Introducing Your Furry Friends

January 24, 2012  

A certified trainer offers one method for introducing your dog to a new kitty friend

By Lisa Gunter, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

(photo by Kathy Hughes Jugo)

If you’ve decided your stubby dog is ready for a new friend (see “Adding a Furry Friend”), it’s important to implement a smart introduction plan that ensures the best chance of success. You’ve got years ahead of you with your animals, so spending this relatively short time ensuring that their friendship starts off on the right paw is well worth it!

Here are some helpful step-by-step recommendations on introducing your dog to a furry friend, in this case a cat.

1- If you’ve decided a furry friend may be in your pooch’s future, bone up your dog’s basic obedience. Enroll in a rewards-based training class where you can work on impulse control exercises like “stay” and “wait,” as well as useful behaviors such as “leave it” and coming when called. A few minutes of manners practice every day can go a long way in developing a safe home environment.

2- Before bringing your kitty home, set up a dog-free sanctuary space. This can be a spare room or bathroom, but it must be some place where your pooch cannot reach your cat. In this Zen zone, your feline should have the essentials: a litter box, food and water, scratch post, toys, and a cozy place to sleep and perch. When you bring your cat home, have your dog crated or in another room when you enter, and whisk your cat away to this new space. First impressions are crucial, so make sure your cat’s arrival is low key and as stress free as possible.

3- After your new cat has had a few days to settle in, begin feeding your stubbydog and cat on opposite sides of the closed room door. While eating the tastiest food possible, your kitty will be able to smell and hear your pooch under the door without the threat of injury. Conversely, your dog will not be visually stimulated by the sight of your new cat, but can practice eating yummy food and remaining cool, calm and collected in his or her presence.
(photo, right, by Michelle Cull)

4- Along with the mealtime door feedings, take a couple of hand towels and rub one on your dog and the other on your cat. Then place each of the towels in the opposite animal’s space, giving each animal the opportunity to experience the scent of the other without having to interact. Ideally, we want your dog and cat to investigate these towels and eventually ignore them.

5- If you are successful with the towels, switch your animals’ locations so they can investigate each other’s living spaces and get the full smell all the way around. They can stay in these new locations for a few hours or even a day, and you can do this a couple times over the next week.

6- Once your stubbydog and feline are comfortably eating on opposite sides of the door, move your animals’ dishes back a foot or so and crack open the door an inch, so they can get a little visual sneak peek. For safety’s sake, use a doorstop to prevent the door being opened any wider. As long as the feedings are going smoothly with no growling, barking, hissing, scratching, or other stressed behaviors, you can continue opening the door an inch at a time, but incorporate the use of a baby gate and leash for added protection.

7- After at least a week of scent swapping and shared meals, bring your dog on leash into a large room with your cat on the opposite side. Near meal time is a great time for this, as both of your animals will be hungry and eager to work! Engage your dog in those basic obedience skills you’ve been practicing, and reward your dog for looking at the cat and looking away or looking at you. Have another person playing and feeding your kitty without using restraint. Keep these sessions short at just five to 10 minutes to start.

8- Repeat these planned introductions several times until both animals are noticeably relaxed. Increase their length, and decrease the distance between your animals. If at any time your cat runs away or your dog becomes reactive (barking, growling, staring or lunging), go back to a safer distance and repeat until successful.

9- If multiple introductions at closer distances are incident-free, drop your dog’s leash but engage him or her and your cat in separate activities. Continue increasing the amount of time your cat and stubby dog are spending time together, always supervising them and keeping them separated when you’re away.

(photo by Ulla Toikka Edades)

Often introductions can progress quickly in just a week or two; others may take several months until both animals are comfortable in each other’s presence. If at any time along the way you’re unsure about the behavior of your stubby dog or your furry friend, contact a certified dog trainer or behavior consultant for professional support. Visit the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers for a listing of trainers in your area.

About the author: Lisa Gunter, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, has worked with dogs and cats at animal shelters and with their guardians 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 American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Association of Pet Dog Trainers 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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