On a first date, we change outfits five times and agonize over lipstick colors, certain that making just the right first impression will have a decisive effect on the rest of the relationship. The same is true in the animal kingdom; feelings during introduction set the tone for cats’ and dogs’ future interaction. When you’re bringing a new cat or dog home to meet your existing pet, it’s important that they have good first impressions of one another and not see each other as threats, which can cause fights. Whether you have two cats, two dogs, or one of each, there are a few things you can do to keep the peace.
Cats are naturally very independent, territorial creatures. Though they can live together quite peacefully, they will generally feel threatened and react aggressively if you don’t introduce them to each other slowly and carefully, using the following methods:
- Solitary confinement: Cats finds comfort in their own company and in small, secure spaces, so keep them both in separate rooms at first with food, water, litter box, and toys. This is especially important for the new cat, since she’ll need to very gradually get accustomed to her new surroundings.
- Swap scents: Smells are animals’ primary way of interacting, so you want to get your cats used to each others’ scents before they actually meet face to face. That way, they’re less likely to perceive each other as threats. Rub a towel or blanket over one cat, then spread the odor it around the rest of the house, especially near the other cat’s area. Do the same exercise for each cat.
- Slow and steady: Gradually draw both cats out of their respective corners. Get each one to play with a toy and then drag the toy further and further from the starting point. Coax, but do not push. The goal is for both of them to wander out on their own, find each other, recognize a familiar scent, and make friends.
- Share the love: Don’t spend all your time petting a new cat or kitten and neglect the one you already have. That will only create resentment, just like it does between siblings when there’s a new baby in the picture. Try not to play favorites and share your affection evenly.
Cats are tricky to socialize because of their tendency to be hermits and their dislike of having anyone else in their space. But with a little smarts and a little luck, they’ll be curled up together in no time.
Leader of the Pack
Dogs are very social, but they’re also very competitive, which makes them difficult to introduce to each other in a different way. In the wild, dogs live in packs and establish their own social structure, called a dominance hierarchy, which maintains order, reduces conflicts, and promotes cooperation among pack members. The pack’s biggest task is establishing territories and protecting their turf from intruders or rivals. That’s all hard-wired into your dog’s brain and comes into play when introducing him to another dog. Here’s how to do it:
- Meet on neutral ground: Bring both dogs to a neutral location, one that is unfamiliar to both of them, so that they’re less likely to view each other as territorial intruders. Have a separate person handle each dog, so that your existing pet doesn’t already feel that a new dog is taking over your affections if you hold his leash, too.
- Use positive reinforcement: You want both dogs to feel good in each other’s presence. Speak to them in warm, non-threatening tones, let them sniff each other out, and give them treats for obeying simple commands.
- Watch body language: Keep an eye on how things are going. Are the dogs wagging their tails? Are they growling at each other? If one or both dogs become aggressive, distract them with treats. Then try letting them interact again, but for a shorter period and at a greater distance from each other. Then work them up to longer and closer interaction, using as many treats as it takes to achieve dogs that are happy with each other. Once they stop responding aggressively, you can take them both home.
- Puppy play: If you’re introducing a puppy to a well-socialized adult dog, trust that a warning growl or snarl from the adult is not truly aggressive behavior but rather a way to set limits. All dogs are playful, but even they can grow weary of puppies’ pestering.
In general, dogs usually have good temperaments and learn to interact well with each other. Any initial territorial aggression passes quickly. Just keep those treats handy!
Getting Along Like Cats and Dogs
If you’re mixing pets, follow the general rules of introducing them slowly and carefully. Confine the cat and swap scents of both pets. If she’s new, let the cat get comfortable roaming around before leashing up your dog and allowing him, slowly and carefully, to sniff her. Be very watchful of his body language and commend him for treating her sweetly and tenderly. But if he begins to show any signs of aggression, use the leash to remove him from the room and, just as you would when mediating between two dogs, give him a treat and try again.
Cats and dogs can actually play very well together. Just make sure you keep their claws trimmed or they’ll scratch each other, even in play.
And Human Makes Three
You want your pets to get along so that you have some peace and quiet and so that they don’t do each other any serious harm. In general, most pets do, especially if they’ve been exposed to other animals from an early age. But since their instincts are fiercely territorial, it’s important to make your pets feel safe and comfortable with each other when introducing them to avoid any conflicts.