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The New Pet: First Impressions Aren't Always Everything

Introducing your dog or cat to their new family members in the right way is crucial for building positive relationships and safety for all. Properly socializing your dog or cat to other pets means giving them the skills they need to successfully live together and encourage positive associations.

Dogs and cats are able to live quite happily together, and it’s even beneficial for children to be involved with taking care of a cat or dog. However, dogs and cats have natural instincts and behaviors that need to be managed when interacting with each other— teaching them what to do when they feel overwhelmed, and proactively managing their environment to ensure safety and calm behavior goes a long way in having a harmonious household. It’s up to us to introduce them to other animals in a positive and safe way.

How to Introduce Your Dog to a New Cat

  • Find a Good Match Ask the shelter or rescue which cats have experience with dogs. Look for a dog-savvy cat to adopt, one that is confident but calm. You don’t want to introduce a fearful cat (or a high-energy cat) that might run when around your dog, triggering a dog’s natural instinct to chase. If you’re adopting a dog and you have a cat at home, choose one that has a history of living with cats, or a puppy that can be socialized from a young age to being around a cat.

  • Provide Separate Safe Areas for Your Dog and Cat When you first bring your new cat home, make sure they have somewhere to go that the dog isn’t allowed. Keep them separate outside of the times you can provide supervised interaction.

  • Keep Your Introductions Slow and Positive Use gates and leashes to give distance when needed.

  • Reward Calm Behavior Give a treat any time your dog looks at your new cat and stays calm. If they become too focused or excited, add some distance or try again later.

  • Connect With a Certified Dog Trainer They can teach you management techniques and how to read canine body language.

  • Expect bumps in the road, as not all introductions go well at first.

How to Introduce Dogs to Each Other

  1. Manage Age Differences If you’re introducing a puppy to your dog, make sure your older dog isn’t overwhelmed with puppy energy. Older dogs don’t always appreciate being jumped on by puppies, and your new puppy needs to learn how to be polite.

  2. Provide Safe Spaces Provide separate areas where each dog can decompress and relax when they need a break or get overexcited.

  3. Keep Them Separated Keep the dogs separated for as long as needed as they acclimate to sharing their home with a new dog.

  4. Reward Polite and Calm Behavior When Around Each Other This will build a positive association with their new family member and train good behavior.

  5. Go on Parallel Leashed Walks Start with each dog at a distance from each other and slowly decrease the distance as long as they stay calm and can respond to simple training cues. Eventually, you’ll be able to walk them next to each other as they’ll be used to the presence of the other dog.

  6. Start With Leashed Interactions Before Letting Them Play off-Leash Together The leash will give you an easy way to gain control and redirect their attention if need be. Do this with caution, and if something goes wrong and the dogs make aggressive contact with one another be careful to not get yourself or either dog caught up in the leashes. This requires two handlers, with two leads, and enough space between the canines to prevent an incident. Once they are clearly warming up to each other, you can try dropping the leashes to allow some play but be prepared to regain the lead if you sense a pending escalation. And above all else, stay calm. An important caveat: keeping high tension on the leads can contribute to elevated anxiety on the dog, so some prior work in teaching both dogs to not pull will help, as well as trying to be mindful of how tight you're keeping the leash.

  7. Connect With a Certified Dog Trainer A certified dog trainer can help you through the introduction process and teach important canine body language signals so you can better understand when a dog is stressed and needs some distance from the other dog. They can also help you set up your home to discourage resource guarding between the dogs.

  8. Never forget that as with humans, sometimes first impressions are NOT everything. Even when resistance is present at first, a loving bond can certainly form between new and established dogs. Patience, as well as caution, is a must.

Never underestimate the power of a great dog trainer (in many cases, that title is a misnomer because a good dog trainer will train YOU, and then you train the dog). Having that assistance while you learn to be the best leader and family member for your dog can make a world of difference. Believe it or not, dogs are not always easy to understand. Their communications can be easy to misread, no matter how well you may know the canine in question.

Here, we will maintain a short list of trustworthy trainers local to us. Don't hesitate to reach out to them, especially if you have a newly acquired pet.


If you are adding a new dog to your family, some of these other posts of ours may be helpful!


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