Adding a Furry Friend

January 9, 2012  

A professional dog trainer offers advice for assessing whether your dog is ready for a friend of another species

By Lisa Gunter, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

(photo by Jerry Thompson)

Thinking about adding a furry friend to your household? It’s important that everybody – both canine and human – is on board with the decision. Sometimes it can be challenging to know if your dog wants to share your attention, his toy basket, or even his snuggle time on the couch. What’s more, it can be extra complicated when that new bundle of joy is a kitten, bunny, or a fine-feathered friend.

Here are some helpful suggestions on determining if your stubby dog is ready for a furry addition:

1) Has your dog lived with a furry friend in the past?

Past behavior can be a useful predictor of future behavior. Has your dog had animal companions in the past? If you adopted your stubby dog from shelter or rescue, you may have the previous guardian’s questionnaire in the adoption paperwork. If your dog was fostered prior to adoption, were there other animals in the house? If so, how did they do together? Shelters and rescues can be excellent resources for behavioral information regarding your dog’s skills with other animals.

2) Has your dog visited a home where another animal lives?

Often travel can be exciting and also a bit stressful. But we can look at your dog’s interest in the resident animal and gauge arousal. From there, look at the potential for naughtiness. Ideally, your dog would notice the cat but not be staring, straining on leash, lunging, barking, growling or chasing. Any of the latter responses suggest rudeness at minimum – and more likely, the potential for aggression or injury. Ideally, you want your dog to acknowledge the existence of the other animal or even ignore it, but not focus intently.

(photo by Tough Love Pit Bull Rescue)

What if your dog doesn’t have a furry friend past? Don’t worry, that’s not a deal breaker. You can still use your observational skills to glean behavioral information from other situations.

3) How does your dog react when seeing birds or other small animals when outside?

If you’re considering a furry friend that’s smaller than your stubby dog, you must be mindful of predatory drive, which refers to an instinctive inclination to pursue prey. While our dogs no longer need to hunt for food, their ancestral patterns still remain. It’s a characteristic we need to consider as a bite, grab or shake with a 5 or 15 pound animal can easily result in injury or even death. Predatory drive, or drift, can kick in when a dog sees a squirrel scurry by or even a small dog chasing a ball in the park. If your dog becomes excited at the sight or possible presence of such fast moving animals, bringing a small creature into your house could be complicated.

4) How does your dog interact with other dogs?

Dog-to-dog skills are not a total determinant for whether your stubby dog is ready for a bunny or iguana. However, we often see that dogs that have trouble communicating with their own species can struggle understanding the language of another, particularly when the other species is smaller or their signaling is much more subtle. This is important to keep in mind if your animals will be sharing space together. Usually, dogs that excel at reading body language and are sensitive to the needs of other dogs make good candidates for furry friends. This is not always the case, but it’s an important factor to keep in mind.

5) What about your dog’s individual personality?

It’s important to consider your own stubby dog, and his or her particular likes and dislikes. How does he or she handle change? Is your dog quick to become excited and hard to calm down? Adding a new creature to your dog’s life will be an adjustment. Ideally, your dog will be OK sharing toys, your attention and the couch, and be tolerant of the new kitty passing by while noshing on a favorite chew toy.

With these suggestions in mind, remember that a slow acclimation period is a good idea for the safety and well-being of everyone involved. Make certain you have adequate space in your home to separate your animals until they can interact peacefully. Introductions can happen in a week or two, but sometimes last several months, so be sure you’re prepared for the worse case scenario – and then be pleasantly surprised when your animals make friends quickly.

Lastly, if you are unsure about whether a furry friend is the best choice for you and your stubby dog, contact a certified dog trainer or behavior consultant for professional advice. Visit the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers at for a listing of trainers in your area.

Lisa Gunter, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, has worked with dogs and cats at animal shelters and with owners for nine years. She received her training certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers in 2007 and earned her behavior consulting certification in 2011. She is an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and APDT Canine Life & Social Skills (CLASS) evaluator. During her career, Lisa has supervised the dog program at Pets Unlimited, managed the shelter behavior departments at the Dumb Friends League and Animal Humane New Mexico and currently coordinates behavior and training services for Pawsitive Tails in San Francisco. She shares her home with her Border Collie Sonya, Lab/Poodle mix Sweets and three charming chickens.

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