Introducing Your Dog to Your Other Animals

posted: 05/15/12
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Dogs will admit other animals as members of their group - but the fact is, dogs and rabbits or rodents weren't made to get along. Unless your dog was raised with these creatures from puppyhood, the canine predatory instincts may not remain permanently suppressed in the presence of small, defenseless, running creatures. Cats are another story. With a little effort on your part, your cat and dog can live in mutual respect (or at least tolerance) for each other and may even become good friends. Keep in mind, however, that the two species do not always understand each other's body language, so some miscommunication must be expected.

In general, it will work out better if the newcomer to such a situation is a kitten or puppy, or an adult who has formerly lived amicably with the other species. If you already have a dog, make sure he is obedience-trained before bringing in a kitten or cat, and have him meet some friends' cats to make sure his instinct isn't to attack all things feline.

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Cats and Dogs
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If you're bringing a cat into a household with a dog, let the cat acclimatize to the house first with your dog in his crate or shut in a room. In a home where a cat already rules the roost, be sure to give him lots of attention away from the new dog.

When you feel the animals are ready to meet, clip the cat's claws to protect your dog's delicate nose. With your dog leashed so that you can hold him back if necessary, let the dog and cat meet. There may be no great reaction on either part, but the more typical scenario is the cat hissing, arching his back with all his fur fluffed out, possibly slashing at the dog with his claws, and beating a hasty retreat to higher ground.

Continue this routine, increasing the length of each meeting until both animals seem comfortable. Before you unleash an adult dog, make sure he will obey your verbal command to stay away from the kitten or cat, if it looks like he might do harm. (A puppy rarely poses the same threat, except to a small kitten.) Do not leave the dog and cat alone together without supervision until you are confident that it is safe to do so.

Provide your cat with places where he can hide, away from the dog. Cats like to get up high to survey their domain, safely out of a dog's reach. Make sure the cat can eat, drink and use his litter box undisturbed by the dog. Place his necessities up higher than the dog can reach or set up a "cat room," wedging the door open just enough to let your cat in or cutting a cat-sized hole in the door.

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Choose a neutral, fenced-in meeting ground like a friend's backyard to introduce your dogs to each other.
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In the ideal situation, both dogs are well-socialized to other dogs. Choose a neutral, fenced-in meeting ground like a friend's backyard to introduce your dogs to each other. Make sure there are no other dogs around. For now, keep both dogs on their leashes, even if one of the two has not been socialized. Have a friend hold the new dog's leash. Although some experts believe that being off-lead in this situation can prevent a fight from breaking out (by allowing one of the dogs to run off), it's probably not a good idea. If things get out of hand, you'll be better able to control the dogs and the entire situation if you and the person helping you are holding the leashes. If either dog does behave aggressively, turn his head and try to distract him with a toy. If the initial meeting goes smoothly, have the two meet on home territory, separated by a fence or a slightly open door that permits them to scent each other but not come in physical contact. If they seem to be progressing, allow them off-lead in your presence; they will probably proceed through some ritualized aggressive behaviors, establishing dominance.

Try not to be anxious about their behavior because dogs easily read human body language and may respond to unintended emotional signals. Their "play" may be noisy and boisterous to the human eye and ear, but you shouldn't intervene unless truly serious fighting and biting begin. If you do have to separate the two, remember that an agitated dog, whether aggressor or victim, may bite you in the heat of the moment. Have some human help on hand, as well as a hose or water pistol to aid in breaking off attacks.

Once the dogs are separated, grab their leashes and walk them away from each other. If the dogs seem to be only play-fighting, let them work things out. Human intervention is unlikely to alter the balance of power anyhow, so resist the natural temptation to favor the underdog. As long as the aggression is not serious (no full-fledged fighting or injuries), the dogs will eventually come to an understanding.

To limit disagreements, be sure each dog has his own food bowl. Feed them together, if possible, but with the bowls placed so the dogs are not facing each other, setting the bowls far apart if necessary. Most dogs will share a water bowl, however. Each should also have his own sleeping area and toys, but be prepared for each wanting the other's toy, even if they are exactly the same. If aggressive behavior continues, try to identify the precipitating events or circumstances and avoid these situations. Ultimately you may determine that the animals have to be kept separate when you are not home to keep the peace. Your veterinarian will be able to counsel you and may suggest a visit to a behavior professional to learn the best strategies for reducing intraspecies aggression.

Introducing a young pup as the second dog in the house is somewhat easier. Try not to let the puppy's arrival upset the other dog's routines. Even so, the older dog's behavior may temporarily regress and, until the initial adjustment period is over, you may feel like you have two puppies, one large and one small. If you gently but firmly enforce the older dog's obedience, the dog's behavior should soon return to normal. However, unless truly threatening, do not correct the adult's aggressive growls toward the puppy; these reflect the normal adult canine showing the puppy his place in the family. Since the puppy will be fed frequently, divide the adult dog's food intake into smaller meals so that he will eat as often as the newcomer. Allow the older dog to sometimes escape from the puppy's attentions and enjoy some special time with you.

Also be sure that he and the puppy have separate sleeping places, and do not allow the puppy to invade his elder's territory. Even if they become great friends, work with them individually when obedience-training the puppy or reinforcing the adult's training. Finally, remember that canine hierarchy is not static. As the puppy grows and becomes sexually mature, he may reverse roles with the older dog.

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