Bringing your new puppy home is an exciting and fun time for the whole family. If you have any existing pets in the household, however, the latest addition can cause great stress and anxiety. In particular, if your new bundle of joy is to be brother or sister to some feline companions, tensions can run high. There are many ways to make this introduction smooth and successful, and it is not unusual for the two species to live in perfect harmony with one another. It is important to follow some simple steps in order to prevent any unwanted aggression or accidents with your furry friends.
When you bring your puppy home, it is vital that he has his own room, or space that is separate from the cats. A spare room or utility is ideal, with a hard floor and plenty of bedding, toys and water. For the first few days, play with your pets separately. The cats will be aware that the puppy is in the house, as they will smell him on you. They can then begin to adjust to his scent. It is important that any time the puppy is out of his room, he is on a lead.
After a few days, make sure your cats are outside if they go out, or in a room away from the puppy, and give him a tour of the house on a lead. Let him sniff all his new surroundings and explore. This is a good opportunity to let the cats explore the puppy room, smelling all his smells and having a good investigation into the new arrival’s domain. The cats should be curious, and not frightened. Experiencing the puppy’s scent in a safe environment and on you will make the introduction much less stressful. If you are crate training your puppy, this is a good place to let the cats explore, as it will be where the puppy will be for the duration of their first meeting.
After all animals have finished exploring and sniffing, a first introduction can take place in a controlled and safe environment. Place the puppy in his crate, and allow the cats into his room to explore as and when they choose. If the puppy growls or barks at the cats, try distracting him with affection or treats, discouraging any aggression towards the cats. Continue to allow them to observe each other in this environment for about ten minutes, several times a day, until the cats seem entirely calm. There should eventually be no growling or aggression from either party. Teach your puppy that he can look at the cats, but not growl or bark at them. If you are clicker-training your puppy, make sure you click and treat every time he behaves properly when the cats are in the room.
Once you are satisfied that the two species are thoroughly bored of one another, you can prepare to introduce them with the puppy on a lead. Make sure this is done in a room from which the cats can escape easily if they become frightened. It is a good idea to attempt this introduction after a good long play session or walk with your puppy, so that he is suitably knackered, and less likely to cause too much mischief. Whilst on the lead, distract the puppy with play or training, and let the cats approach in their own time. Be sure to only reward good behaviour from your puppy, and don’t let him pull or lunge for the cats. Try and attempt these meetings several times a day. When neither animal seems interested in the other, increase the time they are exposed to one another.
When you are satisfied with their on-lead interactions, it is safe to attempt a meeting off-lead. If possible, stay in a room that the cats can escape easily from if need be. Monitor interactions closely, and be sure to reward your puppy every time he behaves appropriately towards the cats. It is a good idea to have another person separate from the puppy to play with and encourage the cats. Do not yet leave the animals alone together. Remember, puppies are very playful, and can easily accidentally harm or frighten a cat. Usually, however, the cats are more than capable of escaping and/or fending for themselves!
After a few weeks of monitored and peaceful playtime together, you can leave the animals on their own. Always leave access to the crate for puppy to escape to if he gets frightened on his own, and make sure the cats have ways to get away as well if the puppy becomes a bit too playful for them.
If your puppy grows up with your cats he is likely to soon see the cats as part of the pack, and no longer as an object of prey. It is important to remember that some breeds of dogs have a higher prey drive than others, and you may want to consider this in choosing the type of dog to own. Even if he doesn’t see the cats as prey, he may still occasionally chase the cats. Your puppy may just see this as play, but it can be a very frightening experience for the cats, so it is important to try and deter this behaviour when you are in the on-lead stage of the introductions.
The age-old myth of cats and dogs is frequently debunked, but there can still be instances where the relationship will not work out. They may not be the best of buddies, but you need to make sure one is not a threat to the other. If your attempts are falling flat and your gut tells you this may be the case, you may need to consider rehoming some of your animals. However, in most cases with a little patience and care, and a lot of guidance and affection, feline and canine can live together and become lifelong friends!