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Introducing Pets

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

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Whether you already own a cat and are bringing home a dog, or vice versa, I know you'll want to make sure that their introduction goes smoothly so they can lead a long, happy life together. Follow the simple steps below to ensure that everything goes well. While these steps are written for introducing a dog to a cat, they can also work for dog to dog and cat to cat introductions or simply to reset the relationship of pets that already live together in your home.

Before you bring your new pet home:

  • Make sure each room that you and/or your cat will generally spend time in has multiple levels that your cat can use to move around the room (cat tower, back of the couch, shelves, etc)

  • Establish at least one "cat only" area. - The dog will not have access to this area. - The cat's food, water, and litter box should be in this area. (Don't put all three right next to each other. It's better to spread all three throughout the room.) - Use a baby gate your cat can get through/over, a cat door, or a slightly opened door with a doorstop [like a Door Buddy] to give your cat access to this area and keep your dog out. It will make the introduction process even easier if you can shut your cat completely in this area. - Keep fun cat toys or anything your kitty loves in this area. (Small cat toys are a choking hazard for dogs, and are best kept away from your dog anyway.)

  • Set up a crate for your dog (Yes! Even if you don't regularly crate your dog.) - The crate should have enough room for your dog to stand up and turn around comfortably. [Ruffland Kennels are my favorite crate!] - If possible, crate train your dog before the introduction. [Check out this blog post for tips on crate training your pup.] - Make sure you have some toys that are safe to leave in a crate with your dog. Kongs and hard chew toys are great options!

When your new pet first comes home:

  • Before bringing the new pet into your house, shut the other pet into their space -- the "cat only" room or dog crate.

  • Give your new pet 15-45 minutes to explore your house with the other pet shut away. This gives your new pet a chance to learn about your other pet through smell before meeting face to face.

  • Repeat this process, shutting your new pet away and letting your other pet smell the new pet smells.

  • Take your dog out for a 20-30 minute walk before introducing your pets. This gives your cat a little extra time to get comfortable with the new situation and also gives your dog exercise so the introduction can be a little more calm.

  • Keep your dog on a short leash when you re-enter your the house.

  • If your dog is not calm, do not allow your dog to approach your cat.

  • Keep your dog at your side until calm.

  • Once calm, you may allow your dog to gently sniff your cat.

  • Your cat may hiss, swat, and/or run away. - If your cat hisses, move your dog out the cat's personal space, keep your dog at your side until calm, and try again. - If your cat swats at your dog, DO NOT correct your cat. This is just a way to enforce personal space! Move your dog out of the cat’s personal space, keep your dog at your side until calm, and try again. - If your cat runs, DO NOT allow your dog to chase. Keep your dog at your side until calm, and then try again.

  • If your dog ever looks away from the cat or chooses to calmly sit or lay down when the cat is nearby, reward your dog!

  • If your cat chooses to interact with or sniff your dog, reward your cat!

  • Don't let this initial interaction last for more than an hour.

Moving forward:

  • Keep your cat and dog separate unless you are directly supervising.

  • Give your dog and cat a few hours each day when the other one is shut away, so they are free to move and explore the house without interacting.

  • Repeat the interaction outline above several times a day, until both pets are calm and comfortable with each other for at least three interactions in a row

More freedom for your dog:

  • Continue to keep your cat and dog separate unless you are directly supervising.

  • Once you have had three calm and comfortable interactions in a row, allow your dog to drag the leash during interactions.

  • Dragging the leash will give your dog more freedom, but still allow you to jump in to enforce space if necessary. (It may also encourage your cat to chase/play with the wiggling leash!)

  • If your dog chases the cat (or any other negative interactions take place), back up to the previous phase and complete three calm and comfortable interactions before returning to this phase.

  • Don't let the interaction last for more than one hour.

Off leash interaction:

Korra meets baby Mai off leash

  • Continue to keep your cat and dog separate unless you are directly supervising.