Editor’s note: To celebrate National Train Your Dog Month, we got together with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers to run a series of posts through January. Read others in the series: “Dog Training Is Important,” “5 Time-Saving Tips for Training Your Dog,” “How to Find the Perfect Dog Trainer,” “Train Your Dog in Nose Work,” “I Got a Puppy I Didn’t Want — But Training Her Helped Me Grieve the Dog I’d Lost,” and “What to Expect from Your Dog’s Training.”
Thinking of adopting a new pet, but already have a pet of the opposite species at home? By planning ahead and setting everyone in your home up for success, your chances of a great interaction are much more likely.
Before you even begin your search, determine the features you think would make a new pet well-suited to your resident furry friend. Sit down, and write a list of the key features you think you need in your new dog or cat, as well as the features you may want avoid. I’ve provided some general tips below, but none are hard and fast. Know there are exceptions to every rule!
First, make a list of what you want in your new pet
Is your resident cat is fearful or shy, and will run when startled? Then you may want a dog that is laid back with a very low (or no!) prey drive, who will ignore kitty. I would recommend a calm adult, or even a senior. Sight hounds or herding breeds are less likely to be a match.
Do you have a rambunctious, high-energy, playful dog? Steer clear of fearful, shy cats who will run when afraid, as well as young kittens or seniors who may be accidently injured. You will probably want to look for a playful, confident adolescent or young adult kitty -– preferably one who has lived with dogs previously. But be wary of TOO energetic a cat, as they may rile your dog up too much.
If your dog or cat is elderly, laid back, quiet or anxious, then a calm counterpart would be best. Avoid rambunctious companions who may annoy, frighten, or otherwise bother the other pet. Consider a senior!
Do you have a dog who is obsessive about chasing things? Or a dog that chases, pins, picks-up or otherwise “manhandles” other animals? Maybe your dog growls, lunges at or obsessively barks at cats? A cat is probably not a good choice. You might want to consider getting another dog, or perhaps no pet at all.
Now, hit the shelter — with a friend!
Now that you have a list, enlist the help of an objective friend who knows your resident pet well, and is also savvy with the species you are searching for. Bring them and your list when you visit your local shelter (or breeder).
As soon as you arrive, review your list! Don’t be tempted by all the cute fuzzies before you. Choose your new pet based on personality and not on looks.
When you think you’ve found the perfect playmate for your pet, spend time in a quiet area the pet is comfortable in. Play, interact, touch, and talk to them. Be sure to spend at least half an hour with the little fella. I don’t recommend bringing your dog into the shelter to meet the cats, because neither will be acting the way they would at home. It simply is not that informative.
Sleep on your decision
If you are confident you’ve found the perfect choice, you may be able to adopt on the spot. But in most cases, I recommend sleeping on it. Go home, interact with your resident pets, and think long and hard. Also, be sure you can bring the new pet back if things don’t work out with the resident pet.
While you are thinking on the new pet, you can kill time by preparing the house. Set up several hiding spots for kitty in each room. Include both low spots where dogs can’t follow, as well as high spots where dogs can’t reach. Ensure kitty food and litter boxes are where dogs can’t access –- until you know your new pet gets along with your resident. Be sure to include at least two boxes on each level of your house, with boxes in kitty’s favorite rooms to ensure they always have access.
How to handle the first meeting
Now it’s time for the first meeting. This step can make or break the deal. When done incorrectly, it can really ruin an otherwise great relationship.
When bringing home a new dog, be sure to keep him on leash at all times. Ensure he is really exercised and tired before coming home. Have lots of dog treats handy to reward the dog as soon as he sees the kitty. Likewise, have a can of kitty food or tuna at hand for rewarding the cat whenever the dog is near. Go slow, and keep the dog on leash at ALL times until you are confident there will be no unsolicited chasing. This may take days. Always monitor interactions, and when you can’t keep an eye on things, ensure the dog is confined.
NEVER put the kitty in a carrier or hold it down so the dog can sniff it. Many cats will find this to be a highly unpleasant experience and this rarely ever works out well –- unless the cat would never have a problem with it, anyway.
Watch and learn
Watch all pets closely, as you will likely see their relationships change significantly over the course of the first month. Never punish one for not liking the other pet, as it will make the situation worse. Can you imagine if you got in trouble for not liking someone? It would probably make you like them even less!
If you have any concerns, contact a pro right away. APDT’s Trainer Search is a great way to find a trainer. If you see any aggression, contact someone who understands cat and dog behavior. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants is an excellent resource for finding a behavior consultant.
As your pets adapt to each other, remember you are responsible with keeping all pets happy, safe, and low-stress. Just because you like the new pet doesn’t mean your resident pet does. If your resident pet isn’t happy, do something about it. If you do your research, choose an appropriate new companion, and introduce everyone properly, you have a much greater chance of everything working out great.
About the Author: Katenna Jones is the director of educational programs for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and volunteers as a responder for Red Star Animal Emergency Services. She is the author of Fetching the Perfect Dog Trainer: Getting the Best for You and Your Dog and received the Animals as Other Nations Award (2012), from the International Animal Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.