Acquiring your pet can be a daunting and often confusing experience. You will come across a great deal of conflicting advice in books, on TV, via the Internet and from friends. It may that seem that the whole world and his wife will have an opinion on what you should and shouldn’t do. So it’s important that you gain access to the most current and relevant information?
There are many established rescue and pet organisation websites dedicated to helping you and your new pet such as The Blue Cross http://bluecross.org.uk/1713/pet-advice.html or the RSPCA http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals.
For current literature check out the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) website http://www.apbc.org.uk/ for a wide range of recommended books by experienced and well-known authors.
Choosing when you bring your new pet home is also important. Make sure you allow time with your pet to help it settle in. For instance the start of the weekend or even better have a few days off work. Keep the environment calm and pop the new arrival in a quiet room with toileting facilities, food bowls and drinking water and keep these as far away from each other as possible. If you have a new puppy and are using a crate cover half of it with a blanket and pop familiar smelling items from the breeders home inside. Likewise if you have a new bed or sleeping area make sure your pet feels at home with familiar items placed in and around it.
Don’t all crowd around cooing and trying to stroke your new pet. Offer them a few small pieces of something nice or play a short game and give them space to explore their new home in their own time. Young animals need to sleep so make sure your new pet has plenty of opportunities to rest quietly.
Slowly your pet will familiarise themselves with the sights, sounds and smells of its new surroundings and will soon become a much loved part of the family.
Introducing your new puppy or kitten to your children.
Introducing your new pet to your family is often an exciting time especially for your children but it may cause some degree of stress to your new guest. Before the fun starts it’s a good idea to make sure your children understand how your new pet might be feeling. Ask them how they might feel if they were placed into new and unfamiliar surroundings. Also spend some time explaining and showing them pictures of how their new pet might behave if they are feeling happy, sad or frightened. To help you do this the Association of Pet Behaviour counsellors (APBC) offer a resource page for approved dog safety links for children, parents and teachers.
For new cat or kitten owners ‘International Cat Care’ provides great advice on their website.
A good breeder will always welcome visits from you and your children. They will be able to show your children the correct way to pick up their new pet safely and how to play with it gently. It is important that your new puppy or kitten becomes used to children of all ages early on and learn that when they appear nice things happen.
When your new pet arrives home make sure your children are supervised and allow your new guest to settle into their new surroundings quietly and in their own time. Make sure you have something fun to distract your children away from the new arrival when it’s time for a puppy/kitten snooze.
Encourage and involve your children in all aspects of your new pets life such as feeding, training, walking and yes even cleaning up after them.
Introducing a new kitten/adult cat to your resident cat(s)
Having an intruder suddenly appear in your home can be a frightening and anger inducing experience whatever your species type but especially for cats as they don’t tend to seek out other cats for company. Therefore, just bringing another cat or kitten home, letting it out of its carrier and hoping for the best may not be a wise decision.
If you make the decision to bring a second or more cats into your lives you will need time and patience. A kitten may be less of a threat to a resident cat than an adult cat because it is sexually immature. It might also help if the new kitten or adult cat is the opposite sex to your resident cat as it is less likely to be viewed competitively.
You will need to introduce the new arrival slowly and make it a positive experience for all concerned. Start with mixing the scents of both your resident and the new cat/kitten before you actually introduce them so they become familiar with each other. If your new arrival is still with the breeder or in a rescue home begin to introduce the smell of your home and especially the smell of your existing cat to your new guest and vice versa. You could take a small piece of blanket that smells of your home and resident cat with you during visits and return home with something that smells of your new guest. If you place the blankets beneath the food bowls they will begin to form a more positive association with the smell of each other and that of food. Leave your cat carrier with the breeder so your new cat/kitten gets used to going in and out of it.
Prepare a safe room for your new cat/kitten at home and add a few extra small blankets so you can “catch” more cat smells. Choose a quiet time to bring your new guest home and place the carrier in the prepared safe room. Do not allow them to meet just yet.
Allow you new guest to explore its new room and discover where the food and litter tray is. Make sure you keep the food, water and litter trays in separate places away from each other and that includes the food and water bowls. Begin to swap the blankets around to introduce your cats smell to your new cat and vice versa. Leave the cat carrier in the room with your new cat so it has somewhere familiar to hide.
After a few days you can move your new cat to another safe room and allow your new cat to explore and leave its scent. Allow your resident cat into the room where your new cat was first housed and hand feed small pieces ham or chicken and play a few fun games.
Repeat this in other rooms over the next few weeks so you begin to gradually introduce both cats to each other’s scent and continue to feed small pieces of ham or chicken and play fun games. Eventually when all the rooms have been mixed with the scent of both cats choose a quiet time when the cats are less active (late morning or afternoon) and allow them to meet quietly but make sure each one has their own area to run away to.
Make sure you have lots of tasty treats and watch what happens. They may seem to you to be ignoring each other and perhaps turning their backs, if so keep the treats coming and allow them to come to terms with each other. They may walk up to each other with tails high and have a nose kiss which is a calm greeting or they may dive on top of each other fur flying. If they begin to physically fight they will need more time to get used to each other so go back a few stages. If they growl, hiss or even present the odd right hook just allow them time. Don’t try and force the issue and don’t get cross. You can’t make them like each other, just remain calm, allow them to escape into their own areas and give them more time.
They will likely experience some degree of stress and you might notice increased facial and neck rubbing, scratching and urine spraying behaviour. If this continues and your cats keep fighting then seek advice from a qualified animal behaviourist referred by your vet.
Introducing cats and dogs
Life would be much easier if you started off with a puppy that was used to cats and a kitten that was used to dogs. Or even better puppies and kittens at the same time. However, life is rarely that organised so you may end up having to introduce your resident dog to a new kitten or adult cat or your resident cat to a new puppy or adult dog.
Resident cat to a new puppy:
Try and mix the scents and associate them with positive things such as food treats and games. Allow your resident cat somewhere to escape to and make sure all litter trays and food bowls are out of the puppies reach. A young puppy will be curious and your resident cat may simply stand its ground and the puppy may get hissed at or given a right hook. This tends to stop puppy bouncing and you can distract both with some treats or a fun game. If your resident cat runs for the hills and puppy gives chase then pop puppy into a puppy pen and distract with other more interesting things and allow your cat to approach in its own time. Don’t get cross with either and begin to teach your puppy that every time the cat appears nice things, such a great game or some scrummy food, happen in the other direction.
If your resident cat actively attacks your new puppy and causes harm it is important to separate them and only allow both to meet in a supervised area. You could place your new puppy safely in a puppy pen with fun things to do and wait until your cat chooses to walk into the room. Then gradually work on changing how your cat feels about the puppy by offering nice things to your cat such a small piece of ham or chicken to help forge a more positive association.
Resident cat to a new adult dog:
It is important that you gradually mix the scents but keep one or more rooms dog scent free (cat only) to allow a safe and quiet place for your resident cat to escape to. Allow your new dog to explore your home and place a baby gate to keep him out of the cat only rooms. When your cat comes to investigate allow them to meet through the gate (you may have to pop a lead onto your new dog) and make it a fun experience with added food treats and games. Remain calm and don’t get cross with either if they don’t seem to be getting along straight away. You cannot force them into liking one another. Once your dog has had a quick sniff throw a few treats or a toy away from the cat and if you repeat this often your dog should then run in the opposite direction looking for a reward every time your resident cat enters the room. Once your new dog has started to ignore your resident cat you will find that your cat is more likely to approach and begin to get used to this strange four -legged creature.
Resident dog to a new kitten/adult cat:
When you visit your new kitten/adult cat take a small blanket with you or an old towel and rub it gently over them so you can bring some new kitten/cat scent home with you. Begin to introduce the new scent by using the towel to dust around your home to familiarise your dog with the new guest. You can use the scented towel to form positive associations by placing it under the dog’s food bowl, sprinkling treats on top or placing it into the dogs bed.
Once you are home allow your new kitten/cat to get used to one room at a time and begin to mix the scents of dog and kitten around your home. Allow the kitten/cat to have a safe place to run and hide away, which is dog scent free. You might want to install a stair gate for instance. Once both are familiar with each other’s smell you can introduce your dog to your kitten/cat safely by keeping your dog on a loose lead and allowing your kitten/cat somewhere to hide such as a kitten pen or cat carrier or on the other side of the stair gate. Allow a few hisses from your kitten/cat and a few sniffs from your dog and distract each by offering small pieces ham or chicken. Repeat this two or three times on a daily basis for a short period of time and gradually over the next few weeks begin to allow longer periods of interaction. When your new kitten/cat appears begin to throw a handful of treats or a toy in the opposite direction so your dog begins to associate the arrival of the kitten/cat with something nice happening and soon your dog will stop taking any notice of the new kitten/cat and wait for all those good things to appear elsewhere. Eventually your new cat will venture over the stair gate and hopefully you will be ready with treats for your dog.
What if my dog won’t stop chasing my cat/kitten?
If your resident dog is a small animal chaser by design you might want to pop a muzzle on whilst doing this and if you spot any signs of prey related behaviour (staring intently, dilated pupils, stiffening of the body, stalking, salivating, becoming overly excited) increase the scent mixing over the next few weeks so the kitten becomes a familiar part of the group. If this doesn’t work perhaps it would be wise to re-home the cat/kitten or seek advice from a qualified behaviourist via your vet.
Resident dog to a new puppy:
Since your new puppy is still immature they are more likely to be welcomed into the group especially if they are of the opposite sex. They will be welcomed even more if your resident dog and new puppy are already familiar with the smell of each other. Therefore when you visit your new puppy at the breeders take an old towel or small piece of blanket that smells of your home and resident dog and bring something back that smells of your new puppy. You can also leave your puppy carrier.
It is important at this stage to make sure your resident dog is up to date with its vaccinations, has been recently wormed and checked for fleas and other parasites.
You might be allowed to take your resident dog along to the breeders in the car or if it’s too hot wait outside so when you have finished handling your new puppy you can allow your dog to smell your hands and then offer a treat.
When your new puppy arrives make sure you have some nice treats or puzzle games that your dog can be getting on with. Place puppy into a puppy pen and allow your dog to wander around and sniff at it.
Make it a pleasant and calm experience and soon they should be the best of friends. However, you might want to make sure your resident dog has somewhere quiet to retreat to once your new puppy gains in confidence and starts hanging off your dogs ears.
Introducing a resident dog to an adult dog:
You may be thinking of taking on a dog from a rescue centre and well done if you are. However, rescue dogs often come with unwanted baggage so it’s important that you work closely with the centre’s behaviour expert who will be able to discuss with you which dog they feel will make a good match.
The initial introduction is best outside the home environment so make plans to visit the rescue centre a number of times first. The rescue centre staff will have taken a history of how your chosen dog behaves around other dogs and will have carried out an assessment. They will also be there to discuss how they feel the dogs are getting along.
If your new dog is not from a professional rescue centre you could always ask a qualified behaviourist to accompany you during the first walk to help explain how well they feel the two dogs are getting along.
Once you are happy they are getting along whilst out walking it’s time to bring them home. Bring them in together and leave a short lead that you can pick up if necessary and allow them to interact in their own time and remain calm. To decrease the chance of them fighting over a favoured resource such as a bone or a toy make sure you do not leave any lying around. When it comes to dinnertime feed them in different rooms to begin with and allow them their own space over night. Don’t over fuss either of them and allow them time to get to know each other.
They will probably show all sorts of different behaviours whilst getting to know each other so don’t overly worry unless you feel that they are becoming too excited and the “playing” is getting out of hand. If this happens calmly distract by giving them something else to do or keep one on a house line for a little while. Don’t get cross or try and force them to like each other and ask each for a sit and a wait before you give them anything fun such as a game, dinner, lead on or a food treat. It might be a good idea to arrange to take your new dog for a few training classes with a recommended reward based trainer such as someone from a registered Animal Behaviour and Training Council organisation
If they begin to fight seriously over resources such as food, toys, sleeping places or even you please seek help from a qualified animal behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.