Introducing your New Dog to Other Animals

Transitioning a new dog into a home with existing pets generally comes with a few challenges, but there are ways to manage introductions that can help ease the process. Being proactive will be far more helpful than waiting until disagreements erupt in your home; these can sometimes be difficult to fully recover from.

Existing Pets

It’s important that your existing pets maintain their daily routines and lives as much as possible. Your new dog doesn’t yet have a set routine with you; everything is new. Create a predictable routine for him in the first several days to help him acclimate. A routine that also meshes well with your other animals’ lives will mean less stress for you.

Keep your new dog separated from the pets he hasn’t met for at least a week, at which point you can reevaluate. You’ll need to consider the introductions to each animal, depending on the species.

Before you pick up your new dog:

  • Make sure your animals at home are ready for him to come inside. You most likely won’t have time at that point to put your cats in their room, tuck your rabbits away and put your cockatoo back in her cage. Being proactive means thinking a few steps ahead to eliminate potential mistakes.
  • Create a space for your new dog that will be his safe zone. This might be a crate with a comfy bed inside. Until you know each other better, he should be left alone when he’s in his safe zone.

Dogs: If you were able to do a pet meet prior to adoption and all the dogs did well, you’ll still need to be cautious when returning home. Your dogs might feel differently about this new guy once you’re all home. Let the dogs get reacquainted outside in your fenced backyard first. Once in your backyard, let your new dog drag a leash. If you don’t have a fenced yard, take a walk around your neighborhood with the dogs. Of course, since you’re good about being proactive, you have already asked a family member to help you walk the dogs together. Keep your new dog on leash, he doesn’t yet have a bond with you. If he trotted off, would he return to you or keep going?

Doorways can be physical trigger points for dogs, especially if there is any tension. Assuming he already pottied outside, bring your new dog in first and alone, still dragging his leash. Guide him throughout your house, let him sniff and explore and then show him where his safe zone/bed are. You can then bring the other dogs inside but try to keep the energy level as calm as possible.

Resources: Feed your new dog separately and keep toys, long-lasting chews and anything of great dog value put away until you know that resource guarding isn’t a problem. A crate-trained dog always has a spot of great comfort to go to and a crate makes for a helpful tool for you during this integration period. See handout Crate Training your Dog to learn more.

Cats: Your cats have already been living in harmony with dogs. But what history do you have with your new dog around cats? Once again, being proactive, you made sure to choose a dog with a positive history of doing well with cats. It’s this combination (cats and dogs with positive history) that creates the best scenario for a calm existence together. If your dog didn’t have any history with cats, proceed slowly and with these recommendations in mind:

  • Keep them separated for a week while your new dog gets used to their smell with something the cats slept on
  • Make sure to start any introductions only after your dog is well exercised and calm
  • You’ll need one person as dog-handler and one or more to wrangle the cats, depending on the number
  • The cats should have escape options, if needed: cat trees, a raised baby gate to slip under, a Door Buddy – prevents door from opening any wider than what the cat needs to pass through
  • Introductions are done at a distance, with your dog always on a leash and bring tasty treats (cheese, chicken)
  • Don’t allow your dog to stare/fixate on the cats. Teach the cue watch or the fun game touch to redirect him. Ask your adoption counselor for these handouts.
  • With him sitting, let him look at the cats, use watch to get him to look back at you and reward with a treat. If he cannot remain calm, increase distance
  • Eventually allow the cats to move around the room. Can your dog still look away from them or has the movement made this difficult? If movement makes it harder to look away, he needs more practice and time.

Birds: Depending on the type of bird, your dog might have more issues with the bird’s sounds (think Cockatoo or Macaw) than anything else. Work to slowly change his association with these sounds by using treats, toys and play. When he hears your bird, treats appear, a fun game begins, or he gets to go on a walk. If you’ve always allowed your bird to be loose and your new dog is a field-trained Pointer, it may be too difficult to have them in the same area.

Backyard Chickens: Dogs can learn to be around chickens over time but it’s crucial to keep your dog leashed at the beginning. Keep in mind that the younger a dog is, the harder it will be to ignore your chickens.

Place a towel down as a target mat, where he knows to lay down, enjoy his Kong and ignore the chickens. With your dog well exercised and wearing a harness, use a leash to tether him close to where you’ll be working in your yard. Yes, you need to stay with him. Give him a delicious stuffed Kong or a bully stick to work on while the chickens move around. Keep supervising these introductions and repeat this process many times. Eventually, tether him using a longer and longer leash. How far does he move? Does he follow the chickens? Can he play fetch and ignore them? Let him drag a leash but keep supervising to make sure he stays calm and doesn’t attempt to chase. Reward all good behavior!

Small Animals (Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Ferrets, etc.): Small animals can look identical to the plush toys you encourage him to play with. Introductions between your small friends and new dog may not be worth the potential risks involved.

When introductions don’t go well: Call the behavior helpline with questions. And just know that all the animals in your home don’t have to be best friends, or even meet. If you can keep your cats, birds or small animals happy and safe in a separate space from your new dog, that’s perfectly fine.

Need help? Call our free pet behavior help line at (503) 416-2983.