Welcome to the Family – Now What?

We get a fair number of calls from people wanting to know how to introduce a new pet into their family, or with problems resulting from bringing a new pet home. We actually were feeling pretty good about our list of suggestions, which has grown over the years from personal experience, reading, and discussions with trainers, veterinarians, breeders, rescue foster parents, and other animal communicators. We have worked extensively with some of our clients to help them through the process. We have introduced new cats (which is akin to watching paint dry – a VERY slow process), dogs, horses, and even an iguana into our family. For the most part, things went very well. We did learn that each group of animals will integrate a new addition differently, so we had to vary our strategy not only based on the new animal, but also the family grouping we had at the time, and who thought they were head cat, dog, or horse.

Then came TJ – our new little dog. He is a Portuguese Podengo Poqueno. They are sight hounds, very active and intelligent, and the Poquenos look like Terriers with big upright ears. TJ came to us from a very good breeder in Indiana whom we met at a dog show. We fell in love with the breed – or more accurately, Terri fell in love and I conceded that yes, this was a little dog I could live with. We educated ourselves about them, and asked the breeder if she had a pet quality dog that needed a good home. It so happened she did – a year old neutered boy that had been placed twice without success, through no fault of his. We met him, we spent time with him, we prepared the animals at home (more on that later), and we brought him home.

What has ensued since then is waking up every day at 5 a.m. to let him out to the xpen to potty, convincing him that area rugs are not chew toys, and that cats are to be respected, not chased. We advised him that it was not a good idea to land on a sound asleep Obi (our older Basset) with no warning, and that toys are to be shared. We have learned the joys of tethering a dog to you as you move through the house so he won’t sneak off and pee or chew the rug, as well as standing outside in all types of weather and at all hours to encourage him to potty outside. We have had the absolute joy of watching him run loose in the back yard for the first time. He is very quick and fast, we now understand why they are considered rabbit hunting dogs. TJ is also learning to sit for a treat and his food, to play tug with Lukas, and to be quiet in his kennel unless he has to go out.

Through this whole process we have worked with our animals, reassuring the Bassets that they are our special boys, reminding the cats that they have a “dog free” zone to go to, and to not run from the dogs. We always pet Lukas and Obi first, they get fed first, and we make sure they get plenty of “mom” time individually and together. We introduced the dogs to each other outside, one at a time, and on leash. The cats were in the gated off bedroom, so they felt safe to watch the newcomer from a distance. We did not leave the dogs together unsupervised for any length of time until we saw signs of positive interaction and play developing in the group. So far, things are going fairly well except for the sleep deprivation!

Here is our revised list of how to introduce a new pet into your family:

  1. Research and Think What kind of pet would fit with your family (including existing pets)? If you are thinking about a new dog, research the breed or mix of breeds to see what they are about. Is a young kitten the best idea if you have 2 elderly cats? Probably not. Do you work long hours? If so, a herding breed like a Border Collie is not a good idea unless you plan to place them in daycare every day.
  2. Plan ahead Be sure you can spend some time at home with the pets to supervise, and to be sure your existing pets get extra attention and time with you. When introducing dogs, do so outdoors and on leash. If you have multiple dogs in the family, introduce them to the new dog one at a time. If introducing a new cat, make sure that they meet your other cats and dogs through a gate. Keep the new cat separate from your other cats for a time, giving plenty of sniff and stare time through a gate, before attempting to put them together.
  3. Prepare Your Pets Talk to the pets that live with you now about how much you love them, and explain about the new addition – what they look like, why they are coming to live with you, etc. Reassure them that they (your current pets) will always come first, and that there is enough love for everyone.
  4. Supervise the newcomer, even if they are not a puppy or kitten, for the first few weeks they are with you. We know some people object to crates, but if used correctly they can be a new pet’s “safe space” as they get used to their new home.
  5. Cats take longer to integrate because they do everything much more slowly than most dogs do. Be patient and trust that, in a month or three, your cats will figure things out one way or another. Supervise the cats when you do place them together, and be ready to separate them if things escalate.
  6. If you have dogs and cats, make sure your cats have a safe space to go if you are bringing home a new dog. Remind your cats not to run away from dogs, it triggers their chase instinct.
  7. Leadership Be sure you understand your role as the leader of the house, and provide guidance and structure so that the newcomer understands what is expected of a dog/cat that lives in your home. Be patient, teach slowly, and repeat. And yes, this includes cats too!
  8. Training Enroll your new dog in a reputable obedience class after they have been with you a month or so. Yes, even little dogs like TJ need training – it helps them understand what their job is, it gives their brain something to do, and it makes life much easier for everyone in the family.

Good luck, and give us a call if we can be of assistance!

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