New Year is a time many of you will choose to introduce a new pet to your family group and quite often that involves an existing pet cat or dog. In this article I want to give some quick tips on how to make introductions and settling in as smooth as possible. I am focussing on cats and dogs. Clearly pet prey animals like mice, rabbits and hamsters will need a different approach and unless you have an unusually laid back cat or a dog with zero prey drive, physical introductions are best avoided.
Controlled, slow introductions
It is advisable that animals are not simply placed together in the hope they will sort things out between them. Some get away with this strategy but it is risky and could lead to injured pets or worse. A negative experience on first meeting can lead to long-term fears and damage a potentially good pet relationship forever. Try not to rush introductions. Over a week plan brief but positive meetings at a controlled distance, perhaps using a glass barrier at first. If body language from both animals is calm then gradually decrease distance until there is a quick nose to nose greeting.
Use scent cloths
First, aim to keep the animals in separate rooms until they have become familiarised with each other’s scent. Gently stroke clean cloths over the body of each animal and then leave out, or hanging at nose level for each animal to sniff and investigate. Repeat at various times of the day. Over a few days start to dab the scent of the new pet around the house, onto skirting boards, furniture and so forth. Once each animal has ceased to show much interest in the scent of the other it is time to move on to in sight exposures.
Put adult or adolescent dogs on a short but loose lead, ensure they are exercised first. Give the cat an escape route from the introduction space and accessible high vantage points from which to view the dog/pup at leisure. Baby gates can be useful for keeping dogs and cats apart. If you have a young puppy a pen can help your cat to be confident about investigating, protecting your pup from an angry paw swipe. Do stop your dog/pup fixating on or trying to chase the cat. Use high value treats to reward your pup for calm behaviour keeping them focussed on you. Cats find prolonged eye contact threatening, so developing a ‘watch me’ cue with your dog is handy.
Resources and layout
Look at the geography of your house and plan how you can keep pets and the things they value most separate until they can meet in a shared space calmly. If you have a cat flap the cat needs to be able to use this without being ambushed by your dog/pup. Ditto litter trays. Canines will happily try to snaffle cat food, cat poo and cat litter, make sure the dog does not have access to these and that your cat can use them without interference or being stared at! Give new dogs a safe space to eat undisturbed and a calm resting area, initially even shut in a different room from the cat.
Whether the dog is meeting a new cat or vice versa, being able to have some control over the dog’s behaviour with a few basic cues, like ‘sit, ‘leave’ and ‘watch’ will help facilitate smooth introductions.
Leonie St Clair|www.londondogstraining.co.uk