The day you bring home a new puppy or kitten is a joyful one for the members of your family, with the possible exception of the pet who already calls your home his own territory. Even a mild-mannered dog or cat can click into an instinctive mode that's not exactly friendly. Barking and growling on the part of the dog or hissing and scratching on the part of the cat are simply hard-wired responses to an intruding creature. The new puppy or kitten, greeted by such aggression, will experience stress and discomfort.
How do you introduce your new pet to your existing one? The process takes several steps, requiring patience and your full attention to both pets' needs.
Planning starts before you bring home the new puppy or kitten. As a loving pet owner, you know your existing pet's tolerance for other animals. Take a closer look now, though, at the physical signs of your pet's discomfort. Get to know its posture when it's uncomfortable -- for example, yawning or licking its lips to soothe itself in a stressful situation. When you read your existing pet's warning signals, you can use those messages as you slowly introduce the new pet in their first, brief interaction sessions.
Pet expert Gary Loewenthal advises you to assess your existing pet's mastery of verbal signals, such as "come," "sit," "stay" and "no." A well-trained pet will be a better partner in this "getting to know you" process, listening to you and stopping immediately when you tell it to.
*The Initial Introduction
Loewenthal says, "Before you bring home the new puppy or kitten, be sure your dog or cat has been well-fed and exercised." That way, it is not thrown into an interaction when it is hungry or hyper.
"The most important part of the process is that you must directly supervise both pets. There should be NO unsupervised direct contact," says Jenna Stregowski, About.com's dogs guide. "Remember to be safe while supervising your pets," because an agitated cat or dog might redirect aggression toward you mistakenly.
Put your dog on a leash or in a crate for the very first interaction so that any instinctive lunging or snapping can be controlled. A cat, too, is often best crated for that first glimpse of the new puppy.
Introduce the new pet to your existing pet from a distance. As one member of the family holds the new kitten, pet your leashed dog and speak soothingly to it. Keep plenty of treats on hand to reinforce good behavior as the dog or cat checks out its new housemate. Don't hold the new puppy or kitten right in front of your pet's face. Such closeness likely would feel like an attack to your pet, so a distance of at least four feet is advised.
Keep this interaction brief, avoiding your wish to rush through the introduction process. Allow pets to remain in their crates as their safe havens, and your family can play with them separately for your own bonding time; just don't play with the new pet in the sightline of your existing pet, who might feel jealous and confused.
"Your resident dog or cat should be given the advantage at first. When you bring the new pet home, confine that new pet to one room of the home, keeping the door to that room closed. Your other pet can have the run of the rest of the house," Stregowski says.
Enact the same "from a distance" introduction of your pets several times a day for several days, and assess their reactions and body language to assess their comfort levels. A baby gate is a great tool to keep pets safely apart yet able to see and smell each other.
As their comfort grows, bring your dog out of its crate and leash it as someone holds the kitten, and allow the dog to step closer to the cat. "Be sure that your cat has something to jump up onto if it wishes to get away from the dog," Loewenthal says. Expect some trial and error in these initial, supervised interactions. If either pet misbehaves, move back to the leashed-and-crated stage of the acclimation process, and allow them additional time to get to know each other from a distance.
Don't leave your pets unsupervised, thinking they're adjusted after the first few event-free meetings. Puppies and kittens will want to play with their new friend, and the larger or more aggressive dog or cat could injure the more fragile animal during their play.
Additional tips from Loewenthal:
--Place your pets' food bowls in separate locations so that they may eat in peace without any fears.
--Be sure to spend equal time with and give equal affection to each pet.
--If necessary, sign up for obedience classes or private training to smooth the "getting to know you" process for both.