(Photo Credit: ”A Sound Beginning”)
As exciting an occasion it is to bring home a newly adopted pet, it can be a very stressful experience for the dog or cat with everything and everyone so unfamiliar to them. Start your pet off right, and do these two things to make the transition easier.
Create a “Safe Haven.”
For dogs it is a designated spot in the house just for them, that they can come and go to for security the first few days, and for cats, it is a private room they will actually spend their first few days or first week. Set these up before you bring the pet home for the first time.
Dogs: Section off an area in a room using baby gates or indoor fencing where the dog can see and hear what’s happening in the house but won’t be in a crowded traffic area. A portion of the living room, family room or next to the kitchen works well. It’s helpful if the floor is easily cleaned in case the dog has some accidents.
Equip the room with the dog’s essentials. A dog crate, if you’re going to use one, leaving the door open. Comfortable bedding – this can be inside the crate, a a separate bed outside, or both. Add a food and water bowl, and some safe chew toys meaning nothing that they could rip apart and swallow. Rubber Kongs are good for this.
Make sure the space is free of unsafe items like electrical cords, plants, lamps to knock over or any of your possessions that may get chewed up.
If there are no other canines living with you, after arriving home, bring your dog into the house. If there are other dogs already there, see the section below about introducing a new dog to a resident dog.
Keeping your new buddy on the leash, walk around the home, letting the dog explore and sniff. Then show him his safe place. You don’t have to rush this. You want your dog to start creating positive associations with this space so they see it as a place to retreat to for safety and security. Once inside the cordoned off space, remove the leash, and encourage them to lie down on the bedding or a mat, by giving them a stuffed kong or some treats. With all the excitement, your dog may be very tired and need to sleep. If so, let them nap. Feed all the meals in the safe haven for the first few days. When finished eating, take your dog outside right away and show them their potty place. Stress can make a dog very thirsty and they may drink a lot and need to pee more frequently on their first day.
Make it a rule that no one is allowed to bother the dog when it’s in its safe area. Keep children and other animals out. The place serves as a retreat if the dog becomes overwhelmed and by spending relaxed time there, your dog is also learning how to be left alone.
Cats. Their space is called a sanctuary room. This is a room in the house with a door that can be shut, where they will have privacy and the ability to get their bearings again and slowly become familiar with the new surroundings in a more secure way. A den, an office, or an extra bedroom is perfect. It can be overwhelming for a cat to be placed in middle of a large, strange, new, space. In fear, they may run and hide for cover. I know people whose cats ran off and hid for days where they could not be found.
Set up your cat’s room with its cat carrier – door left open. Add a comfy bed, a scratching post, food and water bowls, a litter box and a toy or two. Make sure the litter box is placed in a corner as far away from the food and water as you can. You wouldn’t want a toilet next to your dinner plate would you?
It’s good if there is some furniture in the room they can hide under like a chair or table. Place some upside down cardboard boxes with entrance tunnels cut into them. For very fearful cats, make connecting paper-bag tunnels inside the room as safe routes so they can get to the litter box and food without feeling exposed.
After arriving home with your new feline, bring it into the house and go right to the sanctuary room. They will stay and live in that room, for a few days or even up to a week alone until ready to see the rest of their new territory. Of course you will be visiting with your cat in the room.
The first day, spend quiet time there with the kitty. Sit on the floor. If the cat is hiding, let it do so. If it approaches you, be cool. No fast movements. If kitty does not want to be touched or held, let it be. Instead, try some casual, low-key play using a fishing pole or wand type toy.
When the cat is back to normal functions, like eating, drinking, using the litterbox, and walking around the space and no longer hides when you come in, you’ll know it is time to let her explore beyond the room.
Properly Introduce Your New Pet to the Other Family Members.
Meeting People for the first time:
There might be lots of friends and family members that are very eager to come over and meet the new pet, but for the sake of the animal, let it be only the immediate family that lives in the house that interacts with the animal for the first few days.
Calm, slow and steady are the watchwords. When it’s time for the dog to meet other family members have everyone sit down in a main gathering room of the house. Let the dog initiate and choose who to greet at their own pace. No pulling or forcing them to do so. With a shy dog, give it all the time they need. If they are too afraid to come up to someone, a good technique is for that person to throw a small treat on the floor next to the dog but away from them.
A friendly, boisterous dog may attempt to jump up on everyone. Start training right away, and respond by ignoring the dog when it does that or turn away until it calms down.
When doggy approaches you, briefly pet him for a moment. Then stop – see if the dog wants more. Always pet from the chin to the chest. Dog’s don’t like being batted on the top of the head from strangers and please no leaning in and putting your face in their face. You don’t know this dog and they don’t know you. With children, teach them right away how to pet – chin to chest and NO HUGGING.
Most bites happen to kid’s faces because they have reached for the dog, or tried to hug him or put their faces right in the dog’s face. The dog feels trapped, gets scared and reacts by biting the child’s face because of the close proximity.
With a cat, it is not ready to have everyone crowd into the sanctuary room, so have the immediate family take turns one at a time going into the room. For young children, an adult should accompany them to make sure all stays safe and the child does not get scratched. When you enter the room, sit down and remain quiet. If the cat is hiding, don’t try and drag it out. Let it gain confidence to come out at their own pace. If they do, let them approach you. If it comes up to you, the polite greeting is to let them sniff one finger. Then if it wants more attention from you, it may rub against you or come closer. If not, just let them walk away. It takes time for cats. No picking up or holding them yet unless they clearly indicate they want that.
Meeting Canine and Feline family members for the first time.
If you already have dogs or cats in the house, many people think they can simply put the new and resident pets together and hope for the best – let them work it out themselves if any conflict arises. But how you introduce the animals at the start can either encourage or deter good relationships from forming.
Dog to dog. Some dogs love every dog they meet, some don’t. Unless your resident dog has already met your new dog prior to adoption, take care and do this slowly. Even if they did meet before and got along, do NOT walk the new dog directly into house after you arrive home. Your resident dog who is already inside, will consider this rude and may react badly.
Instead, have them both meet outside of the house, in a more neutral place. You’re wanting to prevent the resident dog from getting territorial. Keep both dogs on the leash. You’re not going to let them interact or sniff each other quite yet though. The idea is to walk a bit with them parallel to each other. Keep them apart – rewarding them for being together without any aggression. If there is growling or barking, the dogs are too close to each other. Move them farther apart until there is no aggression. Walk parallel for a few minutes. If you have multiple dogs do this exercise with each dog one at a time. If this initial introduction goes well with no signs of conflict, or shying away, then it’s time to bring dogs inside.
Important! The new dog goes into the house first. Keep the resident dog outside until you place the new dog in its safe haven. Once safely behind the gate, that can’t be knocked or jumped over, then bring in resident dog on the leash. Once inside the house, you can drop the leash (don’t remove it yet in case you quickly need to move the dog away from the gate) and let him approach the gated safe place. Allow the dogs to view and smell each other through the gate and get used to each other this way.
Cat to cat- It’s a bit more involved with felines. Many cats do appreciate a companion but on the whole, they are very territorial, and tossing strange cats together puts a lot of stress on both of them and there is the risk of physical injury. From their point of view, the resident cat will feel that her territory has been invaded and the new cat will feel that she has been dropped behind enemy lines.
It may surprise you to know that an incorrect or hurried introduction can set the cats up to become bitter enemies whereas the correct introduction can lead to a lifelong feline friendship.
So after you have arrived home with your new kitty, before bringing it into the house, put the resident cat in a room you can close off as far as possible from the path you’re taking, to get to the sanctuary room. Once new cat is safely behind the closed door, you can let the resident cat out again. Have no doubt, this cat knows the new one is on the other side of door, but by keeping the new comer in the closed off room for a few days at least, you’re letting resident cat know that only a portion of his territory has been invaded and not the entire house.
Once your new cat has become comfortable in its room, eating and playing and the resident cat seems relatively calm, then you will start the greetings, but they will be done between the closed door. You will be creating reasons for the cats to like one another that involves scent and food. More about this in a future episode of the Raising Your Paws podcast.