- Fluffing up their fur
- Swishing their tail around (if they have one)
- Teeth chomping
- Overly vocal
If your dog has the right body language — curious and excited instead of overly focused — then allow them to sniff each other gently. Watch how each of them react — your smaller pet may be (understandably) terrified at first! This reaction could rile up your dog, which might make matters worse. If your smaller animal is getting too excited, put them back into their enclosure and give it time before you try again. Do not let your dog near them until they calm down.
Remember, the key is patience! Give your dog and the other animal plenty of time to understand that neither of them are a threat and that you are there to protect them should anything scare them.
If we didn’t list your pet or situation here, don’t worry! Part two, which covers kids, birds, and other dogs, wil be out later this month!